The Work-From-Home Mom

A while back, Meg wrote a post about wedding planning, and why the lessons she learned during the process have ended up coming in handy outside the context of wedding planning (in that instance it was navigating pregnancy). I’m finding this to be true for me as well, but less in the logistical way that Meg talked about, and more in the emotional work of coming to terms with how I transition from one stage of my life to the next (read: often with much kicking of the feet). For us, the next transition will probably include kids. Part of the reason I’ve been pressing to include more parenting conversations on APW is because I think the way we talk about parenthood in our culture right now is really troubling. There are so many labels and acronyms and so very few real conversations about how people are approaching the decision to have and raise a child in this day and age. And frankly, I just want to know what my options are. Or really, that I even have options. So this week, in addition to your regularly scheduled wedding content, we’ve asked a few familiar faces to join in a conversations about parenthood as it pertains to home and work. Today we start with our own Liz, as she navigates working from home while also taking care of a kiddo during the day. This week we’ll also hear from Meg on the wonders of daycare, as well as longtime reader Brandi on her experiences as a stay at home parent. While these perspectives certainly don’t even graze the complete possibilities of parenthood, my hope is that through them we can begin to expand our conversations on Parenthood out from June Cleaver and into something a bit more like real life.


It was just about two years ago that I left my job to be home with my son. But, it was just about a year ago that the internet informed me of its disapproval of that decision.

It’s funny how something like, “to stay home or not to stay home,” feels a very black-and-white sort of choice when you’re talking about it on the internet, where everything is in single dimension. In reality, the decision was all sorts of blurry shades of gray. Rather than a choice of this-or-that, it was a matter of weighing a load of different factors together. My husband and I thought about who was having an easier time finding lucrative work, who had aspirations outside of a just-bill-paying job, and who wanted to be home. We weighed issues of finance, emotion, time, career path, family, and on and on against one another. It was complicated.

But it wasn’t something entirely unfamiliar. That’s what we’d been doing for all the Big Stuff up until that point. Where to live? Take this job or that? Go back to school? Each decision rolled out pretty much the same litany of factors, just with different importance each time. Having a baby was no different, just, yet again, made the factors shift a bit in weight. Complicated, tricky, but old hat.

In fact, just about a year before baby, we’d done that same shuffling of priorities. In the end of that round, I took on a bleak desk job in a cramped gray cubicle. It was a boring job, a smidge degrading, and it wasn’t in my field, but it paid the bills. Because it paid the bills, my husband was able to stay home and work toward his Master’s. We wrung our hands, we discussed, and we analyzed all of the different factors to consider. In the end, I bit the bullet so he could do what he wanted.

When baby came around, I was the one who wanted to stay home, and he faced slaving away at a thankless job. Other than those specifics of who was stuck with the shitty end of the stick (and the presence of one additional pudgy, dimpled factor to consider), it was essentially the same decision.

So why the public outrage?

I have a bunch of theories, of course. Maybe it’s a kneejerk reaction to anything that smacks of tradition. Maybe it’s a subconscious undervaluing of anything classified as “women’s work.” Maybe a concern that women are accepting the boring end of the stick by sitting in front of Sesame Street all day (if you are sitting in front of Sesame Street all day, I’m sure that’s true), but what concerns me is that it possibly reflects an inability to value both differences and equality, at the same time.

There are some women who enjoy being at home. Women who are not settling, who aren’t shrugging off ambition, who aren’t discontent, and who aren’t lazy. Women who find value in being in their own homes for a significant portion of the day, however that plays out.  Beyond that, there are women who experience an intense desire to be with their kids after having them (whether you want to call that biological or hormonal or evolutionary). Neither of these kinds of women is less valuable or weaker than others, nor should they apologize for the form their contribution to society takes.

Personally, I’m not the type of woman who has staggering career goals. I don’t have daydreams of some corporate ladder climb. Simply put, when I work, I work so that I can eat. But, don’t mistake that for lacking ambition. There are some women, I’m sure, for whom staying at home means setting aside their dreams. There are other women (like me), though, for whom staying at home only better serves to reach those dreams. I’m not talking about the ambition of having a clean house, or the success of hot meals. But painting. Or starting a small business from home. Or volunteering to help others. I’m really lucky, because the stuff that I find fulfilling and rewarding about my career (teaching) is stuff that I can still do outside of a paid gig in a classroom.

If I were to scratch out what I wrote last time and instead say, “I decided to stay home and pursue my love of painting,” or, “I quit my job to start a business,” or even, “I’m staying home so I have time to volunteer,” I don’t think anyone would’ve batted an eye. And, you know? Staying home with my kid allows me to do all of that stuff. But, in the end, that “mom” word seems to change the tone of the conversation, and I’m not sure that’s quite necessary. Staying home to be with my kid has been akin to any of the other decisions made in my marriage. Two folks got together and made a decision, their opinions both equally important regardless of gender. What’s more feminist than that?

Photo Kara Schultz

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  • “Maybe it’s a subconscious undervaluing of anything classified as “women’s work.””

    This just put into words something that bothers me so much about many of the conversations that surround women’s career choices but I’ve never been able to state so clearly. Thank you.

    • Jennie

      Yes. This. I work as a birth & postpartum doula – which is a field almost exclusively made up of women.

      I often get questions about when I will go back to school (and get a ‘real’ job) and I often feel societal pressure to do something that requires more training/education. But in the past five years, I’ve started a business, bought a business and served 2 years on a board of directors. I have to remind myself that there is a lot of value in those things even if other folks don’t make me feel that way.

      • I’m so sorry you get those reactions! Considering your work *directly* serves individuals and families who need support, I’d hope that value would be easily recognized.

        Thanks for being a community leader. We need you!

  • Maire

    I really appreciate your observation that the working spouse sometimes has the “boring” (“shitty”) end of the stick.

    It’s also marvelous to see a couple where the balance really has gone back and forth– you’ve both held the boring end in your partnership. I suppose one reason others are troubled by your choice (not that they have any right to be to be!!) is that even though you employed a fair, feminist, modern decision-making process, other people don’t see that process–they only see the end result: you, mother, home with the baby.

    I suppose there is the rub: even in modern marriages in the modern world, women often make the same choices as in the past. Perhaps the reasons have changed, ccompletely– but if it looks the “same” from the outside…you raise some feminist eyebrows. (cf name changing discussion!) Thus, I think it is especially marvelous that you’ve shared with us the inside-look– the process, the trade offs, the back-and-forth. It reminds us that the process IS incredibly important, and that it profoundly colors the resulting arrangement,

  • And there are men (my brother, my friend’s husband, my uncle) who prefer to be home rather than working fulltime, who prefer the role of fulltime parent and the freedom of being stay at home dads to persue their other interests and no one says they are giving up on the dream or letting all men down. You have to do what makes sense within the context of your ambitions and your family and the internet be damned.

    • Another Meg

      My cousin is going to do this (be a stay-at-home dad) and my family is “worried” for his “lack of ambition” which kind of pisses me off. I’ve spent some time defending him, but considering how conservative my family is, this is to be expected.

      Within the realm of the progressive community, I’ve seen a lot more of what you’re referring to. It seems that in so many major parts of life, men get to do whatever they want but any choice a woman makes is part of the larger dialogue. We’re somehow property of the big picture.

      It’s like there’s a war, but only women are part of the army for equality. Why aren’t men also soldiers in this battle? I know that there are men who consciously make feminist choices for themselves and with partners regarding their families, and they are awesome and take a lot of the shit that women do (like the post last week about a guy changing his name- on the front lines, that guy). But they seem to be the exception, not the rule. For guys who go the traditional route, they don’t seem to get any kickback from the world. That’s what gets me.

      Why can’t we all just own our decisions and let everyone else own theirs as well?

      • Dawn

        I definitely support these men.

        My father was a stay-at-home Dad for quite a few years. He also pursued free-lance writing at the time and had a few part-time gigs to make ends meet. My parents made a reasonable decision based on whose job had benefits, and then went from there. I also have a twin. He worked his tail off being a first time father with two babies to take care of (and this is before there was any ‘paternity’ leave option on the table in Canada)

        Most of his friends didn’t get it. Most of the family took a while to come around to it. I sincerely hope they will. I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.

    • Class of 1980

      I TOTALLY support those men. If I had been a different person … a person ambitious to climb the corporate ladder and still wanted kids, I’d prefer a less ambitious husband.

      I really would. I don’t know how life would balance otherwise.

      • I agree completely – for my friend who’s husband stays home with their daughter she says it removed any trace of guilt she ever had about not being a super duper mommy doing days worth of crafts and fun trips with her kid.

