Before I ever got pregnant I knew that I would choose to stay home with my baby and be a full time Mom. I'm sure that I didn't fully understand all of the realities of that kind of choice at the time, but most days I am still glad I made it. I am definitely not saying it is the right choice for everyone. This post is not an examination of what mothers should or shouldn't do, or what positive and negative impacts working or staying home has on children and their moms. I realize that there are pros and cons on both sides and that it is an issue that is often hotly debated with guilt, anger, and frustration coming from both sides. So let's just turn down the heat right away. I'm not interested in entering into that debate. I don't have a side. Or at least my "side" is that mothers should make the choice that works best for them and for their particular family situations. What I am interested in is the power of choice. The freedom to make a choice is often one of the things that sets Middle and Upper Class mothers apart from mothers living in poverty. (Also sometimes separates single moms from moms who have the benefit of a partner.) I had the luxury of making my own choice about working or staying home. Many women do not have that same luxury.
Lately I've been feeling a little weary of being home with Micah everyday. I love her and I love spending time with her, but she is in a particularly fussy stage that can grate on me over the long hours of a day. And it has been a little painful for my ego that as soon as her daddy comes home she wants nothing more to do with me and often reaches for him when we are out in public and cries if I try to hold her. My logical brain tells me that this is just a stage. That she sees me all the time and takes for granted that I will always be there, but doesn't get nearly as much time with her Dad. That I should be happy that she loves her daddy so much and that I should be grateful for the break since I obviously need one. Even so, it makes me feel bad. There have been some hard, emotional days for me lately, but one thing that I always know in the back of my head is that ultimately I still have a choice. If I ever decided that being a stay at home Mom was just not for me, I know that I could start looking for a job and for a daycare. That thought never stays in my head for more than a second, because I know it's not what I want, but there is something comforting about knowing that the choice is mine.
I know a refugee Mom in her mid twenties who has six children, four of whom are kindergarten or younger. She stays home with her children, but she really wants to work. She grew-up in a refugee camp in Kenya with almost no education. She is not literate, not even in her first language. She has no work experience and very limited English. Even if she could find a job, it would not pay more than minimum wage. And there is still the issue of four small kids at home who would need childcare. There is also the problem of transportation, since she does not own a car or have a license. Her husband works, but she stays home. She could try to work the night shift when her husband could be home with the kids, but even so she would still be home with kids all day. She is a stay at home mom like me, but not like me because she has no real choice.
I know another refuge woman whose husband was injured on the job and then fired by the company instead of cared for under workman's comp. After that incident the man could not find work and so the woman, who had been working only a part-time job starting to work two jobs to take care of her family. (It took two jobs for her to make as much as husband had at one because he had worked for the company for several years.) She wanted to be home with her young daughter, but now she had no choice. She worked all day and often late into the evening and didn't even get home until after her daughter had gone to bed. She is a working mom, but not by choice. I'm sure there are also many single moms who would love to stay home with their children, but they have no choice. They must work.
Sometimes I hear middle class working moms say that they also have no choice. They must work. In some cases that might be true, but also sometimes those moms have made other choices about what kind of lifestyle they expect that in itself is a choice. It is true that in order to drive certain cars or live in certain kinds of houses or wear certain kinds of clothes that many women must work outside the home, but that lifestyle is a choice. It is a very different thing to work because you must in order to feed, clothe, and shelter your child with the basics.
Choice is a luxury that I often take for granted, especially after a particularly difficult day being a mom. Choice is freedom. Choice is hope. And choice is just one of the things that poverty steals from people. I am so grateful that even in my most difficult days as a mom, I still have the power to choose. And I want to make sure that I never forget all the millions of mothers here and around the world who do not have the luxury of a choice.