Confessions of a Former Stay-at-Home Mom

August 18, 2013 | 46 comments
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stay at home momAfter nine years as a stay-at-home mom, I recently got a full-time job. I’ve been working for a month now, which seems long enough to state some preliminary observations about how things are going.

The short answer is, I am happier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults than I did when I was at home with them all day. My emotional resources are magically magnified by being away from home during the work-day doing something interesting and creative, and I am much better able to deal with the inevitable complications and setbacks of life.

And it is so nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Worrying about money all the time and freaking out when we had an unexpected car problem or other non-budgeted expense was not an easy way to live. Life is a little more hectic, and we don’t see quite as much of one another as we did, but for us right now, it is worth the trade-off.

If you’re wondering why all of this is a revelation to me, here’s the reason: I grew up in a home where SAHM-hood was the expected and ideal destination for a girl. My mom quit her job when she was pregnant with her oldest child (me), and for my entire childhood, I don’t remember her ever working, except to give piano lessons for a couple of hours a week. My parents viewed it as a religious imperative for a woman to devote all (or at least the vast majority of) her time and talents to raising her children.

I remember a long conversation with my dad out in the garden one day about how I didn’t think it was fair that I could go to college and study something I loved, but I wasn’t supposed to ever use it in a job I loved. He didn’t really have a response.

Looking back, I’m kind of amazed that I never even questioned the SAHM ideal. But at my house, getting a university degree was for personal enrichment and a backup financial plan, just in case the unthinkable (divorce, death, extended singleness, etc.) deprived me of a husband who could support me. Actually planning to have a career (and taking steps toward that goal) was verboten.

So about a year after my husband and I got married, I got pregnant with our daughter. And a month or so before I was due, I quit my job, as I had always planned I would.

Nine years later, I have a somewhat different take on things. For one thing, I’ve experienced the economic reality of having only one spouse with career options during an economic downturn. It was hard, for us and for so many other people I know.

A few months after we moved to Florida, I had a conversation with a woman who had been a SAHM for the past sixteen or seventeen years. She was desperately trying to find employment to supplement her husband’s income, but couldn’t even get a job at the movie theater sweeping popcorn off the floor, because she didn’t have a college degree. We both agreed that we wished we hadn’t been taught to turn our backs on professional life when we got married and had children.

Fortunately, I’ve developed some valuable skills along the way in marketing, writing, and web development. I feel incredibly lucky that in a still-difficult economy I was able to find a well-paying job that not only utilizes my skills but is a good fit for my personality and work style. Even though I never planned to have a career. But I’ve seen numerous friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have not been so lucky, and I can’t shake the feeling of “there but for the grace of God go I.”

From my experience and the experience of other women I have met and compared stories with, here are a few things I’ve decided I will teach my daughter (and my son!):

  1. A Bachelor’s degree is NOT a backup financial plan. No matter what your degree is in, trying to get a job years later when you’ve acquired no experience in the meantime is difficult at best. In my case, I’ve developed some great skills and even put them to work on an entrepreneurial, freelance and hobby basis. It just kind of happened, even though I always planned to be and thought of myself as a SAHM. But if I had it to do over again, I would consciously and deliberately develop a career, even if it was part-time.
  2. The more you get paid per hour, the fewer hours you have to work. After Tony and I got married, I looked around for work in Provo, Utah, where Tony was going to school. It’s a town full of degreed women putting their husbands through school on secretarial jobs, and I was no exception. I had a great boss, and I enjoyed working at a firm specializing in immigration law where I could get to know people from all over the world, but I made $9.00 an hour. I’m sure I could have gotten a higher-paying job if I had done some career planning rather than just getting a BA with no plan whatsoever for a career. And maybe if I had been making more I would have felt it was worth it to continue part-time or from home after I had my baby. I am encouraging both my son and my daughter to plan and educate themselves for a reasonably lucrative career  so that whether they work part-time or full-time they can maximize time with their family.
  3. Balancing work and family is important for women AND men. Women are often encouraged to go into nursing, teaching, or other “flexible” careers that are viewed as compatible with having children. However, flex-time and working at least partially from home are commonplace now in many career fields. There’s a very important caveat, though: the more educated, experienced, and senior you are, the more likely you are to be able to negotiate a flexible arrangement. This goes for men too. Both mothers and fathers are important in the lives of their children, and there is no reason a man needs to settle for a demanding job that barely lets him see his family just because he’s a man. I encourage both my daughter and my son to plan for a future life where they and their spouses work together to find the best way to schedule their work, family time, and other responsibilities. When both spouses have at least the potential to get good jobs, there are so many more options.
  4. PLAN for a fulfilling career. Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe your spouse will be able to single-handedly support your family for the duration of your life, maybe s/he won’t.  Maybe you’ll find full-time stay-at-home-parenthood the most fulfilling way of spending your time ever, maybe you won’t. Whatever happens in your personal life (and whenever it happens), you cannot lose if you plan ahead for a good education and an enjoyable career that will give you the money to support yourself and your potential family. You can always quit your job if it makes sense, scale back, or find a better fit in your field. It is so much harder to wait until you really need the money and have to take whatever job is available for someone with little experience and an outdated education. And so sad to realize that if only you had planned better, you could have a well-paying job in a field that interests you rather than minimum wage at two jobs you hate but were the only thing you could find.

