Amazing the number of conversations, online or otherwise, that have occurred in response to my last blog post on independent women. The upshot is–a lot of you agree with me that even women who stay at home should know they could support their family, keeping “one oar in the water,” so to speak. And some of you want to be sure I’m not denigrating stay-at-home moms.
Not a chance. I was a full-time stay-at-home mom for several years and it was my biggest role to date. I believe every child, if a family can afford it, deserves to have a loving adult around for those childhood years. It cut me to the quick when, during a conversation, my ex intimated that I should have kept working instead of staying at home with our kids for the first few years of their lives. I unequivocally disagree. My being there made a difference–and I’m sure it does for millions of children around the world.
That said, I wrote what is below after my mother’s death. It may give you more insight into my perspective–and why I feel so strongly about women being able to rely on themselves. A shout-out to all the mamas out there–working in the home or outside of it–we’re changing the world one child at a time.
I thank my mother each and every day for being who she was. It was tough at times to be the “surprise” late-in-life sixth child of a woman who was better at executive decisions than warm and fuzzy. And yet, thank God that is who she was. She never talked to me about “finding” a husband or being supported, as some of my friends’ mothers did. She did not care one whit if I could cook or sew. She always assumed I would make my way in the world, becoming successful because of my intelligence and skills, as she had. Carry-out joints and seamstresses could handle the rest.
As I navigate a painful divorce (are there any that aren’t?), I cry tears of gratitude that I can earn a living. It may not be what it could have been had I not dropped out of the workforce to care for my boys, but it is something—and I would not trade those early days for millions. Truly.
I remember my mother’s voice on the phone as I told her I would be quitting my job to stay at home with my eldest. “What on earth are you thinking, Kris?” she asked in astonishment. “Why would you throw all those years of education and hard work away? You’re on track to get a promotion soon.” Hurt, I tried to explain to her that I was not throwing anything away. I was grabbing precious time that I would never get back.
In time, though, I understood her perspective. What I used to perceive as a lack of empathy or caring on her part, I now understand as a mother and career woman. With an advanced degree in hand at a time when few women earned them, and the reins of multiple healthcare enterprises to hold, she wanted to run like a racehorse and achieve things women did not normally achieve during her era. But, she felt constrained by the rest of her life. Although she loved us, she occasionally felt limited by her obligation to her gaggle of daughters.
In that sense, she was not a traditional mother. She was not interested in things like helping with every detail of each daughter’s wedding; she had no desire to choose chicken or beef, organza or silk, roses or lilies. She was perfectly content to be told when and where to show up and let the details take care of themselves. That was hard for a few of us. But now, again, I see. Her intense focus on what she did love, on where her talents sat, was not so much selfishness as a survival mechanism. She had gone so long doing for others during the first half of her life that when it came time to do for herself in the latter half, she did it without guilt. There’s a lesson in that; I try to remember it when I have to say “no” yet again to someone who wants a small piece of me—and I just don’t have any more to give.
In the end, I proved myself to be my mother’s daughter, perhaps a bit gentler. I did stay at home and loved having the time. But, I also kept my hand in freelance writing and took on enough public relations and marketing projects to keep me somewhat viable in the marketplace. I look at the divorced women who never had a career or did not keep their hand in their craft, and I cannot imagine how terrified they must be.
Hence, I thank my mother. She had the advantage of being an older mother to me. She knew love does not always last and that a promise takes two to hold steady over the years. She ensured that if I came to the place I now have come to, I could survive. I could care for my children and it would not be easy, but I would find a way to make it. For them. For me. Warm and fuzzy would have been great but I would not trade what I have now for sentimentality. That won’t pay my bills. Again, she was ahead of her time and I benefit from her foresight.
My mother softened as the years went on. When my feature on being a stay-at-home mother was published in Chicago Parent, she posted online about the article. At the time, it mortified me that at my age, my mother was posting “proud mama” comments in an area meant for impartial readers but now, I treasure her words: “I am Kris’ Mom and I am so proud of her. Her two boys reflect the love and devotion she has for them. Indeed they are privileged . . . ” After all those years, she saw that warm and fuzzy might have been just as necessary as bringing home the bacon. I think it was one of the things maybe I was meant to teach her, as she had taught me so many others.