When a woman decides to leave the business world to stay at home and take care of her family, it is a huge decision. Sometimes men, and even some women, think that it is a choice that these women come to quite easily; that it is their “nature” to be in the home raising the children. Perhaps for some, but most of us have usually reached this decision based on how exhausted we are from balancing both home and work fronts, how wasteful it is to spend 3/4 of our paychecks on daycare, and the amount of guilt we deal with by missing all of those “firsts” that our kids experience and the amount of crud they are ingesting because no one has properly swept under the kitchen table in months.
I left my career of seventeen years to stay at home with my five children because of all of those reasons. And within two months of that income and health insurance loss, we sold everything we owned and bought plane tickets and moved to Greece. A month there was also a bust. So we used a little of my 401(k) that we withdrew and bought more plane tickets and moved to Egypt. We bought a little flat and a micro-bus and lived fairly well, for the next twelve years. But then things changed and I was ready to come back to the United States.
My husband found work in the North Texas area and bought us a little house. I packed up our stuff, sold all of our furniture and appliances and the flat, and headed for the airport with the kids and all the luggage we could strap onto the micro-bus. And things were good and three of the five kids have graduated high school with two more cued up to receive diplomas and march on with their lives to “Pomp and Circumstance” as their soundtrack.
But they’re all still living at home and I’m not getting much accomplished anymore. The list of things to do each day is getting longer for me. And I still have this lovely linen fabric I bought to make curtains YEARS ago and still haven’t had time to make. I have two novels and a book of essays that I started but cannot complete because I no longer have free time to devote to them. I want to go back to college, even if only online, but cannot justify the financial obligation when I cannot meet the time obligation it would require to get my degree.
I no longer feel fulfilled by completing all of the laundry, dishes, shopping, cleaning, dinner preparation, homework checking, bill-paying, and volunteer work. I want more. And my husband feels hurt when I tell him that it’s not enough anymore; that I want to work outside the home. He feels that he is not providing enough for us and that I must prop him up. While we could definitely benefit from additional income, that’s not the main reason that I want to do it. It’s about self-fulfillment.
I don’t understand why so many men take it as a slight when their wives want to return to the workforce when their children have grown out of the needy stages. Perhaps I am too American or Western in my way of thinking, but I believe that this is a necessary step in their upbringing.
If teenagers and young adults are left to meet their own scheduled obligations, learn their own medical history, learn how to manage time and money and make meals for themselves and the family, then they benefit in real-life situations that they will be facing when they leave our home. If the special needs young adult, who is at home and needs supervision, is looked after by her siblings for a few hours several days a week, the overworked and unpaid mom can get the required respite care she needs. This can give her the energy to continue with her care giving without the resentment that she may end up feeling if she isn’t ever given any relief or assistance in her duties.
When the SAHM decides that she wants to reenter the workforce, or says that she no longer finds this work fulfilling, it doesn’t mean she won’t care for the family anymore. Sometimes in our efforts to care for our families we lose our own identities and the lines between individual and the title of “wife” or “mother” become blurred. It means that she’s been caring for the family for so long that she has not taken the time to care for herself. Let her do that. Support her. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. It means she needs to love herself, too.