Sunday, April 6, 2008

What it means to be a stay-at-home mother...

Mike, Mom and me at the park

Mom and me

Sunday morning I went to a talk/discussion/brunch at the Catholic Women's House by Mrs. Boyle about stay-at-home mothers and the benefits brought to a family when a mother stays at home. Here are my notes from the talk...and then I will share my thoughts on the issue.

Family life is set-up in a way such that a stay-at-home mother has certain responsibilities that she can drop if a crisis within the family arises....could be a struggle her husband or kids are having

She is able to establish a real home vs. boarding house, she pays attention to the needs of her husband and children so that any potential challenge can be addressed before it even becomes a crisis

She helps her husband be a better husband and father by informing him of any concerns she notices, because often her husband can offer a solution/suggestion that the wife might not have considered. this is great...because while women are natural multi-taskers, men often do better focusing on one thing at a time

Analogy of a blanket...when you go to shop for one, you don't want one that will be too short/narrow for the bed itself, you want a little extra to hang over. Mothers who stay at home are able to give their full attention to domestic life, without the additional commitment/responsibility of a 40-hour a week job.

A stay-at-home mother makes these things possible:

*Enough sleep for all family members

*Proper nutrition/meals/eating together

*Enough family life

*Time on Sunday spent together (grocery shopping can be done another day than Sunday)

*Enough space for children to bring friends into the home

*Time for the mother to develop friendships with other women/mothers so she is not solely dependent on husband for emotional release

*Enough time for prayer, full participation in the sacraments

There are sacrifices made by being a family where the mom stays at home:

Living off of the husband's salary alone may mean financial struggle

Weapon: stay at home mother has more time to exercise frugality in shopping/meal planning/budgeting/etc.

Remember, there is a stress level at every economic level

Extremely wealthy families have difficulties because of money as do families with less money

There are careers compatible with that can be done on the side and compartmentalized for when the mother has time to do work for a little additional income

Think about some of the positions in schools: Nutritionist, Dean of Students, Teacher

These are all roles the mother plays....but why is there perhaps more society-recognized dignity if a person is receiving a salary for it rather than providing these services for her own family members?

We are defined by our careers...(or for us college students, our majors!) and when someone meets you...immediately it's What do you do for a living?

Perhaps we should define ourselves by our relationships....a mother might say, I am a mother of 4 and Bob's wife

Education is never wasted...if a mother gives up a career for the sake of raising her family and staying at home...those skills/knowledge from her education will be useful for her community and family...and there is also a potential for her returning to work later in her life

Do consider, however....that debt from student loans will make it difficult for a young mother to stay at home, especially if she just graduated from graduate school/law school/med school, often obligating her to work to pay that off

Ways of pursuing intellectual growth as a stay-at-home mother:

Having conversations with friends about intellectual topics

ex. book/film clubs

Pursuing studies of topics that interest you or relate to a way you can best help your family

ex. listening to books on tape while cooking, studying ADD if your child is diagnosed with that disorder

Women who choose to stay at home for the sake of their families are under-appreciated and misunderstood in today's society. Please understand that in no way am I trying to undermine women who work and take care of their families. I know this is definitely possible and I know many mothers who do this day after day seamlessly. Instead, I approach this issue from the perspective that women that stay at home are doing it not out of laziness or a desire to become Martha Stewart, but instead because they care to holistically tend to the needs of their husbands and children while keeping order in the household.

My own mother stayed at home while my brother and I were young and up until we entered school. Even after that, she only worked part-time. I am extremely grateful to her for this time, because all though I am a little young to remember most of it, I know it was a sacrifice on her part, and she took the time to tend to the small details of our childhood: taking us to museums, praying with us, going on picnics, making us good food, setting up play dates for us with her friends' kids, reading to us, etc. We could have spent our first years of life with baby-sitters and at daycare, but instead we got to spend it with our mother, what a blessing! Even after we began to go to school, she only had a part-time job, with an extremely flexible schedule so she could be there when we got home from school and have done the tasks of running the household. In fact, she didn't get a full time job until I started middle school, and I am the youngest.

In my work at the Children's Museum back home in Indy, I have noticed how well stay-at-home mothers interact with their children, especially those who come on a regular basis during the weekdays for particular preschool programs. Because they are constantly with their children, they become aware of their interests/skills/talents/struggles/habits and can best help them achieve their full potential. I know from my own experience, that while kids don't always tell you what they are feeling all the can often tell from observing their body language and interactions with their friends how they feel and what excites them.

