“And what do you do?” This is a question I am often asked when introduced to colleagues of my husband.
Here’s what I “do.”
· Homeschool our children
· Run our household
· Keep up with family and friends, birthdays and special events
· Teach part-time at the college where my husband works
· Sit on the local community theatre board
· Sit on the board of a local arts partnership organization
· Run a children’s theatre program that I founded five years ago.
I have a doctoral degree and spend countless hours continuing my own education through research and reading. I am so busy I have to take a blog challenge to force myself to exercise and write.
Yet, when strangers ask “and what do you do?” what can I say? I try to list several of the above without sounding arrogant or insecure. But, it usually does not matter what I say if I begin the explanation with “home.” Whether I say that I homeschool or stay home I can usually see the light go out in their eyes as if I have nothing interesting to say. What would a stay-at-home mom have to add to the conversation? Don’t believe me? Join me sometime and you will see a much different reaction when I begin the explanation with, “I run a children’s theatre and teach part-time.” Even if I then add the homeschool part, I feel that I have gained the ear of the listener because I “work.”
Why do we devalue parenting so much in this society? I was once guilty of it myself. When I graduating from college, I thought staying at home was for those with no ambition or self worth. Even when our oldest child was born and I cried each day I dropped her off at daycare, I was sure I was doing the things I should as a woman and mother. I remember thinking, “What am I teaching my daughter about being a woman and about success if I stay at home with her? Will she think this the what was expected of her as a woman?” I often thought that as her primary role-model I couldn’t afford to stay home because then she would see that as her only option.
After almost two years of tearfully putting my daughter to bed, dreading the next morning when I had to hand her to another to care for her, I chose to “give it all up” and stay home with her. The lovely ladies at her daycare center gave her the first cake on her first birthday. Her nanny experienced her first allergic reaction to peanuts. After the small moments she shared with others…after all of this I was miserable. I decided I would stay home until she started school, then get back on track being the example I needed to be for her. I came home to her a few months before her second birthday.
For a few years, through the arrival of our second child, through our doctoral studies, through the move to our current hometown, I fought the nagging feeling of putting my life on hold for a couple of years. My husband and I completed our terminal degrees together. We graduated together and celebrated together. But, we only bought his doctoral regalia because he would be the only one at the time to need it regularly. And when we moved to Kentucky for his new job, I heard a lot of the dreaded question. No one there knew I had just walked across the stage with the same degree as my husband unless I made it a point to say so. I was proud of my hard work, but was incensed at having to use it to make myself worthy of someone’s time. I began to struggle mightily with my place in the world, my contribution to the world, my worth in the world.
Since our arrival here, our lives have changed in ways that I never thought possible. We have welcomed our third child and we have chosen to take them all out of public school…to homeschool. I don’t know the exact moment when it happened, but I know that sometime in the last few years I realized that I was happy. More than that, I was proud of my choices and proud of the example I set for my children.
I am luckier than some. I am able to be with my children. I am able to teach. I am able to direct. I am able to make choices that lots of women are not. I am able to do this with full support from my love. Most importantly, I am lucky because I understand my place in the world and the impact I can have through my life and my children. I no longer base my worth on external measures. I wake in the morning hoping I have the mindfulness to enjoy this day with my family. I rest each night knowing that I am teaching my children to value their own choices. I no longer believe that I must teach my daughter to be all things at all cost.
My wish for her now…choices.
· I hope that she will get an education so that she will have choices.
· I hope that she will keep an open mind so that she will have choices.
· I hope that she will make lots of friends who share her interests and challenge her to try new things so that she will have choices.
· I hope that she finds a companion who respects her need for choices and who jumps in when she needs support and encouragement in her choices.
And I wish these things for my sons as well.
This job…this responsibility to myself, my husband, my children…to the world…this goal…this is my choice and this is what makes me worthy and valuable and special. This is my contribution and there’s no income tax associated with this career and no need to be addressed as “Dr.” This will end as they grow…then I can do something else…make other choices. For now, I am thankful and at peace.