The recent controversy surrounding a statement made by democratic strategist Hilary Rosen on CNN last night regarding Ann Romney’s lack of work experience reignited a discussion about a current issue and enduring questions. Ann Romney responded to Rosen’s comment that “she never worked a day in her life” on Twitter. She wrote, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.” This exchange may have begun in a political campaign setting, but the questions raised are not limited to a specific party, demographic, race or gender.
Is stay at home parenting really work? Can it be considered a career choice?
This is an issue with which I am most personally familiar and I’ve asked myself these questions numerous times. As a mother of three, I spend the majority of my time caring for my family. I am also a part time college instructor, freelance writer and host an active Facebook discussion page. Each year as tax day arrives, I am painfully reminded that most of my work does not pay. This fact makes me feel inadequate in many ways. Our society places a huge emphasis on monetary contributions. Money is evidence of work. What happens then if the bulk of your work is unpaid?
There is tremendous value in stay at home parenting and it is absolutely work. Children and the parents benefit from it, but the sacrifice is also huge. I entered into this with my eyes wide open and waited to have children until my early thirties. When I became pregnant, I researched daycares and contemplated going back to my full time faculty position. But I knew I always wanted to be a stay at home mother, so I carefully considered ways to keep myself engaged in the work I love while being able to be at home. My education and work experience helped afford me opportunities to teach part time in the evenings and online while accepting occasional writing projects to supplement daily parenting life. This provides me with a way to contribute to our family monetarily and it also gives me some much appreciated intellectual stimulation. The choice to stay home is not one available to all parents and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to do so. Despite the difficulties and drawbacks, it is my choice and one I continue to think works best for me and my family. I don’t consider it my career, however. In some ways, using that word seems to cheapen the work in my opinion.
The level of continual self sacrifice it takes to be a stay at home parent is daunting. It is tough not to be envious of those earning both increasing financial compensation and personal enrichment in their full time careers. The work of a stay at home parent is constant. There are no evenings off, breaks over the holidays and it can be messy as well as physically and emotionally exhausting. The joys are tremendous too. I see all my children’s highs and lows. I am there to pick them up when there a stomach virus strikes while they are at school and I don’t have to cancel a meeting to do it. I can and do volunteer in the classroom. Our family’s schedule is more relaxed than it would be if I worked full time and I appreciate that very much.
One of the reasons I don’t consider stay at home parenting to be a career is that it seems to have a natural expiration date. I don’t intend to be a stay at home mother forever and as much as I enjoy this time in my life, I look forward to the next chapter when I do pursue full time employment again. When I do go back to work full time, I will have more skills. In addition to becoming a better teacher and writer, I’ve learned how to be an excellent multitasker and negotiator. I am more patient too. That is all because of the work I do as a stay at home mother.
Critical thinkers know that stay at home parenting is a valuable, it is work and we should never marginalize anyone who embraces this job.