My mother was a stay-at-home mom for twelve years while I was growing up. Prior to having children, she had been a civil engineer. That was in the early 1980s, when the engineering field was even more male-dominated than it is now. In fact, she was one of just two women in UCLA's engineering program when she graduated. After I was born, she planned to return to her engineering career when her maternity leave was finished. And then, her plans changed. From what she tells me, she enjoyed being a mother so much that she decided to abandon her career and focus on being a full-time stay-at-home mom (apparently, I must have been a pretty adorable infant). Once my youngest brother was in school, she returned to work on a part-time basis. But she didn't return to civil engineering. Instead, she worked at my brothers' elementary school for a few hours a day. Essentially, she was always at home whenever we kids were home.
I have always been intrigued, and a bit perplexed, by my mother's decision to leave her career in favor of motherhood. I know that my brothers and I benefited enormously from her decision to be at home with us. She was always available to help with homework and shuttle us to our various activities. She served as a chaperone for class field trips, lead my Girl Scout troop, and sewed the most amazing Halloween costumes. I doubt she would have had the time to do all those things if she had continued her engineering career. I'll always be appreciative that she made family a priority. But I also marvel at the sacrifice she made on our behalf. In a similar situation, I'm not sure if I would make the same decision she did.
Sometimes, I find myself questioning my mother's decision. I wonder, "How was she able to give up a career that she worked so hard to build? Did she/does she ever wish she could return to her engineering career? Did she feel she had "done a disservice" to women by not seizing an opportunity to work in an industry where women were under-represented? Did she have any regrets?" I know it's unfair of me to judge my mother's decision to be a stay-at-home mom. It was her decision to make, not mine. And it probably sounds ungrateful that I would even consider criticizing a decision she made on behalf of our family. Yes, the feminist in me believes that women ought to have the ability to work outside the home. But, the feminist in me also believes that women have the right to occupy any role -- inside or outside the home -- that they choose.
I envision myself as a career-oriented person. I enjoy working and find it very satisfying. I can't imagine not working outside the home. Perhaps I will be better able to relate to my mother's decision if/when Mr. W and I have children of our own. So far, I've never given serious consideration to being a housewife. Apart from the fact that I enjoy my career, there are also financial reasons why being a homemaker does not seem feasible. Given the high cost of living in our area, it's very likely that Mr. W. and I will both continue working once we have children. But even if there were no financial obstacles, I still do not know if I would choose to stop working.
Recently, I took a week-long "staycation" to use some of my vacation time from work. Mr. W. doesn't have as much vacation time as I do, so he went to work as usual. For a week, I got a taste of what it would be like to be a stay-at-home wife.
I expected to have loads of free time during my staycation. I expected to be bored. But I actually managed to stay pretty busy.
Much of my free time was taken up with mundane tasks. I went to a dentist appointment, an optometrist appointment, and a car service appointment. Boring stuff. Sitting in my office chair is much better than sitting in my dentist's chair or enduring the glaucoma test (that burst of air is torturous!). I tackled a bunch of errands and chores that are usually reserved for the weekend: grocery shopping, dry cleaning, laundry, filing paperwork, other cleaning things. Again, boring stuff.
But I also enjoyed lunch and a shopping trip with my mother-in-law. I started and finished two novels. I created homemade Mother's Day gifts. I went to a farmer's market that is only open on Friday afternoons. I went for very long walks. I made several recipes that I've been meaning to try. This part was quite nice.
The best part of being home all day, however, was that it freed up the evenings and weekends so that Mr. W. and I could spend more time together. On most weekdays, we get home from work around 8:00. This makes it difficult to spend much quality time together during the week. And since we don't have time during the week to take care of anything around the house, those tasks are relegated to the weekend. Since I was home last week, we ate dinner at a reasonable time like 7:30, rather than 9:00. While I was on vacation, we were able to fully enjoy our weekends. Rather than running errands, Mr. W. and I went on three double dates, hosted a Mother's Day brunch, and visited his family members. If I were working, it would have been difficult to do all these things while also taking care of our normal weekend responsibilities.
I still don't know whether I would choose to leave my career if given the option. It would be a difficult decision involving more considerations than can be encompassed by a one-week experiment. And I recognize that I only experienced the "stay-at-home wife" part; having children would completely change the picture. But during the week I spent as a housewife, I certainly enjoyed the benefits of focusing exclusively on our marriage and our home.