The Catechism says, "In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith...thus the home is the first school of Christian life and 'a school for human enrichment.' Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous--often repeated--forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one's life." (Catechism 1655-1656)

Mothers have such a beautiful gift to be able to shape and form the life of each child she all aspects of their lives. Children of all ages can be nurtured appropriately in the truth, and mothers need to be instruments of holiness and set an example of sacrifice in the gift she gives to her husband and children.

Here are my questions for you to respond to...or even just ponder!!

If you are a woman:

What are your concerns that would prevent you from being a stay-at-home mother? Do you see any disadvantages?

Would you feel fulfilled by giving your attention solely to the needs of your family and society as a stay-at-home mother?

If you are a man:

How would you feel if your current/future wife stayed at home? Would you encourage her to do so?

In a society where there is an increasing number of stay-at-home fathers, would you be willing to stay home and raise the kids if your wife wanted to work and pursue her career and it was best in the interest of your family?

I am interested to hear what you have to say about this topic, I think more discussion will lead to a greater understanding of why women choose to stay at home. As a college student, obviously my attention right now is mostly focused on my academic future...however, this talk has made me think a little more about the future. I aspire to be an immigration attorney, and one of the great aspects of this career would be that legal know-how, whether or not you are actively practicing law, can be helpful to so many people. If I get married someday, I would like to be able to stay at home with my children, especially when they are young. I could definitely see myself working out of the home, taking cases on a small base for an additional source of income for the family or handling legal issues of a small organization or on a as-needed basis. I am an intellectual person, and I think before hearing Mrs. Boyle speak, I was always a little apprehensive to express my desire that if I were a mother I would want to stay home with my children. In a way, I thought that would be saying I would settle for less. However, I think I was missing the point...choosing to stay at home is a noble and worthy profession! By having the responsibility of motherhood, I would be saying "yes" to raising a soul...which is a little intimidating because it is such a wonderful privilege. Anyone who thinks all stay-at-home mothers do is frost cakes and wipe noses is kidding themself. Stay-at-home mothers are those women you see volunteering their time in their children's schools and at church, balancing checkbooks wisely to make sure ends meet for their families, learning how to make sure the family eats well by learning how to cook delicious, nutritious meals, keeping a warm friendly home welcoming of others.

So thank the stay-at-home mothers you know today for their generosity for responding to a real need of the family!!

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!


Ronak said...

I would certainly be a stay-at-home father, if I was married and had children. I figure stay-at-home fathers with the right attitude can probably be just as effective as stay-at-home mothers. That said, I probably won't have children, even if I marry, which I'm also unsure about. I know that this sort of thing is said a lot as we're younger, and then we grow up and our friends all do it and instinct kicks in and idealism and academia fade and we all end up getting married and making babies anyways. I think I have different reasons, though.

I certainly don't think I will make children of my own. I'm not attached enough to my genes to feel the need to pass them on, and there are too many children in the world anyways that cannot be cared for; I'd much prefer to take one of them through adoption than to add to a global population that is already too large for its social constructs and too developed for its ecological habitats. But raising a child is such a demanding experience, and necessarily so. I firmly believe that a child is raised best when it has an entire tribe of people caring for it in equal capacity (though perhaps with a matriarchal patriarch or a patriarchal matriarch as a focus for the child's love and role modeling). Contemporary society doesn't allow for that as well as some ancients did, since children tend to be raised by their peers in the greatest capacity (siblings included), then by whatever family figures that are available. Then by the media, probably, and only afterwards by religious leaders, coaches, teachers, and the rest. Many of those in these categories retain a sort of alien separation from the children, as they may not recognize their possibly involuntary role in the raising and nurturing of every child they come in contact with. This is probably most noticeable in the urban poor, where parents and teachers alike cannot afford the time and resources to raise their children, and so children are raised by their peers, often through the kinds of activities parents wouldn't want them getting into.

Okay, so. I should be able to get around that, though, right? I should be able to be a good parent, because I'm enlightened? The trouble is that I don't think I WOULD be a very good parent. I want to teach, probably in a juvenile prison setting, and maybe also do some research and writing on the side. I will have kids of my own, students that is, whom I will probably devote a lot of time and energy and love to in order to do good work for them. In that lifestyle, or in a lot of other comparably idealistic ones where us crazy kids try to save the world, I don't think I would have any time or energy or love left over to devote to children of my own (but perhaps enough to put into a marriage, I think, I think).

