Joan's Blog

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APRIL 13, 2012 9:55AM

The Choice I Made

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In 1991 I had my first and only child. My husband came home from work on a Wednesday and announced he'd been laid off. I went into labor on Thursday.

I never planned to work after having a baby. I wanted one child, had that one child, and now I wanted to raise her. Life threw a small curve ball. For that first year, my husband stayed home while I put new pictures of her on my desk each week. I was miserable. I wanted to be a stay at home mom.

Instead, my husband stayed home. Fed her every two hours, changed her, did the laundry, and I suspect, felt like a fish out of water at times. For one year, he stayed home with her, doing all the things I wanted to be doing.  He took another job, and our daughter went into daycare. Sometimes I would drop her off, and instead of going right to work, I'd plop myself on the floor with all the fifteen-to-eighteen month old kids in her Blueberry class. I knew I didn't want to work in some office. I wanted to work at raising my daughter.

I told my husband I was giving my two week notice. He wasn't thrilled. He firmly believed we needed two incomes especially now that we had a child. I reminded him that the daycare center took a huge chunk of my paycheck every month. I put my foot down. It was important to me to be at home with her. 

Washington, D.C. is not a city of stay at home moms. Or at least it wasn't twenty years ago when my story took place. Today I see notices on the local listserve for all sorts of Mommy Groups. When I was home with my daughter, we went places together. At two and three years of age, she was a regular at the Smithsonian museums, the art galleries and the neighborhood library. We had an occasional playdate with another stay at home mom, but with my working mom friends we scheduled on weekends. Occasionally, I felt isolated, but I never wanted to go back to work. This was the work I chose.

My daughter wore hand me downs from a friend's daughter. We lived in the tiniest apartment. We had no help from family.  There were sacrifices. Sacrifices I was willing to make for the privilege of being a stay at home mom.

Eventually I took a job as a babysitter so I could bring in a little extra income. Every day my daughter and I picked up the little girl from her private school and brought her home so she could take a nap. The job lasted a few months, but the low pay and the three hour naps the woman insisted her daughter take eventually made me quit. Conflict of parenting styles, I called it. I wanted the girls out in the park, and my two and a half year old did not take afternoon naps anymore. We were back to one income again.

I was lucky to have a choice. Some people would not think it was lucky living in a small apartment or dressing their child in second hand clothes.  I felt lucky to spend the time with my daughter. I felt wildly fortunate that I lived in a city that gave us so much to do for free. 

When my daughter turned four, I enrolled her at the local elementary school for pre-K. Those few short years of being home with her were over. I went back to work, she went on to be part of the lunch bunch at school. There was no reason for me to stay home now and my daughter and I were both ready to move forward.

I look back at those years with enormous affection.  I was doing what I wanted to be doing. 

We lived on very little, we had very little.

They were some of the happiest years of my life. 


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Not only should this be a Cover but the entire theme ought to be an Editor's OC.

I agree with Jon. This should be an EP and on the cover, and an open call. So much of this resonates with me. I've gone in and out of the job market over the years, as needed, to take care of my children. They've had a working mom all along - until now. This economy has really done a number on my career. But, yes, I've lived on both sides of the Mommy Wars equation.
Dammit, Wolfman, I was first!

You've written a lovely story, Joan (but that's like saying water is wet). I never got to be a Mr. Mom, but I would have been willing. I spent vacation time home alone with the children and it was delightful and rewarding.

I've been annoyed at some of the comments about Mrs. Romney. Critics say she has no understanding of the financial decisions that many women have to make today, but that is true because she is wealthy, not because she was a stay-at-home mom. Raising children can be one of the hardest jobs in the world.
I was a stay at home mom too. I loved it. I have only worked on and off since that time, usually part time, but I never regretted giving the time to my children. They loved it, I loved it and my husband loved it.