Nobody can predict the future, and although I hope my children will have happy, productive, fulfilling lives, no amount of advice I give them will guarantee that. Still, I feel like what I can do for them is to teach them to prepare and plan carefully, keeping open as many options as possible. And tell them that for both girls and boys,  a fulfilling professional life is a worthy, attainable, and incredibly important goal.

 

Final confession: I know you thought it was, but that is actually not a photo of me. Photo credit here.

46 Responses to Confessions of a Former Stay-at-Home Mom

  1. E on August 18, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I am glad you mentioned #2. It looks to me like a lot of LDS women never consider this fact and end up in low-paying jobs for no other reason than that they think it is going to be wasteful to invest in their own education.

  2. jennifer rueben on August 18, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    amen and amen to #1.keep those skill up to date and keep your network open. Most women are really not SAHM totally but move in and out of the work force including hobby, volunteer work, short term paid positions. Historically, women have always had their “egg money” jobs. In today’s economic a marketable skill is just preparedness.

  3. Jack on August 18, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    “…a fulfilling professional life is a worthy, attainable, and incredibly important goal.”

    Western elitism at its best.

  4. Sarah Familia on August 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    To a certain extent, you’re right, Jack. This is a post about my lived experience being raised in an upper middle class Mormon home. And what I am teaching my children, who have access to opportunities similar to the ones I had.

    However, educating girls and empowering them to have good, well-paying jobs is important everywhere. Arguably MORE important in developing countries than in more privileged places.

  5. John Taber on August 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    But how are the children handling it? Are you hiring outside help? My mother went back to graduate school when I was in high school – something I understand now she felt she had to do. It left us in the lurch, though, especially when I’d come home and the sister in the ward she’d hired to clean would lecture me. (That sister would also be mean to the foster children she’d brought along.

  6. Sarah Familia on August 18, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    My husband is staying home with them for a lot of the time (he works evenings or from home), and they stay with someone in our ward (whom they adore) for 4-6 hours per week. It has been something of a transition (and we’re still in the transition, since it’s only been a month), but they’re doing pretty well, I think largely because we have staggered our schedules, so they are still with a parent for most of every day.

    The fact that a good percentage of the people in my new office work partly from the office and partly from home also played into my decision to take this job, since I’d like to eventually start working one or two days from home.

    This is not a “forever” solution for our family, but it is less stressful and easier for all of us than what we were doing before, which was scraping by on only my husband’s income. And it is a solution that we would have pursued beforehand, and potentially saved ourselves years of stress and frustration, if we had not been taught so forcefully that mothers should stay home with their children in any but the most exigent of circumstances.

  7. palerobber on August 18, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    @ John Taber #5

    where was your father during this time?

  8. John Taber on August 18, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    Dad was busy putting in 5 1/2 days a week as a university professor and I don’t know how many hours a week being bishop. I think that both of them were trying to bury their grief from my sister’s death. But so were their five surviving children and it seemed like they were blowing us (especially me) off. They signed me up with a psychologist but wouldn’t deal directly with issues I was having. They basically said to talk to him about them.

    I’m not going to parrot the old line so many Church leaders have said that wives and mothers shouldn’t work. (President Benson even said wives of full-time students shouldn’t work.) One of my father’s colleagues from way back when, and his wife – they were good friends with my parents – might be very faithful members now if the FTMs hadn’t told the wife that in our church women don’t work.

    To me, President Hinckley reframed the issue in an April 2006 conference talk. After talking about some men basically mooching off their wives, he quoted a few scriptures, then said: “From the early days of this Church, husbands have been considered the breadwinners of the family. I believe that no man can be considered a member in good standing who refuses to work to support his family if he is physically able to do so.” All this is a third of the way down https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/04/the-need-for-greater-kindness?lang=eng . There are men out there who figure, the wife has a good job (or we’re coming out ahead on student loans) so why do I need to work? It isn’t so much that the woman shouldn’t work but that the man should.

    The Brethren have always recognized there are individual circumstances. A few years ago, Elder Quentin L. Cook basically said that just as we don’t judge women who don’t work, we also don’t judge women who do. That flies in the face of the POV of a county commissioner in the state next to mine. This brother is a high councilor and former bishop and has taken his view of women needing to stay home, to rationalize cutting (or maybe dropping) the county’s share for Head Start among other things. His standard response to those who ask him where he’s coming from, is to give them PotF in pamphlet form. How does he feel about the working mothers in his ward and stake?

    I’m not saying Sarah is wrong to go back to work, or that my mother was wrong. But it is very wrong for any parent to selfishly put his or her needs first and make an abrupt change without considering the children’s needs. (I also consider it wrong for children to basically be raised by nannies.)

    In my case my mother had been tied up with my sister’s illness for the previous three years so she wasn’t around much then. After less than a year she decided to again not be around. To my parents, it was as if it was better for us (especially me, I was in high school and came home first) to come home to another sister who was relatively mean – and wasn’t Mom.

