My friends OBL and DrTiff and TR have been blogging about The Second Shift and work-family balance and whatnot, and their posts have made me think about some stuff that I might have written on their blogs as comments except that it was somewhat off-topic because it triggered my rant reflex.  I try not to rant in comments sections if I can help it, i.e. if I can stop myself before I do it.

This may not turn into a very ranty post, though.  We shall see.

I’m just going to tell a story.  Before Sugar Daddy and I got married, I told him, “When we have kids, I don’t want to work.”  (By “work,” of course, I meant “work outside the home.”  Because this was a private conversation, I didn’t feel like I needed to be all PC and crap.)  We didn’t intend to have children right away.  SD still had two more years of undergraduate work and a planned x number of years of graduate school.  I had a (low-paying) job that could support both of us and provide us with health insurance.  The tentative plan was to wait until SD got his bachelor’s degree and then have our first child after he started graduate school (because we knew he would attend grad school in an area with a lower cost of living and his measly stipend would probably be enough for three to live on if we were really, you know, frugal…and lucky).

Needless to say, things did not go according to plan.  We were married in May and I got pregnant with Princess Zurg a couple months later.  (Yes, we knew about birth control.  I was on birth control.  Actually, it’s none of your business how I got pregnant, so just let it go, all right?)  Anyway, PZ was born near the end of SD’s junior year (he had to miss an exam, weep for him), and I quit working (outside the home).  SD got a job teaching math at one of those after-school tutoring/SAT prep schools.  He also did tutoring on the side.  I could write a lot of boring words about this period of our lives.  Suffice it to say that SD did not drop out of college, he worked these two jobs, and he was gone 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays, for the first sixteen months of PZ’s life.  He didn’t make lots of money, but he made enough to pay for rent on our one-bedroom apartment, utilities, food, private health insurance, and taxes.  Fortunately, we didn’t need much more besides that.  We wanted a whole lot more, but we did without it because we had to.

We saw very little of each other during that time.  I saw a whole lot of PZ.  Many days she was the only person I saw because SD needed our only car to commute between school and his job and his other job, so the only places I went were places I could get to via foot and stroller.  The local park was usually empty, so I did not make friends with other mothers there.  All the SAHMs I knew were at different stages of life than I was, and they had cars, and they had their own lives.  This was when I learned what horribly isolating work homemaking is in this day and age.  And when a person as introverted as I am starts feeling isolated, you know you’re talking about some serious isolation.  You can watch the videotapes I made of baby PZ, listen to the audio track which has me talking ostensibly to her and/or posterity, but essentially to myself, and track my descent into madness.  I won’t delve further into this.  I don’t have time.  Suffice it to say, I learned a lot about myself and about motherhood and about life during this time, and while some of it was beautiful, much of it was a punch in the gut.

But I digress.  Where was I going with this?  Here: One of the things that just bugged the living crap out of me during this time was when people would tell me I was “so lucky” that I “could” stay home.  Was it a blessing that I was able to be the primary caretaker for my own child?  Absolutely, yes.  And I don’t deny that there was a fat serving of luck on my side.  It was lucky that we started our marriage with very little debt (one modest subsidized student loan of my husband’s).  Our car was already paid for; we “bought” it from his mother and the monthly payment was a whopping fifty bucks.  The car ran for several years.  Nobody got cancer or some other devastating illness or accident that would have rendered us bankrupt.  It was lucky that my husband could find such decent-paying work without a college degree.  The luck factor is nothing to sneeze at.  But most of the women who told me I was lucky and wished they could stay home but alas ’twas not possible were not thinking about that kind of luck.  I don’t think they were thinking much at all about what made it possible for me to stay home–the Big Thing, which was that I was determined to make it happen, regardless of the financial and personal sacrifice.

