A mother explains why the job of staying home isn't all it's cracked up to be.
For years, I’ve been asking myself two questions: If I matter as much as my husband, do I have the same value that he does if I can’t attach a dollar figure to my time? And: Did signing a marriage license imply that I’m now worth less?
My husband’s circumstances are the same now as they were before we got hitched. His life isn’t very different, married or not. With a child, or not, He gets up and goes to work; he works hard and enjoys his job. He gets pats on the back for the effort he gives. And paychecks and praise. And his coworkers listen to him.
He doesn’t have to speak more or speak louder to be taken seriously. It has always been this way for him because he’s a man. And my life? It’s completely different post-wedding and post-child. I love my family dearly.
But this isn’t fair.
To have a family and a home means a lot of sacrifices. The majority of these sacrifices unconsciously have been made by me, because I’m doing what’s expected of me, because I’m the woman. Because there were so many decisions we made without conversation.
I grew up in a traditional Christian home. Both of my parents worked, but my mom also took care of us kids. Sure, dad did stuff with us. But if we needed something, usually we went to my mom.
It was a happy home, but not a fair home.
I grew up regularly hearing jokes such as, “Why are women’s feet so small?” The answer? “So they can get closer to the stove.” Feminism was equated with ugly, patchouli-scented lesbians with braided armpit hair. For our wedding, as a gift, I received a book called “Created to Be His Help Meet: Discover how God can make your marriage glorious.”
My father said things like, “You know, I helped mom out lots with you kids. I changed a lot of the diapers. As a matter of fact, I can hold my breath for a full four minutes!” I laugh at this line because it’s funny. But he was also saying that he helped her with her job of raising their kids.
When I got married eight years ago, to a very open-minded man, I didn’t realize our disparity. I was a busy student at this time, slogging through my B.A. degree. One month after we got married, I got pregnant. We found out that I had “cervical incompetency,” that is, my body began getting ready to give birth way too soon. So, I went on bed rest. Both my schooling and my new job at the time stopped. My husband continued working.
And this was okay because obviously he couldn’t carry our baby. When our daughter was born, I stayed home with her. Breastfeeding was important to our family, but that also meant finishing school was put on hold. And I was happy to make this decision because I love our girl.
When our daughter turned two, I began doing Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred videos during our daughter’s nap times and found out I had a passion for exercise. It helped my stress levels. I decided to become a personal trainer. But because I wasn’t going to make any income during the schooling, I figured it’d be best for me to do the training in the evening, after my daughter was in bed so that my husband’s schedule wasn’t inconvenienced.
This was okay because it made the most financial sense for us. But I was tired.
After finishing my training, I opened a business. But because I was just starting out and had merely a few clients, I decided I would teach classes during evenings and weekends only so that my husband’s work hours needn’t change to accommodate mine.
This was okay because, again, it made the most financial sense.
After a few years, and when our daughter was school-aged, I decided to finish up that degree. I got into a great university. However, I could take classes only during our daughter’s school hours, because I needed to be available to pick her up and drop her off. My husband’s work could not be interrupted.
But choosing from the available classes that fit between the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. meant I wasn’t able to take all the classes that interested me most or would best benefit my GPA.
This was okay because I should be thankful to my husband for supporting us.
After getting my B.A., I decided to apply for a master’s degree in my field. I applied to four prestigious schools across the world, and I got into three of them. I even won a $25,000 scholarship and a substantial tuition scholarship at another.
And then the pandemic.
You’d think this would be the great leveler, because we are all in the same position, everyone unable to work or do life as before. But I don’t think this is the case.
Our daughter must do school virtually, and because the district provides 30 minutes a week of actual video-taught education, someone has to make up the teaching time.
While my husband is still able to work from home, I’ve become her teacher. My own education is on hold because I cannot both pursue my own degree online and facilitate our daughter’s schooling.
While my husband and I could shift around some of his work hours so that he could teach our daughter while I educated myself on my degree, the fact is I’m better with our daughter. There’s less whining and crying when it’s me at the helm, probably because I’ve had more time with her.
At all of these junctures where I made a sacrifice, there was no conversation between my husband and me—because I’m the woman, and he’s the man, and I’m better with her, and it’s what’s expected of women, and all the other reasons we tell ourselves.
Even though those were opportunities for both of us. So often a mother’s dream realized means a dream deferred.
I have a hunch that when the pandemic ends and life resumes, mothers are going to be underrepresented in the workplace and higher education, with fewer career and schooling opportunities than fathers.
And this isn’t okay.
Families and couples please ask yourselves these questions: Are each of our voices heard equally? Does he or she do as much as I do for what is ours? Are we both okay with the sacrifices that are being made?
If either of you is unhappy with the way these questions were answered, then maybe conversations need to be had. With words. Out loud.
The other day I watched my daughter shed tears for a squished worm. She has a lot of feelings, most kids do, and this is such a good thing. These little children we sacrifice so much to lovingly raise, they’re watching us. And if we’re careful with our words and have these uncomfortable conversations out loud about gender fairness, maybe things can change.
Excessive empathy is what our world needs to create equal access to opportunities for both men and women.
Only a child would give a worm a funeral. I think our future is in good hands.