I was sorting through old papers and came upon this piece I wrote in 1995 when I was just beginning to compile thoughts for my Childless by Marriage book. It feels so dated now.
I know most of you come from a completely different world from the one I grew up in. I was raised in the 1950s and 60s in a Bay Area housing tract where most of the homes were occupied by WWII vets, stay-at-home moms, and their children. But in this piece, I describe how I really wanted the life my mother had. A full-time housewife, she never had an outside job after she became pregnant with me. Her days revolved around taking care of us kids, my father, and the house. She may have wanted more out of life, but she didn’t push for it, fearing my old-fashioned father would not like it.
I know, I know. Who these days would let a husband determine what they do with their lives? Not me. Both of my husbands watched me go back to school for more and more education while working one job after another and writing and playing music on the side. I got the household chores done, too, but they were not top priority. We needed the money, but even if we didn’t, no man was going to tell me to give up my career.
What if we’d had children? My only reference is my youngest stepson, who lived with us for eight years, from age 12 to 20. I worked. His bio mom worked, too. He was pretty self-sufficient and didn’t expect a whole lot of parenting from me. He didn’t mind if I was watching him and making notes for an article at the same time. He could cook his own macaroni and cheese while I ran off to take a class or cover the school board meeting.
Anyway, here’s some of what I wrote 24 years ago:
Before women’s liberation, life was so simple. Not necessarily ideal, but simple. Women got married, had children and stayed home caring for them while their husbands worked.
Only those who didn’t have husbands and babies had jobs. As soon as they got married and got pregnant, they were released from the paid labor force. Many a mother of baby boomers quit working before the first baby came and never worked for money again. She had earned her discharge by producing children.
(Let me stop to note that in some families, the mother had to work because they needed the money. My husband’s mother always had a job. She sold Avon products on the side. Her husband and sons survived, but it was common for the stay-at-home moms to believe working moms could not possibly be good mothers.)
Full-time motherhood wasn’t a bad life—once the kids were old enough to go to school. An efficient housewife could get all her chores done before lunch and spend the afternoon knitting and watching soap operas until the kids came home from school. Or, if so inclined, she could volunteer, sew, shop, write books (my dream), or hang out with her friends as long as it didn’t interfere with picking up the kids after school and having dinner on the table at 5:30.
These women were financially dependent on their husbands, of course, and that could be difficult if the men weren’t generous, but during their prime years, they had their days to themselves.
Women who wanted careers could not also have the husband, kids, and home with the white picket fence. It was assumed the old maid schoolteacher and the lonely librarian had failed to find husbands, and the stylish woman running the Macy’s dress department had lost her true love to another woman.
(Note that I paid no attention in those days to same sex couples, single parents, or blended families. I also didn’t mention couples who disagreed about whether to have children. It wasn’t up for discussion in those days.)
Today things are more complicated. You can have a husband and a career at the same time. You can have the home and the kids, too. You can have everything—and take care of it all. But what if you don’t want the career? What if you’d like to stay home? You need the children as a way out. I’d never dispute that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and the most important one, but there’s no commute, no dress code, no set hours, and no boss. It’s real life.
There’s no law against staying home without children, but is it fair to let the husband bear the whole financial burden? Non-mothers have no excuse for not working. So you slog off every morning, crawl along with the commute traffic, do your job all day–often with no contact with the natural world for eight or more hours–then join the commute again until you arrive at home and start your other job by making dinner. Is this our punishment for not having babies? Couldn’t we just have the time off anyway?
Oh my God. Did I really write this? I was really brainwashed to be just like my mother. I thought I’d stay home and write books between chores while the kids were at school, and all would live happily ever after. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I’m pretty sure it always was.
If a man was saying all this, people would call him lazy, worthless, a slacker. But why can’t a couple reverse the roles and have the father stay home with the kids? Does any of this make any sense in 2019?
How about you? Did you ever wish you could have children so raising them could become your full-time job? Did that always sound more appealing than anything the outside world had to offer? Or do you worry about how you would handle motherhood and a job at the same time?
Check out this article. Turns out a lot of people these days think stay-at-home moms are lazy while others think kids do best with Mom at home. https://www.verywellfamily.com/research-stay-at-home-moms-4047911
What do you think?
In the past, I have mentioned that I’m open to guest posts that fit with the mission here, and I still am. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an idea to propose. We’d need about 500 words. No pay, just lovely readers who care.
6 thoughts on “Motherhood Used to Offer a Way Out”
I’m 36 and a fence-sitter about having children.
But the days I really want them – I do dream of being a SAHM until they are of school age.
I wouldn’t want anyone else to raise them but me (& the father) during the first few years of his/his/their life/lives.
I guess I would be following in my mother’s footsteps (who was born in the 40s) because when she had her children, she stopped working and stayed home to raise us (4) until we were of school age. Then she eventually returned to work.