It completely gutted my career as I knew it, I did volunteer work which then led to paying positions. It has not been my dream or intention to be a stay at home mom, but my pregnancy signaled a change to me. I was forced to slow down, I was carefully monitored on bedrest and I gave birth to twins. When they arrived, early, I was again ill and unable to function. It became a natural thing to be at home and care for them. It was in fact a very perfect time. When my daughter arrived two years later, we were practically a pre school ourselves! It was fantastic! I was the leader of the band and we did everything. It was the best of times. As a result of those times, I have felt that I have done the very best I could for my children.
When circumstances caused me to leave the working world, I was surprised to be greeted at home by two near strangers who were my children. My work, by necessity, was all-absorbing and I loved it. But I had a scant amount of time daily to connect with them for many years. Those "circumstances" that caused me to step down led to immense financial strain, but with every penny I pinch, I am grateful to have become so close to my son and daughter. I totally get it Joan.
I feel so strongly that there is no "us" vs. "them." Many of us are BOTH, and women need to do what is right for them, without judgement from others.
You made the RIGHT choice, wise woman Joan.
For I, too, was a stay at home mom.
And now, my children are doing well and are happy.
and those memories I have of being there for the first step, first trip to the park, etc are etched across my mind like a sacred engraving.
I have no regrets whatsoever....
I wish wish wish wish I would have done what you did, Joan. Finally I am a stay at home but my children are fifteen and seventeen. I am getting to know them better.
The fathers of my wife's first two children abandoned her, but she soldiered on, determined to stay home with her two boys, which meant a similar struggle as yours, Joan, but as a single mom. She, too, took in other people's children during the day while their mothers worked away from the home. She went on food stamps and lived in a subsidized apartment that was rife with roaches when I met her. After we married and had Sarah, Angela continued to stay at home, but took courses to get her teaching certificate so she could start working when the kids were in school themselves. She's still teaching 6th grade English and will be the family's sole support once my IRA has bled out. I'm proud of you for your determination and of Victor for supporting your decision, as I'm proud of Angela for her conviction that motherhood is the most important job of all.
Wonderful to read of your choice what it took to live it. As well as the happiness it brought you.
I'm watching my own daughter go through the pangs of leaving her child when her whole being cries out to be with him. She's the one with medical coverage at work, so ...

Heartbreaking choices, eh?
A wonderful choice Joan.
It is so important-much more than anything material.
Wonderful subject and writing.
I'm glad you were able to make that choice and have quality time with Julia during those important years.
I was a stay at home mom. Those were wonderful years. Was fortunate that my husband could provide for us. We lived in a suburb..had one car and used furniture. What fun. It might have been a better time. Raising lots of kids is a very hard job. Doing it well is even harder. Excellent post.
I had the first year at home with my newborn, but was forced by my philandering husband into singlehood and the work force. I had no choice because, for me, welfare was not an option. I worked from that time on, even after I remarried. There were times when the pull between home and office was almost unbearable, but we somehow managed to raise a happy, well-adjusted young man. I honestly think I would have chosen to work, even if I didn't have to. I needed more than the job at home to make me whole. Different strokes for different folks, but child-rearing was by far the hardest job I had.

My wife struggled with work and her son for years. When they moved in with me, she had a few more months with him before she went back to work... lot's of tales to tell about the hard work of raising that child.
This is beautiful. Glad to see the EP. Thanks for evoking memories of precious times.
I haven't been there yet, but I so understand this. I'm glad you got to have those precious years. Sometimes it's when we have the least, that we're living the most.

On another note, I get terrified sometimes thinking about becoming a mom one day and if I'll stay home or not and what it will be like, etc, etc. Reading this made me feel happy and safe. It reminded me that we can make choices in most cases. Thank you so much for that.
This is an absolutely wonderful read Joan. Inspirational and deeply moving. You've left your daughter a heritage of love in so many ways.

Rated and appreciated.
You write it the way I remember it. Precious and fleeting. If one is willing to perhaps give up the $$ there is a different and special reward.
Beautifully said, Joan. Thanks for pointing out the tough choices we all make, and that we have to choose the best (not just in terms of money, but that's part of it) option of what we have available to us.
I totally appreciate this post. Like you, I've been on both sides of this coin and see the merits in each.
I was able to be a stay at home mom for 13 years. When my twins were born my oldest was 2, so it was quite a ride but a time i will never regret. As you know, I've now taken in my twin daughter and her twins, so she can be a stay at home least for the first year. You can always make more money but you can never get back that time. Great piece Joan.
Some of the days might have felt a bit forever, but you're right about the years ~ only a few, & far too short.
What Lea said. Precious years. And, btw, I believe very formative in giving child(ren) a solid base from which to become much more comfortably independent. Glad you're feeling well enough to write this so incredibly well.
I've lived both scenarios. There are pros and cons to ALL decisions I make during my lifetime. Some are good, some are bad, but they're all MINE to make.

