Strategies for not having it all
I'm not a woman, but I spent several years at home as the primary caregiver to my young children (whenever anyone used the expression "Mr. Mom, I smiled and said that I preferred "Full-Time Father"), and my advice is to jettison altogether the poisonous idea that anyone, of any sex, can "have it all." That's an idea that can only end in you feeling like a failure, and it's pushed by people trying to sell you something, whether it's a product or an ideology. Life is about making choices, and there's simply not enough room for them all. Every thing you choose excludes something else; that's just the way it is.
Love this. As a single parent I didn't have much of a choice. When I emerged from that, when my daughter was about 14, I started a new business which you could say revolutionised restaurants: I started a restaurant in my living room in 2009 and created a movement. (Of course, being a mere lowly woman, much more connected, richer, younger, skinnier people are now associated with this movement. But for a while there, I was recognised and visible and changed things.) What I have learnt is: nothing is wasted. The skills you learnt as a parent, the hobbies, the evening courses, the fandoms, the obsessions, the shitty part time jobs, anything, anything you are interested in, is all useful. Eventually you use it all.
A 60'000 dollar question indeed. Our family chose to homeschool, which is one of the most expensive educational options on the market if you consider it means making ends meet on a single income. I really appreciate that you offer the perspective of highly-educated women choosing to make a home, raising a family, and putting their skills to use in various creative ways. I have a masters degree in applied linguistics and used to coordinate the ESL program at a university. Yet I have not returned to regular gainful employment since my first child was born almost 18 years ago.
My skills have not remained dormant, but have instead translated into various ongoing projects: I have coordinated various large-scale homeschooling co-ops over the last 15 years (incl. chemistry, physics, biology, classical vocabulary, Latin, speed math, calligraphy, sports etc.), took on a weekly live radio spot reporting on current events in education and homeschooling, acted as a mentor to new homeschooling mothers, published a Classic Learner's Edition of A Christmas Carol, and started a substack harnessing all my experiences to share with families who are looking for anchors of hope and encouragement in a time of upheaval.
I applaud Freya for questioning whether there might not be another way - that it is not merely a choice between higher education or staying at home - but that they can go hand in hand to help both family and community to flourish. Within the homeschooling community, many young women choose to obtain university degrees so that they can teach their children to the highest standards and/or so that they can use their qualifications for flexible part-time work. Many of the mothers who participated in my co-ops were highly educated (a pediatric ear-nose-throat specialist, emergency room doctor, CEO, political candidates, teachers, university professors, clinical psychologists, computer programmers, etc.) I would be happy to offer more advice based on my experience gained over the years if it would be of interest.
Money is only one form of currency; spending time raising a family and creating a home is of exponential multi-generational value, far beyond any monetary equivalent.
Whenever I meet someone new, I ask “what is your main occupation?” This allows for any sort of answer for anyone of any age. And if she says anything remotely like “I’m just a mom,” I take the opportunity to affirm her. “Being a mom is a really great and important main occupation! A great way to spend your time!”
Freya! I have no advice for you. But I’m 22 and same, to everything you’ve said, same. You’re not alone or weird. I think we’re actually being more realistic and forward thinking. By acknowledging how we’ll probably feel in the future, and trying to plan accordingly.
This is doubtless racist, sexist and homophobic, but every choice is a tradeoff. Sometimes, the preferred trade is obvious, but it is foolish to pretend that anyone, human or feline, male or female really can "have it all".
It's just a matter of what you want more.
We should be making young women aware of the reality that certain professions are not going to be friendly to motherhood. That way they have more information going into college. Many women train as teachers, leave the school when they have kids, homeschool a few years (or longer), and re-enter the school when kids are older so they can work on the school schedule. My Father taught and was with us from the end of the school day and all summer break. It was terrific. My wife teaches as well. Plus we get discounted tuition at the private school my children attend and she gets to be around them more often.
I also know several women who graduated law school and work mostly from home. Many women also earn money doing pre-industrial things like upholstery, baking, etc. But I know several women who trained in the medical professions and had to leave it entirely in order to raise their children. Their hearts weren't in it anyway.
And honestly most careers suck and are only bearable if you have a purpose for being there. Would I work my job if I only used the money to buy stuff and travel to Paris or Italy? Nah, I'd probably find a low stress gig. I stay in my terrible corporate job because I love providing for my family. I liked it when Indian Bronson used to post pictures of babies contrasted with captions from banal work emails, quite realistic.