So yes – if I ever decided to have children and have the choice – I would stay home to raise them happily (as hard as that would be in reality!).
I would too. Raising kids, especially in the early years is a big enough job.
I am 58 and grew up assuming I would have both kids & a career. Exactly how I would do this wasn’t clear, but I figured lots of people did it (& certainly more & more, the older I got). For a while, I did think that maybe I’d be a SAHM, especially when my kids were small.
Then, reality hit: I got married, started paying my own bills (along with my husband), started working (at a pretty good job that I liked, in my field) and acquired a hefty mortgage. 😉 It quickly became apparent that financially, and barring a lottery win, 😉 I would probably need to keep working. If I did quit to raise children for a few years, was I going to be able to find a similar good job (with a similar salary & benefits) in the future? Stories of women who had spent many years out of the workforce, only to have their marriages fall apart or find themselves suddenly widowed, also made an impression on me. Plus, my parents had spent a lot of money & I had spent a lot of time getting a good education that enabled me to get a good job. Was I going to just abandon all that?
I always thought women who worked part-time (who could afford it) had the ideal situation. And for a while, a somewhat older coworker & I tossed around the idea of job-sharing as a way to keep one foot in the workplace and give us the time to do other things — raise children in my case and gradually ease into retirement in hers. It was something that was just starting to be tried at our company, and we talked about how we could make it work. But the investments she was counting on to bridge her way to retirement took a nosedive in the early 2000s, so she had to keep working a bit longer than she had expected — and of course the children did not materialize for me, so I just kept working too.
Sure, daycare is horrendously expensive, and doing both work & family is hard, but I figured lots of people do it and manage, and that I could and would too, when the time came. These days, and especially in the city where I live, the cost of living is such that two incomes are practically a requirement.
Hello, I’m a new reader, and perhaps not your usual demographic (35 years old, married with two small children) — but I came across your blog from another parent blog that I was reading. I find your writing quite insightful and was interested in the thoughts you raise. I actually don’t find your early thoughts odd — although it has become non-traditional for women to opt for ‘traditional’ roles (as these were rejected through the years in which feminism fought for the right to be in the workplace). In case it’s of interest, I went to school for ages, received a doctorate, but got married and had a baby just before that degree was finished…and then lost much of my interest in pursuing full-time work! I’ve ended up being mostly a stay-at-home-mother (very happily, I must say). I say mostly because I do dabble in some teaching work at the local university, but it’s never more than one course a term. I LOVE being home with the children, having dinner on the table, having a peaceful home. On the days I teach, I am always tired, rushing to get the meal ready — I truly do not want to work full-time. It just makes such a difference to have someone at home. My husband would never make that demand, but he appreciates having me at home, and it means so much time with my children. I see it as a tradeoff between the value of money (were I to work full-time) and the value of TIME (to invest in my family, my children). I have many friends in my age range who are parents, and only one of those mothers works full-time — and she is so busy, we’ve virtually lost touch. So in 2019, I know many SAHM’s, and many part-time working mothers (who are generally balancing things with husbands who also do part-time)…meaning in virtually all those homes, a parent is nearly always home! It’s so odd to me, because I KNOW that is not reflective of widespread social realities where it has become common to have two adults working + kids. (And I’m not in a wealth/privileged demographic. I’m middle class and everyone in my circle watches their pennies, and perhaps does without some extras). So is my experience out of the ordinary, or perhaps reflective of a return to some form of traditional arrangement? I think there are great benefits to be gleaned from the traditional arrangement and think the feminist ideal of the working woman strikes me as a less appealing prize than the picture you describe of having time to one’s self! Just my two cents, and I do not in any way intend to insult those who prefer to work or who gain great joy from their jobs — only to say that for me, NOT having to go into work, commute, spend time away from home and family, is wonderful and blissful. (And my husband wishes he could stay home too, for the record. We would just need some wealthy person to support us, a rich benefactor, perhaps? ha)
This is a huge topic that I don’t think one blog post can cover. But, lots of dads are stay-at-home dads now. Sometimes it is simply because the wife earns more money at her job than the dad and they are able to live off the one income. But, most people cannot afford having a family with one income because houses are way too expensive now. I mean really it’s insane, there is a book called The Two-Income Trap.
The gist of The Two-Income Trap is this: mommy and daddy both work, mommy and daddy have two incomes and decide to buy a nice home down the block, so they do. They buy the house at a gagillion dollars. Then, Mr. and Mrs. X decide they also want a home, but since mommy daddy double incomes are everywhere buying up all the real estate they can afford, When Mr and Mrs X go looking for a house, all the houses are a gagillion dollars. Mrs X decides to become a CNA so her kids have a roof over their heads. Even though after daycare, car payments, gas, clothes for work, she only brings in 800 bucks a month.
Crystal, it is a big subject. The Two-Income Trap is by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi and you can buy it here: https://amzn.to/2M9e1uL