And what made me so determined?  It’s a valid question.  It’s also reasonable to suspect that social/cultural/religious pressure had something to do with it.  There is social/cultural/religious pressure for Mormon women to stay home with their kids.  I guess I can’t deny its influence without coming off as exceptionally naive, but, you know, I’d bucked social/cultural/religious pressure before.  I was a Democrat, for Pete’s sake.  What was in my conscious mind as I made this choice that I was so determined to abide by was the fact that my own mother had stayed home with us.  She wasn’t some kind of SuperMom.  She didn’t spend copious amounts of time playing with me.  I had siblings; she expected us to play with each other.  She never volunteered at my school.  She often gave us the impression that we drove her effing nuts.  (We probably did.)  But she was always accessible.  She was there.  And I appreciated that.  I assumed that despite my own shortcomings, my children would appreciate that about me.  So that was why I wanted to stay home.

Now, was it the best decision I could have made?  I don’t know.  I don’t regret it.  If I had it to do over again…I think I’d rather die.  But I don’t regret it.  I’ve said it (lots of times) before and I’ll say it again:  I don’t think there are any “best” choices.  There are only the choices you can live with.  Have I had a lot of angst and identity crises and whatnot over the years?  Why do you think this blog exists?  Nevertheless, I made the choice I could live with, and maybe it sucked, but I don’t ever wish I’d done it differently because I don’t think I could have lived with the other choice.  It’s not important to me that other people validate my choice.  I don’t need to invalidate other women’s choices in order to feel comfortable with my choice.  I assume they made the choices they could live with.  I own my choice, and all I ask is that they own theirs.  They can start by not saying how lucky I am.  We’re all lucky to some extent.  And to some extent we all make our own luck.  It’s not a competition.  We don’t need to argue about who’s luckier.

Note that this post isn’t about The Second Shift or feminism or any of that other stuff that my fellow, i.e. sister, bloggers have been writing about.  It’s just my own thoughts about a particular pet peeve of mine, which is the assumptions that people make about women who choose to be full-time caregivers to their own children–that we do it because we’re socio-economic elites, or because we’re good at it, because we don’t have any other ambitions, because playing fifty-three rounds of Animal Friends doesn’t drive us up an effing wall, because we see our families as our careers, blah blah blah.  Sometimes some of that is true.  Sometimes none of it is true.  So, yeah, I’ve made sacrifices for the greater good.  Is it worth it?  When all is said and done, will I have what I hoped I would have?  I only hope so.

EDIT:  I’m going to add another anecdote that will hopefully make my intended point clearer.

I’m guilty of teasing my husband (in the past!) for complaining about business travel.  He gets tired of eating restaurant food and gets sad when he has to come home to an empty hotel room.  To me, coming home to an empty hotel room sounds like freaking paradise.  But I like to be alone.  Not all the time, of course.  But some of the time?  More often than I have had opportunity to be for the last thirteen-and-a-half years?  Yes, yes, yes, please!  My husband, on the other hand, does not like to be alone.  He spends enough time away from his family during the day.  He doesn’t need to be away from us for days on end.

You could say that SD is lucky, and he is.  For one thing, he has a job.  And he gets to go to nice places.  You know, he could be in the military and do all his business travel in war zones.  That would be uncool.  And here’s another thing:  he doesn’t have to do any of this.  He could get another job where he doesn’t have to travel at all.  He could get another job where he doesn’t have to work such long hours.  But he doesn’t.  He works at this job because, from where he stands, the pros outweigh the cons.  Isn’t that how we all make decisions, generally?  To the extent that we have any choices at all?  And I don’t think SD goes around telling men who don’t have to travel how lucky they are.  That would be weird, wouldn’t it?

Another anecdote to bring us back to the SAHM-WOHM theme:  My mother-in-law was a single mother.  Her husband died when SD was four and her other kids were a two-year-old and a four-month-old.  They lived off of Social Security and she stayed home with the kids rather than go to work.  My step-mother was also a single mother.  She and her husband divorced when her two sons were young.  She worked up to three jobs at a time in order to support the family.  I wouldn’t describe either of them as particularly “lucky.”  And I wouldn’t say one made better choices than the other.  Each had her choices limited by life circumstances, and each made the choices she could live with.

Bottom line:  We don’t know what other people want out of life, why they do what they do, what they’ve had to give up or how they feel about it.