  9. Katrina on August 18, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    I appreciate your blog post. I had a baby about six weeks after graduating from law school. I took the bar exam three weeks later, then again seven months later, then again five months later, before I finally passed. Turns out, it is really hard to find time to study when you have a baby. Now that I am finally an attorney, I can’t find a job because I haven’t worked in three years. In my area, it costs about $10 an hour for a sitter, so I would have to make at least $12 an hour to break even, due to the increase in transportation costs caused by working.

    As much as everyone talks about how good a SAHM is for the kids, I am quite unhappy at home, and my husband is a stressed-out mess because he can’t support his family (he’s still working on his bachelor’s). I feel that my daughter benefits little from having her parents home so much, because we are so stressed and unhappy much of the time.

    Thank you for confessing that a SAHM is not the right fit for every family.

  10. Chris on August 19, 2013 at 1:58 am

    Long term who would you rather be emotionally drained and struggling to help your children. You or someone else? Personally I return to this thought about my kids frequently with a variety of issues from lessons to school to raising them – who can help more here, me or someone else?

    I definitely understand being drained though. I frankly think it’s partly because we’re doing it wrong in addition to the fact that life is hard and refines us. I don’t think anyone would say being at home with the family full time is more fun or easier to do or easier on us. But it’s absolutely more fulfilling and more worth it – there can be no disputing that point.

    Keep doing your best and Thanks for opening up your true feelings. I know you’re still a parent and haven’t given up your responsibilities so I’m not trying to sound harsh. But certainly I could write a similar post and substitute full time child rearing and work with skipping Sunday church and going to the movies and out to dinner. I’m sure I could identify plenty of benefits that make it seem more preferable. Doesn’t make it right though.

    This post is your feelings now and I respect that. Just wanted to provide my feelings now and hope it’s received in that light.

  11. Hedgehog on August 19, 2013 at 2:30 am

    I’m glad you’ve found something that works, and you enjoy.

    “Women are often encouraged to go into nursing, teaching, or other “flexible” careers that are viewed as compatible with having children.”
    I recall there was a general conference talk a couple of decades or more ago that specified those two careers as being appropriate for women. Since that time, all the YW I have observed in my various wards have indeed gone in for either teaching or nursing. And I find that terrifying. Neither would have suited me.

    On the other hand, a PhD would appear not to be a back-up financial plan either, when followed by 3 years of employment and nearly 16 years as a SAHM… But then, I wouldn’t come home with “way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults” either. I’d be totally frazzled and needing time alone!

  12. Laura on August 19, 2013 at 5:05 am

    I’m glad there have been more discussions of late about career planning for LDS women. As an LDS woman in my mid-30’s who has never married and has no children, I’d like to offer my perspective on some of the issues you raise:

    1)I think a lot of single women in the church are harmed by our cultural/rhetorical emphasis on the SAHM thing. I know a lot of single women who feel a little resentful–they feel that they were counseled as youth and young adults to prepare to be mothers, which they did, and left the career planning to the side. For a lot of these women, the “just for now” job after college never really morphed into a career, and the opportunity for marriage never came, and now they’re left with low-wage jobs they don’t necessarily like.

    2) A corollary to your #2: Probably the best career advice I ever got from someone in the church was from a single’s ward bishop’s wife who advised the women to plan for a career in which we could support ourselves comfortably, and not just marginally. It had never seemed okay to me to want to be financially successful if it was just for me, so I appreciated this encouragement. In retrospect, I’m really grateful for it.

    3) Work/life balance isn’t just for parents. There are lots of reasons people who are unmarried or don’t have children might prefer a job that allows them time to pursue other interests.

    And lastly, I wholeheartedly agree with #4. I think back at myself during college and grad school and realize I was pretty naive about the career planning bit. I’m a scientist, and in my field you can sort of blithely go along accumulating a lot of schooling and not doing a lot of career planning, per se, and still come out the other end with some reasonably good opportunities. But I know I would have been well-served by having a better plan.

  13. E.D. on August 19, 2013 at 6:03 am

    I completely agree with this. Every adult needs to do whatever they can to prepare to support themselves, ideally in a career that they enjoy. In most cases, taking extended time (more than a year or so) off will severely limit future options.

    The church “ideal” of a high-earning father, SAHM, and several kids really doesn’t fit the desires, talents, and economic reality of many people.

  14. Julie M. Smith on August 19, 2013 at 8:31 am

    K12 teaching may be the least flexible job around. (You ever hear of a kindergarten teacher who works from home? A 5th grade teacher who works nights?) If flexibility is your goal, please run in the opposite direction.

  15. Sarah Familia on August 19, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Laura (#12), thanks for contributing a single’s perspective. I think all your corollary points are great.

    Chris (#10), my husband is the one staying home with my children during the day now, and even though he still has his job and is doing that on top of watching the children during the day, he much prefers this arrangement to the one before, when he had sole responsibility for providing for all of our family’s financial needs.

    For us, it works better for him to take care of the kids while I work and me to take care of the kids while he works. The main thing that has been diminished is our time together as a couple, but now that we’re both working we have money to pay a babysitter and go on a date every week. And frankly, I think the fact that everyone in our family is happier with the arrangement as it stands now DOES make it right for our family.

