Lately I’ve been getting lots of emails from women who left their careers behind to raise their kids and are now having second thoughts about the decisions they made.
The main driver of their doubt seems to the bad economy. Many women are desperate for work now because their husbands have either lost their jobs or had their incomes cut during this painful recession. Given their years of voluntary unemployment, some of these women are finding it difficult to get back into the work world.
This from one reader:
I’m a displaced house-wife (homemaker) all my kids are grown, one still at home (19 yrs. old working w/ his dad) I want to, do something now with my life, besides stay home and keep house. As of now my husband is working by the hour at a fourth of what we are used to make because of the building slump. I need to go into the work force or go back to school, get into something with benefits or do something, but I DON”t know what? Help!!! I 53 years old soon to be 54. I haven’t worked outside the home in so long, I have NOTHING to put on resume or application, no work history or references. When I look at the information on the applications, I think I don’t have anything to even get my foot in the door. I wish I could get some sort of on the job training. I feel I’m to old to be thinking of career at my age. I just need to find someone who would be willing to train me. I’m so confused!
It’s a heartbreaking story, but one that’s replaying itself around the country. The recession may be making things worse, but women who decide to leave their careers behind often end up at this cross roads.
I read an essay recently in Newsweek by a stay-at-home mom who wondered why her daughter’s role model was her father even though she was the one who did everything around the house and for the family.
This question of a mother’s identity when she stays home is one that’s been debated for years. I’ve written about the economic price some women may pay for choosing this path, and I’ve encouraged my own friends and family members not to go down it, at least not for too long.
I admit it’s women like me that may also be feeding into the identity issue.
That’s why I wanted to give voice to a stay-at-home mom for a change. I asked a friend of mine, who was a school teacher but decided to take time off to raise her daughters, if she would share a bit about what she’s faced given her choice.
This Is My Career, Dagnabbit!
By Angela Holodick
It happened again. I was out with a friend, meeting some of her friends (a group of successful journalists) for drinks, when one of my new acquaintances innocently enough asked me what I did for a living. This isn’t an odd question. In fact, it is usually one of the first things we ask someone when we’re getting to know them. Yet I still always inwardly brace myself while answering because I’ve experienced “the look” enough in the past two years to know it’s probably coming.
I don’t get “the look” from everyone mind you. Mostly it comes from my peers, women near my own age. The reaction I get from men and older women is an entirely different one altogether.
No, I don’t crawl through the sewers or gut fish or anything else that guy (I think his name is Mike Rowe) on “Dirty Jobs.” I am quite simply, wait for it…a stay-at-home mom. Not all that bad, huh? So why do I get an odd look from other women?
The look itself involves raised eyebrows and a blank stare, usually followed by a bland “oh, that’s nice” or “it’s great that you’re able to do that” and then a quick change of subject. After the exchange, I can never quite shake the feeling that my career choice isn’t good enough. Some people have even gone so far as to ask me what I’d like to do. What I’d like to do? Are you kidding me? As if I would ever do something I didn’t like to do.
Avoiding “the look” is a goal of mine. I find myself pre-justifying my answer by saying, “I’m a teacher turned stay-at-home mom” and then explaining that I’m just taking a few years off to stay home with my three girls (ages 9, 2, and 8 months), but am planning on going back in a year or so. This seems to go over much better and everyone starts talking about how hard teaching must be or their friend so and so is a teacher too. Teaching, I find, is an admirable career choice. When I tell people I taught 7th grade English, I definitely gain respect. “Seventh-grade? Wow, I could never do that.” If I really want them to feel better, I also explain that I’m finishing up my master’s in School Leadership during this time, belong to a book club, and have begun preliminary work on a novel.
So, the question is why doesn’t being a stay-at-home mom gain respect and count as a respectable career choice? In the feminist backlash, has staying home to raise your own children become a second-class career choice? Don’t get me wrong. I’m as happy as anyone that the days where women were expected to stay home are gone. But are we doing the women of this generation an injustice by assuming they’ve given up themselves if they decide to work for their families instead of a stranger? Must I continually explain to everyone that although this is the most demanding job I’ve had in the 20 plus years I’ve been working, I have discovered more about myself, others, and the world by taking it on? If anything we ladies should support each other in whatever choices we make. And ladies, when men do it they are applauded! So come on, what gives?
I have never discussed this with other women, stay-at-home or otherwise, so although there is the possibility that my experience isn’t the norm, I sincerely doubt it. In turn, when trying to remember if I ever gave anyone “the look” when the tables were turned, I can’t guarantee I haven’t. I do remember when meeting women who chose being full-time moms thinking “she must have a lot of time on her hands”.
Shortly, I will go back to parenting 50-180 children each day (yes, much of teaching is parenting, like it or not), but in the meantime I will just be proud of sharing my skills with my own children. And, when that time comes, I will watch my response to other women who choose to work in the home.
What’s your take? Have you given stay-at-home moms “the look?” I know I have.