I was raised by the least domestically oriented woman I have ever known. Being a stay-at-home mom just wasn’t in the cards for my mom. Sure, she could get the job done, but it was like watching a donkey cross a river—they might not drown, but it doesn’t look pretty. So she went to school, and became a paralegal, and my brother and I grew up eating a lot of fast food. My mom often worked until 7 or 8 at night, and my dad was constantly on the road for his job.
And things turned out okay for me and my brother. I like to think that the biggest KPI (key performance indicator) of parenting is whether or not you raise adults who are decent people, and are able to put a roof over their head, and the heads of their own children, if they have them. My parents were able to do this, without someone staying at home to focus solely on raising us.
I believe that there isn’t one best way to approach the question of staying at home or working. Like everything, what you choose to do and why you choose it depends on a lot of things. For my mom, staying at home was like death to her. She just wasn’t meant for it. In a different era, my dad may have been a stay at home parent—and he would have been good at it.
For my wife, it’s very different. She grew up wanting to be, more than anything else, a stay-at-home mom. For the entirety of our 11 year marriage, that’s what she has been. And, she is very good at it.
This is what I’ve learned from her:
1. To be good at it, you have to want to do it.
On our first date she told me being a stay-at-home mom was what she wanted to be in life. As I watched her across the table at Denny’s (we were young, poor, and in a small town with limited first date options), talking about Batman and the upcoming presidential election—and watched her walk away in yoga pants—I knew then that I would do anything in my part to help make this girl’s dream come true.
A big part of why my wife is so good at what she does is because it is what she always wanted to do. That’s the case for any career choice. If you go to work every day simply because it pays the bills, or because it’s what you happened to fall into, you might be okay at it.
But if you wake up every day doing the thing you always wanted to do, you will be very good at it.
2. It’s really hard.
Our son was a difficult potty-trainer. He just wasn’t ready to accept the idea that pooping and cleaning up after himself was his own responsibility. I can sort of see his point—once you cross that line of wiping yourself, you can’t re-cross it for another 75 years.
One day, when he was three, my wife and I walked into our bedroom to find him naked and facing our wall, with his back to us. He was holding one of her shoes, and admiring his work. He had used that shoe as a paintbrush, the wall as his canvas, and his “number 2” as the paint.
My wife literally burst into tears. I had never seen anyone do that before.
My career is hard, and there is a lot of metaphorical poop to deal with, but never the literal kind. My wife deals with the literal poop of life with more grace and patience then I have for the metaphorical poop.
3. It takes a massively diverse skill set.
My wife is a far better money manager than I am. If she were handling the budget for a small nonprofit or business that had the income and expenses our family does, people would call her a budget director or CFO. She also cooks, cleans, plays psychiatrist to our three children and me, makes sure we all feel loved and needed, and does thousands of other things.
Some of those things are “small”. Some of those things are big. A lot of those are things that seem small, but are actually huge. Taken together, they mean she does the hardest, most complex job I’ve seen—one that in the same day can be the most and least rewarding job ever.
What Works for Your Family
I forget the statistic, but in a life, the typical person will change careers something like 7 times. My wife will have a different career one day, but the one she has had to date has been incredibly rewarding for her, and for our family.
That said, it wouldn’t work for every family, and that’s okay. Just make sure that what you do works for your family, and that the end result is kids who are able to provide for themselves and their families when they grow up and face these same choices.
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