|G hard at work at my desk years ago when I took her to work with me.|
“Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
In context, he was talking about having tax payer funded preschool so as to allow parents to not have to choose between a job and having children. And while perhaps he did not mean to reject entirely the idea that parents should stay at home with their children, he pretty clearly stated that he thinks that working is the best choice for everyone.
I understand that when a parent makes the choice to leave a career and stay at home with children, she is making a life-long financial sacrifice. She is losing the chance for career advancement. But the choice between a career and staying home is much more complicated than the issue of money.
I personally began to think about the choice between stay at home parenting and having a competitive career when I was in high school. A young woman thinking about college, adulthood, and discerning religious life considers all the possibilities. At my highly competitive, all girls Catholic high school, the issue of working and raising children often came up. A motivated, intelligent young woman does not know if and when she will get married, but she does know that she is expected to go to college and choose a career. My personal goal at the time was to become a sports journalist. When I applied to colleges, I planned on being a communications major. I even got into a pretty good local school known for its journalism program, Webster University. It was five minutes from my house, and I was offered a nearly complete tuition scholarship. I could have succeeded academically there, and I could have made my way into the world of journalism. But when it came down to it, and I imagined life as a journalist, I realized that it would not be compatible with my dream of family life. I could not be the beat writer of the St. Louis Cardinals and be the type of mother that I wanted to be. I had no idea if I would get married and have children, but I hoped that I would. I made a choice to move away from a lucrative career back when I was 17, not when I decided to stay at home with my children.
By the time I got my financial aid package from Franciscan University, I was already wavering on whether to go into journalism. I could have chosen a lucrative career path, but went instead with the college that I thought would best form my character. I started off as a communications major, switched immediately to undeclared, and within three semesters had switched to theology and philosophy and was participating in the Great Books program. I am so glad that I made these choices.
My college experience formed me into the person I am now; I am not sure what I would be like without this experience. I learned to value virtue, family, and religion above material wealth and worldly success. I learned to discern what God had planned for me, and it was made pretty clear halfway through college that I would marry the man I was dating. While I focused on that, I always thought that, if for some reason I am unable to have children, I would pursue a doctorate. However, within a month of marriage, I was already on track to be a stay at home mom.
It was not easy to be a stay at home mom, even with my 12 hour a week, bring the baby along part time job, on my husband’s meager graduate student income. But we knew that it was important for our family for me to be at home. During my first years of marriage and parenting, I had close female friends who were all making economic sacrifices to stay at home with their children. Some of them had part time positions that they could work from home, and some of them had free grandparent childcare. I lived in the subculture of college educated, single income, stay at home moms. If anything, it reinforced my choice. My pro-life Catholic friends all valued spending time raising their children more than their careers.
When we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to advance my husband’s career (we moved for his tenure-track academic job), I became friends with a number of moms who had Ph.D.’s. Most of my husband’s departmental colleagues who have young children at home have all made the choice to have one parent at home with the children, whether it be the mother or the father. In philosophy, the decision of who stays at home is often based on who has the tenure-track job. All of the academic parents who stay at home also adjunct classes and write. I have spent many a play date with these Ph.D. moms discussing the life and career that they had thought they would have until they met their husbands in graduate school. They are fully aware that by staying at home they are setting aside chances at a successful career in philosophy, but they realize that their children will only be young for so long and that it is important for them to raise them.
I am not claiming that it would be wrong for both parents to work and have their children taken care of by someone else. I think that having a thriving career is a good thing and that many women are meant to have competitive and lucrative careers. I am so thankful for my doctor, who is a mother of six, and who delivers my babies and looks into my children’s ears. I am thankful to my mother for keeping her nursing career going while my father pursued a new career path. Both of them had a strong presence in the lives of their four children. I am sure there are many mother journalists who are happy in their lives and jobs and have growing families. I really think that we cannot make a sweeping judgment about what is best for “Americans.” Every family makes a decision about what is best for their family.
And some families decide that a parent spending the weekdays with his or her children is more important than how much money they make later in life. Couples decide that, yes, they can make ends meet with a single income, and they go for it. It is not an easy decision to make, and career advances are sacrificed. But if anything is worth sacrificing income for, the care of a human being is. The life and formation of a human being is far more important than the salary one brings home. The salary provides the material needs, the parent at home provides so much more. The working parent, hopefully, finds fulfillment in work and home life.
Other families have both parents working. Some arrange schedules to have one parent at home at all times. Others have grandparents who can help with the childcare. Others hire childcare. I do not think that it means that these parents value or love their children any less than those who are able to stay a home. I have spoken to working parents who wish that they could stay at home, but they cannot make that sacrifice.
For a mother or a potential mother in a society that values so highly education and then “doing something with that,” the tension between work and family is always there. Feminism has brought this upon mothers. But no mother who stays at home should be made to feel that their choice was not worth it. Because, while children change ones life forever, human lives will always be more valuable than worldly success.
Originally published in full at Truth and Charity…