    As my husband and I have made this transition, I have felt the approbation of both my Heavenly Parents and my earthly parents, who although they taught us as children the working father/SAHM model, after watching more than one of those children struggle through an economic recession trying desperately to support their young families using a model that just doesn’t work for everyone anymore, were fully supportive when I told them I was going to work full-time.

    As I think of it now, this post is mostly about the fact that the Church’s counsel for mothers to stay home full-time with their children is sometimes in conflict with the counsel to be financially prepared, debt-free, and self sufficient. It can turn into an Eden-like conflict of commandments. You could say that I’ve finally tasted the forbidden fruit, and my eyes are opened.

    We have no savings, let alone retirement, we went without health coverage for years, we spent five months living with my in-laws, and we are slowly paying back kind friends and family who helped us out when we were in financial trouble. All this before we considered having me go to work, because we wanted to follow prophetic counsel and do what was best for our children. AND because in obedience to that counsel, the only career I’d planned or prepared for was SAHM-hood.

    Looking back, I realize that the constant financial stress, conflict, and instability caused by us trying to adhere to the working father/SAHM model were NOT good for my children. A large part of the depression I felt as a stay-at-home mom and the anxiety my husband felt as sole provider was due to this financial pressure.

    I’m not advocating both parents going to work full time and “abandoning” the children (although I think it is certainly very possible to have happy, well-adjusted children who go to daycare). As I said, I am counseling my son and daughter that both of them should plan for good, well-paying careers that offer some flexibility, because from my life experience, it occurs to me that especially in the current social and economic climate, it is likely that they, like their parents, might have to be creative when it comes to meeting their own and their families’ needs. I want them to plan ahead so that they will have the tools to do just that.

  16. Amy T on August 19, 2013 at 9:31 am

    John Taber, I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your sister. It sounds like it was a devastatingly difficult time for your family.

    I’m trying to think of a tactful way of saying this, and can’t, so please forgive my bluntness. It sounds like you have unresolved grief issues. You are expressing a great deal of anger toward your parents and especially your mother. The expectations you mention having for your parents during the period of acute grief are way out of line for what can be expected from grieving parents, but that’s not something a child or even many adults would know.

    This is an issue you really should work through with a good counselor or trusted friend, someone who is familiar with the issues involved in sibling death.

  17. John Taber on August 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I forgave Mom for going back to school – and then establishing a new career for herself – a long time ago. It’s what she needed to do. I even put her occupation as “recent PhD recipient” on my mission papers because I was proud of her. Initially, though, I really felt left in the lurch.

  18. Libby on August 19, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Amy T, thank you — I was about to say the same thing.

    If we are truly going to put family first, if we are truly going to do what’s best for us and for our children, then we need to allow everyone in the family to be successful and do something that makes them happy.

    In my family, that means that my oldest daughter plays the piano and doesn’t have to play soccer. It means that my husband teaches at a university with a great deal of schedule flexibility, rather than continuing the consulting career he had when we met. It means that I run a business and have part-time care for my youngest child, who needs much more social interaction than I could give him as a full-time SAHM. And it means that we don’t pay attention to people who criticize our choices. We’ve been at this long enough that we know what works for us, and we don’t criticize other people’s choices because we figure they’re smart enough to make good ones.

    Limiting one person’s growth and development in the name of tradition seems to me to be a very un-Mormon way of looking at the world.

  19. Laurie on August 19, 2013 at 11:48 am

    As a lifelong member of the church, I really do not understand why what anyone does for a living/raising children is really any of the church’s business. The “ideal” of the stay at home mom is something that grew out of post world war II white middle class affluence. Women have always had to work, it has just moved “out of the home” with the way society and jobs have changed from being agrarian to urbanized and corporitized. I wish the church would actually teach things from the scriptures and stick to that… the teachings of Christ, and stay out of everyone’s lives and personal choices. I have gone to several other churches with my friends, both as a teenager and as an adult, and I don’t see the same level of life interference from those religions. Seriously, if you want or need to work, then do it. If you want to stay home and can financially swing it, then do it. Please don’t tell me that I should be more fulfilled doing the SAHM thing when you don’t know anything about me. It is just another good example to point to when people say that religion is used for social control. Why does anyone at church care if I work or stay at home? Why does the church leadership in Salt Lake care either? Honestly, from what I can see, the church and all its programs really only work well with the stay at home mom model, so maybe that is why they keep promoting it. It certainly is NOT MY ideal and from what I can see, it is something that is a personal decision between the mom and dad of the kids.

  20. Amy T on August 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I’m glad to hear that John, but please don’t discount the complex issues involved with grief, particularly in a loss that great, and where your needs were not met adequately met.

    Sorry for the thread-jack, Sarah. Making wise education-work-family decisions is something I tried to teach my Beehives in the past, and the topic will be coming up again in November.

    For some reason I ended up teaching a lesson late last year about work to all the Young Women and most of the leaders. I asked if any of them knew a woman who had not had to work at some point in her life. No one could think of a single instance. (One woman suggested her mother, but then realized that the mother had worked before she had children.)

    So I made three points.

    First, that the young women should get education and training so that they could choose work that they liked and that fit their talents and that would pay well rather than just doing menial labor out of desperation.

    Second, that it was so much easier to get education (vocational or professional) when they were young.

