To Mother, or Not to Mother?

On a return flight from a relaxing weekend in North Carolina, my choice of airplane entertainment caught the attention of two fashionable ladies seated next to me. They were impressed that I was reading Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s "10 Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships," and I soon realized that I was in the presence of two proud, full-time mothers. They told me about their love for their children, activism in their churches, appreciation for conservative women like Dr. Laura, and disdain for liberal groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW).

In the midst of the Mommy Wars, many believe that being a stay-at-home mother is both ridiculous and shameful. The women who choose to be full-time mothers — a number shown to have increased to 5.4 million in the latest U.S. Census data — might disagree.

A question often addressed to small children is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Common answers from the youngsters include teachers, astronauts, and firemen. My college-age friends and I carry on this same discussion, although my response has varied over the years. I am now pleased to say that I am sure of my answer. I am taking advantage of a postsecondary education and hope to attend law school. I hope to make a difference, attain career satisfaction, and be truly happy. Truth be told, I want to be a stay-at-home mother knowing that I will find contentment and fulfillment in doing so.

It is likely that when I graduate from the University of Oklahoma’s School of Law, my dream of one day leaving my career to stay at home with my children will place me in an incredibly slim minority. That’s what the feminists tell me, anyway. Radicals like Linda Hirshman, the author of “Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World,” which has raised outrage from mothers across the country, accuses these mothers of “letting down the team” and states that “an educated, competent adult’s place is in the office.” She implies that a capable woman staying home with her children is not admirable. What about the capable Americans that set at home, watching As the World Turns and collecting government checks? Why not criticize them, and leave the mothers alone?

After having children, many women in the workforce have little desire to scurry back to work. The maternal desire overtakes them, and if they have their way, they find themselves wiping noses, making macaroni and cheese, and cleaning up PlayDough for the next few years. This makes my case different in that as a single college student (with a boyfriend!) I have already made the decision that I will stay at home to tend to my house and raise my children. During the probable 40-plus years that a person is able to work, spending several years at home with the children is not a difficult proposition to accept; I am more than willing to leave my career when I become a mother. Many mothers strongly feel the need to be the prominent influence in their child’s life, as opposed to a babysitter or childcare facility, during the most influential and vital learning years for little ones.

Feminists argue that a mother’s leaving the workforce results in a hard financial blow. In “7 Myths of Working Mothers,” author Suzanne Venker suggests that full-time mothers “accept that living on a budget is a simple fact of life. For some women (and men), the idea of scaling back or doing without is unthinkable, so they convince themselves that a second income is necessary for their children’s happiness and well-being.” The reality is that a mother staying at home is possible for the average American family; many women seeing impossibility in the income cut that leaving their careers would cause actually can’t fathom the thought of losing their high society lifestyles. A full-time mother may have to (surprise!) rely on her husband for financial support, but being present for a child’s first steps and words, while also impacting his or her core values, is priceless. Joan K. Peters, the author of “When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Our Selves,” states, “Children want mothers who take care of their own needs and who remain a part of the world.” An obvious advocate of working mommies, I can’t help but wonder whether she actually polled the youngsters for which she speaks. Doubtful.

I fear that many working mothers, when looking back on their lives, will feel regret at their decision of leaving their young children for the office. Jackie Kennedy once said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” All children deserve love, happiness, and time. When I marry and have a family, I may not be the wealthiest or hippest mother in the neighborhood. But I will be enjoying the opportunity to spend time at home nurturing my precious blessings, commonly referred to as children.