My Story: Growing Up to Want Something Else

As far as I know, all of the mothers in my family have “stayed at home” with their children. As a child I did not see myself as different, but I clearly saw how far their lives were from perfection, and I wanted something else.

My parents raised me to be a homemaker with the understanding that that would include being a stay at home mother at some point. By the time I was six or seven it was clear that I was not going to fit perfectly into their mold. My father declared that I could homeschool through college, study for the bar exam (without ever attending a legit law school!) and practice law from home. Do correct me if I ever say that my parents were unwilling to adapt their expectations to their individual children!

I was almost ten years old when my baby sister was born. She was not just my baby sister, she was “my baby” to the point that when she learned to talk I had to hush her when she informed my father that he was not allowed to call her “baby” because she was not his baby, she was mine! I loved taking care of her and was thrilled when my mother was done exclusively breastfeeding and I was allowed to stay home from church to take care of my sister and make lunch while my family was away.

My next oldest sister enjoyed cleaning, so it was only natural that I took over most of the cooking. We each spent time as professional house-cleaners and live-in nannies (at different times), and it feelsĀ  more like an admission of oddness than a boast to declare that we were quite thoroughly competent homemakers by the time we were 15 (perhaps earlier for some of my sisters).

I fought my parents in order to attend college. They knew that among other evils it was a complete waste of time and money for a young woman. They told me stories of women they knew whose husbands were still struggling to pay off their wives’ college loans 10 years after they had married. I was undeterred.

During my entire time in college I only once heard a student criticized for her desire to be a SAHM. The criticism was immediately followed by another student asserting that there was nothing wrong with being a SAHM, and that perhaps the first student would find it entirely possible to be a SAHM along with achieving everything else of value in life. Linda Hirshman came to speak on campus one evening, and no one, not even the group that invited her, would defend her harsh anti-SAHM stance.

I joked that my college town felt a bit like Stepford as all of the beautiful women seemed to stay at home full time with their children, despite their graduate degrees in computer science or MDs. I loved babysitting during the day for a mother who would leave her baby with me while she went to help with an older child’s class outing. Everything was different from my childhood, but there was still the very strong idea that good women would at the least take 10 years off from working in order to raise their children while their husbands earned money and cultivated respectable careers.

I have never felt pressure to be anything other than a stay at home mother, but I never thought that it was the way for me to most fully live. I had a deep desire to give my life to help others, but focusing my life entirely around the home never seemed right.

Next up is another woman’s story about her path to becoming a stay at home mom, and then I will post a dusty draft about what it is I do want, since it is not to be a stay at home mom.

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12 thoughts on “My Story: Growing Up to Want Something Else

  1. Melissa

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to continue to work after children. Some people have no choice in the matter. I never look at women who work (whether they have to or not) as any less of a mother. We all lead different lives and what works for one family doesn’t necessarily work for another. We have to do what works and feels right for us. Fortunately, I’ve never been criticized for my decision to be a SAHM, but I won’t deny it was a difficult adjustment when it came to telling people what I did. It took me a while to get over my insecurity that I would be looked down on as a SAHM. It has never been the case.
    I admire your desire to give your life to help others and to want something else for your life than just being a SAHM. I know many strong, working mothers who are raising happy, healthy well-rounded children. So it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Follow your heart! :)

    1. Rae Post author

      Thanks for the encouragement! I am glad to hear that you’ve never been criticized for your decision. I sometimes wonder whether we’re all unnecessarily frozen by our fear of criticism when most of the time others could not care less what we do. I know that I am often aware of all the negative things that others *could* say, but most of the time it is all in my head.

  2. Erin

    All these recent SAHM posts (you, [blogger's name removed by Rae]) started a nice conversation for my husband and I last night. (Note: still not pregnant and no kids). We talked about “what if” the money that I make covered childcare, someone to clean, and someone to cook a few meals per week. And that’s it – let’s say there was no money left over. Let’s say it were a wash. So I could either not work (and thus stay at home with the kids, cook, and clean) or I could work – but it would have no positive or negative financial impact on our household. And you know what we decided, I’d still want to work. I enjoy working (which is probably not evident now given the amount of time I spent procrastinating working by blogging!) but I really do find my work fulfilling. And I’m going to find being a mom fulfilling. But I do not want to do either 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week.

    My mother was a fabulous SAHM. But she had a lot of adults in our life, and I think that was a good thing. When she got ill, I felt like she had friends and family and babysitters I could really lean on, who could parent me. And when she got better, I still appreciated having the village. In my ideal world, I would have a nanny 2 days per week, have them in day care 1 day per week, and I’d be home the other 4 days per week. I know that mothers talk about not wanting “other people to raise their kids” – but that is in fact what I want. I want to raise my kids. And I want my husband to raise our kids. And I want our parents and siblings to raise our kids. And I want my friends to raise our kids. And I want our nanny to raise our kids.

