Thursday, March 19, 2015

You are my luxury

Sometimes, thanks to social media, the internet feels like a very small place, a limited orbit. I shared this on the blog's Facebook page last night after seeing it posted on another site, but by morning it was everywhere.

Maybe you've read it by now, in which the "luxury" of stay at home motherhood is contrasted with the "necessities" for survival, as so deemed by society at large. 

I thought it was a well written piece that walked the fine line between values statements and judgmental proclamations handily. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, but I think that's more to do with the emotionally charged nature of the debate (mom-at-home vs. mom-at-work), and not any fault of the writer's.

My own impression? I thought it was spot on. And before that gets me in trouble with my working mama friends, hear me out.

I see you, too. I know you must struggle to leave them every day, to put on your professional face and set your primary mom identity aside from 9-5. I know because you love your kids as much as I love mine, and that while I get a thrill of freedom and relief over the occasional half day in the office every other week or so, spent in meetings or working on a special project, you have to do it every single day, and that it probably doesn't feel much like escape to you. 

Home probably feels like your escape when you pull into the driveway at night, because that's where you left your heart when you pulled the door closed behind you that morning. 

And I don't envy you for that. Because I know that no matter how much you love your job, that can't be easy, and that no amount of uninterrupted time in the restroom can make up for the pain of that separation. 

I'm not saying you shouldn't be working outside the home, by the way. You've made your choice and I've made mine, and we're both doing our very best for our children.

But when I contemplate the idea of luxury like the New York Times piece touched on, when I stop to think about what makes life sweet and satisfying and ultimately, worth living, it isn't cars or a beautiful home that come to mind, or honestly, even being able to pay my bills on time.

It's them.

My children are my luxury. 

So in that sense, yes, I have embraced the most luxurious life possible, in choosing to stay home with them, to work a job that fits mostly into nap times and late nights, and in forgoing some of the more typical decisions that might otherwise accompany one's early to mid thirties in modern America.

We're nowhere near buying a house, but that has more to do with me choosing to spend invisible money on higher education more than a decade ago than with the cost of diapers. We drive older, sort of ugly cars. But there are two of them, which sometimes causes me to catch my breath at the sheer indulgence of it. We did the one car thing and then, living overseas, the no car thing. A car is an enormous luxury.

But I'd trade my minivan for the chance to be home with them if it came to it, honestly I would. And I know couples who have made that decision, no regrets.

There's something that only another parent can understand: your child is an unstoppable and ever-changing force of nature, and childhood is fleeting. 

And every time I leave them, even if just for a weekend away with their daddy, or an hour or two at the coffee shop, I long to be with them again. Sometimes I even miss them while they're sleeping, an admission that only hormones can be responsible for. (You know you've made the late night forehead kissing pilgrimage too, don't deny it.)

And I know too, that no matter how far my eyes roll up into my head in Costco when yet another well-intenetioned stranger tells me that I'm so lucky to be able to stay home with them all day...in the end, they're right.

I am so lucky. And I need to do a better job keeping that in mind, day in and day out. Because I chose this life, and we are choosing it daily, as a couple, and there are sacrifices and sufferings and little deaths involved, as there are in any other big decision. But when we add them up nothing compares to the immeasurable luxury of time with our children. 

And I don't have to explain that to a single other person. Besides, they couldn't possibly understand what I do: that these particular kids are beyond worth it for this particular mother, and that no matter what else I could be doing in a professional capacity, it pales in comparison to what I've been asked to do within the 4 walls of my own slightly ill-kempt home. 

And that's not a judgement on anyone else's lifestyle choices. Just the recognition that my own life is, indeed, immeasurably privileged.


23 comments:

  1. Well said. I always feel uncomfortable when this debate comes up because yes, we have made sacrifices and specific choices in order for me to stay home, but I also do feel so lucky to be at home with my kids. This is what I dreamed of during the 4 years when I taught other people's kids. I love being home with my babies every day.

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  2. Thank you for your post. This is a good reminder. I have worked and stayed home, you are right both are hard. I love being home and sometimes I need to be reminded that I am very lucky.

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  3. Stay at home, work from home, work away from home, simple job, prestigious career, no matter what "motherhood" in any form is not a luxury.... in the end it's just an honor to be their mother and an honor to be able to discern the right course to best care for our families. =)

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    1. This is exactly right: "no matter what, 'motherhood,' in any form, is not a luxury."
      No, motherhood is a vocation, like other holy vocations, that call us to die to ourselves, give ourselves over to the other for their sake. And that is why it is honorable. Thank you for saying this right out loud, Molly.

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  4. Yes to all of this!! As a part time working mom, (2 days/week) at a job I love, I still prefer to be home. My kids most definitely are my luxury. And when I hear my coworkers talking about their Caribbean vacations and new cars (neither of which I have nor will have anytime soon!), I think "that sounds lovely but not nearly as lovely as kissing my babies' smooshy cheeks and reading with my 5 year old". My day to day is luxurious. So luxurious.

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    1. Lindsay I read your comment before it disappeared and I just wanted to thank you for being bold enough to share your heart, and that I'm sorry if this caused you additional pain in the reading. I know my friends who leave their hearts at home struggle with it, and that it's a real and indescribable pain to balance work you love (or need) and children you long to be with. I meant every word of this, that staying home with them *is* a luxury, and that I need to personally foster more of an attitude of thanksgiving that I'm able to do so. I just wanted to offer another perspective on the "kids are so expensive and they need lots of stuff" or "you must be loaded because you're able to stay at home with them" narrative. Of course there are other reasons, but those are two that are getting lots of airtime this week.