        • Class of 1980

          A to the MEN. AMEN. ;)

    • Rebecca

      So true! My sister and her husband are not at all in the baby having phase, but they have discussed how they plan to approach parenthood. Even though their jobs may change, they both know that she would prefer to spend more time working outside of the home, and he would prefer to spend more time at home with kids. I’m thankful that our immediate family is totally supportive of this, but I won’t be surprised if some older or more conservative family members object when the time comes. As for me, my fiance and I have had the exact same conversations. My grad school and career trajectory for the next five or so years means that I will only be able to work part time, if at all. I’m the one with years of child development experience (that I’m sure will fall right out of my brain when the person I’m caring for is my own spawn). There are so many factors that go into making these decisions. I really resent someone trying to take away my feminist card just because the outcome of said deliberation “smacks of tradition”.

  • Rachael

    I really appreciate this post. I am a college graduate. But my ambition is to be able to work from home a few hours a day on my writing while taking care of a family and household. This meshes well with my significant other’s ambition of the corporate climb. We’ve discussed it and know that I am working to pay the bills now while he is studying to finish up his degree, and when the time comes, he’ll follow his ambition and (hopefully) we’ll end up in a situation where I can follow mine. I recognize that I may never be a full time stay at home mom. I may have to work to make ends meet. I may get my dream and realize I can’t stand not having enough to do while the kids are at school.

    But we’ll cross those bridges later. I just wish I could tell my friends that my dream job really is staying home with a family without laughter or eye rolling. I have wanted to raise a family since I was a kid myself, and I know that as a feminist I’m “supposed” to want a fulfilling career outside the home. But for me, a job is a job. It is simply a means to buy food, shelter and comforts. It is not who I am and it is not what makes me happy. And that should be enough for everyone else to leave my decisions out of their political ranting.

    • SJ

      I’m totally with you here. I am paying the bills now so that FH can finish up his degree and hop on out in the working world. I want to write and be home enough to do it. I’m not sure exactly when raising children and staying home to do so became seen as “anti-feminist” because that is SO not my definition.

      Feminisim, to me is simply this: I am capable enough to be brilliant at whatever it is that I choose to do, regardless of my sex. If I want to monkey jump the corporate ladder that is perfectly fine. If I want to stay home and raise my 9 children to be global citizens and damn fine human beings that is also EQUALLY fine.

      All of that to say: Rock on lady!

    • yes! i have wanted to be a housewife basically since i met my wife five years ago (well, i’ve always wanted to be a housewife, except it’s a very difficult ambition for a happily single person). but i have only just gotten to the point where i can say that aloud with enough confidence to keep the laughter at bay – i sometimes call it my “career goal,” but i always say “housewife.”

      also, we’re in the exact same place – me working while my wife goes to school in order to switch earners later (though she isn’t exactly on the corporate path).

      i’m excited for this post and the ones to follow – i have been putting a lot of disorganized thought into how i feel about being a stay at home parent (which, as it turns out, is sort of a thing if you’re planning to be a housewife and also have kids. who knew?).

    • When people ask me what I want to do with my PhD (as long as they aren’t my department head, for example), I tell them I want to be a really smart mommy. And I think I’m a perfectly fine feminist for having that ambition, because I had the choice for what I wanted to do and I made the best choice for me.

      • Not Sarah

        I don’t understand why people think it’s better for a kid to have a dumb mommy than a smart one. Even if you don’t “use” your education directly, your kids will still be better off to have a smart mom than a dumb one!

        • Other Katelyn

          Formal education does not equal smart, a lack of formal education does not equal dumb.

          • Most definitely.

            But being told my PhD will be a waste – that’s dumb.

        • Class of 1980

          I have never understood it when people scold a woman with an education that chooses to stay home by saying … “You’re wasting your education!”

          What? We don’t think knowledge or education (however you define it) makes someone a better mother?

          • Rachel

            Word. Also, in this economy, lots of people are “wasting” their educations. That kind of attitude from outsiders is bad enough when you’re happy with what you’re doing with your life, but for the people who aren’t happy with what they’re doing at the moment, that’s really gotta sting.

            Let’s just ban that phrase!

      • Liz

        This could segue into a whole conversation on how our culture twists the purpose of education.

        • Ooo, that would be a GOOD conversation.

      • MDBethann

        My biggest disappointment isn’t in women who are educated and work in the home, it’s the one who start an education but never finish it before raising their children. This bothers me only because if something ever happens to the breadwinner, the work-at-home spouse (usually a woman) may not have a good way to support her family.

        Having an education gives us choices; not finishing our education limits them.

        Our children can only benefit from our education and degrees.

    • carrie

      I think (I hope) that this is the next wave of feminism – accepting women’s choices. I mean, this is what feminism *is*, and always has been. But at some point, I really hope that we’ll get to a place where we FIRST think, “wow, that’s so cool this woman is doing what she wants to do” rather than making a shit ton of assumptions.

      • moonitfractal

        …and men’s choices too. I get the impression that a lot of stay at home dads get even more backlash about ‘wasting their lives’ than women do. It has to be part of our conversation.

    • Actually, one of the big points of the feminist movement, especially initially though it seems less of a focus now, was not that women should/could work outside the home, but that the work they DID in the home, mothering and otherwise, was valued for the hard work it *is*.

      (And of course, for many, many women, working outside the home was never a choice, but a economic necessity, which the focus on white middle class women, particularly in the first and second wave, got overlooked.)

      I am a work-from-home mom; I run my business out of the house and also am primary caregiver to our two kids, and both of those choices have a lot of “this is how we make ends meet” factored into them.

      • Rachel

        “Actually, one of the big points of the feminist movement, especially initially though it seems less of a focus now, was not that women should/could work outside the home, but that the work they DID in the home, mothering and otherwise, was valued for the hard work it *is*.”


  • ” Two folks got together and made a decision, their opinions both equally important regardless of gender. What’s more feminist than that?” -that’s what is all about, that you made the decision together and that you are both satisfied with it.

    I think that you are so lucky that you get to be with your baby and also are free to use your time doing stuff that really makes you happy. We do not have kids yet, but my husband and I have started to talk about it and me staying at home with baby is definitely an opportunity we will be seeking for.

  • Laura C

    A key difference between being out of the paid workforce while staying home with a kid and being out of the paid workforce while finishing grad school is that the latter is a resume item that will (supposedly) advance one’s career, while the former is something that’s seen as a gap in your work history that will make it harder to get a job and will probably lower the pay of the jobs that are available. So that’s one reason for the difference between the reception of “staying home to be with my kid” and “staying home to pursue my love of painting” or “quit my job to start a business.” Staying home to be with a kid is something that affects careers not just in the couple years it happens but for years thereafter, and women disproportionately are the ones to do it. The individual choice to do it is still an individual choice in all sorts of important ways and has to be made as if it is (not a recipe for a good life to try to make your own decisions for the sake of, like, All Womankind), but given that there is a culture influencing this and that the aggregation of those choices is something that continues to affect the power women do or don’t have in our society, its causes and effects are not fully individual.

    It’s tough, because we’re the women we are, and that’s influenced by the culture we were raised in that told us more than our class and education-equivalent men that it’s ok not to be intensely professionally ambitious, it’s ok to want to take some time. I think those are great values. But they’re not actually ones that are rewarded by our culture with anything much beyond politicians condescendingly saying “moms do the most important job there is, bless them.” And that’s a problem we have to confront as we make our individual decisions. My own preference would be for a work culture that wasn’t so all-consuming, for there to be more and better middle ground between working 80 hours a week and not working (for money) at all, for it to be respected for both women and men to say “work is important but so is my family and life and that’s going to be reflected in my working hours,” for there to be more possibilities for part-time work that was interesting and rewarding and paid a part-time percentage of a good full-time job. But in reality, the vast majority of part-time jobs are terrible jobs to have, and most high-powered professional jobs are all or nothing. Ambition isn’t in reality an all-or-nothing proposition, but the American work culture forces it to be, and that forces a lot of women out of the workforce and a lot of men out of their families’ daily lives, and that sucks.

    (Let’s not forget that policy matters, too. If the US had significant paid parental leave and universal pre-K, the choices we have would be really different.)

    • Daisy6564

      I both agree and disagree with this comment. Being raised during the end of second-wave feminism I received the message loud and clear that woman can do anything men can do. In order to succeed, you had to do it like a man too. That means aggression and competition were to be valued if you were truly a feminist. We are all told too much that success = intense professional ambition.

      The top honors in both my high school and college settings went to women. I have far more female friends driven to attain higher degrees. I had more female friends right out of college fighting for those 80-hour-a-week partner track positions.

      I agree, however, that we need to change the mentality, and corporate policy, that its’ all or nothing. Plenty of men do (and always have) wanted to have more time with their kids. Many women (myself included) do not want to completely leave the workforce. It should not have to be a choice between parents of who gets to be with the kids and who gets to (or has to) focus on bread-winning.

