My mother never forgave herself for going to work. She wasn’t a bad mom. I was well into school, three of my siblings were old enough to babysit, and I developed character that I wouldn’t have any other way. Still, my mother carries regret. She’s reminded me of this often since I announced that after six years at home with two children I wanted to go back to school. It’s a catch-22 that modern mothers face: those who choose to stay at home are made to feel unappreciated and underachieving, while mothers who choose (or have) to go to work are made to feel guilty. We all agree that what is good for one family may not be right for another, yet society continues to places judgment, regardless of the decision. Mothers are not trusted to decide what is best for their families, when they should be being given more options in those decisions.
The dichotomy is highlighted by the political blowout from strategist Hillary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney. Ms. Rosen’s comments of Ms. Romney’s choice to stay at home, in particular, stands as a blaring reminder of how many women in the country cannot make that choice. Interestingly, during his tenure in office, Mitt Romney tried to increase the required hours worked outside the home in order to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. In his words, he was trying to “Afford women the dignity of work.” So, if you’re rich like Ann, you can take pride in spending all your time with your children, but people will still snarl that it isn’t work. If you’re poor, there is no dignity in being a stay at home mother. Still, there are swaths of the conservative right that label working mothers, whether by choice or requirement, as absent.
I made the decision before I had children that someday I would stay at home until my children were ready for school. I made my decision based on my interpretations of sociological and psychological studies. During hard times I wondered if it would be better for the family if I helped with the income. But the ultimate cost of child care, monetarily and emotionally, would have been more than I could make with only two years of college. It was frustrating to know that I was doing all I could, but couldn’t help more. Moreover, both Rosen and Romney demonstrate a prejudice I felt all too well. We made it work out, and I was able to stay at home, but there were plenty of times I felt unappreciated and two-dimensional. Now my children have grown, and I have too. We’re ready to branch out and grow in ways only the village can supply. I’m doing what is best for my family, but there’s always someone who wants to cast judgment. Even still, since the conception of women’s right, there has been rhetoric that a woman’s place is in the home.
Mothers work at the very foundation of humanity. Rather than pass judgment over what a mother decides it best for her family, society would be better off supporting her options and paving the way for her success. A mother deserves that kind of respect.