By Dixie Andelin Forsyth, 6/11/20
“I really thought you’d do more with your life than just raise a bunch of children.”
“Are you sure you want to be a mother? What about YOUR needs? Don’t you want to feel fulfilled?”
“She’s doing something important with her life, not wasting it by being a stay-at-home mom.”
“If you didn’t have so many kids, you could use your talents to really make a difference in the world.”
“Oh…you don’t have a job, just stay home with the baby? Sorry to hear that.”
“Does she ever feel sad that she never accomplished anything besides raising a huge family?”
“I wish I could sit around all day like you, but I have a meaningful career.”
Any of these statements or questions sound familiar? Whether you are a mom or not, you have probably heard disparaging remarks about women who choose to stay home and raise their children. I was recently told by a woman with grown children that she was disappointed in her daughter for taking the “easy path” by staying home with her kids. “For decades I worked hard, in the trenches, because my husband wasn’t a high earner,” she told me, shaking her head as she said “But my daughter wants to sit back and let everyone else work hard while she lounges around the house.”
Those of you who are mothers, would you say being a parent is an easy job? What percentage of your day is spent “lounging around”? How many of you enjoy waking up at 4 am to clean the aftermath of a late-night bloody nose? Who of us out there likes to deal with a teething or colicky baby who won’t be comforted? Are you able to detach from the heartbreak of seeing your child struggle to make friends, or to do well in school? Do you find the angst or depression of underconfident, pubescent teenagers to be hilarious or entertaining? How many meals have you been responsible for providing? How many tears have you dabbed with a tissue, whether yours or those of your child? How many times have you wiped down a food-encrusted highchair? Would you call this “sitting back while everyone else works hard”?
We live in an age where motherhood is considered a cop out, a terrible Plan B, a sign of failure to a lot of people. I’m not sure how this happened, but the noblest, most difficult and most influential job in the world is now probably the most undervalued and misunderstood. Having a career is considered by many to trump anything a stay-at-home mother could accomplish. And yet, whose work is most likely to be remembered long after she has passed away? Who has a lasting influence on the character and actions of the entire human race, for good or ill?
Not all women are blessed with children. Some women don’t even want them. Others have them but find them a burden. There are single moms who have no choice but to work, moms who must work because their husbands can’t, and moms who don’t need to work but enjoy having a nicer car, more vacations, or better cuts of steak. Of course, we all enjoy nicer things. When given the opportunity to choose a few luxuries, we’re all going to weigh the costs against the benefits and see if we can squeak those into our lives. Because we’re human.
I’m not saying you need to be a mother to make a difference. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman having a career. So many women in our world are making a big difference in medicine, education, politics, social work, filmmaking, engineering. I don’t know many people who would ever say those women aren’t contributing to society. But it’s often those women, those who contribute, who cast a dark, critical shadow on the noble mothers among us. Women like my friend who mean well but pass harsh judgement upon those who choose a different path than she did.
Raising seven children is, to me, my greatest accomplishment in life. Just giving birth, by itself, is a big deal that rates a lot of respect. A lot of women have had it worse than I did, like my mother-in-law. Due to a deformed pelvic bone, Bob’s mother almost died every time she went through childbirth.
Five times. She did that five times.
Hearing the stories, it’s easy to wonder why she put herself through that danger and agony repeatedly. Why would any woman welcome that kind of pain, that much risk? Because having children, being a mother, was worth more to her than anything. For her, it was the most desirable, most worthwhile thing she could do in life—something her pleading doctors could not dissuade her from doing. And despite going through financial ups and downs (mostly downs) due to her husband’s slim income as a high school teacher, she insisted on staying home to raise her babies. Verna was a professional hairdresser and could have earned enough to help put more than beans and “suckers” (a not-so-nice fish they caught themselves) on the table during that especially hard, Canadian winter when Bob was little. But then she wouldn’t have been around to comfort and bond with him when he was constantly sick those first few years, might not have heard his first words or seen him practically run after taking his first steps. Some women have no choice but to miss those things. But if you have a choice—and choose your children—you will be rewarded in ways money and a career can never touch.
Women are the gatekeepers of civilization. We have the opportunity to pass on our beliefs, values, dreams and talents to another generation. Those who don’t have children can do this by teaching, nurturing and encouraging those around them, especially the young. Those who do have children have an even more direct way to make an imprint on the future adults of the world. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling, more meaningful, or more important than preparing children to make a difference, to handle trials that come their way, to enrich the lives of others through service, innovation, and cooperation.
There is no need to disparage other women for choosing a calling different from ours, or to feel less valuable just because some people don’t understand how hard we work. We all do important things, improve the world in our own ways. It would be nice to see more kindness, less judgment on either side of the motherhood spectrum. Any woman who contributes to society should be given a lot of praise and credit, no matter how she chooses to do it. And a good mother who raises good members of society contributes as much or more than anyone I can imagine.