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Why I'm at Home
Photo by Shaggy Paul

A little while ago I started a firestorm when I wrote about planning my daughter's future--and how we should consider a career choice that would make it easier to stay home with kids, should she choose to do that.

It made me think back to my own decision to stay at home, which was definitely NOT something I thought I would be doing. And then I read this article called "Why I'm at Home" by an educated woman whose journey sounds identical to mine. Heather Koerner writes,

I'm sure it started in my own day care experience. After attending a group day care for much of my childhood, I took different jobs during my college breaks as a child care worker and nanny. Though most of my co-workers were nice, sweet ladies who tried to make the day pleasant for kids, I still began to see that there was something unique and special about a parent's love that a child care worker could never duplicate. Even with my one-on-one time as a nanny, I saw that, as much as I cared about my job, it was still that — a job.

But what about me, I would wonder. I'm a well-adjusted, productive member of society and I came through day care just fine. What's the problem?

I thought about that — hard. Then the answer came to me in three little words: in spite of. Day care had not made my childhood happy. My childhood was happy in spite of my time in day care. It was my parents' individual attention each night and on weekends that helped me to thrive. It wasn't that the days were always bad, but that my parents' love was always best.

I started to ask myself the hard questions: Who is going to raise my child someday? Will the nights and weekends be enough?

Her whole article is really worth reading, but I thought I'd take her example and tell you all my journey.

My earliest memories are of lying on a cot in a day care, with a teacher rubbing my back. I loved that teacher. I was scared of everyone else (even the other kids), but that teacher (I believe she was an immigrant from Romania who didn't speak much English) loved me and I loved her. She was the only good thing about day care. I remember crying until she would hold my hand. I remember hiding in corners. I remember being forced to eat cheese (I HATE cheese).

I was in day care because my father had left us and my mother had to work. She had looked into becoming a foster parent to see if that could give us enough money so she could stay home, and it didn't. So she hated to leave me behind, and she marched off to work.

I grew up with a single, professional mother who worked hard to provide. The rest of my relatives (most of whom are women; we don't do boys in my family) also are very well educated, most with at least a Master's degree. My aunt had worked part time as a doctor, with a nanny the other half of the time. My role models were not stay at home moms.

So I always assumed I would be a professor. I would work part-time, write amazing papers, and still have summers off and time with the kids.

I pursued higher education, and did well. I earned scholarships. I kept wracking up degrees (I have three). We married in our fourth year of university, because we knew there was no point in waiting; we both would be in school for years. And I was earning enough money in graduate scholarships and research positions that we didn't really need to wait.

My husband was from a blue collar family. His mom had stayed home, and that was all he knew. I always felt sorry for her that she didn't have more opportunities (I thought of her as a "stay at home mom" then, as a category, not really as the mom I know now). I was enlightened. I could take on the world, and the kids would fit right in!

Keith wasn't so sure, but he held back his reservations because how can you argue against a woman working? That would be sexist.

And so it was that I started applying for Ph.D. positions in Toronto, where Keith would be doing his residency in pediatrics. I won another scholarship. I was on the right track.

Then one day I had to deliver a presentation to my Master's class about a certain sociologist. I couldn't understand a word this guy was talking about. It was all so vague, and airy fairy, and convuluted, but I had to present it, so I did the best I could.

At the end of the presentation everyone applauded. I got 100%. The professor said that was the best he'd ever seen; that I just made Baudrillard come to life and explained him so well.


Excuse the term, but there is no other adequate substitute: I had BS'ed my way through. And everyone thought it was great.

It became clear to me that the professor didn't know what this guy was talking about, either (even though the professor was a specialist in this particular guy). And I thought to myself: do I really want to spend my life in academia, pretending the whole time?

Five minutes after that presentation I called Keith and said, "let's get pregnant instead."

And so ended my academic career.

We did get pregnant, and we moved to Toronto. I was so sick with Rebecca. Have you ever just prayed to throw up? I prayed that prayer straight for nine months and I never did. With Katie I could throw up like clockwork, every morning at 8:30, and felt so much better. It is way worse to not throw up than to throw up.