    • Liz

      I think I share the same preference- a more flexible workforce, one that wasn’t so demanding. But until that’s a reality, we need to be fair that there are women (and men, both) who are struggling to make everything work within the established system as it is.

      • Laura C

        Absolutely we have to understand the constraints people are working with within this system we’ve got. I just think it’s really important to understand both sides of that, to be respectful and sympathetic of the choices people do make and the individual reasons behind them, but also to see the ways that the choices we make as individuals are shaped by the system.

        • Rose

          I love Liz’s post. I think it is fair and true. I want to be a stay at home mom someday, but I don’t think it will happen. The reason is that I am totally scared to leave the workforce.
          If my Mom had not continued to work during my childhood, the odds are extremely high that she would be living at the poverty level or in a loveless marriage. My dad’s income shrunk over the course of their marriage (he works in a dying industry), while her income grew steadily. Now they make close to the same amount and my mom has a shot at a comfortable retirement.My aunt wasn’t so lucky. She is 42, divorced, and reentering the workforce. She is a sales clerk at Kohl’s making minimum wage. Her husband is providing her with alimony, but only for the next few years. I don’t think this anecdote is unique; a hugely disproportionate number of divorced women live at or around the poverty level. I have to wonder how many of them were stay at home moms.

          So much of the stay at home or continue to work conversation has become abstract/moral. I’m not going to keep working because of feminism. I am going to keep working because I am risk averse and I want to be able to have some real control over my financial future. Maybe if I were working in an industry where it is easy to renter (nursing?) I would feel differently.

          Also, I have a lot of respect for less risk averse women who want to stay home and make it work.

          • Liz

            I think this is SUCH an important piece of the conversation. I’m a planner, and a piece of my time at home involves continuing education so that my teaching certificate is still relevant and my resume is still fresh if/when I jump back in.

            It’s important that we’re realistic about the possible financial repercussions. But then, we need to balance that planning with (sensible) understanding that we can’t (always) make decisions according to what may or may not happen in the future. Tricky stuff.

          • Mags

            This is me to a T. I am pregnant with my first and really thinking I might like to stay home, but I’ve also put a lot of work into my career and don’t want that to be derailed (and it’s not the type of career where I can simply maintain it through training programs, etc) mostly because of fear of being financially dependent. If something happens to my husband, or his career, or our relationship I know it would just add further to my misery to also be financially dependent. I don’t expect anything bad to happen and really really hope nothing does, but I want to have everything covered just in case. This is why I really wish maternity policies were better and better accepted in this country — it would be great to have 6 months – 1 year off without worrying that I was going to never be able to reenter my career.

            It also leave me with a question for you, Liz. I just re-read your previous post (but not the comments, since those sounded awful), and considering the financial toll you took when something bad did happen after you left your job (your husband losing his), looking back would you still have done it? Was it worth all the crying and money worries and scramble to be home with your child in that early period? If you had known before that your husband was losing his job, would you still have tried to be a work at home mom at a time when it couldn’t be lucrative (just because the beginning of this type of career change is never lucrative)? I’m not trying to be judgmental at all, I just need some insight from someone who has been through the trenches.

          • Liz

            Doesn’t come across as judgmental at all, but I’m afraid the answer probably isn’t what you’re looking for. My job as a teacher wasn’t guaranteed and I knew that at the time of making my stay-home-or-not decision (layoffs like WHOA, and I didn’t have tenure). Just one of the myriad of factors we considered. So, when I look back sometimes (of course), I wonder, “….what if…” but generally, the answer still is a question mark. Who knows. I could’ve been laid off just as easily, and we’d be in the same boat.

            But, bigger picture, more in line with what you’re asking- no, I don’t regret it. If you read to the end of that post, it was probably easy to chalk up the, “But, yay, look what we learned!” stuff to making a happy ending for the internet. But it’s not. We really did grow tangibly closer as a result of that stuff, and there were other, more real-world benefits of going through it (we started one business and furthered the other, I made some huge connections in my field that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and so on).

            There’s always going to be crap thrown at you, and you’re always going to have to roll with the punches. The above sounds like optimism and saccharine but the truth is, it’s bitterly cynical haha. I less believe “everything will work out in the end” and more believe, “something will always go wrong.” You just have to take the stuff that goes wrong, and work with it. If I’d stayed with my job, we’d have invariably had some other, different problem (or, like I said, maybe the same one!).

          • Hannah

            I like your comment, and I think it is really smart. This isn’t an argument, but something I would like to add: Sometimes the possibility of being poor in the event of a divorce isn’t reason to avoid being a stay-at-home mom, if that is what you truly want. My mom got her degree in psych, worked in her field for a few years, and then quit and took a low-paying stay-at-home medical transcription job so that she could homeschool my sisters and I. When my parents divorced after 20 years of marriage, my mom decided to go back to school to get her ultrasound technology degree so that she could better support herself. Now she’s in school full time and working 25ish hours a week in the ER. She’s living below the (American) poverty level, but is still really happy, and I think she’s sincere when she says she would never do it differently. Being a stay-at-home mom is something she dreamed of her entire life, and she could not have been more made for it. I don’t think she would have given that up for more security post-divorce, even if she had known all along. Of course this is different for each person.

          • I think choosing for one parent to stay at home involves a lot of discusses and choices and the financial aspect is a big part of the picture.

            You can’t replace the steps up the income ladder, but you can make decisions that ensure in the event of a death or divorce both partners are cared for. For example I would insist on equal funding of retirement accounts in each of our names, regardless of who was and wasn’t working.

            Also depending on the job? Income might be pretty unaffected. You step out of a field that builds experience and with clear steps on a corporate ladder, then yes there will be an effect. If you’re the sort of person who works to live and just has a sustenance job? It might not be much of an effect.

          • MDBethann

            Some of the divorce alimony disparity involves where you live when you get divorced.

            My aunt and ex-uncle were married for nearly 30 years when they divorced because he cheated on her after moving her to a different state. For most of their marriage, she was a stay-at-home mother to my 4 cousins and only finished her college degree when her middle 2 children were teenagers. When my aunt divorced, she lived in Ohio, where the law said that she was entitled to a huge chunk of his pension (maybe half?) because by taking care of the family & home she supported his ability to work. I think she also got alimony for 10 years. She was also fortunate enough to to find work in her field – teaching.

            Sadly, not all women who divorce, especially later in life, are that lucky in their divorce settlements.

        • Liz

          Oh, yeah, agree with that. I think I misread your comment. Often when we talk about the system shaping our choices, it ends up flipping around at some point to be about our choices shaping the system. Which is where I start to disagree.

          • Laura C

            My fault entirely. Definitely my focus was intended to be on the system shaping our choices — I’m a sociologist, that’s how I think! — but I did include some language going the other way that was to me an afterthought but I can see doesn’t necessarily read that way.

      • Daisy6564

        Thanks for the response and as others have said, thank you for sharing your story. My mom stayed at home with me and my sister and I love her for it. She was always the coach, chaperone, room mother, and troop leader. I think kids really benefit from having parents easily accessible and involved in their lives.

        I hope to find a way for my partner and I to both be involved with our future kids.

    • I disagree with this comment and the line in the original post that says “If I were to scratch out what I wrote last time and instead say, ‘I decided to stay home and pursue my love of painting,’ or, ‘I quit my job to start a business,’ or even, ‘I’m staying home so I have time to volunteer,’ I don’t think anyone would’ve batted an eye.”

      I mean, I get that women who choose to stay home with kids are judged more unfairly than women who choose to climb the corporate ladder. But for me, the most judged group of all is that third group of stay at home women who are NOT moms and who don’t want to be.

      I’m unemployed right now, but the career goals I’d like to strive for (blogging, or running a B&B, for example), all are stay at home occupations. I constantly feel guilty for living off my husband’s salary while I’m (to the outside eye) not really doing much of anything. I’m not studying in grad school for some higher degree, and I don’t have (or want) kids. I feel like if I told people right now that I was a stay-at-home mom, people would think it was great. They would call it “the hardest job in the world.” They would applaud me for putting my family first. But if I told them I was staying at home to focus on painting (or blogging, or whatever)? I know for sure my mom would say, “Great, honey. But when are you going to get a REAL job?”

      Basically, while I totally agree that women who choose to stay home with kids deserve more respect, sometimes I feel sad that it seems like that’s the only way out of the corporate world, and the only two options are reckless ambition or reproduction.

      • That’s a really important observation. I’m wrapping my head around this, too– I was ambitious in school mainly because it came easily. Now I’m shedding those expectations and trying to build a life that fits me in all aspects- work, hobbies, health, relationships, etc. Down-thread there is a discussion about flexibility in corporate/management structure to allow for mat leave, and I think that’s another facet of this observation of yours- a more varied, nuanced understanding of work and lifestyles, and acceptance of all kinds of paths, allowing individuals to define their life for themselves.

