I managed to form an attitude when I chose to stay home with my kids from 1982 through 1993. There were eleven years in that sweep, and these were the sweetest eleven years of my life. But attitudes towards women who stayed out of the work-for-money club hit a low during these years. I've mentioned this before, but it bears mentioning again: the decision to stay home with your babies is as altruistic as joining the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Boarders. We mommies just didn't have the right PR group representing us (or maybe NO PR group?).
I had a lot of friends who did work when their children were small, but often it was for personal enrichment, not necessity. That said, I also had friends who worked because they had to, due to divorce, death, spousal illness, etc. I understand the decision to feed the kids. I don't understand the decision to feed the ego.
It didn't hurt that these were the "materialistic" years of my generation. You just weren't cool if you didn't have your nails done weekly, drive a BMW, vacation in Cancun or otherwise practice conspicuous consumption. The thought of doing without the latest video game was as acceptable as diphtheria. Looking back, those old games systems were always passe within six months of buying them, but the bragging rights were eternal. A reality check: the generation who brought us flag burning, calling returning GI's "Baby Killers" and Jane Fonda Workouts also brought the attitude that women who remained out of the work force while their children were home were absolute zombies.
During this time, the concept of "Take your daughter to work" day evolved. It was a good idea, since all women need to be able to provide for their families. But the idea went way off course when little girls were discouraged from focusing on parenting if that was what made their happy button chime. We turned into a horde of name-calling insult hurling baby boomers and that just wasn't what Women's Rights were all about.
Or was it?
It seemed to me that women LOST rights during this phase. We lost the right to chose, for ourselves, our life's course and our priorities. We lost the right to nurture with pride, coupon clip with pride, volunteer with pride or otherwise express our individuality with pride. This isn't to say that gains weren't made, but explicitly, self-respect and personal pride were of no importance when it came to The Movement.
One year, when "Take your daughter to work day" rolled around, I had a catharsis. What if a stay-at-home mother stood up and represented motherhood as a worthy career? I sucked in my breath, showed up at school the day that our middle school had scheduled for career women to come in and proselytize , and advocated to those students present that motherhood was as valuable career as any other. It didn't go over well with the teachers on site. But I made my point. Academically, child development was worthy as a PhD program, so why NOT respect it in the trenches?
I also returned to work-for-money when my kids were older. It was a natural step for us. I wanted my kids to see me as a person who could manage a home, disease (MS) and a career. But when all of that became too much, I opted out of the career. Home came first.
The choice to work-for-money after giving birth is always the woman's option. The only opinion she should consider is her partner's. But in the end, it's HER call.
Note that I didn't call it "working mother" rather than work-for-money. ALL mothers are working mothers.