But in the meantime, even though I had decided to have kids and I had decided not to pursue a Ph.D., I hadn't really decided anything else. My future was still open.

And in Toronto, I had a job working with a consultant company doing their graphic design and databases. It paid fairly well, but it was a half hour subway ride away.

After doing this for three months (during which I had become indispensable), I sat on the subway one morning, praying not to puke before I got off (at which point I would begin the prayer again that I would indeed puke), and I asked myself, "why am I doing this? Why am I going on a subway an hour a day when I feel horrible?" We didn't really need the money. And I felt lousy.

So I quit. And was promptly hired to work from home by the same company, which I did for the next five years, off an on, just on little projects.

Then Rebecca was born, and I started going out to parks with her, and playing with her, and having a grand old time. And I realized, I don't want to go to work. I want to stay right where I am.

My commitment to being a stay at home mom came gradually. It wasn't something I ever thought I'd do. I was following the path I was told I should follow: I was getting an education, I was working, I was making something of myself. And even though it was silly, I never questioned it until a breaking point came, and then I realized, "I don't have to do this. No one is making me do this except for me."

So we decided not to buy a car. We didn't buy a house. We shopped at thrift stores and didn't go out to eat very much. We saved as much as we could, and then we moved to a cheaper city, where Keith's family was, as soon as we could get out of Toronto. HIs classmates were buying homes and cars and everything expensive, and we were living in a small apartment. But we had a great time, and the lack of money didn't really bother us at all.

I would occasionally chat with his female colleagues about the problems they were having with their nannies, who didn't like to stay after 6, and who didn't like to do housework. Why couldn't these women mop the floors and care for the kids and get dinner ready? Was that too much to ask?

And I would listen and wonder what planet they were on, because I didn't have time to do most of that, either. I spent a lot of the time out with my kids, because the apartment was small. She was asking the nanny to stop playing with the kids and clean the house all day. And then I just stopped listening.

I'm like Heather, who wrote that first article. I'm okay in spite of the day care, not because of it. But I don't want my kids to grow up and be okay in spite of anything. I want to give them the best, and the best is me. They need their mom.

I know some women will make different choices, but I guess my question is this: are they really your choices? I never really understood that staying at home was a valid choice. I never even really made it; I drifted into it, little by little. It was only in retrospect that I am passionate about it. I did what I was supposed to do, and didn't think twice about it. Is that really a choice?

When women sign up for a postgraduate degree, are they making a true choice for themselves, or are they doing what is expected of them? When they go back to work after the baby comes, is it a true choice, or have they never really thought that maybe there is an alternative?

It sounds silly, but I never saw the alternative. I always thought I'd get a Ph.D. because that's what you're supposed to do. So I'd encourage young women everywhere: MAKE A CHOICE. A real choice. Recognize that you could honestly do either: you could have a career, or you could stay at home. They both are legitimate. (I know some Christians argue the career isn't, but just let that go for a minute for the sake of argument).

They are not both presented as legitimate in our education system or in many of our families. Instead, it's assumed that women will work, will make a ton of money, will make a name for themselves. And thus, staying at home isn't really a choice.

But it is. It is your life. What do you want to do with it? Or more importantly, what is God calling you to do with it? Wrestle it out. I'm not going to tell you what to do, because I believe God can do that when you go to Him. All I'm going to say is that you have permission to make a choice. You do not HAVE to pursue a career. You do not HAVE to pursue a ton of education. You can choose, either way, to go the way that God wants you to go.

Are you open to leaving it in His hands, and maybe bucking the tide? I hope you are. It was so freeing once I said, I can make my own path in my life. And I'm so glad I did.

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At 8:02 AM , Blogger Christie said…

My mother stayed at home with us until I, the youngest, was nine and we could be latchkey kids. It was lonely and I needed her still. Even with that experience under my belt I just assumed I'd work. Everybody works, right?

My husband felt otherwise. He insisted on my going to part-time before our first pregnancy to try it out. Then when the baby came and I cried every time I had to leave him with someone, he suggested moving to a cheaper place where staying home full-time was a real possibility.

I never looked back. I'm so happy my husband knew me well enough to know that I'd be most fulfilled raising my children and staying home. I am so glad he was committed and I was open to listening.