I'm proud that my eldest daughter, the mother to an autistic three-year old child, has chosen to be a full-time stay-at-home mother. Her previous employer of eight years won't ever be able to replace her with another employee whose dedication and core values are premised upon family first. Her departure from the working force also enables my grandson to receive assistance for his special needs, which he wouldn't receive if my daughter wouldn't be able to provide if she were a full-time employee with benefits.
Second attempt at a comment.. apparently I dawdled on the first while thinking back and dabbing moist eyes, so got "timed out."

"Happiest years." Yes, and you chose well I'd say. Those formative years, short they seem in retrospect, are so important aren't they.
Work to live, emphasis on LIVE. How can you place more importance on money than on a child?

I've often spoken poorly of my son's mom here at OS, but always have given her credit to whoever asked for the great job she did with Eli. She also put her foot down. She would be the mommy 24/7 and so she did, while I fabricated conveyor belts for something like $9 per hour, grabbing all the overtime I could to make the bills.
She would read to him constantly and so he too learned to read far quicker than most. He never once had diaper rash- never was given a 'binky' to keep him quiet, toilet trained by two. Yeah we were poor but the payoff was huge in my estimation. Now his favorite place is the Nelson-Atkins museum of art, where he often goes, even by his self (or used to.. before.. tears!)

Great post! Even the elusive EP!! Thanks
Great piece. How I wish that I could have stayed home. My husband was not supportive, and because he was an artist at the time, we needed both the income and insurance. Yet I wish that I had that time back with my infant daughter....and I celebrate those who made it work. You're right, there is no US vs THEM. I hope my daughter and yours get to make the choice that resonates best with rarely regrets spending time with one's children. Work outside the home, though rewarding in its own right is less important in the long run than what one does for one's own child. xo Rated and loved that you wrote this! Happy EP.
After having no choices but to work as a single mom the first time I was determined to stay home a year or so the second and did.
I have been on both sides of the story and support woman on both sides today and always. We need to reach out over the men in govt who feel if they divide us we will forget the abortion rulings, the contraception debates and the unemployment picture. Are we really back to the Hilary days of who bakes cookies or not? Let's just admit who we are: if we had the resources to comfortably stay home our entire adult lives at Romney's wife did, we should be gracious enough to admit our good fortunes not tell everyone how difficult it was. Her life compared to 99% of us is a cake walk financially, that's all we are saying, don't speak for the average as a 1%. The rest is a smoke screen sent up again by the politicians to divide our vote.
With my first children I was lucky to be a stay at home mom until they were mostly grown, with my second children I worked always two jobs at a time for awhile. I wanted nothing more than to stay at home and run our life, canning, gardening, watching my children grow. At least my job kept me with them and home for them after school...I so understand.
This is a wonderful piece, Joanie. Congrats on the EP! I hope a lot of women will tell their stories.
I love this post, Joanie H. Your daughter is so lucky to have two such loving, wise parents!
Agree with all the loving comments.

