The Message I’m Sending My Children

April 27, 2007

In response to my post on The Feminine Mistake, a recent commenter questioned what kind of message stay-at-home moms are sending their daughters by giving up their careers. 

Again, I am not a traditional stay-at-home mom, because I actually telecommute three days a week and work in the office the other two.  Therefore, I invite stay-at-home moms to use the comment section to respond to this question.  However, here’s what I think I’m teaching my daughter — and my son.

First of all, I think I’m sending the message to my daughter that she has choices.  She doesn’t have to be a traditional stay-at-home mom.  Nor does she have to, as James Whittington put it, buy into the “anti-traditional family values feminist agenda.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the freedoms that I have as a result of the feminist movement.  But one of those freedoms is choice.  I want both of my children to understand they have choices.  They have the right to choose the balance between family and careers that best suit them.  What works for their father and me might not be the same thing that works for them.  But they have that choice to decide.

I also want to teach my children independence and the ability to define their own identity.  I want them to know that their identify is what they make it.  I don’t want them to tie their identity to their career — either of them.  They should have full well-rounded lives full of interests, hobbies, friends, family and a career if they want it. 

At the same time, I want my children to know that they should establish some financial independence and learn to support themselves.  But a career is not the only reason to become educated or to work hard.  I want my children to appreciate the value of an education because knowledge, whether it be intellectual or skill-based, is powerful.  I want my children to know the feeling of a job well done and that that feeling isn’t limited to the office — it can be felt in all aspects of their lives.

I want my children to understand the value of sacrifice , compromise and risk.  My children should know that failure is not a sign of unworthiness, but a reason to persevere and a way to improve themselves.  And that anything — family, friendship, career — worthwhile is worth working hard for.

Likewise, I want my children to know independence from stereotypes.  Yes, I stay home three days a week with my children.  But my husband also sacrificed some of his career to stay home with the children the other days.  We do not have traditional roles in our house.  I’m domestically challenged, but even if I wasn’t my husband would still help out with his share of cooking, cleaning and other household chores.  We want to send the message to our children that marriage is a partnership.

Lastly, I want my children to value their family.  I’ve never heard someone regret not working more, but I have heard plenty regret not spending enough time with their family.  I hope that I’m teaching my children to not only value where they come from, but also to provide a bright future for our descendants.  I want to send the message to my children that they are the most important thing that I’ll ever do.  And that my husband and I are both willing to make sacrifices for their future.

Life is short.  I want my children to enjoy and value it.

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‘The Feminine Mistake’ is Mistaken

April 23, 2007

In her new book, The Feminine Mistake, author Leslie Bennetts suggest that women who give up their career to stay at home to raise their children will later regret the decision.  Not only do I think she’s mistaken, but I think she’s made some huge generalizations that stay-at-home moms lose their identity.

Feminine MistakeLet me clarify my status.  I am not a stay-at-home mom.  I work full time albeit not in the traditional sense.  I telecommute three days a week to spend extra time with my children.  But if it were financially feasible, I’d jump at the chance to stay at home full time with my children.

While it’s true that most careers cannot survive a multi-year absence, the rewards of additional bonding time with your kids is unparalleled.

For years I’ve worked hard at my career because I wanted to do something that made a difference.  But when the twins were born, I realized that they are my legacy — my chance to make a real contribution to the world.  While I like the feeling of a job well done, a successful work project in never nearly as satisfying as an hour with my children learning a new skill.

Don’t get me wrong I admire women who work and raise a family.  They are inspirational.  Nor do I believe that their decision to work means that they love their family any less.  But combining motherhood and career isn’t for everyone.  And those mothers that choose motherhood alone should not be made to feel guilty for doing so.  The same is true for fathers who give up their careers to stay at home, which is happening more and more these days.

Careers can be rebuilt.  I’ll even admit that the longer you are away, the slower the rebuilding.  Even the same, careers can be rebuilt.  Your children are only young once!

But just because a woman chooses to stay at home doesn’t mean she has to give up her identity.  I have a friend who stayed at home with her kids, but at night took sign language classes.  Now that her children are in school, she’s a sign language instructor.

Likewise, my time at home with the twins has given me time to resurrect one of my first loves — writing.  I not only write this blog, but I write a journal about my kids.  I’ve also started freelance writing and editing, something I’d never had time in the past for because I was busy “pursuing my career.”

And just because women stay at home with children doesn’t mean they have to completely abandon their professional aspirations.  Women have found several ways to stay connected with the career passions — take classes, do some consulting, stay active in professional organizations and mentor.

Still more women like me have been able to strike some kind of compromise between traditional full-time work and staying at home.  Employers offer more flexibility — part-time, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, job sharing — than they did in our mothers’ time.

Bennetts is mistaken if she thinks that staying at home with one’s children is limited to caring for a child’s needs, cooking and cleaning.  I will admit that before I had children I was under the same misconception.  In my pre-children days I used to swear that I was nothing but a career woman.  I don’t clean (thank God for cleaning services) and I don’t cook (but my husband does), so I couldn’t image what I’d do at home all day.

Nevertheless, staying at home with your child can be so much more.  It’s a time to bond with your child, to mold their development into the type of person you want them to be.  But even more, it’s a time for women to enjoy the little things in life, like smelling flowers with your tots while on a walk or watching a sunrise on a weekday (because you aren’t rushing off to work).

For me, my time with my children is actually a time to rediscover myself.  I’ve always been rushing around working 12+-hour days in the name of my career that I’ve often lost sight of the things that really matter to me — time with family and friends, hobbies and just general relaxing and enjoying life.  These things are what I want my children to learn to appreciate too.

The Feminine Mistake goes on to talk about how stay-at-home moms are sacrificing their financial security because at any time they could become widowed, divorced or their husbands could lose their jobs.

First, while it’s true that these tragedies are all a possibility, with a little advance planning much of the financial inconvenience of these situations can be mitigated.

Secondly, Bennetts misses the boat if she thinks that just because a woman has a career that she’s safe from these same threats.  A career does not necessarily mean financial security.  Likewise, even career women make the mistake of be entirely financially dependent on their husbands.  He handles all the bills and the investments.  All their assets are in his name.  I’ve seen women who have their own careers become financially devastated by a divorce or widowhood.  The main reason — they have no credit of their own. 

I believe that all women — working or not — should have some financial independence.  I’m not advocating entirely separate finances from their husbands, but a little independence.  Just get a checking account and one credit card for spend money.  Put assets in both names.  Alternate whose name the utilities are in (electricity in yours, cable in his). Set up your own little nest egg.  Talk to a financial advisor for ways to make sure you are provided for if your spouse passes away and vice versa.

In addition, I think that the decision to say home is ultimately yours.  Don’t be bullied by books, blogs, your friends or even your boss.  Talk it over with your spouse.  However, at the end of the day only you and your spouse know what’s best for you and your family.  Good luck!