At 8:52 AM , Anonymous Mary said…

My mom dropped out of college (after 2-1/2 years) when she had me. She stayed home with us and took care of other children in addition to her own three. By the time I was in high school, I became aware of the sacrifices she had made for us. She had the three of us, ages 10-15, and as many as 5 others, ages 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8. She loved us tremendously (and still does, of course), and she loved those other children, too. But I listened when she told me that, as much as she loved them, she just wasn't their mother. She could never love them like she loved us.
When we were old enough, she took a class here and there - taking us along with her if she had to. But she waited until her youngest was in high school and the other children had moved on before she went back to college full-time and finally earned her bachelor's degree - with my children cheering for her, too.
I always knew I would stay at home with my children, thanks to my mom. Financially, it's a struggle. We earned/bought our first house from Habitat for Humanity over 10 years into our marriage. We still have only one vehicle. But I wouldn't trade this time for anything. I won't have the chance to ever get these years back. And I know without a doubt that I will never regret being here. The other stuff can wait. My girls will only be young once, for such a short time, and I am so blessed and thankful to spend that short time with them.


At 11:46 AM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

My mom stayed home with us, full time, until my dad's factory (the single largest employer in our town) went on strike. For several months. With several hundred unskilled workers suddenly looking for jobs, things were crazy. My dad was one of the "lucky ones" because - as an electrician - he had a trade. But even at that things were difficult. He commuted 2 1/2 hours to a job at a shipyard that would've thrown OSHA into conniptions, he set chokers for a logging outfit, and I don't remember what else. And we still weren't making it.

(I know that isn't really germaine, but I feel like defending my dad! He really tried hard to find enough work!)

At the time, I was in Grade 7 with a sister in Grade 5 and a brother in Grade 3. My mom, (trained as a Speech Therapist, or SLP in today's lingo), was able to get work as a substitute teacher.

That's ideal, right? She could turn down work if one of us was sick, and she worked roughly the same hours we were in school anyway. And at 12, 10, and 8, we were old enough to be home unsupervised for 30 minutes or so after school, until she arrived.

But we still hated it. It wasn't a matter of being frightened or unsafe, we just wanted her there when we got home. Even as a 12 year old (I got home first) I remember being disappointed when she wasn't there. I'm not faulting her, just telling how I felt about it. My parents did the best they could in a very difficult time.

I want my boys to have that security that I am there - physically present - for them. That they are more important than stuff and vacations and cars, etc. With the economy, lately, it's getting more and more difficult. Praying we can keep this up,



At 12:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

You knew you were going to hear from me....I think what you (and so many other women) omit is in addition to the xyz reasons of why you stay home is that you could do it financially. Even if it would be tight, you could do it.

I work because I love my children. And I trust the Lord that they will grow up right, not "in spite of" something, but because they know their parents love them.

Nurse Bee


At 4:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

i have a two year old and an 11 year old stepdaughter and we are finally making a way for me to stay at home. our disposable income is going WAAAAY down, but we are learning to trust the Lord in this decision. And it's time; it's where my heart has been for a long time already . . .


At 5:38 PM , Blogger Mrs.C said…

I was asked one day, by a new neighbor, back when our girls were only 2 1/2 and a newborn, why I was staying home? I simply told this young mother that my husband and I believed God gave these children to us to raise and no one else. It was like a light bulb came on in her head, she had never thought outside the box before then(she said later), and from that moment on, she set out on a plan to be able to be home with her children. She went from career Mom to SAHM.

I'm so thankful that God led my husband and I in this direction, we have blessed beyond measure by following His will for our family! I know others will too, if they follow God's will for theirs.


At 7:33 PM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

This is so heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time.

I know not everyone is able to be home even though they may want to be (like your mom, Sheila). I try to remember this on the days that being a stay-at-home mom feels hard: Being home is a gift.

We waited eight years to have children, and never relied on my salary to live on, so it was an easy transition "home" when the twins were born. Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to be a mom. And while I've taken a few part-time gigs during different seasons (my husband's unemployment), I couldn't wait to quit and be home full-time again. Obviously, when you need to buy groceries, you take the job. But I kept asking the Lord to please let me be home full-time again. And here I am.

