There are countless benefits to having kids young that I’m well aware of. Though I didn’t plan it this way, I’m now very glad that my pregnancies, births, and early child-raising years are all taking place in my early- and mid-twenties. Judging by how tired I get on a daily basis, I can’t imagine attempting it in my forties, so kudos to the brave women who do.
Where having kids early doesn’t help, however, is when it comes to developing one’s career. Even though I’m doing important work at home — ensuring that the next generation is raised to be intelligent, conscientious, and compassionate — I can’t help but feel like I’ve missed the boat on something bigger. I hear of my friends continuing on in their post-graduate studies, or finishing up law school, or attending medical school, or transferring overseas for jobs in exotic locations. These friends are in what I think of as “acquisition mode,” acquiring important letters after their names and big dollar amounts in their bank accounts. They’re gaining, growing, expanding, conquering, exploring. Meanwhile, I’m in “giving mode,” where my daily crowning achievement (besides a blog post) might be a loaf of homemade bread or some cookies, which are quickly inhaled by ever-ravenous little boys. I exist in the present, focusing on each day. It’s difficult to think of grander schemes beyond the next load of laundry and the menu plan.
Some people offer reassurance to my voiced concerns, saying, “Just think, when you start working you won’t have to stop for maternity leave. You’ll have nothing holding you back.” That’s true, but in the eyes of an employer I’d also be entering the workforce as a beginner, with no previous workplace experience. I’d be on equal level with any recent university graduate in her early twenties, except that I’ll be in my thirties, which doesn’t make it any better, also because I will have spent a decade “out of the loop.” The overarching problem is that stay-at-home moms are at a disadvantage because our at-home years aren’t given enough credit in this society.
Now imagine if there were enforced gender ratios in the workplace — not necessarily a perfect 50/50 split (it depends on the type of job), but a certain mandated percentage for women. Suddenly women like myself, who have chosen to raise our own children, wouldn’t feel so lost when we start up our careers later in life because employers would be searching specifically for women to fill important roles. Even better, the valuable skills we would have gained throughout the years at home might be acknowledged and respected, instead of seemingly ignored because they don’t translate easily onto a résumé.
As much as I love being at home with my little boys, I can’t help but feel a bit embarrassed and shy when I tell people I’m a stay-at-home mom. I sense ever so slightly that I’m being judged. The interesting thing is to see people’s transformed reactions when I add that I’m a writer for Discovery Communications (that’s my job for Parentables). Instantly, they smile and nod and say, “Oh, that’s wonderful,” whereas, before I said that, they nodded patiently and said, “Yes, well, raising kids is very important work.” No matter how important it is, raising kids and working for money are not considered equal by many people I’ve met; the latter takes precedence and is treated with greater respect than the former. Because I personally think it should be the other way around, that’s why I do the job I do. I just hope that someday my future career doesn’t suffer because I made this choice in my twenties.