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Not terribly long ago one of my children asked: “Mama- when you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?” When I told him “A nurse, a teacher or a marine biologist” he just about fell on the ground laughing. I had no idea what was so funny. He responded innocently, “Oh, it’s just that you don’t seem that professional- like maybe you could be a daycare worker or something.” Wow.

I spent 12 years as a stay-at-home mom and now I’m a work-at-home mom. I don’t get dressed up and leave the house to work very often. I laughed it off but I hated that he didn’t see me as “professional” — I wanted to go and get him my magna cum laude university transcript and somehow explain to him everything I had accomplished before he and his brother and sister were born. Their dad goes off every morning looking sharp and handsome in his suit with his briefcase. I’m usually still in the kitchen in my pajamas surrounded by breakfast dishes- only to get dressed and start my workday after my family are gone to school and work. Yes- I can see why he doesn’t think I am professional.

But I am smart, creative, ambitious and capable- and I want my children to know that.

I was 30 when I had my first baby. I was working in wardrobe in the film and television industry. The hours were really long, but the pay was great. It was demanding work and never dull. It was a DREAM job and I absolutely loved it. The plan was: take a year off (Canada has a generous maternity leave policy) and then go back to work. Why wouldn’t I? I loved my job and I was ambitious. I didn’t even know any stay-at-home-moms.

Soon after my baby was born, I realized going back to work was going to be more complicated than I had thought. Work would mean 60 hour+ weeks- minimum. And my husband also worked in the film business. If we both worked, neither of us would be home during our son’s waking hours. I started seriously thinking about not going back– for lots of reasons. Not only would I never see my son, my ambition had gone out the window when he was born. I didn’t care anymore about being a costume designer or about being anything other than a great mother. I just wanted to be with my boy and I didn’t want to miss anything!

My husband and I also started thinking down the road- what kind of lifestyle did we want? Two working parents with 3 kids sounded pretty stressful and harried. And if I didn’t care about going back to work, it would be really nice to have someone at home. Because I loved being at home (and he didn’t lose his ambition with the birth of our son!) we decided I would stay home until our youngest was in school full-time. To be clear- this wasn’t some martyr move for the good of the children- we know lots of kids whose parents both work and they are fantastic. This was a choice purely for ourselves and the kind of lifestyle we wanted to have.

While our decision for me to stay home was made consciously and delightfully, and I have never regretted it, there have been downsides. (I won’t even get into the financial challenges!) Over the years, my self-esteem took a bit of a hit. When you do a good job at work, chances are someone notices and says something. At home, I fantasized about a positive performance review. Rarely was I congratulated on a job well-done. Everything I did had to be done all over again the next day. My feedback was along the lines of- why am I so mean, why don’t I make food anyone likes, why can’t they watch another show? I missed the sense of accomplishment that came with work- and the sense of purpose it can bring. Telling people I was a stay-at-home mom was often a conversation stopper- how interesting could I be? What could I possibly have to offer? It’s hard to continue to value yourself and your work when your vocation is seen as unimportant. When my youngest went to school, I started my own business and felt like I turned on my brain again.

I see now that this was all ‘small picture’ stuff. All the time I got to spend with my kids and a quieter way of life was the big picture. I am grateful and incredibly happy that I could stay home. But in the day-to-day it was sometimes hard to feel appreciated or like I was doing anything important to anyone but me.

All of this came up for me again when I recently read a blog post about the old working-mom-vs-stay-at-home-mom battle. I usually don’t pay much attention to this debate — I believe that if there is a choice to be made every woman should do whatever she wants to do, guilt- and judgement-free. But this essay struck a chord with me: both the working mom and the SAHM said she made the choice she did so her children would be proud of her.

Are my children proud of me? I don’t know.

As a mom and a feminist, this question weighs on me. I feel slightly sick when I think about this because I don’t know. Did my decision to stay home give them some twisted 50s era ideas about what women can do? Will my daughter be able to look at me and think “My mom can do anything- I can do anything.” Will my sons think that men are more capable and ambitious than women because they saw their dad go to work every morning and their mom cook dinner every night?

These are questions I can’t answer yet. I can only hope that they are proud of me and that when they are older they can appreciate what this decision has meant for me, for them and for our family.

Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 14, 17, and 20). Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to, “We’ve got this!”

Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com

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