Maybe I’m a week late to discuss this article. Maybe you all read it last week on Salon and discussed it while I was off frolicking in the Pennsylvania snow with the boy. But, perhaps, you were not aware of the article titled: “Regrets of a stay-at-home-mom.” If you haven’t read it, please do because we need to talk about it.
When I was brave enough to open my Tweetdeck on Sunday afternoon after nearly a week out of Twitterdom, I found my brother’s note to me about this essay. He said: “Thought you might find this interesting.” He didn’t say: “Thought this might ruin your day,” or “Thought this might make you ask every question you’ve ever asked about your so-called profession.” I guess “interesting” can encompass all of those reactions. Either way, reading this article made me feel ill.
In it, Katy Read describes her long decision to give up a career in journalism 14 years ago in order to raise her two sons. She describes the moments of bliss when she strove to memorize every feature in their little boy faces as she pushed them on the swing in the middle of the day. She describes her joy at having the time to savor their childhood and offer them her undivided attention as opposed to the first year of her son’s life when she continued to work and felt as though she was failing at everything.
And then she describes how she regrets it. She is now divorced and unemployed and unable to find work due to her fourteen years away from the work force. And she’s incredibly anxious about her inability to care for her sons.
Since making my decision to stay home with August, I’ve struggled with a cultural debate in my head. The debate is this: I am educated and I should be able to provide for myself, despite my being married to a kind and generous man who appreciates my staying home with our child. Never once has my husband referred to the money he earns as belonging to him. Never once have I felt as if I were given an allowance. But at the same time, little voices tell me that the unthinkable could happen. And I could be left to care for my kids on my own.
Whenever those little voices arrive, I sit next to my man on the couch and say: “Don’t ever change into a horrible meany and leave me alone. Because I won’t survive.” He usually says something sweet about how much he likes me and how crazy I am and then pinky swears me that it won’t happen. Then I say, “Seriously, what if I could never get a job because I’ve stopped working?” That’s when he reminds me that I’ve never had a lucrative job in my life. When I was on staff with Young Life, we lived off my husband’s salary and mine filled in the little gaps. Before that, I was a struggling MFA graduate trying to write poems while I worked part time as administrator at a construction company. That’s not to say I couldn’t get a job if I needed to. I would love to teach high school English. I would love to finish the seminary training I began while on staff with Young Life and go into ministry within a church. I would love to write books and actually get paid for it. (PS I do not want to teach creative writing to graduate students.)
But now that I’m thinking about it, none of those things are lucrative. That’s not who I am. I’ll never be gifted at money-making. And maybe that’s my answer to Ms. Read’s anti-SAHM lament.
Actually, I think I have a more important answer to her sad SAHM tale. I am married. We share money and children and a home because we trust each other and believe in our relationship and our commitment to God’s work in our relationship. I cannot make my life and parenting decisions based on fear. I can’t. No matter how disastrous marriages are around us. No matter how often couples whom we respect divorce. No matter.
The reality is that marriage is a sacrifice. Chris has a few friends from work who are living the bachelor dream, making money and wearing the beautiful shoes that I would never allow Chris to buy. Both of us could have completely different lives if we were single. But we aren’t. We chose marriage. And marriage is sacrifice and trust. I can read Ms. Read’s essay and let my mind embark on a “what if” marathon. But her warning that I should protect myself also means that I should live in fear. That’s not healthy. Healthy marriage is sacrifice and partnership. Chris sacrifices his dream of looking like the pages of the Sartorialist. I sacrifice my (usually false) idea of female success. We both sacrifice our independence. And in that, we find ourselves eating burritos on the couch on Friday night and giggling about whatever stupid thing we watch on TV. And in trusting each other we find authenticity. It’s worth the risk. It’s brave.
Besides, I can rest in the fact that these years of non-working are not ruining my career. That’s the good thing about being an artsy-fartsy/ministry/non-profit type.
Did any of you read the article? Did it make you feel crazy as well? Do you think I’ve got it completely wrong?