Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Guilt if you do, guilt if you dont: thoughts on being a stay-at-home-mom

When I was seven years old I got sick and went to the school clinic and saw another girl sitting there, sicker. The nurse called my mom, and hers. My mom picked me up. The other girl? Her mom was working and would be there when she could. It was one of those memories that stay with you. I vowed that day that when the day came, I would be a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM).

A lot happened since that vow. I worked ever since the state of Florida legally allowed me to do so. I got degrees, three of them and worked as both a teacher, and an attorney. It wasn't about the money necessarily since last time I checked teachers and public interest lawyers did not do it for the benjamins but it was nice to "earn my keep." I enjoyed holding a job. I enjoyed the intellectual challenges, and I wondered what would happen when I became a mother. Would I stick to my vow?

Its funny that I wrote about this half a decade earlier and had no conclusion. Now, as a SAHM the question still plagues me and I feel a little guilty: Am I doing the right thing?

I know mothers who work outside the home also feel guilty. Who wish they could be home with their children. Who worry what the impact of being away from them may be.  (And to those who do work full-time and feel guilty, a new study revealed that working mothers do not have the negative impact on their children that many have feared).

I don't find being a SAHM boring. I love cuddling with him each morning. I love doing yoga with him. Carrying him around as I do household tasks. I love snatching moments of time to get my writing in while he naps. Watching him gaze with amazement at the brightly lit aisles of Target. I love that each crawl, each smile, each giggle I witness is very likely the first because I'm there to see it happen. And I am grateful I am able to have this opportunity, because not everyone does.

But there's that lingering guilty feeling. It creeps up when I talk to other moms who tell me they're working in investment, or auditing, or attorneying, and when they ask what I'm up to. . . SAHM. . . Its strange to say it. The words feel foreign. No one is telling me to go back to work. No one is questioning my purchases. There is no logical reason to feel guilty. I guess I'm just used to it. I'm used to working. I'm used to "earning my keep" in the form of a physical paycheck that you can take to the bank and cash.

Its also inescapable that despite the fact that being a SAHM is a good reason to explain the gap in your professional resume, when you do decide to return to the workforce, former SAHMs make less money and have a harder time getting jobs. Its an interesting conundrum to feel guilt if you do, and guilt if you don't.

These thoughts have been with me since I made the decision to stay home but I'm not sure why I feel the need to share these thoughts today. Maybe because I applied for a part-time job (its a full time position but a job I would love to do so I figured it didn't hurt to see if they'd take me part-time). Or maybe its because as I was filling out some paperwork today I found myself staring at the line "mother's occupation" for entirely too long wondering what on earth to write. Mother? Homemaker? None?

I wish the concept of being a SAHM was as simple and clear-cut for me as it was when I was seven-years old, and that I could just allow myself to live completely in the moment without any doubts or hesitations of whether or not I'm doing the right thing. I guess that's the thing about growing up- you learn that nothing is black and white- life is lived within the shades of gray.

What are your thoughts on being a SAHM or working after kids?

17 comments:

katery said...

my feelings are that if you don't want to work (well, work at a paying job, being a sahm is PLENTY of work on it's own) and you have the means to not work, then don't work! why should you feel guilty if both you and your husband are happy with things as they are? you've worked hard all your life to get where you are, there's no reason for you to feel guilty. personally, working is good for me, i'm only working 20 hours/week so i still have a lot of time with louise, but i also need that adult interaction every day. working after having kids is not everybody's cup of tea, and that's ok!!

Aisha said...

Kate, I think you have the perfect situation because you work part-time, keep up your professional life and still spend plenty of time with Louise- its a win-win situation to me. You are right though- I should just accept it and embrace it rather than feeling guilty about it. Thanks for your perspective.

kmina said...

