Should I Stay Home or Should I Go To Work Now?
Does anyone else have to remind themselves of the things they accomplished prior to this job called motherhood? I do. Just a few months ago I lay in my childhood bedroom, desperate for understanding of my present situation. I formally typed out my “accomplishments.” Backpacked Europe, check. Went to Berkeley, check. Learned French, check. Lived in a foreign country (France), check. Moved to a new state, check. Went to graduate school, check. Got a master’s degree, check. Got married, check. Had children, check. Had a natural birth, check. Started a business, check. Paid off debt, check. So, what’s missing?
The truth is, I do not have my own home. I am not homeless, per say. I am a stay-in-someone-else’s-home mom. I live with my in-laws. And, before we lived here, we lived with my parents. Actually, we’ve lived with relatives for almost half of our entire marriage (approximately 3.5 years, rounding down). It began as an opportunity to save money while we put our earnings back into the business my husband and I launched right after we married. Every nickel, dime, and penny went straight back into our vision to grow a small made in America brand. Naturally, our families hesitation to support our venture led them instead to offer housing in lieu of hard earned capital. So, we opted to optimize our investment in ourselves by spending less. The equation seemed logical at the outset: either make more or spend less. So, we chose to spend less. Then, I got pregnant.
We also happened to live in the hottest real-estate market of the moment circa 2014–2015 (Seattle). While studying sociology, I read extensive research showing how non-native Americans were faring better than their American counterparts, economically speaking, because cohabiting with relatives is culturally normative. So, I spared my shame and dove in like any hopeful ethnographer would. Here I am, nearing four years of co-existence with extended family. I’ve birthed two humans under the roof of my in-laws and they are almost three years apart in age. Did I mention ninety-five percent of my belongings are neatly stacked in a storage unit?
Obviously, I could get a job. Then, we could free our belongings from purgatory, furnish a rental with our carefully curated collection of vintage belongings. I could leave our dirty laundry to its own devices, unbeknownst to the parental scope of surveillance we’ve willingly subjected ourselves to. I could cook every meal exactly to my own liking with all the organic fruit and vegetables my gut so desperately needs. To be fair, I often search for jobs I’m technically qualified for on Glassdoor. Today I searched again, halfway jealous after talking to the mom of two across the street who works full-time doing a job I’d secretly love to do.
The problem is, my soul cannot leave my children. Perhaps it’s because I worked so damn hard to become one, maybe even harder than every qualification I have on my resume combined. The moment I became a mother three years ago, my daughter grasped a lock of my hair as the midwife placed her on my chest after we both fought the battle of birth with every fiber in of our bodies to meet each other. My labor was arduous, unmedicated, and complicated. Twenty four hours of labor with little progress lead toward complication after complication: urinary retention, bladder distention, shoulder dystocia, a placenta forcefully delivered in shreds. I spent six weeks post-partum as a first time mom with my miracle baby in one arm and a catheter in the other.
My bladder had been bruised in the birthing process, and I spent six weeks in and out of emergency rooms and urology clinics failing test after urine test. My baby was wonderfully made and I, I was broken from the inside out. At least three doctors said my situation was “impressive.” Not one had ever seen a comparable case (having retained nearly 3 liters of urine after my birth over the course of two days). Despite being an overachiever, it was not what I wanted to hear.
After six weeks, six failed urine tests, and countless research online, my bladder inexplicably worked. I didn’t care if I still was retaining 100 milliliters of urine. I’d take a half useful bladder over a good-for-nothing one. It all sounded good, until I had to learn how to catheterize myself. For two weeks I learned the strange and sterile art of self-catherizing. Every two hours or so, my newborn girl and I cried in chorus for the lack of understanding over this new world we were so painfully thrust into, together and separately.
The post-partum hormones raged inside me as I had to learn how to care for a newborn, my broken bladder, all while living at my in-laws during Seattle’s infamous winter was next to maddening. Did I mention we had been running a small business? My responsibilities to social media, emails, holiday orders (my daughter conveniently came two weeks before Christmas) obviously went to waste side. It was all a blur. I honestly have little to no recollection of how we managed our affairs at that time. While our business had some promising opportunities to grow, we simply couldn’t keep up with its demands, risk and lack of profit amidst our new responsibility. Soon enough, our original ethos behind creating heritage products seemed better applied to childrearing.
I am now four months postpartum with my second child. I opted for the all-controversial elective cesarean section. My priorities shifted second time around: instead of birth that would sit pretty next to my other worldly accomplishments, I chose to hold as many variables I could constant (based on my previous history). I hoped for a less complicated birth, healthy baby and straightforward recovery (yes, I consulted multiple doctors who unanimously advised this would be a simpler birth plan compared with my first experience). The odds came out in my favor, and here I am. I have two beautiful children, a core on the rebound, a husband by my side, a business behind us, a home over my head and a soul divided.
The shame has begun to creep in around the edges. It’s been over three years since I’ve had a job (though I’ve had countless gigs) that paid. Our business didn’t make the cut in the time frame we had prior to parenting. Housing prices exploded in our exact location. The digital realm redefined the retail sector in our very backyard. Now, we live at our parent’s house. By all logical means, we cannot afford for me to stay-home in someone-else’s-home. Society expects moms at this point to be on the road paved back to work.
But, what about my children? Can they afford for me to leave them? The researcher in me wonders: how can I measure the cost, especially over time? I cannot experimentally stay home with one and put the other in preschool. I cannot get back their childhood if I chose to work. The question is, who really benefits from and who loses from my lack of contribution to this economy at large? The pivotal theories of Bowles and Gintis’ surrounding the foundations of our compulsory education system, combined with the years of groundwork I accumulated in countless hours of working with young children in various preschool and public school settings as a behavior therapist steer me toward staying home. I’m particularly perturbed over the assumption that there is someone better suited to raise my children than me. What credentials do we need to mother? Is an over-educated mother under qualified to stay at home? Who is qualified to stay at home?
Today, it is not financially feasible for most families to have a single income earner. Society seems to prefer a mother to work (outside of the home), despite rampant evidence our health as a society is gravely in danger due to increasing disparities in wealth, gun violence, and political tension. Despite my confidence in my ability to mother, my soul senses societal disappointment in my choice. It is as if mothering is not good enough. Let me clarify, I do not want to diminish mothers who choose to work. But, the more I mother, the more I hope we as Americans, will someday realize motherhood is a right, not a luxury. We all have a vested interest in this next generation of young Americans. What could possibly be more fundamental than the right to a childhood with a mother available?
Maybe someday I’ll have the opportunity be a stay at home mother in her own home. Until then, all I can do is graciously hide my self-imposed shame from my children, swallow my pride, and be grateful for the dinner my mother-in-law cooked my family tonight and cleaned up. Perhaps one day I’ll get that dream job, perhaps I’ve already got it. Either way, I’ll continue investing in my children the best I can, because I have a feeling they may be a little less volatile than this American stock market. Besides, who else is going to discover the intrinsic value of motherhood if we cannot do it for ourselves?