The decision to stay home with our children can be hard enough, but it's even harder when it seems there is no choice.
Kitty began her career in anthropology, but fell in love
with teaching while interviewing residents of rural Alaska for a National Parks
program. She taught elementary school for twelve years, but gave that up when
she met her husband, a Navy pilot, and they moved from her home state of Washington
There, she made plans to start a PhD program in public
policy with an emphasis on education and was excited to begin. Those
plans came to a halt when she
became pregnant with their son, their only child. Kitty found her role
as military spouse and mom made full-time work nearly impossible.
I interviewed Kitty four years ago when she was 40 years old
and her son was 15 months. Since then, she and her family have moved three
times, landing back in Florida again.
Kitty does not regret her decisions, but she plans to return to the workforce in a few
years when her husband retires.
This is Kitty’s story, in her own words:
I don’t know what I’m going to do.
When my son Evan gets older I am definitely going back to work. I cannot do
this for the rest of my life, although I don’t really feel the drive to go back
to the classroom.
I was doing a lot – up in
Washington – of consulting work. I was on a state committee that was looking at
fairness and bias, and I loved that. I really felt like before I got married I
was heading in this direction where I was eventually going to be able to leave
the classroom and sustain myself through the consulting work.
But that kind of came to an abrupt
halt when I got married and moved down here. I don’t have those contacts and
I’ve been out of the scene up there for two and a half, almost three years now.
We’ll see what happens when we go back.
We’re going to be back in
Washington again and I certainly can get back in contact with people, but my
husband is going to be gone for months at a time on the air craft carrier and I
don’t want to get myself into a situation where I’m in the classroom, working
Monday through Friday. I mean I would have my parents around to help me, but
you know, they’re elderly and they’re not up for babysitting every day.
I firmly believe that doors will
open and that it’s right for me to stay home with Evan right now, but not
forever. I wasn’t satisfied with teaching, and I knew that (graduate) school was
one of those things where it would be lot of time commitment to do it right. I
didn’t know if I was ready to jump into that.
Also, I knew we had a finite amount
of time here in Florida, and that we were going to be moving eventually. If I
didn’t hit it hard in those two years, I wasn’t going to get my coursework
In retrospect, that was really a very
good decision. I wound up with postpartum depression and it was all that I
could do to keep my head above the water. I’m glad I didn’t have the pressure
of school or work on top of that.
Another reason I wanted to stay
home was I always knew that if I had kids… I had spent twelve years in the
classroom and I could pick out which of my students had been day care and which
ones had been home with mom. The kids that had been home with mom or with a
caregiver, like an aunt or a sister or a grandparent – somebody who is family
and loves them and who wasn’t paid to take care of them – you know. There’s a
Those kids were not as needy of my
time and seemed to be a little more adjusted to who they were as people. The
day care kids were adjusted as far as teams and following directions, but they
just didn’t seem to know themselves as well. It would be hard for any nine-year-old
to know themselves, but there was just a different confidence level that I saw
in the kids.
I’m not knocking parents who had to
put their kids through day care. I know that for most families it’s a financial
decision to keep working put their kids in day care. I certainly have a lot of
friends who are not in any position for the mom to quit their jobs.
The other reason, too, is that
maybe there really is a subculture (in the Navy) – and here’s the
anthropologist in me coming out -- with its own customs and rules for
belonging, and the vast majority – and I am not kidding when I say the vast
majority – of women who have children stay at home.
One reason is because it’s very
stable. I am talking officers’ wives here. It is a little different with
enlisted. They don’t make as much money. My husband is not, for the amount of
education and training he’s had, is not compensated very well. But we’ve lived
comfortably, and part of it is through our benefits like the Commissary and the
free medical. Right there, we’ll save hundreds of dollars. But there really is a
support system amongst the wives. But, it’s kind of the expectation that you’re
going to stay home and I just kind of slid right into that.
I miss intellectual stimulation. I
miss the validation. I miss feeling like I’m in control and competent. I miss
the satisfaction of a job well done. I miss the “thank you” and just the
reassurance that, you know… I guess I had a lot of my self-worth tied up in
While I know in the long run what
I’m doing by staying home with my son is going to be best for him, he’s like
this little fifteen- month old. Now he gives hugs and kisses and stuff, but
when he was little, it was just pooping and screaming and eating, and there weren’t
a lot of reward in that. You know. Outside rewards.
It’s getting easier partly because
I think I have adjusted, but little things where he comes up and gives me a big
mouth kiss on the cheek or a hug, those are his little ways of letting my know
that I’m the most important person to him.