I am a SAHM. But before that I was a housewife and not by choice. When we moved to Germany, I gave up a very well paid job I hated because my husband got a very well paid job he loved (and still does, thank God). But living in different countries was hard and I wanted to be with hubs, not work all week and spend the money on plane tickets. I knew it would be hard for me to find another job, since I am specialized in a very narrow field, and I am considered overqualified for anything else (bugs the lights out of me, but can't do much) (and even if one might think that speaking 5 languages can easily get one a job, I found out this is not exactly true). But my family is more important than my career.
I don't mind being a SAHM, I love staying with my munchkin. I really do. I do not get bored or annoyed.

New twist: this week I heard of a position that I would qualify for, but it is supposed to start soon, before next year, and it would involve extra hours, and I am just not ready for this. I WANT to stay with him and be there for him. I want to breast feed him as much as I can. I can't think of not being with him during the first year at least. I signed him up for crèche next year because it is good for him, not because I want to.
So, even if my chances of finding something else suitable in the future are slim, slim, slim, I would not trade any career for the chance of watching my son grow. I chose to stay at home with him. There is no other choice for me, really. I cannot be away from him. I am a SAHM and that is that. And I am so fine with this decision.

kmina said...

Wow, sorry for the novel I posted. Didn't realise I wrote so much. Having started it this morning and posting it at noon does not help either...

Jen said...

I havent decided what Im going to do yet but I need to figure it out soon. I hope I can get parttime work because that seems to be the win-win solution.

Anonymous said...

You're right, it's guilt if you do, guilt if you don't. And I think saying-just embrace it (the role you are playing at the moment)!-is easier said than done.

I had my daughter in law school, but took night classes for that last year so was able to leave her with my husband. I then took a little over a year and a half off after law school (in which time I took the bar and looked for a job). And I've been working 9 months now (full-time) as a public interest lawyer.

I think what I did worked out because I got to avoid putting my dauther in daycare until she was 2+ years old. The transition was difficult and I still sometimes feel guilty (though less so now that's she's 3). BUT I felt that my career was doomed when I was a SAHM (especially one with no work experience) and like my job.

--Rasha

Anonymous said...

Also, reading back through your 2005 post, I agree that having grandparents around would be a great solution. But unfortunately I don't have that option.

Anonymous said...

u do not know how lucky u r that u can afford to stay at home and enjoy your baby.

Aisha said...

Kmina- oh wow- do you have a PhD? I can't imagine how tempting it must be to consider that job you are telling me about- I admire you- you are my inspiration- there is no need to feel guilty about something you chose to do especially when their is nothing wrong with it. Your little guy is lucky to have you has his mama :)

Jen, they're hard to come by, part-times but if you can- yes it can be a win-win if thats what you want.

Rasha- you ended up doing public interest? I remember when you were doing a internship with a corporate law firm (if memory serves me correctly). I'm glad to hear you found a good solution and you are happy with what you are doing. Its not easy. Do you have any ideas of what you will do if/when you have another baby? And like you, I don't have the option of grandparents.

Anon-haha :) I know who you are ;) and yes- I know I am very very very lucky. Alhamdulilah.

Roadblocks and Roller Coasters said...

First, I must disagree with the previous comment--I think you are very aware of and are grateful for your time with your son.

Second, as a working mom who always thought she'd want to stay home, I'm very happy with my decision. I love my girls more than anything but I'm a better mon when I have work as well. If I stayed home we would be broke as I'd shop us our of house and home. ;) I used to feel guilty but my girls are so good and happy I figure we must be doing something right.

Anonymous said...

Not sure yet. But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to work full-time if I have a child under 2.

Cherish This Life! said...

My daughter is 8 now. I worked until she was almost 5 and then transitioned to a part time work from home position. I have to say when she was a baby I never thought I would be home with her, I just didn't see it was possible and wasn't sure I would be that great at it. But when the option arised and we had just started trying for #2, I couldn't resist. It was the best choice I ever made. The time I get with her in the morning and the way I get to see her off and welcome her home is so worth it. I do still work not only to try and help with household costs but to help my sanity level as well. I really don't know that I would cut it as a non-working Mom. I think it is a beautiful part of motherhood if you have the luxury of being able to do it. As a mother we make the best of what opportunities we have so I really think working, non-working, part-time, full time are all feasible options!

