Regret is a strong word. So I was intrigued by the title of an op-ed piece last week in the Huffington Post: “Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom.”
The article is written by a woman who was once a Wall Street trader exchange and who gave up her career entirely to be a stay-at-home mom. Now as her children are moving out of the house, she finds herself looking back and wondering who she is. Undoubtedly, that’s a hard moment for any mother who wakes up one day to realize that the intense, day-in, day-out era of her motherhood is complete.
This woman goes on to say that she feels deep remorse that she ended her career so abruptly. She feels her world narrowed, her kids didn’t think she did anything and she used her drivers license more than her education.
At the end, she writes, “If I could wind back the tape, have a do-over, what would I have done differently? Looking on at my grown and nearly-grown sons, I am grateful for the gift of time we had. Yet, I wish I had tried to keep a finger, a toe or a hand in the working world to ease an eventual return.”
This is where I think the inflammatory headline is purposefully misleading. This woman doesn’t regret being a stay-at-home mother. I doubt she would trade her memories or her relationship with her children for her career. What she regrets is not keeping some part of her former self alive.
All moms struggle with this. Some plunge headfirst into motherhood and forsake any part of their former self. I chose to continue writing, teaching and editing from home while raising my children. I am lucky to have a career that suits this flexible work and the technology to do it, as well as a husband who helps me so I can work at nights.
Sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I don’t want to stay up late making a deadline. Sometimes I want to be part of bath time instead of grading English tests for my online class. Often I consider just forgetting it and focusing all my energy on being a mother.
I keep at it because I am afraid of exactly what this woman in the Huffington Post now faces. I want to be able to work full-time again one day and I know re-entering the job market after 10 years is intimidating and borderline impossible.
So instead of coming to the conclusion that stay-at-home moms are going to someday regret their choices, I think the message in this woman’s story is this: being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t mean giving up who you are. Even if your job can’t work as a part-time gig, find something that is yours. It may be gardening, volunteering or rock climbing. Find something that makes you happy and will be there for you when the kids are grown.
Then, when that empty-nesting period begins, you won’t have regret. You will find that you have preserved and cultivated a piece of your former self while also raising your children.
How do you keep a toe in the working world? What jobs or activities keep your pre-mom self alive?