That melts my heart.
But one thing I did take on is I
became president of my Spouse’s Club. As I told one of my friends back home,
“I’ve become that which I used to mock” because I’d look at the Navy wives –
remember I taught in a Navy community – and they were all these moms who were
just hanging out at school chit-chatting and gossiping with each other. I would
always be thinking in my head, “Get a life.” Then they would move down in a pack
to get coffee, talking about squadron stuff, and their whole conversation was
“Oh, the squadron this. The squadron that.” I would just think, “Oh, they don’t
have a life outside their husbands’ identities.”
And I’ve become that.
I mean, the first thing you do when
you meet someone else in the military community is, “Oh, my husband. He’s a
lieutenant. He’s a pilot over in whatever unit.” At what point did I become
that versus, “Hi. My name is Kitty. I teach fourth grade?”
It was actually really hard and a
real source of contention between my husband and me. Because I was like, “You
don’t understand. I gave up my job. I owned a house in Washington. I sold that
to move down here. I gave up my name. Now I’ve given up my job, and where am I?
Who is Kitty? I am identified through Trent’s wife and Evan’s mom, and I don’t
have anything that identifies me as “I am this. I am a teacher. I am a
consultant. I am a committee member for fairness and bias.”
I have lost those identities to the
past and I don’t like the fact that all the hats I wear now are not mine. And
he was just like, “Oh, well. What’s wrong with being my wife? What’s wrong with
being Evan’s mom?” And I’m like, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
I’ve come to realize that I’ll get
my hats back.
If I could do it again, I would
still decide to stay home and that goes back to the classroom. When my son is nine,
I know he’s going to be better off because of the fact that I stayed home.
It has meant a lot of changes for
us financially. We don’t eat out anymore. That’s an easy thing to wipe off your
budget. The household is given $1000 every two weeks from which groceries and
gas and incidentals, clothes for Evan or something for myself come from. Before,
if I wanted something I would buy it. I think the big one is the eating out. We
go out only for special occasions now whereas before we went out two or three times
a week. And we don’t really buy prepackaged stuff anymore.
I don’t regret my decision. I know
I will not be a stay-at-home-mom forever. I’ve just taken my hats off and hung
them on the hat rack for a little bit. I’ll dust those hats off and they’ll be
back. As you get older, you get more and more hats. I wear two very important
hats now as a wife and a mom, but that does not mean I have to throw away those
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Twice she stayed home with her children, and twice she went back to work. Meet Billena, proof that moms can have it both ways.
|Billena and her family on New Year's 2013|
I came to know Billena of Chelsea, Michigan, nearly six years ago through a forum for women who were pregnant with twins. We have remained friends since. I interviewed Billena four years ago, just after her twin girls were born.
Billena is now thirty-nine years old. Her oldest daughter is fifteen and her twins are six.
Billena stayed home with her oldest daughter until she was in kindergarten. Then she went to school for massage therapy and worked in her field for about three years. While pregnant with the twins, she put her career on hold, returning to school just before they started kindergarten.
She and her husband initially gave up one car to make the decision financially feasible. Her husband is an engineer.
Here is Billena's story, in her own words:
We always said that I would stay home and be with the kids while they were little, but I think it was mostly my choice. He (her husband) didn’t mind, but he does prefer for me to stay home. He doesn’t like the kids to be in other people’s care.
I do miss work sometimes.
People ask me all the time, "When are you going to start working again? I need a massage." I haven’t decided when I’m going to do that. But I have to say I do miss it. I have thought about a couple weekends a months or something, but I haven’t got any definite plans yet.
What did I give up? I sacrificed my car in October. I sold my car and we did pay off our credit card with it. We have no credit card bills at all now. That’s awesome.
I don’t think I’m going to have to sacrifice it for very long. I’m hoping by spring I’ll have a car. But we thought, just for this winter, let’s try to save some money and see what happens with that. I mean you have to sacrifice.
I don’t get to go out like I did before. With Marina (her oldest), when it was just the three of us, we used to go out to eat probably three or more times a week. Now we rarely go out. But we mostly rely on his income.
My income wasn’t a huge income. I guess that was kind of play-around money. Going out and doing fun stuff. I do have to say having the twins has been a little bit more strenuous.
We do live about eight or nine blocks from downtown. So I can walk.
Of course, in the winter I’m not going to want to do that with the kids. So, basically, I don’t really go anywhere during the week except on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He has a friend who picks him up if I want to use the car. Actually, I meet Holly and Rachel (friends) at the mall and we exercise.
I do have the car two days a week.
