Before I had kids, everything pointed to me being a working mom. The women's movement was in full bloom. My own mom had worked, managing my father's law practice, and my three sisters and I were encouraged to pursue careers. I was married at 21, and my husband and I agreed to wait until we bought a house to start a family. My public relations job was fun. So why, just before I turned 30 and my first baby was born, did I decide to stay home and back-burner my career?
The reasons varied from philosophical to practical. Professional parents from the moment the pregnancy test proved positive, my husband and I started reading books by gurus T. Berry Brazelton and Penelope Leach, and became convinced a baby needed both quality and quantity time. That wasn’t happening if I hired a nanny and commuted to a job five days a week. I’d worked since age 16 and rationalized I could always get a job, but childhood is a one-time offer. I dreamed of creating a loving, calm home, with walks to the library and the park.
My husband had a demanding job and we agreed that he’d be the breadwinner and I’d manage mission control at home, giving us family time, not errands, on the weekends.
We settled into that routine and celebrated the birth of a second son. We paid a price financially: no dinners out, no college fund, no fly-drive vacations. Instead, hand-me-down furniture, summer vacations with my in-laws, and a 1950s kitchen with speckled red Formica. The kitchen wasn’t the only thing in red; our budget was too. Yes, it did bother me when I saw friends and my own sisters with fulfilling careers, fancy vacations and renovated homes. I was a little envious as I watched my neighbor the flight attendant in her sharp uniform head off to Paris and the executive moms suited up for the city. But I bonded with the two other stay-at-home moms on the block and spent afternoons watching our kids ride Big Wheels. On weekends, we enjoyed family time instead of racing around trying to catch up. We made memories that my sons often talk about today.