        Honestly, I think the break-down in community life was a major cultural shift that cheapened some alternative choices. I’d like to see better recognition of all the ways individuals contribute to the community, and an ability to honor and value their time and efforts so they have the resources they need to live. Whether its parenthood, volunteering, hard labor, office management, entertainment, whatever- we need all these pieces (and more) in our communities.

      • Liz

        Interesting! I travel in a flock of artists, and they all champion the “Damn the man!” attitude of dropping work for just about anything else.

        Also: the internet. The internet loves a good “I left the corporate world for la vie boheme!” story.

      • Laura C

        I’m less interested in who’s judged the most (which is totally subjective and the subject of so many divisive fights where everyone thinks it’s them and is lured into indirectly judging the people they’re arguing with over who’s judged more) than in which choices are viable in our society. I’m arguing that more different ways of living your life should be viable — meaning that you can do them and be financially secure and have health insurance and all that — and for a lot of people, not just for a tiny handful who get lucky.

      • Yup. I’m going through this now, but the reverse (the stay-at-home writer is my husband, I’m the breadwinner). Would it be nice to have a double income? You bet, but the academic market is a joke, and I make enough that I don’t need him to go do something that would make him miserable. (If I didn’t, that would be another story. Also, worth noting, I love my job/career.)

        LOTS of judginess, ESPECIALLY since he’s the husband and I am the wife.

      • Rachel

        “Sometimes I feel sad that it seems like that’s the only way out of the corporate world.” THIS. Real talk: when I’m burned out on work, I just want to stay home and pursue my creative things. (Right now I have a 9-5 and pursue my creative work early mornings, late nights, and long weekends.) And the thought that always pops into my head is “I wish I could just be a stay at home mom.” Which is RIDIC because 1. I don’t even know that I WANT kids and 2. It’s not like SAHMs just sit around blogging all day. But I’ve totally gotten the message that the only way to get out of this ambitious rat race is to have kids and that’s a shitty message.

        Also, being a career creative is HARD and exhausting and requires a lot of shitty jobs and working for free… I don’t see getting to where I want to be via housewifedom as any worse than getting there via years of shitty unpaid internships in the magazine industry. (Though my financial situation means I have to do the latter.)

        My suspicion is that a lot of women see opting out as appealing because American work culture is fundamentally broken. And I have to wonder how many men would take this route if they “could” (you know, if biology/stereotypes/culture made it feel like a real option for them). I don’t think everyone is cut out for corporate America — I suspect more people aren’t than we realize — but I do wonder if moms have a special *out* that the rest of us don’t.

    • k

      I find it interesting that when we talk about ambition, we invariably talk about it as if career ambition were the only kind of ambition there is. I consider myself intensely ambitious, but my ambition is to have an interesting and full life, to travel and be out in the mountains as much as possible, to be able to look back on a life full of memories of adventures and times with friends and family. My career is something that pays for and preferably does not interfere too much with my actual ambitions.

      Also (although of course this is an anecdote, not data), in terms of gaps in work history, while I have never taken time off to have kids, I have taken significant time off several times in my working life – I spent six months backpacking around Europe and northern Africa when I was 28, I took a year and a half off to live out of my car and rock climb when I was 34, and I’ve taken numerous four to six week vacations combining vacation with leave without pay. This is of course different than taking five or six years off, but I do think times are changing to some degree. It may well be the part of the country and the industry in which I work, but I while I have no doubt made less money over the course of my career than I would have otherwise, I have never, at least to my face, had an employer say that my taking a “sabbatical” counted against me in the hiring process. In fact after my year and a half off, my old employer hired me right back when I showed up in town again.

      And I would have missed out on so much more than money. When I was about to leave for Europe, I knew that my job would possibly not be waiting for me when I came back, but I couldn’t imagine being 80 and thinking, “Boy, I sure wish I’d spent that six months working in a cubicle instead of backpacking around Europe with my boyfriend.”

      Not everyone has every option of course, but I think it is possible to be creative and find a way for that allows for a life that isn’t soul-crushing. Which is why we should *totally* celebrate anyone who figures out a way to have the life they want, whatever that may be, and maybe especially if it isn’t the life we would have chosen.

      • Lauren

        I agree with this so much it’s painful. I heard one time that the United States is one of the only places that when you are asked “What do you do?” you respond with your career. As opposed to the myriad of other things you might do: watercolors, video games, embroidery, amateur sports, what have you.

        “My ambition is to have an interesting and full life, to travel and be out in the mountains as much as possible, to be able to look back on a life full of memories of adventures and times with friends and family. My career is something that pays for and preferably does not interfere too much with my actual ambitions.”

        All of my beliefs. Right there.

      • SAmantha

        I want to do this so badly! But I never know how to manage this in with my career which I sincerely enjoy (and am just getting solidified in). No that I have the money for such long travel right now, but I want to find the way to integrate this type of long term travel into my life. Six months living in another country or a year traveling. I have no idea how to make such dreams realities through both career balancing and money.

        • k

          This may not be of any help to you, but my main tactic has been to always live as frugally as possible, so that when an opportunity arose, I had the means to take advantage of it if I could get the time. The time always seems harder to come by than anything else. Also keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to move within your company if they’re international. Also, long term travel can be remarkably cheap in comparison to staying in one place — not paying rent frees up a LOT of dough.

    • Wouldn’t it be great if you could list “managed household of x number of people” with all that entails on a resumé? Volunteer work can be listed on a resumé. The skills we develop elsewhere should count for something too.

  • Class of 1980

    I had to go back and read some of the comments of the original post to see what was meant by the Internet not approving.

    No time to read them all, but one theme jumped out at me. There was continual questioning about why it’s usually women who opt to stay home with the children. There were lots of questions about whether to blame family policies in the U.S., unreasonable work hours, lack of support for pumping milk, etc …

    While those are important questions to ask, and some changes are needed, there seemed to be almost an underlying assumption that given enough support, tons more women would choose to keep working outside the home … and that most only stay home by default because the workplace makes it too difficult.

    I have no idea how many women feel forced out. But there seems to be less and less room for the concept that some women desperately want to be home with their children.

    I can relate to how Liz feels. If I had children, I would have desperately wanted to stay home with them … for multiple reasons having to do with my attachment to the baby, what I’d want for the baby, my worried nature … but also having to do with my own personality and needs. I’m not an extrovert that needs to be around other people all day for one! If you’re an introvert, staying home doing your own thing nourishes you, whereas it tends to deplete an extrovert.

    However, I’d also want an at-home business because I know that money is freedom and brings you more options in life. Plus it suits me to work at home anyway.

    There would be ZERO family policies or corporation benefits that would make me reconsider what I really wanted, and I think Liz is saying the same. There isn’t enough acknowledgment that it can be as simple as making that choice because it gives the utmost personal happiness.

    (Note: This does not mean I don’t believe corporations need to work with parents a lot better than they do.)

    • meg

      I agree but in the opposite way. FULL DISCLAIMER: I think it’s really important that we push for huge policy changed in the US, and I find that the current way we approach personal life: single, coupled, with kids, it doesn’t matter, is radically unhealthy.

      However. It turns out that all the support in the world: a year of paid maternity leave, you name it… still wouldn’t have meant that I would have stayed home. It would have been a great option to have, it’s a vitally important option for many families. But it turns out, personally, I just wanted to work, and that was the best for my particular kid as well. Full stop.

      So, while these policies are VITALLY important, I think we get caught up in thinking that policy supplants people’s personal choices, in ways that it doesn’t always. Which I mostly just find interesting.

      • Another Meg

        Oh heck yes. When Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer had her baby, she took very little time and went right back in, because that’s what worked for her and her family. She’s also the CEO who is extending paid maternity and paternity leave (which I feel like has been discussed here? Not sure) for her employees to an amount that is way beyond what most US workers get. I think that the option should be out there, and emphasis on *option* for parents to take longer.

        • meg

          Yup, and Marissa Mayer took so much flack for that decision that for two days my Twitter feed was full of people saying she was ruining it for all other women, and the NPR daytime call in shows in SF dedicated two hours of programing to discussing the problems with her decision.

          I was exactly as pregnant as she was (we had babies within a few weeks of each other), and knew I would be answering emails from the hospital, and only would have a few weeks of true maternity leave. (There are upsides to running a business, but that’s the downside.) And it just felt like DAYS of judgement. Apparently if you stay home, you’re letting down woman kind… but if you choose a high octane professional gig where you can’t take that much time off, you’re ALSO letting down woman kind.

          Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

          • Class of 1980

            I think her extreme lack of maternity leave just scared the hell out of a lot of women.

            I think it was stone cold fear that what little maternity leave they have now, might be whittled away further if Mayer was taken as an example of how things should be.