I am enjoying life right now.
I love staying home with the kids.
I really do.
To me it’s just a small sacrifice to make because they are just little for a very short time. I can give up going out to eat and going to the movies. I’m not liking not having a car. I told my husband when we had to take the kids to the doctor, I said, if we had two cars, I wouldn’t have to worry about you getting here. He’s notoriously late for everything. That doesn’t fly with me.
But, to me, it’s just a small sacrifice because they’re small for only a short time. It goes by so fast.
I think that staying home has freed up more time because I have dinner ready and I’m not rushing to get it done because I’m just getting home from work. I have it done earlier. We like to play Scrabble and board games and I think it has freed up more time. But, on the other hand, I think my husband does think I should do everything.
I still think we have more time as a family because we do more things together—playing games and things. The babies, of course, can’t play the games, but the three of us—we always sit down to dinner together and, usually, we pull out some game after. So I think we have more time together.
Usually, I would get home and I’d forgotten to get something out of the freezer, so everything’s frozen and I’d say, let’s go get something take-out, or we’d go to the restaurant. That was just with the three of us and now, with the addition, with the twins, we don’t eat out very often at all.
He (her husband) will say, when you’re done, when you go back to work, things will be better because we’ll do this. And actually I’m thinking about going back to school to finish—to be a physical therapist or an assistant. I’m going to go for the assistant first. I’ve been talking about that, so he’s been talking about when you do that we’ll have a second income and it won’t be so bad. And we’ll do this and that.
I think sometimes he’s a little stressed because we don’t have that second income.
I worked when she (Marina) was in school, but with being a massage therapist, I had the flexibility of making my own schedule. I was my own boss. I was self-employed. So I always made my schedule around her. I think our relationship is the same as before because I always made sure I was available to her when she came home from school.
I may be in denial about my identity right now.
I realized that I just put on a form that I am still a massage therapist and I’m not doing that right now. So I may be struggling with that a little more than I thought I did.
They are just growing up so fast. I do think that I do struggle with that (identity) because you get out and you are doing something and you have a title. Not that I don’t have a title now. My new title is mommy and homemaker and that’s such a great title.
Still, it’s something more. You’re in the world out there doing something for people. I think maybe I have to explore that a little bit more.
I think that it (staying home) has impacted me physically too. Before, I used to work out a lot more than I do now. I think that mentally I am more tired even though I’m at home, but it’s probably that I’m tired because I am at home.
There are so many more things to do and you can’t get it done. It seemed liked when I was working, I think I did get more things done maybe because—I don’t know—maybe I’m a little bit more lax on my schedule because I am home. I think I’m more tired because of the twins.
But definitely, physically? Yeah. It has impacted me. I am struggling with the weight loss. I think I did have a better grip on it when I was working because—this might sound silly but—I think I cared more about what I looked like going out and getting dressed everyday for work, putting makeup on and getting it all put together.
I think so.
I don’t go anywhere anyway.
I think it will change.
I told myself the other day I really need to start exercising and eating better.
If I could do it again? I’d stay home.
I would advise them (other moms) that if they could do it financially, if they didn’t have to have a second income, then I would recommend staying home. It’s very rewarding to stay home and see all their little milestones.
I mean, I don’t have all the clothes that I need for work anymore. Sacrificing that—going out and all the extras, going to the movies all the time and all the little extras—to me, it’s such a short time to sacrifice.
We’re almost at a year now. If I stay home with them until they go to school that’s three to four more years, depending on if they go to preschool or not.
Really, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing much at all to be able to stay home with them. I know I’m lucky to be able to stay home. I know there are many women out there who are not able to. But if they are able to financially, I would say, go for it.
I do feel that being a stay-at-home mom, a homemaker, it is a full-time job. I feel like it’s twenty-four/seven. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t a break.
But it’s rewarding.
It can be challenging at times, but I feel it’s very rewarding. It’s peace, I guess for me. I know that they are safe with me and that they are not being exposed to someone who could hurt them. I mean you hear things so much.
You hear so many stories about day care providers or nannies doing something horrible to someone’s child and that, to me, is just a fear that I don’t want to have to think about when I’m at work. I don’t want to have to fear someone is hurting my child.
A lot of my friends who have children who go to day care, they are always sick it seems like. The bigger the day care, the worse it is. I know that they are getting fed and cared for because I’m doing it here at home. That’s a peace of mind for me.
And I would hate to think that I missed their first step or a new word that they said or a new game that they learned or blowing kisses. I want to teach them that. I don’t want anyone else to teach them that.