    I know that as parents we play a special and a unique role in our children’s lives – but I think it is also dangerous to have children place their parents on a pedestal as the be-all-end-all. We all know examples of things that we didn’t want to talk about with our parents – and I want my children to have several adults that they know love them, that “parent” them, that they can talk to and confide in. When my mother was ill, and now that my parents are going through a difficult time – it was wonderful to know that I had several adults that loved me unconditionally. No one can replace my parents, but I truly felt that babysitters, grandparents, aunts, and my parents friends were/are incredible additions to my life.

    I support families who choose to have a stay-at-home parent. I do not think that their children are worse off for it. I worry that some mother’s are worse off for being a SAHM – and I think some mother’s are better for it. I think my biggest problem with SAHMs, or the SAHM culture, is my perception that they truly believe that my children will be worse off because I will work. I think it is a naive and narrow viewpoint to truly think that one is “better” for the kids. As someone wrote at ThatWife the other day – great parents will do a fine job whether they stay at home or work, and lousy parents will do a lousy job regardless if they stay at home or work.

    1. Rae Post author

      I certainly hope that my work will have a positive impact financially (I don’t want my husband to work excessive hours in any case if we have children, and hopefully part-time will work for him). BUT my hopes would be the same in any case, and I think that it is sad that the choice is so often purely a financial one.

      A supportive family/small community is so very important. I suspect that our modern attempt to isolate women in their own houses with their small children and little social interaction (other than through computers) will not last that long in comparison to the rest of history in which women have existed in closer communities.

  3. Moira

    Wow. Here’s what I liked about this post (and, in reading your blog, most of your posts): you are not forcing your viewpoint on anyone. You are allowing people to be themselves, and make the decisions they feel is best for them.

    I went over to [name removed by Rae] blog and read through her SAHM discussion, and then some other stuff she wrote. And WOW is that woman judgmental. She wrote not of how she came to the decision that she PERSONALLY would be a stay at home mom, but of how she thinks all women should be stay at home moms, and then said some very rude, very black-and-white things.

    So I just wanted to say that I appreciate how you seem to appreciate how humans are capable of free will and making their own decisions, and that the entire world is not black and white.

    1. Rae Post author

      Thanks. :-) I certainly try to remember that I do not know what others are dealing with and that it is likely that what is best for me may not be best for them and vice versa.

      That said, I think that you might have missed part of the other blogger’s intent. I’ve been following her Sunday Posts since the beginning, and she uses them as a time to present specifically LDS views. To an outsider such as myself they often seem to be missing an element of logic which would make them more compelling as arguments, but I’ve learned that that is okay with Jenna because most often she isn’t trying to convert others directly, she is trying to explain her views clearly and then hope that others can move closer on their own. Or something like that. :-)

      Anyway, I don’t think that you should feel judged at all as long as you’re not Mormon. And if you are, maybe you could explain to others of your faith how you’re able to come to a different conclusion? I know from experience that it is hard for religion to adapt to changing culture!

  4. Katie

    I agree with Moira. You really seem to present your opinion without force or arrogance, so it’s very enlightening and refreshing to read your blog. :)

    I especially felt that way as I was reading this post. As a single person, I don’t know if I feel entitled to comment on the Stay-at-Home-Mom vs. Working-Mom issue. I don’t know if I’ll ever have to make that choice. It is certainly a choice that bears a sacrifice regardless of the outcome. What I can say, is that I admire parents who thoughtfully weigh all of the options, and make the best choice for their families. That’s exactly what you present here, Rae. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series. :)

    1. Rae Post author

      I hope you’re entitled to comment! I think that these things are well worth thinking about, even if they don’t impact us immediately. And even though neither of us has children now, our current choices will likely impact our future and how exactly we work out mothering (which I guess is at least statistically most likely, no?). In any case, I really value your perspective.

  5. Young Mom

    I agree! There is something wrong about being raised without any choices. I and my sisters were told from the very beginning that we would be stay at home moms someday. I used to feel stupid for still wanting to be a stay-at-home-mom after doing most of that work for alot of my childhood, but now I just figure that if thats what I really want to do, then I shouldn’t feel as though I need to do something else just to prove I can.

  6. Michelle aka Catholi

    This is so interesting. I was pushed to NEVER be a SAHM growing up. My mom was a SAHM until my parents divorced and it became, for my mother, one of the REASONS the divorce happened. She wanted her daughters to value a career, making our “own” money and never be “slave” to a man. Of course, my mother was and is fairly “in deep” with typical feminist fodder form the 70s/80s….but that is what I was raised with.

    I have had trouble even as an adult with the decisions we have made. I work full time and willmost likely always do it. My husband works full time/opposite schedule and he will likely always work (not sure if we’ll always keep the opposite schedule thing…that may be just while the kids are day-care age) In today’s economy…I almost feel obligated no matter what that we both keep our jobs out of sheer protection from the unknown…what if one of us were to be laid off…at least the other one is still working.

    Anyway, I appreciate your perspective as someone raised “to be a SAHM”

  7. Kristy

    I’m really enjoying this series and the comments. My mom was a SAHM, but she’s always encouraged me to work if I wanted to. (Probably so she can be a stay-at-home-grandma, ha!)

    And what an interesting experience you had, Rae! I’m always intrigued by the stories you tell from your childhood, since it was so different from my own.

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