I wrote this blog as a rebuttal to the recently published article in the Huffington Post by Lisa Endlich Heffernan - "Grown and Flown - Why I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom"
Dear Lisa -
I read your article that was published in the Huffington Post. I didn’t know whether to cry or protest with alarm ... but then I realized that I was just really, really sad for you.
I am sad that you are looking back with such mountainous regret.
I am sad that the lives of your magnificent sons can be compared to degrees, computer skills and the complexity of the women’s movement. I am sad that you have chosen to measure the worth of your life by your achievements rather than by the health of your relationships.
I really don’t want to be judgmental so forgive me if I come across as such. Just as you have opinions about your choices in life, I have opinions about mine. I am content knowing that I didn’t need a realtor, a car dealer or a travel agent to help me decide whether or not to stay home with the most valuable treasures that I have ever been given. I didn’t make my decision based upon chaos but upon conviction. Truthfully, I don’t care about finances or diminished earnings as much as I do about the emotional health and magnified blessings of raising my 5 children well. I didn’t bolt out of the workforce but I chose to make a decision that would define me for all of my days ... I stayed at home with 5 of the most incredible human beings ever created and with joy.
My most expensive mistake would have been staying in the work force and accepting the prestigious jobs that were offered to me. I realized over 30 years ago what has been confirmed to me time after time after time: you cannot put a price tag on time spent with your children. Earthly wealth, bonuses and power advancements pale in comparison to the value of simple time spent raising, nurturing and loving children.
I thought that I would take the opportunity to give the “other side” from the perspective of a mother looking back at 3 rich decades of staying at home to raise 5 incredible children.
You said, “I let down those who went before me.” Lisa ... that is called peer pressure and no valuable decision is ever based upon the expectations of others. I didn’t want my life to turn out like Betty Friedan’s or anyone else’s. I wanted to choose my own road. I chose to swim upstream in an age where women were effectively crashing the glass ceiling. By choosing to stay home, I have supported and strengthened the most vital people in my personal world.
You said, “I used my driver’s license far more than my degrees.” Not me ... I have wrung the substance out of my college degree every day that I have stayed at home with these miracles whose last name is “McLeod”. My college degree was in English, Communication and Music. Music filled the very heart of our home and my children grew up knowing the music of Gershwin, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. They knew the great hymns of the faith, the patriotic music of our country and all of the little ditties that I wrote and sang endlessly to them. I read to my children every day they were under my watch. We read “Pat the Bunny, “The House at Pooh Corner”, “Carry on, Mr. Bowditch” and “Little Women” until I had them memorized. I taught my children to love words and books and great authors.
And speaking of driver’s licenses, Lisa ... although we had 5 children, we chose only to have 1 car until our oldest son was in high school. It was the price that we paid for living on a one- family income. What a glorious price!
So, unlike you, I did use my college degree in the home although that blasted driver’s license was what went virtually unused in my life.
You said, “My kids think I did nothing.” Perhaps you need to re-evaluate the value system that your 3 sons are embracing. My kids, who are now pursuing their dreams and passions with whole-hearted intensity, know that I sacrificed that which is temporary for that which is lasting. I, as an empty-nest mother of 5, know deep within my soul that not only did I NOT do “nothing” but that I enthusiastically and with no regrets did EVERYTHING! My kids, healthy young adults in their 20’s and 30’s, still call me for advice, send me sweet text messages, and now fan the flame of the dreams that are flourishing within my heart.
You said, “My world narrowed.” Au contraire, Lisa Endlich Heffernan, my world expanded and exploded! Who knew that a grin on the face of a baby would be more beatific than Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon?! Who knew that the giggle of a two year old would hold more rich substance than the London Symphony Orchestra?! Who knew that playing a rousing game of Candy Land with a 5 year old was much preferred over boring, endless and political business meetings?! Who knew that going to piano recitals, basketball games and National Honor Society Inductions would fulfill me more than stamps on my empty passport?! Who knew?!