    And, third, family-work issues will involve complex and difficult decisions throughout their lives. It’s not something that will come easily to most women, so they should plan to finish their education while they’re young and approach all their decisions with prayer.

  21. Amy T on August 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Laurie, that’s quite a rant. You may be interested to read the November lessons for the young women to see what “the church” is actually teaching. It’s quite a contrast to your idea of what “the church” is teaching.

    https://www.lds.org/youth/learn/yw/self-reliance

    Of course, what you may hear from individual members may be different from the institutional message. For example, several weeks ago in church, my ward heard in very strong terms about how the church teaches that we should have a year’s supply. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been true for years.

  22. Adam G. on August 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Mormon feminism discovers the 1960s. In a decade, we can have posts on how divorce is great for women’s fulfillment and doesn’t hurt kids at all.

    The fact that you lead with how much better off you are but never mentioned the effects on your kids is telling. So is the hostility towards homemaking, starting with the title.

  23. Xenophon on August 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    First of all, any wife or mother, or any woman who desires to be a wife and a mother, is to be commended for her work and for doing her best according to the dictates of her own conscience and the light and knowledge she has received. There is no work more eternally significant and important than that of a mother. Well done.

    The Church teaches the ideal, or in other words, correct principles (such as those outlined in the Proclamation to the World on the Family), so that people can be free to govern themselves. There are always variations and exceptions, but they are variations and exceptions to an ideal. What is that ideal? It’s contained in the Proclamation to the World on the Family.

    I would like to engage this statement from the original post: “Looking back, I’m kind of amazed that I never even questioned the SAHM ideal.”

    What amazes me (although by now it probably shouldn’t) is that hardly anyone bothers to question the opposite counterfeit ideal. In other words, who is questioning the worldly ideal that makes it seem like career fulfillment somehow trumps the joy that can be the result of work inside the home. This could apply to both men and women: “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” – David O. McKay

    Of course there needs to be wisdom and balance in all personal and family decisions, and each family is free to work toward the ideals set forth by the gospel and by the Church. Education and work are essential elements in any successful family. But try to gauge the wisdom in the following statement by Elder Maxwell:

    “Some mothers in today’s world feel ‘cumbered’ by home duties and are thus attracted by other more ‘romantic’ challenges. Such women could make the same error of perspective that Martha made. The woman, for instance, who deserts the cradle in order to help defend civilization against the barbarians may well later meet, among the barbarians, her own neglected child.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this is the case of the author or of anyone else reading or commenting on this blog. I just think that it is essential to teach the truth of the ideal so that we aren’t blown about by worldly trends and doctrines.

  24. John Taber on August 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Adam, this is one we can agree on. In my post #8, fifth paragraph, when I said some parents put their own needs (or for that matter, wants) first without considering their children’s needs, that did include divorce.

  25. Jack on August 19, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Bravely spoken, James. If valuing the second great commandment — as it relates to one’s kids — makes one narrow minded then, well, my brain just imploded.

  26. James Olsen on August 19, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    Really enjoyed the post. It’s an incredibly complex subject, one without easy answers, and I’m glad to see it get attention.

    Really liked #3.

    Thought #2 was delusional – it’s a narrow margin where your ideal of “make more money and work less” is possible or plausible. Usually it’s the opposite – not simply because higher paying jobs demand more time (some do, some don’t), but because of the culture that goes along with it.

    Likewise, I think you’re a bit glib and plucky in your advice to go get a fulfilling job. Jack’s #3 doesn’t simply have to be about Western elitism. As your post points out, in these economic times it’s all classes that potentially struggle to get jobs, particularly women who’ve been out of the work force.

    But glad of your fortune, and glad to read of your experiences.

  27. Naismith on August 20, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Re. 11 Not sure what your PhD is in, but there is some institutional support from NIH for bringing folks back into the workforce after time at home. Check out PA-12-150

    Re 14, the point about teaching being flexible is that parents can commute with their kids, and have the same spring break and summers mostly off. Having worked at a university which does not have the same spring break as the public schools, I have a keen appreciation of that benefit.

  28. Naismith on August 20, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Really glad that you found something that works for you. Of course only you can know what is best for your particular family at this point in time.

    As much as the OP talks about assuming that an at-home mother model is best, I have to say that where I live, the exact opposite is true. The church’s counsel comes across not as shoving it down anyone’s throat, but rather as offering a viable option for which there is little support elsewhere. I never thought I would spend any time at home until I went to BYU and heard from amazing women like Ann Madsen and Sandra Covey who had found fulfillment at home. It is good that I had role models, because it turned out to be the best thing for our family during some seasons.

    A while back I was at a luncheon with a woman who was a former mayor and supervisor of elections, having made crucial decisions about voting machines which has blessed our county for decades. But she was also a mother at home for years, and does not regret that time. She was excited that her granddaughter had been accepted into Pharmacy school: “It’s great because there are options for working part-time when her kids are little…oh, wait, we aren’t supposed to say that now; everyone is supposed to work fulltime no matter what!”

    I share her frustration. And I am particularly concerned that the universities are stressing full-time careers and not mentioning those with part-time professional opportunities.

    One of the biggest barriers to returning to the paid workforce after time at home is the assumption by others that the person was “not working….staying at home,” rather than working hard in another field. Of course the skills acquired at home don’t transfer to every field, but the best project coordinators and administrators I know are women who have managed households.

