Reader participation appreciated!
I was a child of the 1970s and 80s. My mother worked and/or attended graduate school during those same years while generally being home to care for me when school was out. I believed what I saw and what my parents told me: women can be whatever they want to do. I went from college to graduate school and studied to become a physician assistant, a choice I made at the end of my undergraduate education. Nearly two decades after that educational choice, I have no regrets about it.
With only a fuzzy idea of what it would mean to have children and an even fuzzier understanding of how much child care would work, I set upon my path. When I was 27, I had my older son, returned to work part-time four months later, and set one foot in the world of home and the other in the world of work. When my younger came along, four years later, I elected to stay home. A year and a half later, I took a PA job every other Saturday. I figured when both kids were in school that I’d return to more hours.
But they never both ended up in school. And here I remain, working alternate Saturdays and homeschooling. I’m happy it’s like this. It’s worked well for my kids thus far, and it’s worked well for me. I don’t look back and wonder “what if” and generally feel content with the rhythm of my life and the path I’ve chosen. No one made me stay home. It was a decision my then-husband and I reached together, both of us yearning for more simplicity than the lives we had with a (repeatedly ill) child in daycare and us each working over half-an-hour from said child. I was on a corporate step-stool while he was climbing the corporate ladder. It made sense for me to be the one stay home.
I didn’t wonder about what message my choice gave my sons until well after I started homeschooling. As my world filled with women at home and their children, I started to wonder what my sons would expect of their partners someday. Would they assume them to stay home with the children and homeschool them? Had I damned their futures of two fronts, first by planting the idea that moms should always be at home and second by demonstrating homeschooling as the only way to an education, a way almost always paved by women? Oh, can my mind take some wild rides.
Sure, I work a bit in the area which I received my professional degree. I’ve maintained my license and my skills. I’ve also slowly nurtured a writing habit, if not yet a career. I volunteer in my church and community. I have hobbies, intellectually stimulating adult friends, and time for just me. They know (or at least I remind them often) that I am more than just their Mom. My refrain rings loud: “I love you both beyond all reason and will always do so. I work harder than you can now to help you grow into the astounding people I know you can be. BUT, there is more to my life than parenting you two. I am my own person.” I usually follow this with a verse about not interrupting me or the virtues of cleaning up after oneself, which likely is tuned out.
A mental step back helps me gain some perspective and at least a bit of comfort. A good part of gender equality has to do with equal choices and opportunities. Staying home when the boys were young and homeschooling were certainly choices I made. So here I am, doing what I wanted to do. It’s not what I wanted to do when I finished school. It’s not what I planned to do when I had my first child or even when I sent him off to first grade. But it is what I want to do now, what I’ve largely loved doing for over seven years. I’ve clearly had a choice — many choices — and this is the one that works best for me and my boys, at least for now.
What matters, I think, it the matter of choice and peace with that choice. I’m at peace with the choice I’ve made. I’m satisfied and fulfilled, not just as a mom or educator of my kids but as a human being. Perhaps I’m not modeling woman-in-the-corporate-world for my sons, but I am modeling some fine characteristics for either gender to have. There is a fair amount of strength, determination, and creativity required when homeschooling kids, and all three are characteristics I’m proud to pass to my sons. I like to think I’m also teaching them about flexibility and courage. It’s okay to step off the “right” way and go a different way. It takes a bit of courage to step out of the established paths of school and work and forge a new way.
What I don’t know is if any of those lessons about strength, flexibility, courage, and all translate to their appreciation for the many ways a woman (or man) can live in the world. I hope it gives them the courage to adjust to what life throws them. I hope they learn that the beaten path isn’t the only or the best path, and that taking care of the people in their lives comes before taking care of things. I hope they learn that women, whether at work, at home, or both, have the choice of where and how to show their creativity, strength, and courage. I hope the understand that either choice is valid if made freely.
So today, the day after International Women’s Day, I’ll set aside my concerns. I’d like to hear from others who wonder how their choices will influence their children’s view of gender roles as they reach adulthood. Your turn.