Grateful. :-)


At 10:35 PM , Blogger Allyson said…

I, personally, grew up in a daycare. It didn't start off that way, but when my grandma died (she was the one who took care of me while my brother was at school and parents were at work) it was the only option. And while you say that kids or adults who have grown up in daycare are fine today "in spite of it," I would like to say that I'm fine because of it.

When my grandma died and we came across this home-based daycare that was lead by a Christian woman and was very close to our house, I absolutely loved it. I got to spend all day with other kids and go on fun outings.... what's not to love about that for a 5-year-old? But that daycare was also the place that I met one of my best friends. We met 14 1/2 years ago (15 years this summer), and I am so incredibly blessed to have her in my life. She has helped me through so much that I couldn't have gotten through without having a friend to talk to.

I also like to say I'm "okay" because of daycare because my parents were able to put both my brother and me through a private, Christian school kindergarten-12th grade because they both worked. Had they not both been working, I would have ended up in the public school system (which, as we all know, isn't the greatest these days). These may not seem linked, but if both of my parents weren't working they wouldn't have been able to afford schooling for us.

Don't get me wrong, I have such a respect for stay at home moms. I honestly think they have one of the hardest "jobs," especially when the kids are really young and run all over the place. I don't see myself doing that personally once I get married and have kids, mostly because I've seen the financial strain that can be there even with two incomes. But whatever the Lord has in store for me is what will happen, and I can only anticipate to follow His will for my life.


At 2:00 AM , Blogger MamaMidwife said…

Just the affirmation I needed today Sheila!

I recently "officially" withdrew from college after having our 4th baby. A woman I know in the same field received her degree this week and posted on FB. She has 3 kids under 5 and is due in May. I felt awful reading it. Like I was a loser for giving up.

But I love my kids. Daycare was awful when I was a child. I worked in it as an adult and saw how awful it is now. No one lives a child like a parent, especially mom.

We go without a lot of things because I am home. I never thought I'd be home either. Everyone works, right?

I know this is what God wants for me. He has been nudging me here for years (and I've been home for almost 5 years all the while taking classes and apprenticing to get my degree). I finally gave in and it couldn't be a better decision.

I know my kids. I am with them. They know I will always be here for them. That matters the most.


At 5:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Hahaha! "Excuse the term, but there is no other adequate substitute: I had BS'ed my way through. And everyone thought it was great... And I thought to myself: do I really want to spend my life in academia, pretending the whole time?" :-)

I've committed to writing a paper that I didn't really want to but got pressured because the publishers wanted something from a developing country. Now, I struggle with researching and presenting arguments that I don't really care about. Sigh! Since I'd like to be true to my commitments, 'even when it hurts,' I'm relying on God's grace to do this. But I'd be sure not to get pressured again for any other future requests!

On another note: My mom pursued an academic career but was mostly available after school hours because her flexible hours. She committed to full time faculty/administrative work when we (the children) got older.



At 4:56 PM , Blogger Amy said…

Oh have no idea how much I needed to see this today!


At 10:00 PM , Anonymous Julie Sibert said…

Love this post Sheila. I was fortunate to come across it when you mentioned it in a comment you left on Dustin's blog.

Anyway, wisely put. Thank you for being so candid, which I think resonates so much for so many people.

I've done it all.. worked in the corporate world, worked full time, worked part time, worked at a church, stayed home, worked from home, etc.

I now work from home due to a layoff four years ago, which was the best thing that happened to me. I love being with my kids, being available for my mother-in-law (who is homebound), seeing my husband more, etc.

There ARE so many choices available! It can be painfully nerve-racking to trust God in it all and to seek His face, but wow what a difference it makes in the journey.


At 11:56 AM , Anonymous Donetta said…

What a beautiful story!! I loved reading every bit of it! It makes me so sad that society has made women think they have to have a career in order to "be someone." Being a stay-at-home mom is the highest honor and greatest career path that exists in my opinion. I've loved it more than anything - and I've been at it for 18 1/2 years! :)

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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