        • Umpteenth Sarah

          I respect and admire Marissa Mayer for all sorts of reasons, but I do also want to point out that she ALSO terminated remote working options for Yahoo! employees, which is something that may cut the other direction on this front.

          • carrie

            But she also just pushed through additional maternity/paternity benefits. For me, I’d rather have that than the work from home option. Just me, though.

          • Another Meg

            Yeah, I’m not a fan of how she handled the whole remote working situation. I wonder if she lost some good employees. Everyone has their own priorities.

          • meg

            Well, that’s pretty complex. Her job is to turn Yahoo around, and the word on the ground in the SF Tech community is pretty clear: Yahoo has a seriously troubled staff, and the work from home policy was problematic. It’s important to remember that just like women’s decisions as mothers (for example) have to be viewed as specific decisions, not decisions for all of woman kind—women’s decisions as bosses have to be viewed the same way.

            Right now I have a staff that works from home, and that’s what works best. If the company god to a place where that no longer worked, and I needed everyone to work from an office, I’d have to make a change. Because my job as a CEO (of a tiny company!) is to do what’s best for business, in all it’s varied parts. I’m not making decisions for All Women Bosses Everywhere, just like I’m not making decisions for All Mothers Everywhere. In both cases I’m making very specific decisions for very specific situations.

            Men don’t tend to have these pressures. Their decisions are just that: discrete decisions. Women, and members of other historically oppressed groups, do. Our decisions tend to be looked at as symbolic, not specific.

          • Umpteenth Sarah

            This thread is too deep for me to reply to any of the comments below, so I’ll just reply here — I think Meg and I are actually (mostly) in agreement, and my purpose in pointing out her policy decision wasn’t to say SEE she’s a bad woman/example/person, but to provide additional information based on a decision she — and likely others at the org — made that has zero to do, at all, with her gender. These remote work options can be beneficial to women, men, whomever, and while I generally agree with a work-from-office rule, I don’t think she should be immune from criticism on that policy choice. Nor was I intending to imply that her choice was symbolic because she’s a women– it was a decision, for one organization, that generated press and might be considered by many to be anti-progressive, and it should be on the table (just as the identical decision made by the male CEO of Best Buy should also be criticized and discussed).

            The one place I’m not sure I agree is about the symbolism of this. Sure, it’s possible that she got more flack than she would have were she a man, because she’s “betraying the team!” (which I think is a crap argument anyway). But, the decision actually IS symbolic, because she is CEO of a major tech company in the US that she is trying to “turn around”, she’s incredibly highly paid, she’s made a number of other highly-publicized policy decisions (as Carrie pointed out, some of which are “pro-family”), and other companies may be likely to follow suite. So, just as we can cheer good policy choices with symbolic implications made by people of all genders, we can jeer worse policy choices with symbolic implications made by people of all genders

      • Class of 1980

        I would support policy change IF it didn’t frustrate the weird people who actually want to be working round the clock. Only because we’re all individuals.

        I worry about government defining things so tightly that there can’t be any variation. At the same time, demanding that people work ridiculous hours with no choice is abusive.

        Not sure how to address this.

      • Class of 1980

        Yes. Same thought process – opposite desires.

      • Turning down the leave if it works for your family makes total sense. But that option should have been there for you. And for David as well.

    • I agree.

      I hate working in the corporate world and I feel so much guilt for wanting to find a way out and a way to work on my art from home. I feel like a bad citizen and some days a bad person because I hate working in an office and I hate working for someone else.

      • Class of 1980

        Please get over that feeling. You can’t be a bad person because you want a life that suits your own personality.

        I am so tired of the “one size fits all” narrative of what constitutes a “successful” life.

        • Agreed! I’m trying hard to re-frame that in my mind. It’s a long road, though. I’ve cried to my fiance “Do you still love me even though I suck at office work and I’m never going to be cut out for a lucrative career?”

  • Shiri

    I just went down the rabbit hole of re-reading the post where the internet decided it was your turn to be raked over the coals, and my god, can I just say, your continued poise, openness, and willing to put yourself and your decisions out there for discussion humbles and astounds me? Thank you.

    • Indeed, Liz. (It wasn’t enough to just hit “exactly”)

      • As a newer reader, I just went over it for the first time too. And honestly, it’s what terrifies me about the future. I can’t believe you were able to keep sharing your life with us after that- I’m pretty sure I’d have been scared away.

        Like you, I don’t really have dreams of being a successful corporate leader. I’d honestly love to work part time and then come home and take care of the kids- after we get to that point (I’m hoping it will be a while). But I’m worried that my friends, family, and acquaintances will judge me for this. Thanks for being a great role-model for someone who can overcome that judgement, and continue with the choice that was best for you and your family.

    • meg

      You should have seen the unmoderated version… holy shit.

      • Shiri

        The Internet: Where Civility Goes to Die

    • Liz

      Too kind, guys. Thanks!

  • Daisy6564

    I (like Liz) work in education, not the corporate world, so I do not truly know the level of scrutiny women’s choices receive in any field outside K-12 education. Education is a fairly family-friendly field. It’s also a female dominated field.

    In public schools it’s more or less assumed that all of the female teachers will leave at some point to have kids. It’s not a disaster, it’s just the way things are. There are systems (substitutes) to make it happen.

    I feel to some degree that in corporate settings and law firms the problem lies with stubborn refusal of the old guard to accept that women are in the workforce now. Women are not men. Deal with it!

    Companies need to design ways to make maternity leave work more efficiently (normal rotating of the lead roles on projects, resource sharing, whatever that looks like). Any employee should not have to fear derailment of their career or erosion of their reputation if they have to take a medium-term leave of absence (to have a child, adopt, care for a sick parent, whatever). In a well managed company no one individual should be the brain-trust anyway.

    Women are not men. Pregnancy and child birth does effect their work, health, and life more. But it does not have to be a disaster to the company or the individual employee. It takes all of us, management especially, to change this way of thinking and find work-arounds. The problem lies with inflexible systems.

    Personally, I am in a passion career and I want to work and move up the administrative ladder. My man has struggled because he does not have a career. He works to pay his bills and has had to come to terms that that life choice is also okay. Society sends him the message that in order to be valued as a man, he needs to make a lot of money. He values his time outside of work, pursuing his creative passions far more.

    • Shiri

      “Any employee should not have to fear derailment of their career or erosion of their reputation if they have to take a medium-term leave of absence (to have a child, adopt, care for a sick parent, whatever).”

      Yes. Yes, yes, yes. And, frequently, it would just be a medium-term absence – not a career derailer or ender – if there were a system in place for this. I went through a mild traumatic brain injury two years ago and was out of my workplace for 7 months, and significantly impaired for 50 weeks. I took FMLA leave but the only reason it worked, really, and didn’t end up with me unemployed, was because I work in a family-friendly office. They already had a system in place – used with parents of new and young children – for how employees can work from home and manage long absences. I was warned that the only problem with this would be if I had a baby within a year of the end of this leave, because then they couldn’t legally offer me FMLA again. And that was it.

      Also, as biologically deterministic as this sounds, yes, women are not men. It’s true. Whether that means we may birth children or are statistically more likely to end up caring for our elderly parents or in-laws, we need to make room in our work system for all kinds of different experiences and needs – not just one path, and not just a binary, either.

      • Daisy6564

        “We need to make room in our work system for all kinds of different experiences and needs – not just one path, and not just a binary, either.”

        This was basically, in far fewer words, what I was trying to say.

      • moonitfractal

        I wasn’t so lucky. I became ill and stayed that way for more than the three months FMLA I was allowed and was immediately terminated. Even if I had gotten better I would not have been able to take any parental leave because I had already exhausted my FMLA. There’s something very wrong with the system.

        • Shiri

          God, I’m so sorry. That breaks my heart to hear. I knew how lucky I was – they let me continue with my accommodations for an extended period of time, though I didn’t miss more than three months of days in total – but hearing what happened to you really brings it home.

          There is something very, very wrong with our system. Our values are so skewed. I’m so sorry.

    • Andrea

      “Companies need to design ways to make maternity leave work more efficiently”…absolutely. I came up with a plan on my own for how my maternity leave would be covered. By the end of my leave, part of the reason I was ready to come back was because I had been trying to handle issues from home with a crying baby! Stressful! I could have used more support and coverage.

  • Amber

    I think y’all need to add a new tag about motherhood instead of putting this content under the reclaiming wife tag. It’s alienating to make the two seem synonymous to those of who don’t think being married/a wife means having babies. That and not everyone is married when they have babies.

    • meg

      We’re not making them synonymous. All of our Childfree content is in Reclaiming Wife also. And our posts about women with kids who are planning weddings are NOT in Reclaiming Wife, they’re in the wedding undergraduate section.

      We’re not a parenting blog, so we don’t divide things up by if you have a kid or not. We’re a blog that talks about weddings and marriage, and types of families, married or not, kids or not. So we divide things up by those life stages. The three women writing about motherhood this week are wives, so the content goes in RW.