Sharee said...

I'm studying to be a marital and family therapist ... It's been 3 years of hard work and graduation is just a few months away. I also have 2 children ages 1 and 3. When I started this parenting journey I committed to pursuing my own interests as long as they did not interfere with my most important work - raising my children. I take it super seriously because they aren't just kids - they are our family's legacy. I'm making decisions and planting seeds that will impact future generations. I'm shaping their morals, values, character, integrity, love for others ... I'm making deposits that can't be measured! I've been blessed with this awesome privilege and responsibility. I will not pay someone else to do it because they don't share the high stakes. My "job" is too important ... and I'm sure these are the moments I'll treasure at the end of life. This is certainly a sacrifice and one that I won't always get recognition for making ...So, why did I go to school if I wasn't going to work in the field? I had the means to do so and I get personal satisfaction from achieving a goal AND helping families. I will always have a skill to fall back on and I'll work part-time around my hubby's schedule when and if I can realistically do so. Right now, I'm a publisher and full-time grad student ... I won't do full-time until the kids are where I think they should be developmentally... and I'll probably homeschool.

This is NOT easy! Many opportunities beckon and I constantly re-visit why I'm a SAHM. The benefits outweigh the costs - by a landslide!! And I'm soooo over feeling guilty. (We women are always looking for reasons to feel guilt whether it's over eating the last cookie or taking a well-deserved nap!).

I feel blessed.

RELH said...

I am currently on leave, but I go back to work Nov 12. Part of me is very, very sad that I have to go back to work. We simply can't afford for me to say at home. Yes, we would be ok without my salary, but our life style habits would have to change somewhat. We don't want that.

I love spending time with Baby C, but there are days when I miss my students at work.

I know that Nov 12 and the days following are going to be very tough for me!

ICLW #26

Jen said...

The wonderful thing about living in this time is that mothers have a lot of choices. But you know what, choices are also stressful because we find ourselves always wondering if we're doing the right thing. Because despite all those ideals fed to us growing up, we really can't do it all. It is not humanly possible.

I'm a working mom with a SAHD for a wide variety of reasons, and it works well for our family. But there are days when I wish a SAHM just as there are days that SAHM's probably wish they were working. For me it is about give and take and doing my best. Thanks for a very interesting and heart felt post.

Aisha said...

Roadblocks- thanks for your take on this- if what you do brings you peace and your kids are happy and YOU are happy- then what more can a person ask for?

Anon- yeah as a mother and a person with a career they want- its hard to find the perfect balance- like you I don't think I could do full-time work with kids under 2.

Cherish this life- thank you so much for your comment and your thoughtful take on the whole situation. Its interesting to get your perspective since you had a chance to do both- like you, I'm not just sitting around- I am working on my writing- so luckily that does keep me intellectually engaged.

Sharee- thank you for your awesome comment- I appreciate it a lot- your concluding thoughts on guilt have so inspired me that I am writing another post basedo n that. Thanks for your take.

RELH thanks for your comment- I guess you can relate to the mixture of feelings- I hope you can find fulfillment with work and raising your child w/out any of the guilt that plagues some of us.

Jen, Yes! Choices bring with it a different set of responsibility and stress. That's awesome that you have managed to figure out a situation that works for your family. Yes- doing our best is all we can do. We have to give ourselves some slack.

Anonymous said...

Aisha! I hear ya! I took off 3 months when Nyla was born and then after my training, I was off for 6 months to move, take care of Nyla and find another job. I had to explain this during a job interview and getting hospital approval. I am now taking 6 months off and I have been struggling with your same issues! For now, I am going to go back to work for 2 days for 2 months and then back to 3 days. A part time job will be ideal for you if you want to work. I have a great nanny (Thank God!) and I think it is good for Nyla and Lana to have other people in their lives that love them and are nice to them. I don't think children were meant to be raised by one person. I'd go completely nuts!

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