    Although my own family is past concerns of child care per se, my homemaking contributions still have a positive effect on our bottom line. I mend, organize, sprout, can, plan vacations, budget, get a second quote, monitor investments, garden, comparison shop, commute by bicycle. I am learning a new language in case we get to go back to my husband’s old mission when we are senior missionaries. And grandparenting has taken more effort than I realized. I didn’t have time to do those things when I was employed full-time. For us, having me employed part-time is the ideal balance that gives us the best financial bottom line and quality of life.

  29. jks on August 20, 2013 at 8:59 am

    This post really shouldn’t be about being against SAHMhood. This is about doing what is best for your family’s needs. Financially, this family needs the mother to work.
    I’m a SAHM. Right now the needs of our family mean I need to be home. At some point that may change and I may work whether I start working in a year or in 15 years depends on our family’s needs. It is difficult to be a woman and be constantly assessing the family’s needs and fulfilling them. It’s a good life, though, and I am happy to step up to do what needs to be done on a daily basis

  30. Sarah Familia on August 20, 2013 at 9:36 am

    jks (#29) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a SAHM. What’s wrong is teaching girls to plan for that and only that, when the reality of their life experience may leave them and their families in the lurch if they don’t have a good foundation for an employment that pays well and fits into their family life. I hope that if you need to get a job in a year or 15 years you will be able to find a good one. It was nowhere near a given for me, largely because I had been taught that for a woman to do actual career prep was sinful and unfaithful.

    I also think both women AND men should be constantly assessing the family’s needs and fulfilling them. For some families, that means the mom works and the dad stays home, and men should be allowed that possibility without being labeled as “slackers” or unrighteous.

    As soon as we get on a more stable financial footing, we plan for my husband to get a less demanding part-time job and for me to keep my full-time job. He’s the children’s primary caregiver, and he’s a great one, and men (and their children!) deserve that option too.

  31. Ziff on August 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Great post, Sarah. I particularly like what you said in your comment above:

    “We have no savings, let alone retirement, we went without health coverage for years, we spent five months living with my in-laws, and we are slowly paying back kind friends and family who helped us out when we were in financial trouble. All this before we considered having me go to work, because we wanted to follow prophetic counsel and do what was best for our children. AND because in obedience to that counsel, the only career I’d planned or prepared for was SAHM-hood.

    “Looking back, I realize that the constant financial stress, conflict, and instability caused by us trying to adhere to the working father/SAHM model were NOT good for my children. A large part of the depression I felt as a stay-at-home mom and the anxiety my husband felt as sole provider was due to this financial pressure.”

    I’m sorry that commenters still want to question your decision and are still sure that you *must* be harming your children by doing this. I think you make an excellent point, though, that being in debt is a stress and having money be tight is a stress, and these affect the kids too.

  32. jill on August 21, 2013 at 12:42 am

    I can tell you how I felt as a child who grew up with a mother who worked outside the home. I’m so grateful she did. I learned how to cook, clean, etc. My college education was paid for. I still had plenty of mom time. Everything she did was for my benefit. My life today is better because she earned a living as well as my dad. I was a stay at home mom. I loved it. But it pains me that I’m not able to help my child the way my mom helped me. I never felt I wasn’t my mom’s number one priority. I knew everything she did was to benefit her family. May God Bless my mom for the good life I have because of her.

  33. Naismith on August 21, 2013 at 8:16 am

    “What’s wrong is teaching girls to plan for that and only that…”

    I totally agree, but of course that is not the church’s policy nor practice. Although some families and teachers may go to that extreme.

    My daughters had enough volunteer hours to qualify for college scholarships because their Young Women leaders were faithful about setting up volunteer opportunities AND ensuring that their forms were filled out. The general YW meetings always encouraged education.

    The #2 in the OP was something that I heard over and over again at BYU, and was a major reason that I went to grad school.

    I graduated from BYU in 1980. Never in my wildest dreams or those of my friends did we assume that we would never hold a paid job. We were having our children young, and assumed that we would return to fulltime employment when they were out on their own. And they all have. President Holland told a sweet story at conference about his mom being employed to earn money for his and her mission.

    I think it is just as wrong to teach girls to plan for ONLY full-time employment, which is happening at the state universities that my children attend. That can create a different set of problems, an all-or-nothing choice.

    And while it sounds nice to pretend that men or women can be caretakers (and they can, with older children), the harsh reality of the world we live in is that the physical demands of pregnancy and lactation fall disproportionately on women. Until scientists bring us uterine replicators, a lot of couples are going to choose to have mom at home in order to even have children.

  34. John Mansfield on August 21, 2013 at 9:38 am

    “We have no savings, let alone retirement, we went without health coverage for years, we spent five months living with my in-laws, and we are slowly paying back kind friends and family who helped us out when we were in financial trouble.”

    Since you’re putting this out there for us to consider, the decade of globe-trotting outlined at the web site your name links to seem relevant for putting this financial duress into perspective. Expensive way to live.