      We’re also actively looking for Child free or Childless content ALWAYS, so send it it. This particular series is about staying at home or not with kids, so it wouldn’t include Child free/ less content, just like a Childfree series wouldn’t include motherhood content. But, we do try to balance it as much as we can. The amount that you see one kind of content or another has a lot to do with the balance of our community: lots of childless women, quite a few mothers, a significant but somewhat smaller number of childfree readers.

    • k

      I can see where you’re coming from, but I will say that although I’m childless and have no intention to be anything else, it doesn’t bug me. To me wife is a very broad term and encompasses a huge variety of experiences, only some of which are mine. People talk about all sorts of facets of being a wife here that don’t necessarily apply to me. That’s what makes it so interesting and why I keep reading.

      • Double-exactly.

      • meg

        Actually, that’s a perfect segway to say the other piece I forgot to mention. Philosophically, I don’t believe in the teamification of women, that’s very prevalent in our culture. When I didn’t have kids (you know, five seconds ago), I wasn’t only interested in hearing the perspectives of other women without kids. Now, as a mother, I’m not only interested in hearing the perspectives of other mothers. The childless and childfree voices are just as important to me as the voices of women with kids.

        So! Because that’s my philosophy, I’m not interested in running a site where the motherhood stuff is in one place, and the childfree stuff is in another place, and the infertile voices are over here, etc. I learn from reading ALL of it. Tons of the stuff that’s most helpful to me on APW is from people who’s perspectives and points of view I don’t and will never share. So I don’t want to organize things to allow us to only tune into the tiny spectrum of experiences that match our own. Plenty of sites do that, it’s easy to find. The best part of APW for me is that we DON’T do that.

        • Amber

          I know I learned in school that it doesn’t matter if the author’s intent was X, it can still be interpreted to mean Y, Z and A? So you can’t just tell me it’s not alienating because you say it’s not. It’s how I feel, your comments don’t take that away, no matter how much you’d like to invalidate them and imply I’m anti-women and closed-minded. (Though I appreciate all the negative assumptions!)

          There are at least 16 other people who feel like I do, we are (or are trying to still be) your readers and I know all I’m hearing is “You’re not welcome here! Don’t ever be critical! Don’t have feelings! Stop reading this site!”

          • Meg actually phrased her responses from the standpoint of the staff, the site’s mission, and her personal decisions, and rather than invalidating your feelings, it seems to me she meant to explain why she will continue to make the same decision, even with your feelings as they are.

            It’s been my understanding in my limited readership that APW welcomes critical thinking, but not criticism.

          • Lauren

            I just re-read Meg’s comments twice. She wasn’t invalidating your feelings; she was explaining why things are the way they are. It’s clearly a conscious decision and hers to make. As it’s your decision to make if this is a deal-breaker for your continued readership.

          • meg

            You’re welcome to have (and share!) your opinions. I get that it feels alienating to you, and I’m sorry. It’s also the way we run APW, for very specific reasons. My comments are explaining why we make the choices that we do.

            APW is something of a soapbox for the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes, and the idea of Reclaiming Wife is to reclaim the word from it’s particular use as mom, pregnant, in the kitchen, etc. So, as such, we include a huge variety of content in RW: childless, childfree, and motherhood. If that’s a deal breaker for you, because you don’t want motherhood stuff lumped under RW, that’s totally cool. There are many parts of the web that work in a different way, where you might feel more at home. They’re not more or less feminist than APW, they’re just different.

            That doesn’t mean you’re not welcome here and should stop reading if you want to keep reading. But it does mean that the site can’t be all things to all people. We operate with a very clear mission and very clear internal editorial standards. We’ve thought them through, and are willing to explain them. But most of the time, they stand.

    • Ltaz

      1st — Meg! I totally just hit “report comment” when I meant to reply — Sorry!!!

      I just wanted to chime in —- I hear where the original commenter might feel alienated by the motherhood stuff. However, I LOVE having it lumped in with everything. Hubs and I are childless, and not planning on having children. However, we are continuing to have the conversation, and there are a lot of scary parts to it. And, probably, a ton of myths

      But — The conversations being had on APW are helping me to think a little more openly about the possibilities of children, and what that could entail. I wouldn’t read them if they were part of a “reclaiming motherhood” offshoot, because that’s not where I’m at. But I love having the option to read them if I feel they might speak to me, and browse the comments…. I always figure if I’m not up for reading them, I can just skip over them for now. You guys always have a ton of posts that I never feel like I’m missing out by glancing over one post for another…

      So… short answer is while I can understand the sentiment, I just see it a little differently, in that I feel like it gives me the option to be included in a conversation that I wouldn’t feel included in, normally….

  • I really enjoyed this post. I’ve always had the greatest amount of respect for stay-at-home moms. As a mom to a 1 year old, I was terrified of the idea of staying at home, and yet I can’t stand my job and don’t even really enjoy working – I have no career aspirations and no college degree. I think my biggest fear is boredom, and yet, I don’t know any bored stay-at-home moms. Thank you for a a perspective that has given me something to think about this morning as I contemplate what I would be without my job and whether I could make it work or not.

    • Liz

      Shoot me an email if you want to chat about staving off boredom!

  • Andrea

    I’m so glad we’re discussing this topic this week! I am on day 3 of being back at work, with my three-month old in daycare. It is the right situation for us, I enjoy my job and want to be working (it is also required financially for me to pay off my law school loans!)…but it is HARD. Way harder than I thought it would be.

    My husband works in a male dominated field, and most of the men have wives that stay at home. He hears borderline offensive comments all the time about me working and using daycare.

    It is a shame that the public is so critical of the choices we make…especially because the choice is a hard one to make, and we are all doing what we think is best for ourselves and our families.

  • Maybe it’s because we’ve been trying to have a baby for 3 years now, or maybe it’s because I’ve been in the same career since 1996, but staying home and raising a child sounds like an absolute dream life. I’m sure I’d want to explore alternative income sources at the same time, but I’m 100% behind making the investment in staying home with your child.

    P.S. US maternity leave is stupid, the way we work is stupid, etc etc etc etc. The reality would probably be a flexible schedule – and I have a job now where I could do that – but it’s so rare.

    • Class of 1980

      I wonder why more employers themselves haven’t embraced flexibility. Don’t understand why they aren’t actively trying their best to work with their employees.

      • MDBethann

        Probably because American capitalism has historically been “labor” vs. “capital” or “employees” vs. “employers” and we are repeatedly told we shouldn’t get along with one of you. Everyone wants to be promoted, but then watch out once you become the dreaded “management.”

        Wouldn’t it be so much better if we realized that the best interests of the company are in everyone’s best interests???

  • This really speaks to me!

    Particularly this part:
    “In fact, just about a year before baby, we’d done that same shuffling of priorities. In the end of that round, I took on a bleak desk job in a cramped gray cubicle. It was a boring job, a smidge degrading, and it wasn’t in my field, but it paid the bills. Because it paid the bills, my husband was able to stay home and work toward his Master’s. We wrung our hands, we discussed, and we analyzed all of the different factors to consider. In the end, I bit the bullet so he could do what he wanted.”

    My fiance and I are in exactly this situation. He lost his job and is preparing to start a MA program towards his dream job.

    I desperately hate my job which is pretty much just data entry. I long to quit, but right now I have the only income.

    My ideal situation is working from home on my writing. Being my own boss and setting whatever schedule pleases me that day. I love writing novels and these days I don’t have much time for it.

    We want to have a baby right away, but I have to hold on until he finishes his program and gets a job so I can FINALLY quit mine. I’m barely hanging on.

    • Class of 1980

      Why are the cubicles always always always gray?

      It’s like they want you to be depressed at work.

  • Liz, I’m a lot like you in this regard: “Personally, I’m not the type of woman who has staggering career goals. I don’t have daydreams of some corporate ladder climb” so I really appreciated reading not only your thoughts on this subject but knowing that there are others like me out there. (I would imagine there are many of us out there.) My ideal situation would look somewhat like yours, although right now I’m the primary earner and the one stuck with the shitty/cubicle end of the stick. That’s okay for now, and eventually it will shift, as we make changes and decisions together.

    And I completely agree with this statement: “Two folks got together and made a decision, their opinions both equally important regardless of gender. What’s more feminist than that?”

  • Woohoo!!!

    This week is my last week working, and I’m so excited to be done. But at the same time I’ve needed my husband to reassure me repeatedly that I won’t be a financial burden on our family now. I’ve worked for 20 years at this point, not bringing in money is going to be – different.

    And while there will be a kid in the mix soon, I’m still going to be able to pursue what I want. I’ll be able to quilt/sew. I’ll be able to continue reading about research in my field (thoroughly enjoyed a child development theory book while sitting through my 3 hour glucose test two weeks ago).

