My husband and I had the good fortune to attend our friends’ wedding in Carmel, CA this weekend, an event that afforded us some well needed sunshine and a brief respite from our children. The wedding itself was absolutely beautiful, and everyone who attended it was truly awed by the thoughtfulness and creativity of the bride and groom.
The wedding was also a reunion of sorts for over thirty of our fellow Stanford alumni, many of whom are close friends of my husband (and me by proxy of course). Many of the women there were also mothers of small children. But unlike me, they were all mothers who worked outside of the home, as doctors, lawyers and other high-powered professionals. Out of the entire group, I was the only stay at home mom! Actually to clarify, out of the entire group of women my age, I was the only SAHM. Almost all of my husband’s friends and their wives were raised by SAHMs, and I had the pleasure of talking with some of them.
It is very humbling to be the only woman in a group like that who has willfully chosen to derail her once promising career. It is hard to not put your own choices under a flood lamp and microscope, all at the same time. This weekend has forced me to once again remember all of the dreams and goals for myself that I have given up. There are a lot of things that I simply no longer have.
But there are other issues I don’t have either. I don’t have a nanny, and I don’t have two nannies. I don’t have a mountain of law school or med school debt to pay off. I don’t have to worry about who will pick up my child when they are puking, and I don’t have to worry about snow days. I don’t have to worry about whether or not my children are getting the best quality care possible, and I don’t have to struggle with paying another person to snuggle and comfort my child when I would so much rather do that myself.
There was a lot of talk about the so-called “Mommy-Wars” a few years back, and those types of discussions always struck me as ridiculous. To me it seems very clear that working mothers and stay-at-home-mothers both need each other very much. I respect and value all of those working mothers who are out there forging careers and pushing doors open for women everywhere. They are ensuring that my daughter can make whatever career choice she wants. But I hope that working mothers appreciate the value SAHMs have to offer their children as well. We are the moms who are constantly volunteering at school, who are serving on education foundation boards, who are staffing the school levy phone banks, and who are organizing science day for the entire elementary school. Those are important jobs too, even if they are unpaid.
One of the most meaningful conversations I had this weekend was with the mother of the groom, who was a very loving and positive presence through the whole weekend. I told her about how when Bruce was just four days old T—– had been one of our first visitors and had held our sleeping son in his arms the whole time. A couple of years later when T—– had sold his medical device company and was traveling around the world, he sent Bruce a t-shirt that said “Demolition Derby” on it, all the way from Africa because it had made him think of our son who loved construction workers so much. I told the groom’s mother how impressed I was with her, for raising such a brilliant, creative, and thoughtful son. I told her that I understood how difficult it must have been to keep such a bright and adventurous son on track and in line for success.
The groom’s mother was of course mentioned in the wedding toasts, and so was the bride’s mother, who had passed away of breast cancer several years ago. The mother of the bride’s presence at the wedding was very sorely missed by everyone, including those of us who had never had the pleasure of meeting her.
Flying home on the plane tonight I kept thinking about those toasts, the creativity of the wedding, and the multitude of good qualities the bride and groom were both bringing into their marriage. I also thought a lot about the excellent mothering it must have taken to raise such fine human beings. I can’t think about any of this without thinking about my own children and evaluating the career choices I have made.
For me it comes down to this. If I only had 24 years to spend with my children in a way in which I was able to fully participate in their lives; articulate anything I wanted to say to them, read anything they wrote for me, jump up and make them a sandwich because they were hungry, or let loose a tirade of verbiage because they had done something I disapproved of, then I would want to make those 24 years count to their upmost. I would want to look back without any regrets about the amount of time I had been able to spend with my children, or about the level of input I was able to offer in the shape of their characters.
But everyone is different, and the choice that is right for my family may not be right for others. SAHMs need working moms to keep the doors open for our daughters’ future choices, and working moms need SAHMs to chaperone field trips, and plan teacher appreciation week. Many women do not get any choice at all about which path to choose, which a shame in itself is. Those of us who are fortunate enough to choose whether to work or whether to stay at home, are probably never 100% certain, 100% of the time, if the choice we made for our children and careers is the right one. Hopefully I get as much time as I need to figure it out.