I was running a graduate school--working so hard, when my adopted daughter was born. I expected my husband to be the best mother because he had the greatest mom. Me, I wanted to be the dad. But then we separated after less than a year so I had no choice but to close the school, stay with her. At first I absolutely loved being a full time mom, but then I felt at sea and we two began traveling, by car, train, plane until we landed in Jamaica WI where my now ex lived. I think we were happiest in those years of being together in a beautiful country. But when we separated again, it was not by choice but by necessity. So we moved to Israel where there is so much support since children are included in everyone's life. And that was great until it wasn't. Up and down, sometimes too much, sometimes just right. Not a choice as you made Joan. Which makes all the difference. R
Many thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. As always, I appreciate it.
Boy you have had a life of both sacrifice and honor. I am glad to read you look back at these years as a treasure.
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Elegantly and feelingly written. It is a blessing to be able to make a choice--to neither have necessity nor cultural mores force a particular course of action--and it shows both conviction and strength of character to accept the consequences of that choice even when that means circumstances are straitened.
You made it work. My mother could have been a millionaire. Was a teacher and then a real estate agent. In real estate she just made deal after deal on personality alone. Never cheated anyone etc. But, she worked very little so she could be with me and sister. Now, she has two doting(over doting?) daughters who are there with her. No money now, but loads of love. So, it's a choice she made . It seems somehow wise to to focus on our loved ones , over wealth or status. And, it's great that you have that sweet husband too.
All my hens stay home with their chicks - even after the chicks grow up. The ones that become roosters then become...let's not go there, but I should note that then it's my job to keep them away from their moms. Essentially we all stay home. They hunt and peck in the yard, while I hunt and peck on the keyboard.
I quit a lucrative job when my son was 2 1/2 years old because I just couldn't bear to miss any more of his day-to-day life. Those were the best days of my life. Growing up, I was never one of those girls infatuated with playing house, or with babies at all in fact. And yet, presented with this wondrous little boy, I longed for him when I worked. During this time, I relentlessly questioned other young mothers about their careers and their mothering -and how it all worked together. What I heard but didn't understand at the time was that there a great range of answers. There were many mothers who were happily working, and truly not pining for more time with their children. I didn't recognize the significance of this difference between us when I was younger, but now I do. It is akin to "march to the beat of your own drum." The very fact that I was so desperately and constantly thinking about staying home with my son, questioning everyone, reading about it, etc. should have made me realize how important it was to ME. And so it has been, both with that child, and the daughter who followed 4 years later. I had a fabulous life before, but raising babies and then young children, and finally teens and young adults has given my life more meaning and joy than anything else before or since.
Good for you!! You had your priorities straight and still do!
Ya know, my husband and I almost had an argument about the "mommy wars" thing. He really doesn't understand, because 1) when he grew up in his native country, his mom was a doctor, but they had an incredible network of aunts and cousins and cheap servants to look after him; 2) we never had children, so he really doesn't get what a demanding "job" it is to raise a child(ren). In vain I tried to explain to him how hard my mom worked at being a stay-at-home mom (it was the 50's - nearly every wife was). I am sorta mad at people criticizing Ann Romney - she had 5 sons! Even for someone as wealthy as they are it's not a cakewalk!
So beautiful, clear, succinct and moving. Oh life does love to interfere with our plans, doesn't it? But you, Joan, always seem to meet them with grace and raw truth and vulnerability. And in sharing with us, we become better people just from having read them. Thank you!
I, like a lot of women, had no choice in the matter: mine was the sole family income. Tho at times I thought of running off to B.C. where, or so I understood, single mothers were provided a living allowance so they could stay home for the pre-school years.

