Yep, I read the comments of Hilary Rosen, and the counter-comments from Ann Romney, Michelle Obama and many others. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google it.) And even before all the excitement, it was clear that Rosen’s comment might have been more about Romney’s wealth and less about her stay-at-home-ness (as the serious back-pedaling suggests), but for someone who’s paid to communicate, it is hard to imagine how Rosen could have done worse than she did.
I am a huge fan of stay-at-home moms. My mom stayed home, and pinched pennies in order to do so. Of course in those days MANY women were doing what she was doing, and so they pinched pennies together. Two stories I remember from my Mom’s telling:
First, there was the time she took a shoebox (or was it a bag?) of change to the A&P to pay for groceries, and after the cashier informed her she’d have to roll the coins before she could spend them there, the box broke, sending the coins scattering to the floor. (Double embarrassment, being turned away by the cashier and then having to pick up the coins).
Second was the repeated experience of Mom and her best friend’s going to the ice cream counter at Kresge’s to split an ice cream sundae. Kresge’s would have a number of balloons with prices in them, and you could pop a balloon to pick your price. She said on days toward the end of the month, getting the full price would send her and her friend digging for pennies in their pocketbooks to pay the tab.
We did not grow up poor. My dad was well-employed as a mechanical engineer; my parents owned their modest home (or shared ownership with the bank) and sometimes we had two cars. We got a set or two of clothes at the beginning of the school year that was meant to last til the end, and we often got underwear for Christmas. But we had plenty to eat, and despite my mother’s near constant protestations that we could afford that (whatever we children were begging for at the moment), I never once believed we were a step away from the poor house.
But Mom was home (when she wasn’t being a Cub Scout or Girl Scout leader or serving on some PTA committee or other or at a Relief Society meeting) – she was home every day when I walked home from school for lunch, and when I arrived at home after school. She taught piano lessons after school to pay for our orthodontics (three of the four of us kids had braces) and our own piano lessons. It never occurred to me growing up that it might be another way. (I had only two friends I can remember who had moms who worked – one had divorced parents, and the other had lost his dad to cancer; I’m sure there were more, since there were plenty of women working in various places.)
I remember when I (the youngest) was finally a senior in high school, and my mother talked about getting a job in real estate. My father was not pleased, and was concerned about what it would say about him if his wife needed to work. She finally prevailed, however, and did work for a number of years before they retired.
Of course Mom worked long before the real estate job. Not only did she teach and train and nurture the four of us, but she managed the home. She deposited Dad’s monthly check and divided the money she withdrew into her envelopes with which she controlled the family finances (Dad wrote the checks for bills paid that way). The “big” grocery shopping was a monthly affair, and sometimes the last week of the month had lots of pasta or potatoes. (It goes without saying that the sugared cereals were all consumed early in the month and the Cherrios and Corn Flakes were the end-of-month fare).
Mom was the family chauffer; she was the interface with the schools, the doctors, the neighbors. She taught us to clean our rooms, to wash the dishes, to paint the walls; she taught my sisters to sew; she baked bread and made real home-cooked meals. She was the head of the house when Dad was not there – not only during working hours, but also during long business trips that took him out of town. She was the chief disciplinarian, and we quickly knew if we had run afoul of her wishes.
As I observe my lovely wife, also a stay-at-home mom, I am amazed at all the things my mother must have done that I did not know at the time, the weight she carried on her shoulders constantly. I now understand because I have some sense of the things my wife does and the weight she carries on her shoulders – weight that does not sleep. It is way more than housework. It is even more than homemaking. It is mothering.
I stand in awe of women I know who work full time and have children at home. I frankly do not know how they do it, and I can only imagine that they must make tradeoffs about what they do and don’t do for their homes and for their families and for themselves. I don’t believe for a minute that those choices are simple for any of them.
Of course, I write this as an outsider. I am not a mom. I am a loving dad. Yes, I provide financial support to my family (and I count myself fortunate that I can). I pay for the house and the clothes that protect them (and the phone with which I would call 911 for further protection). But I also love and support my kids and my wife – their ambitions, their hopes and dreams. But I live in a compartmentalized world. I can leave my family at home and concentrate on work for major portions of my time. I can leave work and concentrate on my church callings or my own entertainment. My wife is not wired that way. She can leave the house, but she does not leave the family behind. It is always with her. We are always on her mind.
So I’m grateful to my working stay-at-home mom. And to my lovely wife who chose to stay home and work there. As my youngest daughter gets older, I’m sure that my wife will do different things than she has done for the last 30 years of parenting. For now, I’m grateful that she works where she does.