By Esther Mann, LCSW
I grew up in a home that felt nurturing and loving. My mother never worked while my siblings and I were growing up. I have fond memories of coming home from school, secure in the knowledge that my mother would be there waiting for us with milk and cookies. If something wonderful or awful happened during the day, she was there to hear about it and either share my joy or dry my tears. She helped us with our homework and there was always a wonderful dinner waiting. Such great memories.
I always believed that when I got married and had children, I too would be just like my mother. I would be a stay-at-home mom, always around and available for my children. When I got to know “Reuven,” I saw that he too grew up with a stay-at-home mom and assumed that he would want the same thing for his children. So I don’t think we ever really had a conversation about it, but I just felt we had similar backgrounds and therefore shared similar dreams about our future.
Right now we have a home in the Five Towns and four children. Reuven has been stressed lately and we are constantly fighting because he tells me that I have to go out and get a job. According to Reuven, we haven’t been able to keep up with our constantly rising expenses, and if I don’t get a job soon, we’ll be in big trouble.
I’m upset and not really willing to get a job. I love being home for my children and living my dream. I think it’s Reuven’s responsibility to either find another job that pays more or maybe take on some additional work somehow. I resent that he is trying to put the burden on me and make me feel guilty.
I’m a big fan of Dr. Laura, who is a radio talk show host. She also believes that a mother should be home for her children, and mothers who go out to work are damaging their children.
My husband isn’t a big Dr. Laura fan, but I know that he reads your column and generally agrees with what you have to say on an issue. I’m hoping you can tell him that I have a right to stay home and raise my children—that being home for them is the best thing I could possibly do as a mother and that it’s his responsibility to figure out how to support his family.
My Kid’s Mom
Dear Kid’s Mom,
It sounds like you’re betting the house on me responding in a way that is consistent with your views and those of Dr. Laura. Sorry to disappoint you, but this issue isn’t quite so simple, and I doubt that you’re going to get the answer you were hoping for.
The home you grew up in sounds delightful. Straight out of a ’60s sitcom. Everyone happily doing what they should be doing, creating one big happy family. A simpler time, and in some ways maybe an easier time. Not to say that there aren’t many stay-at-home moms today, still happily waiting for their children to return home from school so that they can nurture them in the way you remember being nurtured. It’s a beautiful visual and certainly one worth aspiring to. However, real life isn’t always so picture perfect.
The times we live in require a tremendous amount of money to maintain. Having a home in the Five Towns, sending children to yeshivas, and shopping in local kosher markets all require very deep pockets. For the average family that is not seriously well off, it’s almost impossible to make it on one salary.
So your solution is for your husband to work harder? Moonlight? Take on more responsibility? Since you didn’t mention that your husband is a slouch, I’m thinking he probably works pretty hard already. Therefore, I have to wonder whether you feel there is any value to your husband being home at all for your children. If you’re suggesting that he take on another job, when is he supposed to bond with your four children? Inspire them? Teach them important life lessons? Let’s not forget that a father also plays a meaningful role in the raising of a family—or at least he should.
I will honestly tell you that as I have observed the byproducts of working mothers vs. non-working mothers, I have seen outstanding young adults resulting from both types of upbringings, and I have also noted many troubled young adults who were raised with working mothers and non-working mothers.
There are so many ingredients that go into raising a happy, wholesome, successful child. Many are not within our control, such as genes, mazal, and sometimes random significant figures who somehow wander into a person’s life with profound and wonderful results. And of course the obvious: Good parenting techniques; creating a loving and secure environment for children; making the right choices regarding schools, camps, etc., and much more.
My point is, doing the best we can do as a parent is not solely dependent on being home to serve milk and cookies to our children when they walk in the door from school. It’s a lovely idea, and I don’t mean to minimize how special it is for a child to experience that predictable routine. The knowledge that their mother is always home for them most certainly creates a safe feeling for children.
But sometimes there has to be a cost/benefit analysis of whether it is truly working. For instance, if your husband feels that he isn’t able to successfully pay the bills anymore each month, would the stress of this reality ultimately create more tension and unhappiness within a home, thereby wiping out the good? Would skimping on basics eventually wear the family down? Would the realization that there will never be any extra cash available for something special take on a depressing feeling at some point?
Finally, looking at this from another perspective, have you thought about what you are willing to sacrifice to be a stay-at-home mom? Are you willing to downsize? Move to a smaller home, perhaps to a neighborhood where the cost of living is lower? Maybe the solution lies within what you can do without. Or, if all of your children are already in school, what about a part-time job that still allows you to get home before your children walk in after school?
The bottom line is that there is more than one answer to your dilemma. I think you ought to sit down with your husband, review your finances, and figure out what steps need to be taken in order to live within your means. And you need to work together as a team. If you act like a princess who expects to be taken care of at all costs, there will eventually be a very high price that you will all have to pay. If you can adapt to the times, rework your dreams, shelve your resentments, and realize that there is more than one way to be a great mother, this story can have a happy ending.
Meanwhile, I hope you don’t hide this week’s Five Towns Jewish Times from Reuven.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.