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  6. I loved my days at home with the kids - and I long to be able to do it again. I'm happy for all you moms who can stay at home and scrimp and save to make that happen. We're all sacrificing one way or another to give our kids what they need. I just wish Catholic schoolteachers (like my hubby) got paid boatloads of money :)

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    1. Catholic school teachers SHOULD be paid boatloads of money!

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  7. Beautifully said. Thank you for reaffirming what I know in my heart but sometimes have a hard time digesting when I am stuck in the weeds of keeping 4 little ones alive and well....

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  8. This was beautiful and had me sobbing! Thanks for your perspective.

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  9. I feel like a lot of the pushback on the original article was from the sense that the choice to stay home, in our society that treats humans as worthless unless they're bringing in itemizable monetary benefits, is really a luxury. In other words, being a stay at home mom is not a luxury. But being able to choose anything, rather than being compelled by immediate life circumstances and need, is a luxury or at least a stroke of uncommon good luck. I think that's not universally true but it is certainly true for many. For me, working from home is the luxury. I think I am absurdly lucky to have finagled this life style somehow. And I think your personal sense that being with your children and raising them is more valuable than anything else you could be doing is really sensible -- I mean people need to work and some people do very valuable work. But I think it's fair to say that for most people, in most life circumstances, having kids will be the most meaningful thing they do.

    On the other hand, I feel bad calling my kids a luxury. That implies "unnecessary" or "optional" or "lifestyle choice" to me. I feel like they're really just a blessing. That means I feel super lucky to have them but not that I consider them optional in any way, if that makes sense. LIke they are both necessary and not guaranteed. Or something. Not that everyone needs to have kids to have meaning in life. But just that parenthood is so fundamental to the human condition that framing it as a luxury is so weird. On the other hand, for all of time kids have been a very dear thing -- both in terms of their value to humans and in terms of the riskiness and sacrifice required to raise them.

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  10. Many Thanks for this insightful, thought-provoking article. My personal pet peeve is when people make the whole working mother vs. SAHM debate all boil down to money. It's a radical oversimplification of the challenges which are unique to parenthood. When I was pregnant with my son, my 90-year-old grandmother sat me down and explained to me that one of the things she learned years ago is that ALL mothers experience sorrow and joy in equal measure, and that there's just no escaping that fact. Now, she raised her children in poverty and in rural Italy, without many of the advantages of modern medicine. She even had to bury two children. I didn't fully understand her remark at the time-- I was so young and naive, and the life she led seemed so far removed from what I thought would be my lot as a modern American mom.

    Years later, I was a stay-at-home mother to my son, and-- thanks be to God-- able to do so without any major financial sacrifice. That said, he has no fewer than three chronic, incurable medical disorders. I used to be in a Ph.D program part-time and had to drop out for good when my boy's health went into a sharper decline. I know the sorrow of having to witness him suffering to some degree or other on a regular basis, without being able to do much of anything about it because, when it comes right down to it, no amount of $ can insulate any of us from suffering. None of us is able to avoid the cross-- not the working mothers busting their behinds to contribute financially for their family's upkeep, not the rich parents, not the poor ones, not the ones with 10 kids or the ones with a single child. Being a parent means that you chose to bring into the world someone you love more than you do yourself, and when you do that, you open up your heart to a lot of joy, yes....but also a lot of grief. It's taken many years, but I finally realize just how right my grandmother was.

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    1. This was beautifully written, and it hits the nail right on the head, Liz. Thank you.

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  11. I just want to say - we shouldn't assume working moms having working husbands. I'm a working mom because, for many reasons which I will not go into, my husband is SAHD. I am my children's mother, so even though they're home with 1 parent, and that is the ideal, I still have the same heart ache to leave them every day because no one loves their children like their own mother. I feel women like me, who are providing the sole source of income for our family, are overlooked in the working mom/SAHM debate. Please pray for me and I'll pray for all of you ;)

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    1. We have some good friends who made this same decision a number of years ago, because the Mom's career was more sustainable and had more security in the long term than the Dad's. It has worked for them, but knowing them well, I know she misses being there with the kids. She travels a lot for work, even internationally, and I know it's hard on her when she's gone. But she still loves what she does, and it's been the right decision for them as a family. And her husband has done a tremendous job with the kids. You have to do what is best for your family, ultimately. Whatever that may look like!

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    2. You're right and since my husband has been home with the kids, I've seen him grow as a father, which has been an enormous blessing to our family. It makes my heart swell to see his relationship with our kids deepen every day. That said, it's still hard on me because I travel too - at least 2 overnights every month - and let's be honest here, men don't *quite* take care of the house the way women do. I remember once I was traveling and our twins were 2 years old...my husband called me on my way home and said, "Don't freak out. The house is a disaster, but I kept the kids alive." haha :) Anyway, this is our life and every day I count my blessings and pray for the grace to live out my vocation as mother & wife.

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  12. This encapsulates perfectly how I feel about choosing to leave my job 18 years ago and make enormous financial sacrifices (for the first few years, until we got our feet under us), in order to stay home. I thank God every day for my husband, who works really hard to make that possible for us. And yes, it is also MY luxury, because no matter how much we had to scrimp and save in the beginning, it was still a choice I got to make.

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  13. Beautiful as always, Jenny. I totally agree!!!

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  14. So lovely! No matter how a mother goes about providing for her children, it is such a fleeting time that we have them in our daily lives. I have 2 away at college and one with only one year left of high school. It's a quick and beautiful ride...enjoy!

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  15. Absolutely. I feel the same-- no matter what I *could* be doing, nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to what only I can give to my children as their mom. It's a great reminder to be so grateful if we are lucky enough to stay at home with them!!

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