“Oh, I’m just a mom.” – Words I say any time I am asked what I do for a living.
I don’t know when I started inserting just into that phrase as if being on-call for cooking, cleaning, nursing, entertaining, laundering, and teaching in my home 24 hours a day, seven days a week is just something that I do in my free time. (What’s free time?)
We live in the age of female empowerment. Women no longer need the status of marriage to make an imprint on their world. We can work, untethered, to reach goals that generations of women before us couldn’t have even dreamed of. So why do I then, as a stay-at-home mom, feel the need to defend my choice to other women? Why do my feminist friends shake their heads and say that I’ve wasted my potential by disregarding the working world in favor of a lifestyle that even women with no rights decades ago could have had? Why do I constantly feel less-than?
Getting married at 20 years old was something I never dreamed I’d want. I always planned on moving far away, living a life of singleness, and fighting for success in the working world. Meeting my husband at 18 was not part of my life plan, and feeling peace, comfort, and empowerment in my marriage to him two years later was a joyous surprise.
Eighteen months after our wedding, we welcomed our daughter, Quinn, into the world; seventeen months after that, we welcomed our son, Tuck, and eighteen months after his birth, we will be welcoming our third baby, a couple of months before I turn 25. Life has moved quickly and miraculously for us. As a woman driven by worldly success, I was taken by surprise and guilt that my desire to be just a mom overruled my desire for practically everything else. I have fought within myself for years to come to terms with the idea that I love what I do, and that it’s okay to love what I do. The women I grew up with are still enjoying singleness, finishing grad school, and entering the world as powerful and influential women, while I, “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school, took the cop-out and had babies instead.
I think we must remember that choice is just that: choice. I love what I do because I have chosen to do it. It wasn’t forced upon me. I know that I could have been successful in the working world because I was once. I loved the feeling of working. I loved reaching goals and seeking promotions. I loved the affirmation I received for a job well done. My appreciation for the women that came before me to pave the way for me to work and to have an identity outside of my own home is insurmountable. To the women who take care of their babies and then leave for work, I have indescribable respect for the sacrifices made both in a job and at home.
But my choice to leave that world in favor of a quiet (haha, as if it is ever quiet in a house full of children!) life inside my home has taught me to seek goals, promotions, and affirmations in a new way. For so long I underestimated the joy I could feel from my babies learning to say “thank you” or from my toddler learning to be kind or tell someone that she loves them. A promotion can never surpass the feeling of accomplishment that swells in me as I get to witness every single moment of my children becoming real, functioning, empathetic human beings.
So yes, maybe I wasted my potential for success in the working world. Perhaps I could have had a job title that didn’t include “wife” or “mother.” But I think what I want to say most is this: I take pride in being a wife. I take pride in being a mother. My life is not glamorous, and it is harder to feel success in the mundane every day.
The world does not look on my success in raising my children to be kind and respectful human beings as compared to the women in my class who continued on to D.C., New York, and Los Angeles to have careers in human rights, politics, and law. I did not attend grad school. I did not “maintain my independence.” But how wonderful is it that we live in an age where women can do both or neither? Where I can choose to forgo the new “expected” in favor of my own desires and our own callings? In the last 30 years, women were liberated to be able to work. Right now, I feel liberated not to.
My charge to the stay-at-home mothers is this: as mothers who naturally love our children fearlessly, I pray that we also would love ourselves with the same conviction. May we walk in the sureness of our purposes and may we acknowledge the successes of one another with full support and acceptance.
To the woman who chooses not to have babies and instead paves your own path of womanhood, I applaud and admire your conviction and freedom. To the woman who gives passionately at your job and then loves passionately when you come home to your children, I admire your tenacity and your capacity to give of yourself in so many different compartments of your life.
But to the woman who chooses to be just a mom: you are anything but. You are a caretaker, a nurse, a teacher, a chef, an entertainer, game-maker, problem-solver, crisis averter, lover of free time, and seeker of self-worth. You are selfless in your sacrifices. You are a cheerleader who deserves to be applauded yourself, because what an honorable charge it is, to devote your entire self, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, into the making of a new generation of incredible people. May you always remember that being just a mom is possibly the hardest job you will ever have, and may you feel the respect and the reverence that is due to you in your choice.
You are not a cop-out. You did not take the easy path. You took a charge into a hard and not-so-glamorous life. May you feel the excellence of that choice every day.