    I’ve never dreamed of a corporate ladder. About mid-way through my masters degree I realized I got into teaching because I love learning. I don’t need a career to do that.

    • That’s such a great realization! That kind of clarity about your passions is a sure step towards an awesome life. You go, Giggles :-)

    • Ris

      Hi Giggles!

      I too have recently realized that my true passion is learning. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about homeschooling (when we do eventually have kids). Other than all the “career” ambitions I’d be putting to the side, I can’t think of a reason I wouldn’t love it. I’d have the time to learn all sorts of things, and I could bring my children alongside.

      Just something I’ve been mulling…

  • I just finished Brene Brown, Daring Greatly so it is with this lens that I re-read all of those comments.

    WOWEEEE. Shame was everywhere and powerful.

    And what Shiri writes above is so, so true…Thank God Liz has shame resilience and is sharing her vulnerability (I can’t help it, I love Brene Brown’s work). We all learn from the content of what Liz is saying and we are also learning an equally (and sometimes more) important lesson: How to keep making decisions based on the people who matter NOT based on the people who don’t (e.g., shame inducing commenters).

    Love this (and in my mind is why this IS about reclaiming wife):

    “Staying home to be with my kid has been akin to any of the other decisions made in my marriage. Two folks got together and made a decision, their opinions both equally important regardless of gender. What’s more feminist than that?”

  • YetAnotherMegan

    C and I are not even close to being ready for kids, but this past month of unemployment has really made me seriously think about staying home once we do. I grew up hearing the standard “get good grades so you’ll get into a good college and get a good job,” and I did the first two parts, but this economy is really screwing me on that last part. While trying to find a way to pay the bills, I’ve been focusing on home. Our apartment looks great – clean, organized, and decorated (on the cheap) for spring, I’ve been cooking a lot more, and I’ve come to the realization that I want to learn to sew. Basically, I’m finding myself drawn to all those “traditional” women’s endeavors. But I also have a vague idea that maybe one of those interests could turn into a business down the line.

    It all comes down to what makes sense as life progresses. What’s right now may not work in 5 years, and the plan may have to change again in 10 years. But that’s life. To me, recognizing that and talking about strengths, weaknesses, fears, and dreams is more empowering that climbing the corporate ladder just for the sake of following the current cultural script.

  • Hils

    I thought this post was going to about how Liz manages to get work done at home while caring for her kid, which I was excited about, not for myself, but for my husband, who left his job when our son was born in December. He’s starting to think of ways to work/bring in money while he’s home (O, the pressure he feels to do so – though not from me). So I was thinking I’d send him the post when I read the headline.

    But then it was this other excellent post on how to tell people that working from home and raising is a kid is your thing for now. Though I wish we could be well past needing to justify our choices and instead write posts that support each other as we make them, no matter what they are.

    (For instance, I need a post about how to deal with my impending fear that my kid is going to like my husband more than me, in part because he’s home with him, but especially since my husband is the objectively more likable of the two of us.)

    • Liz

      I’m hoping to eventually write about that first part, because people ask about it a lot.

      ETA: Also, my kid likes my husband a whole lot more. Because we’re together all day, there’s a larger majority of fights with mom (or, “No!”s from mom etc) than with dad. Which makes me much less likeable. TOUGH NUGGETS, KIDDO.

      • Claire

        Joining the chorus to request a post on how to manage working from home with a baby at home. This was a great post regardless, but I would love to hear more logistics/strategies!

      • That’s how it was in my family when I was young. I developed a really strong attachment to my dad because he wasn’t with me as much. He had this novelty about him.

        I hate to say it, but as a little kid, I had less respect for my mom. Which was really sucky of child-me. I’m trying to figure out how to avoid that with my children now, since I do want to stay home with them.

    • meg

      Yeah, you never know about the Kiddos. But Liz is totally right. The primary caregiver thing causes some serious pressure. It’s been sort of crazy for me to watch. My mom was home with us, and our relationship always had pressure because of it. (“Dad is home yayyyyyyyy new parent!.”) And it’s turned out that some of the stuff I associated with mom-hood actually had more to do with being the at home parent. Since neither of us are the at home parent, the kid FLAILS with excitement when I come to pick him up (and when I drop him off, kiddo loves his daycare people, but that’s a different story), in a way that I somehow thought was only associated with dads.

      Also, you just never know how your kids personality is going to interact with yours, till you meet them. And even then, it changes daily.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this post, Liz. I will admit, I am one of those people who has judged friends privately in the past for leaving their careers to stay at home. I’ve really struggled with this issue, because I consider it every person and every family’s imperative to decide what works best for them. Because my career is such a big part of my identity, I have a challenging time reconciling the idea of it just not being so for some other people – but, I’ve discovered over the years that this says more about me than them. Props to you for doing what’s right for you!

  • I love this, I love this whole thread, I love that more topics are coming up about motherhood on APW (and this is coming from a childless married woman) – I just soak it all up. Much like Meg wrote above, I like to read about ALL the sides, all the types – I learn so much!

    The biggest thing that keeps me coming back to APW is reading these womens’ stories day in and day out and knowing that I’m “not alone” – and I’m so grateful for this community of honest, caring, open women. Thank you, APW!

    • meg

      Cough, cough, we do reallllyyyyyy want some childless stories for this month (tradition) and next month (pride). So to all of you who have something to say…. write it!

      I used to be able to write the hell out of the childless part of the story, but not so much these days ;) So I need help!

      • Class of 1980

        I could write a childless story, except I don’t actually think I have anything to say. :) Strange.

        • meg

          It’s sort of an interesting conundrum, when it comes to content, and trying to be really fair about balancing content. My experience is that most people who are childless/ childfree can write one post about why (maybe). But most of what they have to write is about other stuff: how their life actually shaped up, stuff they’re interested in. It’s hard to write about an absence, you tend to write about a presence.

          IE, what’s inspiring to me about your life is all the awesome things you do (running a business, etc. etc.) not one thing you didn’t do (have a kid). So, I think when we look at content, some of the best stories from people without kids are not about how they don’t have kids. Why should they have to define themselves in relationship to a cultural norm, anyway? Their best stories are just about their awesome lives.

          That, of course, doesn’t invalidate the awesome stories from women who do have kids about kids. Having small children is something that takes up a lot of your time, and that creates stories.

          Which isn’t to say I don’t want ALL THE CONTENT, I just think compelling content looks a whole lot of ways.

          HOWEVER: Per Audrey’s comment below, I’d love it if you wrote about how not having kids is not doom and gloom. I think there is so much pressure to make the RIGHT choice, instead of to just make the very best of the lives we’ve got.

      • Audrey

        Adding my voice here as an early 30s woman who feels like this is the time where we (husband and I) have to really nail down “THE CHOICE” – I would LOVE to hear from people older than me about this.

        Maybe I can’t find anything, but it seems like there are lots of articles from people around my age about being childless/childfree, but way fewer voices at 45+ (or voices that are doom and gloom and tell you you’ll be old and lonely.)

        It’s really stressful, pretty much everything I read ever tells me that this is the most important decision of my life and I better not choose wrong, so even though we’re tentatively not having kids I read EVERY. SINGLE. ARTICLE. in the hopes that it will magically make me 100% confident about my choice (or that it’s wrong).

        • Liz

          (You didn’t ask me. But I still am not 100% confident about having kids. Kids, man. But if it helps: I’ve found it’s not as big of deal in reality as it was in theory. So much angst and hand-wringing over how drastically my life would change and would I like being a mom and would I like my kid. Then, he’s here. And he’s fine. Sometimes annoying, sometimes wonderful. Life goes on.)

          It seems really flip to be a person with a kid and say, “IT’S NOT A BIG DEEEAL. Just do it!” so I want to add: we’re in talks about #2, and dammit, if that same old “SHOULD WE/SHOULDN’T WE” angst isn’t still there just the same.

        • meg

          I’m 100% confident that now that I have my kid, he’s awesome, and I want him here for always. However! I was also pretty much 100% confident that we would have been really happy just the two of us. They’re just different lives. Ghost Ships. We make a million tiny choices that change our lives one way or the other. The best we can do is own the shit out of the life we have. Regret is generally a waste of time, if you ask me.

          • Audrey

            Thanks for this! I know the truth of those last two sentences, but sometimes I find them hard to live.

        • k

          I’m 46 and while I can’t tell you what your choice should be, I can tell you that those doom and gloom articles are written by people with an agenda (which usually seems to be “I’m miserable so you should be too!”) and have always been laughably off base in terms of describing anything bearing the remotest resemblance to my life. I had a happy and full life before I got married at 44, and still do. If I had kids I’m sure it would still be a happy and full life, though it would look extremely different (and I would probably be much more tired).