  35. Sarah Familia on August 21, 2013 at 9:52 am

    #34 John, with all due respect, analyzing someone’s budget on that basis is a little dubious. As it happens, the U.S. is one of the more expensive places in the world to live. People can and do live much more cheaply elsewhere. However, that’s a little beside the point of my article, which is that I know a lot of Mormon women, including myself, who wish they had done more career planning.

  36. Amira on August 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I love to hear about your expensive globe-trotting life, Sarah. Now you’re extravagant in addition to abandoning your children to your husband’s care. ;)

  37. Naismith on August 21, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    “As it happens, the U.S. is one of the more expensive places in the world to live.”

    Amen!

    (Especially for those without health insurance, but I don’t want to threadjack…)

  38. Krissy on August 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you, Sarah for writing about your experience. It is certainly a valid one and shared by many of us SAHMs. My story is a long one but suffice it to say that I consider my experiences and financial stresses almost identical to yours. I find myself in the very same situation of needing to go back to work full time right now, 16 years after mission, marriage, degree and children. We just bought a new home (a decision that is going to help our family be more stable financially long-term, and able to care for ourselves and other dependents) and I am going to have to go to work full time. I am in tears reading your post and subsequent comments. I feel both sad at the recognition of the problem and my frustration with the predicament of living with a need to work and being sorely unprepared. I have come to accept this as a necessity for my family and I feel willing to do so. I am concerned however, that I will be unable to find appropriate work or even get hired. It was indeed “a backup plan degree” and I am sorely without current skills and experience. I have been substitute teaching regularly at our H.S., which I actually love but I make the same wage now as I did when I started in 2001… $100 a day. I am a convert to the church and I was taught the ideal of SAHM-hood. I believe it is critical to have one or both parents home as much as is possible. I do, however, think more emphasis should be placed on the practical needs of young women and young men to be prepared for work. I plan to make that difference in the training of my three daughters and I hope to be a positive influence on the youth of my community. I especially appreciate the comments of other posts who said they taught or had been taught better preparedness than I was. Our economy has changed from years passed, one income does not always cut it. When I think about the counsel of our church it has been “be prepared: if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”, “do it now”, “*whenever possible*, mothers should stay at home with their children.” I really consider it my own lack of preparation, planning, confidence and shortcomings that I am in the situation I am in now. Maybe a tiny part of me feels like “I was sold a bill of goods” on this ideal of Mom at home. Let’s just say that I do wish I had done things differently. I can definitely contest that the financial stresses that have been eating away at our family for all 16 years of marriage have taken their toll on every member of my family. My own mother has been encouraging me to go to work for years. In closing I must say that is only through the assistance of my mother and grandparents (all three highly educated professional who worked full time) that we were able to buy our home.

  39. Hedgehog on August 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    #27, Science/engineering. I’m in Britain, where there is the Daphne Jackson Trust who assist returning scientists. My employment experience wasn’t in research however, but in patent searching, a field that has changed hugely with subsequent changes in information technology. I also don’t think it’s a field I wish to return to particularly.
    Being an SAHM suits me at the moment, and I’m lucky that I don’t need to work at the moment. and I’ve enjoyed the variety of things I’ve been able to do with my children as they’ve grown older. Though returning to work is something I have to start thinking about as my eldest approaches university age.

    I am accutely aware that I selected my field of study on the basis that I wanted to learn as much as I could and science was harder to do on my own. I wasn’t thinking in terms of career planning. The only careers suggested whilst I was a YW were nursing or teaching, neither of which were a good match for me. Of course, if I’d done something else it’s unlikely I’d have met my husband so… Life is what it is. I felt I was guided to do what I did at the time as was doing it. But I wasn’t career planning, and I do feel that lack now.

  40. MC on August 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    “As it happens, the U.S. is one of the more expensive places in the world to live. People can and do live much more cheaply elsewhere.”

    It also has some of the highest salaries, and overall it’s much easier to accumulate capital here than in those cheaper countries, no? Else why the flow of immigrants from those cheaper countries?

  41. Stephanie on September 1, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Sarah, this is a good post. I’ve dealt with a lot of the same realities. I walked away from my career to be a SAHM right as my husband was starting his PhD. I did pray about it and received confirmation it was the right thing to do for our family at the time. I’ve struggled ever since in every way – financially, emotionally. I started a PhD program and then quit and explored different options but never felt good about starting any of them. We made a lot of sacrifices while my husband was in school (and were poor for the nearly 8 years he was a student post-wedding). I had 5 kids in 9 years. I was pregnant with my 5th in 2008 when the economy tanked. That really took us by surprise. No bonuses, no raises for a couple of years, then laid off and hired by another company at a lower wage. Here we are – two well-educated people struggling to get by with little savings, no retirement, etc. etc.

    I started positioning myself to re-enter the workforce right after my daughter was born in 2009 but never felt good about any of the options I considered. Then about 6 months ago someone called me up out of the blue and offered me a job in my field that I could work at part-time from home (I go into the office once or twice a month for meetings and do a lot of conference calls) – for the same wage per hour I made when I left the workforce (adjusted for inflation). It was nothing short of a miracle. So I took the job!

