The dilemmas facing parents of young children haven’t changed since I raised my 4 daughters in the 70s and 80s. My oldest is 34; my 2nd, 32; my 3rd, 29; my 4th, 25. For 18 months after my first daughter was born, I did some free-lance editing. I stayed home full-time until the youngest started first grade, even though I had originally planned to return in work. I fell head over heels in love with mothering my children.
I stayed home full-time for 14 years until the youngest started first grade. I loved staying home with my 4. I did extensive volunteer work: La Leche League, playgroup coordinator, librarian at their schools, childbirth educator, nursery school treasurer and membership chairperson and took a few grad courses in child development. I am sorry my daughters and sons-in-law will not have that option.
In 1988 I start to work part-time in a nearby library and took two courses a semester toward my master’s degree in library science. When she was 9, 10, 11, I attended social work school full-time. I find myself re-evaluating the choices I made as I take care of my 6-month-old grandson 3 days a week as my oldest daughter works part-time.
My mom stayed home with her 6 children until my youngest brother (sixth child) went to school full-time. I was just leaving for college, so I always enjoyed having a mom at home. My mom went to college, then grad school, and had a successful teaching career, so I was introduced to the idea that it’s never too late. Most of my aunts followed a similar trajectory; my Aunt Rosemarie started law school at age 40 and had a fascinating career as chief counsel to a university president.
By time time I returned to work and school, my mom was available after school and on school holidays. I was blessed not to need any alternative child care arrangement. Even so, trying to go to school part-time and work full-time while my 4 were still at home was very stressful for everyone and might have contributed to the slow death of my 28-year-old marriage. My struggles with manic depression affected every career choice. I couldn’t manage what many saner mothers could.
We managed on one income by living frugally; certainly we had no savings and lived paycheck to paycheck. We only had one car. We vacationed with my parents at their expense. Dining out was reserved for anniversaries and birthdays. College costs required my financial contribution. I would not have the luxury of staying at home now. For example, my house that cost $86,000 24 years ago is now worth $450,000. All our new neighbors are both working parents.
Things are different for Anne, my oldest. First, I am available to take care of her son; I am not working full-time like my mom was when my girls were young. Second, Anne has a job she loves, for which she has prepared by a master’s degree and ten years experience. Her employer knows she is indispensable and wants her on any terms–full-time, part-time, working from home. If I had had a job I loved, and not had to return to grad school to find a field I enjoyed, I probably would have figured out how to work part-time.
Now, I couldn’t possibly have afforded 4 children on one income. I am sad that large families seem a thing of the past in the New York metropolitan area. I suspect two of my girls would have adjusted readily to day care, but two wouldn’t. Full-time group child care is emotionally expensive for some young children. My oldest had difficulty adjusting to all-day kindergarten. When I asked her why she was being so impossible, she told me, “I used all my goodness up in school.”
But every family has to find what works for them. In an ideal world both parents would have flexible schedules so they would have more time at home. One of the many things that distresses me about the mommy wars is how it seems taken for granted that dads can’t and don’t want to stay home