You said, “I got sucked into a mountain of volunteer work.” Lisa, my new friend, I hope that no one allows you to actually think this selfish thought! Even the liberal media ought to confront you on this regardless of their parenting choices. America is built upon the spirit of volunteerism. Our most grateful thanksgiving, as a family, was the year that we served soup at the homeless shelter downtown. When our two older boys were active participants in the local basketball league for middle school boys, I saw that it had been taken over by politicking, obnoxious men. I volunteered to be the first woman commissioner and got the job and although I invested hours into this realm of service, I received absolutely no pay. I loved making decisions that I believed were in the best interest of children of all playing skills and not just potential olympians. Volunteers have the power to change the world whether or not they ever receive the paycheck that the Chairman of the Board earns.
You said, “I worried more.” Truthfully ... I worried less. Had I been stuck behind a desk in some corporate castle I would have worried my brain and my heart out! I loved knowing who they were playing with every day and what language was being used in my yard. It brought me peace to volunteer at their school and observe everything from the top administration to the dear lunch ladies. Lisa, if you have a problem with worry it is NOT because you were a SAHM. It is because you have chosen to worry.
You said, “I slipped into a more traditional marriage.” There is nothing intrinsically wrong with tradition itself. However, it is two adults who must agree on what type of marriage they are building and it is definitely not dictated by parenting choices. My marriage remained vibrant, challenging and fulfilling during all of the years in which we were raising the rambunctious, creative and competitive clan McLeod. Craig and I often yearned for more time alone but we were the ones who had chosen to have 5 children and we gave ourselves to it wholeheartedly during those years. Craig did laundry and unloaded the dishwasher. I mowed the lawn and took the car in for repairs. Craig read books, wiped noses and changed diapers. I watched sports, fixed leaking faucets and pitched unending baseballs in the front yard. I loved our non-traditional, traditional commitment to one another and to our children.
You said, “I became outdated.” Lisa ... girlfriend ... you are really stretching here for reasons that you regret your choice to be a SAHM. There is nothing outdated about a love that sacrifices that which is momentarily preferred for that which is the long-term best. The most significant women of every generation have known the fulfillment and power of laying down that which is culturally acceptable for that which is priceless. I actually believe that I stayed trendier and more hip by choosing to stay at home. I knew the language that my kids and their friends were talking. I wasn’t held captive every day by a stodgy old boss who was stuck in yesterday’s mindset. I listened with great interest to political ideas of teen-agers and their friends. I participated in late-night chats about dating, the pros and cons of piercings and what colleges offered what types of scholarships. If you became “outdated”, Lisa, it is because it is what you chose to be. Becoming “outdated” is not the cause and effect process that most SAHM’s experience.
You said, “I lowered my sights and lost confidence.” I understand that every woman faces the struggle of self-confidence but this is not a unique struggle that only stay at home moms experience. If you had been passed over for a grand and much deserved promotion, you might have lowered your sights and lost your confidence in that role. If you had run for a national election and lost, you might have lowered your sights and lost your confidence in that choice. So, Lisa, don’t blame your lack of vision and confidence on the significant role that you played as your children’s primary care-giver.
As a woman who has made the same choice to stay at home while raising children just as you did, I just want to tell you that I don’t regret one minute of it or one long-term lasting effect of that singular choice.
You see, in every generation, mothers are able to accomplish what no other nanny, daycare or even grandmother can do. To be a full-time mother is a glorious privilege and the highest call of personhood that a woman can fulfill. Never minimize this world-changing choice with false regret or by second-guessing yourself. Lisa, I salute you! Thank you for choosing to stay at home and invest yourself in something that was rich and real and vital ... the lives of the little boys under your watch.
Now, as I sit at home alone in my immaculate and quiet home, I realize that I did indeed have it all! Today I will sit behind my computer all day long meeting my next book deadline and creating speeches that will help women live well. However, my heart aches for the echoes of laughter that used to resonate within the walls of this home. My mind is filled with the faces of those little people who loved my grilled cheese sandwiches and threw their arms around my neck.
The difference between you and I, Lisa, is that I do not live in a world of regret but in a world of contentment. I chose to be a SAHM and I am grateful for the years of never-ending mothering.