    I love my job and the income it is contributing to my household. I am so grateful. But, there are drawbacks, too. I work from home, but I am still working, which means I have 20-30 hours less per week to spend on my home and kids. They have noticed a difference and don’t like me working. My house is not as clean, our meals are not homemade as often and definitely not as fancy. I am not volunteering for as much service. My kids grades all went down a bit in the last grading period last school year because I wasn’t as on top of things as I should have been (but we’re refocusing this school year, and I’ve adjusted my schedule to focus my time on them during the critical hours of 2-8 p.m.) I think there are sacrifices to be made however you look at it. It is best to evaluate things with our eyes wide open.

    I believe that I made the right choice to stay at home when I did. I believe I made the right choice in accepting my job when I did. I believe both had the hand of the Lord in them, and I believe that when we involve the Lord in our decision making, He will guide us to the best option for our family at the time. But life still might be hard.

    So, anyways, here are the three points I want to make:

    1. I agree with all your bullet points.
    2. I believe that if we put the Lord first, and put our families first, and seek inspiration on how to fulfill our many responsibilities, the Lord will guide us. He does love us. He lets us struggle and experience hard things, but if we turn to him, he can show us the way and comfort us along the way.
    3. I am sooooo much happier as both a professional in my field and the primary caregiver of my children. The balance I have found is absolutely perfect for me. I am exhausted and tired trying to do it all, but I am at peace and happy. This is way better than the mental exhaustion of being a SAHM experiencing financial strain 24-7.

    (Some might ask where my husband is. He is a professional working full-time in his field, but he has totally stepped it up at home, too. His normal schedule is to leave the house by 6 a.m. and be home by 6 p.m. Once or twice a week now, he’ll stay home in the morning to get the kids ready for school so I can sleep in an extra hour or two. Our offices are 5 minutes apart, so sometimes if I just have a short meeting, he’ll take a long lunch to watch the kids at a park. He probably does half the cleaning now. Me working has been hard on him, too, but he’s willing to sacrifice because he knows how much happier I am. Plus, it has taken a lot of financial pressure off him.)

    The world has changed – the economy has changed. I think the Proc on the family has it just right: mothers are primarily responsible to nurture children, fathers are primarily responsible to provide. Then you help one another get it done as equal partners. That is how I am teaching my kids and my YW.

  42. Stephanie on September 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Also, I hate it when local church leaders try to steer YW toward jobs that are “good for moms” – generally lower paid, assistant-type work (so you can get your education quickly and work to put your future husband through school so he can get the big, high-paying job). For example, we had a Bishop who told the YW to look at things like being a dental hygienist. It’s not a bad job – hygienists get paid roughly $35/hour and can work even just 1 day per month if they want to. But, dentists get paid a lot more than that, and as a dentist you can work for someone else’s office just once per month, too. Hygienist could make $280/day. Dentist could make $1000+/day. Why not aim for dentist? Or whatever else you have a passion about. Lean in until you feel you have to step back or step out.

  43. Naismith on September 1, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Um, one consideration might be the student loans that you end up with. For dentistry, those are so considerable that most folks cannot afford to be employed part-time after graduation.

    For dental hygienists, at least where we live they require a year of work as a dental assistant for admission into the program. So any costs of the DA program are paid off during the year of employment, and dental hygiene training is only 15 months at a community college rate vs. 4 years of dental school at a premium university rate.

    I agree that we should all seek our passion. But there is also a cost-benefit ratio to these decisions. It’s not just how much you make but how much you keep.

  44. jennifer rueben on September 2, 2013 at 12:45 am

    response to 43. more schooling does not mean more debt. There are many ways to avoid student loan debt. planning for a girl or boy’s higher education should not be built on the foundation of accepting additional debt that would limit their future. I agree that is not how much you make but how much you keep. talk to an educational counselor about keeping all you earn by not starting on the student loan path. Our family has seven successful careers all based on post secondary education and zero student loan debts.

  45. Stephanie on September 2, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Dental assistants and dental hygienists are two very different jobs. A DA only takes a year and makes $15-18/hour. A hygienist usually requires a Bachelors and pays $35+.

  46. Kathy on October 1, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Interesting blog, but even more interesting the comments.

    I am a convert. I was always taught (and shown) by a strong mother that I can do whatever I want to do, and I did – left home at 18 with a suitcase and ended up with a successful career in my chosen field, living in a great place, financially secure with a husband and children.

    I married an inactive member and we both held the same beliefs of equality between the both of us in all things – financial, housework, child raising, decision making.

    When we had our first children (twins), he was earning substantially less than I, so I went back to work and he was the SAHDad. I took time off to have another baby while he went back to work. Then we both worked to get ahead once the youngest was in school.

    We have both had a taste of career – he is now making major leaps and bounds and loving it, I am now the SAHM. We both had the opportunity for fantastic bonding time with the children (as well as the drudgery of housework) – so we understand each other a lot better, having lived each others circumstances. We are financially secure and the children seem well adjusted.

    Sadly, finding more about the church and how women are expected to be the SAHM, I am glad I did not join the church earlier. I suspect I would have felt incomplete if that was my path and I possibly would not have joined the church if I had that knowledge.

    I am encouraging my children that they can be what they want to be, and they should aim high. Education is not a fallback position, it is to enrich their lives. Working and succeeding is something to strive for, however, if they want to be a SAHM or SAHD, and if that works for their family, then they should be happy to follow that path as well.