  • js

    I have so much to say on this topic, I don’t know where to start. It’s too close to me right now, too personal. So instead, I just want to thank Liz and APW for being a smart site full of smart women having the smart discussions.

  • Mei

    “Two folks got together and made a decision, their opinions both equally important regardless of gender. What’s more feminist than that?”

    I mean that’s wonderful, but ignoring social context ignores a big part of what feminism is about which is to enact social change. It’s not simply about making individual ‘choices.’ I think these conversations end up so heated because it’s difficult to separate political struggles from personal struggles. Or at least, there is a level of taking critiques of social structures very personally when we make a different decision. Feminism has broad goals regarding social justice for women. Sometimes the choices we make as individuals reinforce existing unequal structures, even if we have our own personal reasons for making them that sometimes have nothing to do with feminism. We get to of course do that, but I think we need to be cognizant that there is a bigger struggle going on.

    • Liz

      And I guess where I disagree, is that my decision in some way harms or halts that struggle. I disagree that choosing an option that perhaps falls in line with the expected or traditional in some way reinforces inequality.

      • Mei

        Just so it’s clear, I have no problem with your decision. I make decisions that reinforce structures I disagree with all the time because they are right for me and my family and sometimes you have to pick your battles. I don’t think your choice is hurting the feminist struggle; that was not my point. But I also don’t think the fact that it was a choice is really helping feminism either (and I was specifically critiquing the “what is more feminist than that?” line). And just as criticizing one woman’s choice isn’t useful, saying “I choose my choice” isn’t a feminist act either, at least in any real meaningful way.
        I think we can objectively say that there are social and institutional forces out there that lead disproportionately to women either making the choice or being forced to stay home and that’s a bad thing without hating on any one woman’s choice to stay home. Fighting about each other’s choices is stupid and counterproductive when we could be using that energy to be fighting for social change.

        • Liz

          No, please don’t misunderstand me to be saying, “I choose my choice, ” or, (what I think you’re insinuating), “My choice is feminist because it’s my choice.”

          What I am saying, however, is that a part of what feminism has fought for is the ability for both genders to voice opinions and make decisions with equal validity. I do, very much, think that the more we practice the act of voicing and validating female opinions in conjunction with male opinions, the more we make that an actual THING, rather than a theoretical one. “A woman’s voice was heard and respected in equality with a male voice,” is hugely feminist- even if it’s only happening in my home, on a personal level.

        • meg

          I totally 110% hear what you’re saying, Mei, it’s something I think about a lot. I think Liz’s answer is also a more eloquent and nuanced one than anything I’ve ever come up with.

          APW often functions as a mostly choice feminist site, because it can be a useful way to discuss a wide variety of opinions, and to really push ourselves to see a lot of sides of every issue. On a personal level, I’m not a choice feminist (though I’m also not a litmus test feminist), so this is complicated and nuanced ground for me. I think Liz’s answer really nails it for me, however.

  • I think there is a lot of great discussion on here, though something that I think is missing here:
    I think, for a lot of women, the “HOW DARE YOU STAY HOME” nonsense is a reflection of their own battles. I was very much this person when I was with my ex (bf, not husband, thank goodness it never came to that!), because my ex, and his sister, and ESPECIALLY his mother, felt very strongly against daycare and nannies, and what was unspoken was they also were perfectly comfortable with the assumption that it would be the wife, not the husband, who would stay home.

    As someone who, at the time, was going to graduate school and preparing for a career I was excited about, AND was on the fence about kids in the first place* (honestly, leaning toward no, something he and I had talked about and then when he started going around saying, “Oh, yeah, I’ll have at least one!” in mixed company, well, you get the idea of what I was dealing with), I was really struggling with this. REALLY struggling. So, naturally, every time I heard of a woman staying home, my kneejerk reaction was to be angry about this.

    I’m older, wiser, married to someone who also doesn’t want kids (yay!), but if he did (and if I decided I did), we would approach it as a team, and make the best decision for ourselves, whether it would be daycare, or if he wanted to stay home, knowing that I would not want to. I also have a lot more peers who are starting families and struggling with these decisions, doing the math as to how much daycare will cost vs. the actual worth of that second paycheck, and they are constantly changing. For example, I have a friend who recently had a baby who was in a very toxic work environment (though she enjoyed the job itself/the work, the organization was just not a good place to be), and maternity leave was the perfect opportunity for her to exit. She got a lot of support for “deciding to be a SAHM!” (which, I knew, was secondary to the decision, but most people did not and just assumed), so when she got a (part time) (for now) job in her field at another organization, people were flummoxed, and the CONGRATS!!! posts on her facebook wall were significantly … well, less.

    So, this long rambly comment does have a point: for some people, the initial revulsion to this decision might very well be rooted in some other issues. Not to say that makes it right, because it doesn’t. The parental leave policies, (and, to piggyback off of Meg’s point above about how even if we had good leave policies some may choose not to take them), lack of affordable/subsidized daycare are major issues in the US, along with how this country views “work ethic.” (Liz, your comment about how people value what education means/is supposed to do is certainly part of this as well.) I think The Great Recession is causing people to think and feel differently about work because they have to, and I hope this means that these biases and these issues are fleshed out.

  • T. L. Kate

    Liz, “Being Broke Doesn’t Break You” is probably the most meaningful post to me in APW history (which is saying a lot). I’ve thought of it often—when things are bad, I think of you and think: yes, but it could be worse, and it would still be okay, and hey, look, I’m even finding a new kind of strength in myself now. It has also helped me see people going through hard times differently—less pity, more respect. Now I’m making a transition to working outside of a “job,” and your post is part of what gives me the courage to do it. I’ll be okay if it doesn’t work—we’ll be okay. I wish my gratitude could live in your memory as much as the criticism. Just—thanks.

  • Jess

    I love this! My career goal is to work part time. Not because I’m lazy. But because one of my LIFE goals is raise a family in a way similar to how my husband and I were both raised (by completely, or mostly, SAHMs).

    We have our own factors to consider – student loan debt, unequal incomes, potential tax breaks, the cost of daycare, etc, etc. I have an opinion. My husband has an opinion. Our families have opinions. We’re seeking a financial planner to get his/her opinion. But what this thread makes glaringly obvious is that, no matter what choice we make, EVERYONE is going to have an opinion.

    So, you know, we really should just do what’s right for us. And that’s comforting.

  • Rachel

    This thread reminds me of this post:

    It sounds like a lot of women who are miserable at their jobs are creatives who are stuck in soul-sucking, non-creative jobs. The idea of being free to do your creative thang (which I know my generation was raised to do) is AMAZING. I can’t emphasize this enough: not everyone, male or female, finds empowerment in working for The Man or working for money. I’m not saying that we don’t have to suck it up and do it sometimes, but I don’t blame ANYONE who finds a way around that. I said this above, but sometimes, having a kid seems like a better way to get there than all the shitty unpaid internships I did. So a decision like this can be pretty damn strategic and more tied to ambition than one might think. I’m so over the way people (the internet) assumes that any time a woman makes a decision, she was pushed into it against her will. Like, when women tell us they are happy with something, we need to believe them. I genuinely don’t understand why so many progressive women cannot believe that a woman could be happy hanging out with her kid and working on her art all day. I mean, have you BEEN in a cubicle lately? It’s awful.

    • So true, Rachel. I am more business/admin minded, so I love doing the “9-5” thing (well, most days … you get the idea!). My job offers the steady paycheck, benefits, and pension. P is a writer/creative, so my career is a perfect complement which allows us to live comfortably. Not everyone is so lucky to have our situation, and while it will be SO MUCH BETTER when the writing starts paying (for a lot of reasons!), I feel so fortunate that we have the ability to make these choices without making major sacrifices to our happiness.

  • NTB

    I wish I had read this a few days ago! My mom stayed at home with me, and I appreciate her for it. I am beginning to think about the next few years and the transition that my husband and I might make — from being a couple to a family. It’s intimidating and it’s scary to think about right now, as I have just landed my first full time professional job that happens to be in my field. I love it, and I never want to leave, but I also know that I want to be a part of those first few baby years–0-3–so important to me. So I may have to go part-time at work because my husband has admitted that he emotionally doesn’t feel prepared to stay at home with a child or children while I work. Plus, his salary is twice mine…lawyers tend to make more than librarians. So, yeah.

    I share the curiosity and frustration in regards to seeing so many internet articles and discussions posted on this topic in the last year. I think many women are coming to the realization that we have to make hard choices, and for every woman, the choice is different. Hillary Clinton said something great recently, and it was along the lines of: ‘every woman makes choices for herself and for her family. all choices must be respected because every woman deserves to reach her full potential…’ as a wife, mother, worker, (librarian!)…we should respect each other’s choices and not get sucked into the trap of passing judgement for what other women choose to do what is right for them and their family.