What bugs me about this whole thing is that the point of the matter, Ann Romney being touted by her husband as someone who advises him on women's issues, is being lost in what is a very emotional issue for most women: how they have to abandon their children in order to work in order to keep those children alive. In a society where nuclear families and single mothers are the norm, and yet only lip service is given to the wonderfulness of raising children, a lot of women live with frustration, and politicians, for their own purposes, are stirring that up and pitting us against each other where it's unwarranted.
Having love but little money makes us a type of rich with no comparison. Second hand clothes? pfft, no biggie.
I really appreciate this, Joan. I was able to stay at home with my two until my youngest was 3. Then we all needed more social time with others our own age. But those early years were precious-and we lived close to D.C. then so who knows, you and I may have crossed paths!
Thanks for sharing. I agree that we honor each other as wise women and not judge each others' choices. I had what was right for me. As a teacher, I could have my summers with my boys. We spent long days at the pool and nights at the soccer field. And I was still able to give myself to my students, especially the ones who may have had no one to take them to the pool--ever.
Thank you for reminding me of how lucky I was. I got to stay home for 11 years with my three. And I agree so much with your tags and your viewpoint that we all must make the choices from the options available to us; judgment of others for their choices is unnecessary and a waste of time.
Congrats on the EP. I raised two children also 20-30 years ago. I worked 40 plus a commute. It's one of the biggest regrets of my life. My kids are wonderful, self actualizing people in spite of not being with me, in spite of often horrendous day care. I'm lucky for that and very thankful. It could have turned out otherwise for lack of their mom, or dad, for that matter. Every time I come across old photos of those days, my heart aches for what I missed and will never be able to recover. A career and money I could have had later, but not those days with them growing up. I envy you. Rated RRR
Joan H. Thanks for writing about this and sharing your experiences with others...
Being in the middle of nowhere I failed to take notice of the uproar someone's comments stateside have caused. But, I figured something was going on.
I have never been a stay-at-home mom. It was and is still economically unfeasible. It is one of my deepest regrets. The fact that I am a teacher, and teaching what it really is nowadays, I am raising other people's kids. Talk about ironic.
Since we have a temporary change of schedule at my school I have been able to drive the my kids to and from school, be there when the last bell rings, talk to teachers and other mothers who are stay at home moms. Make cupcakes for school projects. I get to know what is going on first hand and not a diluted version via texts. I don't want this to end.
I was raised to get a job, have a career. But sometimes juggling everything together is too much. It might sound like fifties whiplash, but I don't care. I don't care about climbing corporate ladders or getting promotions or being a supervisor. I want the peace that comes with a life slower-paced. If I could have a choice, that would be mine.
@ Vanessa,
I know how much that extra time means... My mother did not want to stay home, but in the 50's and 60's that was what was expected. My mother wanted a career. Badly. Instead, she made beautiful meals and kept an immaculate home, and seemed completely lost when it came to the nurturing, and the mothering part of it. I am sorry she did not have a choice. Every woman deserves at least the choice.
Once my daughter was in school, I went back to work. I don't make beautiful meals, and my house is not like my mothers. We also needed two incomes. For those few precious and fleeting years, (as Lea so beautifully put it) I stayed home and as I said, they really were some of the best years of my life.
Thank you, Vanessa.
I was home with mine for ten years and I also felt lucky to have had that choice - although I did work part time for the first two years which provided a fantastic and much-needed balance. I do believe kids need their mothers during those early years and I doubt there are very many children who would say if given the choice, they prefer daycare over being home with their moms (or dads - let's not leave them out).
Sorry I was so late to this...maybe not 'first', but 'last'?

I too feel lucky to have had a choice, to not have children. Free will is everything. Feeling that you are lucky is everything. This world would be boring and miserable if everyone had to live the exact same life.
@greenheron, yes, free will is everything. I won't even start on all the people who said, "what? you're only having ONE??"
I was always tired, but I loved staying home with my three kids. Lovely post, Joan.
Sounds wonderful, Joan. You did what was right for you and I'm sure your daughter appreciated it too.
"I felt lucky to be at home with my daughter" -- words I can identify with. I chose to have a child late in life when I could afford to be home. Luckily I was able to get pregnant when I wanted to get pregnant, unlike so many others. I'm glad you got to stay home in the end and spend quality time....when it mattered most. In my book there's no other option. And thankfully she was able to be with Daddy when you were not there.
Joan,thank you for sharing a lifes choice and how you and your family dealt with it."We lived on very little, we had very little.They were some of the happiest years of my life. "It rings a bell inside my heart your writing...I think real love is all we need and your work ρroves my thinking right.Rated with wishes..
Any sacrifices made to achieve the goal are well worth it, if that is what you want. That time can never be regained. I worked nights and weekends when my kids were little so I could be home with them during the day and my husband took care of nightduties. Never regretted it.
Forgot to say: Congrats on the well-deserved EP!
Wonderful. And congrats. I wished I had read this before I had written my own piece on the Romneys and working and rearing children.

Hats off to you.
I love this post. And I made basically the same choice and the same sacrifices. And I do miss those years, very much at times.
I made this choice. And now one of my daughters is making this choice. The key thing is that in the current economy very few families can afford to live on one income even if they don't have children. I think this choice should be available -- I don't know how to fix the economy to make it possible.