I was a nurse for several years before baby #1. Now have been a homeschooling sahm for 18 years. If I need to go back to nursing I always can, and I've often mentioned it to hubby as a back up possibility for a what-if scenario. It was very good experience as it gave me confidence in expressing my opinions about child development, nutrition, education etc., even though by nature I am more of the artist type and was strongly encouraged to go to art school by many. It is so silly that people will be dismissive and patronizing of me (as a sahm) until they learn that I used to be a RN in pediatrics and then suddenly treat my opinions with deference. I despise that. Now, since covid I am so glad that I do not work in that industry and hope never to again, but if I did need to I would go for Home Health Care or work in a small independent office. If you want to go against the prevailing beliefs you'll have to be somewhat tough. It helps to read books and substacks from like minded people. --So there is one career idea for Freya.
#1 advice: live close to (or move if necessary) parent(s) or in-laws. SAHMs won't necessarily be in that position permanently (as Mary points out), and when your children are young, it's wonderful to have support nearby. Grandparents, too, normally love having their grandchildren around - and being able to give them back. It's reciprocal in another way, too: as your parents age, you're there to help them.
All the women (n=6) in my family stayed home when their kids were little, and they all had interesting careers after the kids started school. Most of them even ended up at their pre-kid salaries, FWIW. Your talents will not wither at home, though may move in different directions.
Also worth noting, my family tends to produce VERY active children that benefit from a stay at home mom. This isn't all philosophy, sometimes different lifestyles just work better for different personality types.
I think, like many here it seems, that motherhood (and fatherhood!) are massively belittled by society as a whole. Just been to my teen daughter's school presentation and they went on about how the kids could be pilots, doctors etc but never mentioned being a parent.
This denigration of parenthood (and especially motherhood which is, whatever the trendies might say, even more vital for much of the children's young life) is one of the reasons that our society is struggling to stay vibrant and our Govts' are having excuses to encourage mass unskilled immigration.
We need to get back to enjoying the wonderful times with kids (my 4 are 23, 19, 15 and 13) and I have been lucky to spend lots of time with mine and can't imagine ever getting bored of them, probably partly because I have a good balance of interests and activities
💬 Countercultural, yes, but not crazy.
When the pushy mainstream culture is increasingly crazy, standing in opposition or quiet defiance is anything but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
After obtaining two degrees and working for six years, I stayed home because I could afford to do so (husband’s salary) and I really didn’t like corporate life. I eventually became a hand knit wear designer and wrote books and patterns. The least supportive people were other women! When I look back perhaps it was jealousy - that I took my rather unique ‘leap’. One of my closest friends exclaimed one day that she was surprised that we stayed friends as ‘you don’t work’. I thought that surprising and cheeky at the time. It can be lonely if you are well educated and stay home. That said, I am introverted and creative so I actually liked the situation I found myself in. I cooked, gardened, gave (and still do!) dinner parties - we travel now that the kids are out of the house (in Norway at the moment). And I loved taking care of my children- cooking for them, dressing them, trying to figure out who they were. In turn, my kids turned out to be lovely people, very well adjusted and successful. One is in finance, just had a baby and went back to work - but she likes her work. The other daughter finished school and would love to be married and have kids but so far hasn’t found the right guy. Each person has to craft their own life path given the circumstances and work interest and personality. You have to listen to yourself and not be pressured by others. Having a supportive husband really helps too.
Yes, yes yes. Mothers have the *most* reason to think creatively, outside of that male-normative box. Thank you for writing this! It puts down some thoughts that have been rattling around in my own head as one who is a college educated, full-time mom to 3 kids 3 and under (and so grateful for that opportunity! Maybe we'll even homeschool!) ........while also wanting to deliberately think about my whole person, in service to my family and however else to the world as time and life allows.
I chose not to go to medical school on purpose so I could find a career much more hospitable to motherhood. My mentor thought I was crazy 25 years ago when I chose nursing school over medical school. Nursing has been a fabulous career. I’ve been able to take breaks from work to be home with the kids, worked part time most of my career, and now the kids are almost grown I’m starting my own business. Nursing isn’t for everyone but if it’s for you, it’s a great career to balance motherhood and career.
I had my 3 children young (18-21 yrs), and homeschooled them till high school when we had more income and could send them to private school. At that point I got my associate's degree, and finally chose to become a massage therapist because of the flexibility it allowed me in my life.
I work from home now, and I'm able to spend time with my grandchildren, my 90 year old mother, and go on vacation when I want to, without having to ask anyone for time off, while doing a job I very much enjoy.
I do wish that I'd started college earlier, but homeschooling and keeping my home running took a lot of time, so I give myself a break there.
Supporting both my family's home life and my husband's earning potential allowed me to do what I love in the long run, and I don't have regrets about my children's upbringing. I feel grateful that I didn't succumb to society's judgements about my choices. Frankly, it was difficult to feel less-than at the time, but choices that are difficult in the short run are often the most gratifying in the end.