Nor do I expect to push children onto my parents, or my extended family. I think it might be unethical if I take on the responsibility of raising a child only to pass it on to another. If I had children, I would genuinely want to devote everything to them, to raise them self-sufficiently, and I'm sure I would enjoy doing so. But if I can't do it well, it would be a disservice to everyone involved to try it at all.

So, I agree, if a woman is to be a mother, or a man is to be a father, I think there is some merit to one of them staying at home, or working in a way that demands very little time, passion, or ambition. I think there is even more merit to the two of them "expanding" their family to close friends and other community figures that exhibit a great variety of personalities, all of whom can care for a child collectively (family communism!). If the two of them plan on working and working hard, desperately hard, not solely to secure resources to have a stable family (which is a legitimate concern for a lot of mothers and fathers who might prefer to stay at home, how high the financial costs are to raise a child, or two, or five) but for the sake of the work itself, perhaps moving around a lot and refusing to sacrifice ambition, I don't often think it's wise to have children at all. I feel like a person would have to sacrifice either from their work or their childrearing in order to make that lifestyle function well, and I don't think either of them can ethically be slighted, if the work is good.

I probably sound like some crazy "stop having babies" person at this point, which I don't mean to do. Oh well. Besides, I haven't talked to enough people about this to really know any of this; I'm talking out of my rear, as usual. Unfortunately, the only way to really *know* is to actually have a child, which would be a hilarious experiment, but probably pretty unethical if it went wrong. Crap, did I even talk about what you were talking about?

Michelle said...

This is an interesting topic! I don't know what I will do when/if I have kids. I see the importance of staying at home with the kids, and I absolutely realize that it can become the equivalent of a full-time job (or more!). If I were to decide to become a stay-at-home mom, I am sure that it would be fulfilling and I would love it.

However...I don't think that is the route that I want to go. I am currently a student, so maybe my views will change by the time I get some work experience and am actually ready to start a family, but I feel that I will really love my job. I think it is important to have those experiences outside of the home. My mom worked part-time when we were really little, but once we were in grade school, we had babysitters and stayed in after school programs. I think that those things are extremely important in helping children develop social skills.

Anyway--I know that was kind of a combination of responses...not very cohesive, but just some of my thoughts. Interesting things to think about!

Liz said...

Michelle, it's so great that you mentioned the benefit of kids doing activities so that they can learn to socialize/ problem solve without Mom there 24/7. I was chatting with a friend yesterday who nannies and who is trying to discover the balance between being involved in the kids' play and then also knowing when to step away and let them experiment by playing on their own, having adventures, getting lost and learning from it, etc. I think a huge temptation for a stay-at-home-mother would be to want to be part of every moment of her kids lives, but I think that can be balanced by her turning them loose in activities and perhaps pursuing some of her own hobbies or caring for younger kids who may need supervision/care while letting the older kids learn from creative play/exploration.

I too, am ready to get some experience in the world of work. However, when/if I am blessed with children in the near future, I really want to be available to them especially in their young, especially formative years. I am in no way qualified to be a teacher, however, so I have no desire to educate my children past kindergarten so I would want them to attend school with their peers. I hear from my own mother, friends, and cousins that watching your kids grow up is an irreplaceable experience that goes by so quickly. So if that means working part-time, being a stay-at-home-mother, taking advantage of family/friends to watch the kids or anything else, I just think it is important to acknowledge the great asset that quality family time lends to child development.

After all, I think it is possible to work 50 hours a week and still be a good mother to young children, but it may come at a price (sanity, exercise, family, job, health, etc.).

One possibility that I've been thinking a lot of recently is the possibility for both parents to stay home part of the time, so that there is always someone home. Many professions can work from home I am discovering. So it would depend on the family's situation, but I know at least one family where the mom & dad both work and take turns staying at home while they work from home. Staying at home is not mom-exclusive, it must be a decision the couple makes. Also, my uncle and aunt, for example, run their own business out of the home which doesn't necessarily make them stay at home parents, but they certainly are both accessible to their high-school aged kids.

Thanks for your feedback Michelle! The brunch I went to on this was very interesting and I think of it often.