What did I learn this week?

My family is my career

This post was reprinted on Home Learning Victoria.

I remember when I first told someone that I was quitting my job to stay at home and raise my children, their response was, “Why?  I mean, it’s not like you don’t have an education and no other options?”  This person honestly could not understand why on earth I would give up being a lawyer to become a full time mother.  This experience came back to me after reading Jeff Sabo’s post, I Quit my Job to Provide for my Family, where he relates that clearly there was some similar disbelief expressed by his colleagues as to the “actual” reason he was leaving his job.

I know that many much more intelligent people than I have delved into the question about why mothering is not considered a “career” in our society, but the intellectual answers to that question do not really help me to truly understand it.  I mean, do people honestly believe that hired caregivers and teachers can do a better job of parenting their kids than they can?  They must, that is the only answer.  I remember reading Dr. Sears’ Baby Book before my first child was born, and something he and his wife wrote really stuck with me.  They said that it is very easy for new parents to come to believe that some expert knows their child better and can do a better job of raising the children than the parents.  Don’t be fooled, they wrote, no one can do a better job than you as the mother and father, YOU are the experts!

I really do believe that many people lack confidence and self-esteem, and this is part of why they feel that being a stay at home parent isn’t “good enough” for them.  Case in point.  Several years ago, I went to a dinner party with a friend and her husband at the home of one of my husband’s very good friends.  After dinner, the conversation turned to being a stay at home mother versus working outside the home.  My friend (an electrical engineer) had just told our hostess that she had decided to postpone her return to work indefinitely, and the response was, “Well, I have to work.  I mean, if someone asks me, I want to be able to tell them that I actually DO something.”  Excuse me?  I would say this was the most ignorant thing I had ever heard this person say, but unfortunately, it isn’t true.

Fast forward several years.  I no longer have any of the same friends, and in fact, I don’t tell people that I am a lawyer unless they ask.  Which they almost never do.  People now see me as a stay at home mother, and rarely ask if I ever did anything else.  Interesting.  When I decided to give up my career as a lawyer in favour of a career as a mother, I did wonder if I would feel the loss of what can only be described as privilege and prestige — because, much to my surprise at the time, I did find that being a lawyer meant that people did treat me with a certain respect and deference — but it really hasn’t.  However, I can see how making the transition would be very hard for someone who really identifies who they are with what job they hold and the relative level of esteem accorded to that job by society.  I suppose I should credit my mom and dad with making sure I grew up knowing who I am, so I did not have to try to piece together an identity for myself as an adult.  That, more than anything else, is something I really hope home schooling will help my children achieve — a true sense of self.

Do I miss anything about my job?  Sure, the paycheque!  Everything else, I feel comfortable having left behind.  One of my friends who also left behind her fulltime career to stay at home recently told me that she had been rereading the comic “For Better of For Worse” online because she had really liked it when she was growing up.  She still thought it was funny, she said, “but I can’t stand all the complaining about being a stay at home mother!  I mean, I had to work for 10 years for the privilege of being a stay at home mom.”  OK, so maybe things are changing.  Slightly.  Or maybe it is just my circle of friends.  Either way, I never feel anything but pride in the fact that my family is my career.  This is not to say that I will never “do” anything else.  The time when I am needed full time to raise my children is a season within my life, just as my job as a lawyer was.  I am not in a rush for the season to pass or to end it before my children are fully ready.  When it does, well, I’ll have to wait and see what life next brings my way.

6 Responses to “My family is my career”

  1. Justine! This is absolutely gorgeous. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this… I love the perspective and I felt my whole inner self just relax.

    Would you be willing to let me repost the whole thing on the Home Learning Victoria blog?

  2. Wow Rebecca, thanks so much for your comment! It means a lot to me coming
    from you! Of course it can go on the Home Learning Blog…

  3. As always, your posts are thoughtful and insightful. The subject is close to my heart and your comments mirror my feelings in many ways.

    I’d like to add that being a stay-at-home mom is a privilege in itself. I am fortunate that I can choose to stay at home and we are able to live a comfortable lifestyle on one salary. I am occasionally reminded of this by friends who both work to make ends meet.

    At the same time, though, because I stay-at-home, we cannot do some of the things our working friends do. This is our choice, though, and we think the benefits outweigh the cons. So, there is a fine line between “needing” to work to enjoy the luxuries of life and really needing to work to make ends meet.

    Finally, I do believe there are people who are happier and better parents if they work. It is easy to divide this into a dichotomous argument of stay-at-home versus working moms, but I think you phrased it nicely when you said that it’s important know who you are.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you for your kind words, Rachel. Reflecting on your comment about friends that need two incomes to make ends meet, I think that is a great point for discussion. There are without doubt families who do require both partners to work, but I have also met a great many where that is not actually the case. In many cases, it is not the ends that need meeting, but all the vacations, new clothes, and dinners out in the middle that require money. In other words, there is a particular lifestyle that is desired, and it does require more than one income to fund it. I agree with you that for some people, determining which side of the “fine line” they are on, lifestyle or needs, can be difficult.

    Would I like to go to Hawaii, wear new clothes all the time and buy nice things whenever I wanted to? Sure I would, sometimes. But, I definitely would not trade the time I have with my family in order to get “more stuff.” There is a lovely post by Robin Wildman about the “cost” of staying at home on the Home Learning Victoria blog. It puts things into perspective.

  5. I really resonated with this post as I left my promising career as an academic researcher to be a stay home mum. You said it all, especially the part about the experts. I’ve just been reading John Taylor Gatto who pointed out that the whole schooling system is designed to reinforce the idea that we are all dependent upon “experts” for pretty much everything. I’m sure that is where some of the attitudes towards child care come from. But I also think it has more to do with consumerism. As you said, a certain lifestyle requires two incomes. Most people could do it on one if they really wanted to but I think the ability to embrace frugality requires some personal development first (escaping the consumer mindset we’ve all been raised with). Anyways, great post!

  6. Hi Justine,

    Thanks for posting the comment and commenting on it. It was so long ago now, but I read your comments right after I read an article on Buddhist philosophy, the idea of dharma and four other principles to living. I thought there was a great philosophical connection between your post and these principles – but I can’t quite remember now (either because so much time has passed or because it is 6:30 in the morning).

    The overriding thought was that as long as we are honest with ourselves about what makes us happy, then we can live our lives to the fullest and share ourselves in the most positive way. For some, this may mean being working parents. I think we have to be careful when suggesting it is our responsibility/duty to stay home with our kids because women have worked hard for the right to work and have kids. When my mom told her boss that she was getting married, he said to her, “So your last day will be…” I’m glad I didn’t have to face this situation and I don’t want my daughter to face it either.

    My point that some people need to work, though, wasn’t to comment on the middle class family that wants to have it all, I was referring to many of the poorest families where the mom leaves her kids with grandma so she can work two shifts earning $5.5/hour to try to make ends meet. Until we come up with a system that values the role of a female parent more (because the greatest gender wage discrepancies lie with the unskilled/low skilled workers), this cat-and-mouse game with poverty will continue to exist.

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