Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vacation? What vacation??

A few of the commenters over on WBUR who heard my "Here and Now" program earlier were a bit put off by my comparing staying home with kids to a luxurious vacation, both on the air and in the accompanying essay.

Frankly, I just don't understand their confusion.

What are you other SAHMs trying to tell me -- that your kids don't feed you grapes and fan you with palm fronds every day while you lounge on the beach watching Oprah and eating bon bons?

Just kidding, of course! Bon bons are much too fattening.

Seriously, I can bring up an image of myself on a typical day at home, especially when my boys were small, standing knee deep in scattered toys, the kids running around yanking curtains off the windows and throwing scrambled eggs on the ceiling between fist fights, me holding an overloaded basket of laundry, looking at a sink full of dirty dishes, my throat hoarse from yelling ...

What, that's not how you like to spend your luxurious vacations?

To clarify. I didn't mean "luxurious vacation" in the sense of, well, luxurious. Or, even, technically, involving vacation. Not as in time away from work, anyway. Because of course, caring for children is hard, hard work. The hardest work I've ever done. Times 10.

(Quick anecdote: I used to be a newspaper reporter. My ex-husband was, and still is, a newspaper reporter. He would come home after I'd had a long, hard day with the kids, and have the nerve to complain about his job. I'd say, "Look. I've done your job. I know it can be hard. But one thing I can say is that I never ended a day of newspaper work with a throat that was sore from yelling.")

(Poor guy just wanted to vent a little at the end of a long day of breadwinning? No wonder he divorced her, some of you are probably thinking.)

Anyway! What I meant was that being with my children every day was filled with the rich experiences that a wonderful vacation can provide, the priceless memories that stay with you for life. And by luxurious I meant expensive. Possibly unaffordable.

It was my way of attempting to explain how I can believe that women probably shouldn't quit their jobs to stay home with their kids, and at the same time not regret that having done so myself. That's a difficult thing to explain, involving two seemingly contradictory statements -- the financial mistake paired with the lack of regret -- and people don't always understand what I'm trying to say.

That's OK. I'll keep trying. That's what we're here for!

Did you stay home with kids? Do you regret the decision, or cherish the time or both? Or, if you continued working, do you have any regrets in the other direction? How do you like to spend your luxurious vacations? Comments on all of the above or any other seemingly contradictory issues are more than welcome!


  1. I thought your expensive vacation analogy was apt, and I'm not sure why people took it the wrong way.
    If I had taken a life-changing trip to Europe and enjoyed the memories for years, that would be a great thing. However, I wouldn't say that everyone should go on that trip, or that everyone can afford to go on that trip, or that everyone should make financial sacrifices to go on that trip.
    If a friend of mine put an extravagant vacation on her credit card and then complained about paying it off, I would not be sympathetic. However, if a friend of mine could afford her vacation, but after her vacation lost her job unexpectedly, I would be very sympathetic about her financial difficulties. I would never say that she should have known not to take that vacation.
    Like I said, the analogy works for me.

  2. I quit working when my oldest was nearly a year old (1985) and started working full time again when my youngest was in kindergarten in 1992. I'd planned to wait until he was in first grade, but I couldn't pass up the job. Financially, I didn't miss much; my main financial regret is putting all my eggs in the journalism basket. (Not that I don't understand the financial issues that can arise from a time out from paid employment.)

    I don't regret the time I spent with my kids either, but I missed the camaraderie of workplace friends on a daily basis. My pals were ECFE moms, which was nice, but everything was about the kids, more or less. Workplace friends are more about YOU than your kids, whether it's fun or serious. And when the job ends, the connections often do, too, even though you may believe it won't happen (hey, kind of like you believe a marriage won't end, huh?).

    Then again, if I had worked full time during those years, I would have missed out on morning cuddles in bed with the kids, visits to the park, overnight trips to see Grandma and Grandpa and ECFE classes three days a week (which I *loved*) and making homemade play dough and glurch.

    I wonder now if it would have been better to have worked part time, a couple of day a week or so, to give both the kids and me some of both worlds.

  3. Katy - thank you for coming forward to talk about this issue. It's so important. I heard the piece on WBUR, and thought it was great. I have been a stay-at-home mom and a working mom, but have never caught up with my husband in terms of earning power since taking a few years "off" to be at home with my spite of the fact that when we married and both began working, I earned more than him (I'm a lawyer). I definitely wouldn't trade the time I was with them, but I think our society needs to figure out how that can happen without penalizing the women (or men) who make such a choice. After all, there are, in fact, skills one acquires from managing a household and raising children that are awfully useful in a job...but no one recognizes that or will compensate you for it at this point. We also need to do a better job leveling the playing field for spouses who divorce...why do women so often emerge from divorce economically worse off than their husbands? It's because our system of divorce does not adequately value a stay-at-home spouse's contribution...

  4. My parents both had dementia, at the same time, which meant my sister (stay at home mom) and I (small business owner and part-time worker) set our lives aside to deal with the crisis. Six years of crisis.

    It was no vacation, but I get the metaphor. We were lucky enough to have husbands who supported us while we dealt with the myriad problems.

    I just finished reading the transcript of the WBUR piece. Thank you for writing it; that is exactly the position I am in more small business, no more part-time job, and potential employers who do not get why I couldn't flit back and forth between my career and my slowly dying parents, three thousand miles away.

  5. I found your article "Regrets of a Stay at Home Mom" a week ago and can't thank you enough for writing the piece and your candor. Yesterday I read all of the comments on Salon and was flabbergasted by the cruelty. I cherish the time I spent at home with my three children but I regret the decision to stay at home exclusively. It now feels exactly like a luxurious vacation that I will pay for the rest of my life. I have a 14 year old daughter and I frankly tell her that the age of the stay at home mom is over. Period. Each year I see the 50% divorce rate play out in real life with a new round of couples who split and the women who fare the best have been the ones who have not given up their careers. One of my dearest friends, who as a child of divorce, swore she would never divorce until she did, tells her three daughters that they are not allowed to have children unless they can support them completely on their own without a man's financial contribution. I also want to add that in the early 90s I experienced the same pressure/advice to stay at home as what was best for my children from 99% of my peer group, relatives/in-laws, and the experts. I remember exactly two people telling me that it would be better for me to work. I also remember many working women telling me that it was clearly the best option for my children. Whether or not it was the best option for my children, I do not know, as you pointed out that the day care kids are fine, but it certainly benefited my husband. We have moved 4 times in 17 years and he has climbed to the top of his profession. I lived in a rural area for the first half of my marriage with very few job opportunities and any job for which I qualified did not cover the cost of daycare etc...His job also provided no flexibility. The culture of the rural community was quite supportive to stay at home moms and there were many of us. Most of the ones that I knew subscribed to the idea that; "There will always be time to work, but the kids are only with you for a short time." Now I believe that idea has been turned on its head. It should be "The kids are only with you for a short time so get to work or how will you work after they are gone." If I posted this comment on Salon, I would be accused of whining and being stupid. I must admit that when I made the decision to stay at home, I considered having a family as much more important than having a career and in my heart I didn't believe that I could do both.