A Harvard Law School graduate turned homemaker puts the case for bambinos in the burbs.
Four years ago when I traded in my briefcase for the breast pump, I was bursting with enthusiasm for my new role as a devoted, doting mother hen. I imagined myself as a homemaker diva, baking complex cupcakes while clapping pat-a-cake with rosy-cheeked cherubs.
Three small children later, my novice excitement has been trampled on the battlefield. Although I love my muchkins to pieces, staying home full-time is hard, exhausting work. And to make things even worse, there’s Facebook.
Not that I visit Facebook much anymore, because to be honest, it makes me feel like five-day-old leftovers. When I was in my 20s, staying at home with children is not what I thought I would be doing 10 years after graduating from Harvard Law School. In fact, I remember once telling a friend that I could never bear to be locked away as a housewife in suburbia. And yet, here I am, living in the burbs and spending my days frolicking with three adorable and oblivious bambinos.
Am I loving it? I am loving them, though staying home is no picnic in the park. Every day it involves a lot of spit, sweat and tears. Is this why I have a law degree?
Meanwhile, Facebook informs me that the majority of my old classmates are enjoying lives of professional blissdom as established university professors, directors, partners, and other people of power and importance. Their photos show women with manicures and perfect hair at cocktail parties, laughing over sashimi or steak tartare at working lunches in swanky restaurants, giving lectures at conferences, and hobnobbing with the cream of society. Some of them are high-powered career supermoms, who alternate descriptions of their exciting working world escapades with photos of fantastic family vacations, Pinterest-worthy home decoration projects, and even homemade meals that rival the kitchen of Rachel Ray.
Ah yes, photos like these are just what I need after a day in the trenches. Facebook has made me realize that my days are nothing like those of my friends; rather, my days now resemble those of their nannies. In fact, even the nannies have more in common with my working friends than with me, because they too are pulling in a salary. It seems no one is crazy enough to care for small children without at least getting paid for it.
No one that is, except me. Okay, there are other stay-at-home mothers out there, and I do happen to know a few, but if you were to take an X-ray of my whole neighbourhood in the middle of the day, there would be only a handful of skeletons around. And lest you are wondering, let me assure you that my neighbourhood is not a ritzy upper-class gated community but rather an ordinary middle-class sprawl: my husband is not an Ivy League sugar boy and we choose to live on his income.
It feels lonely at times, which I expected, and I was more or less ready for that. But I didn’t anticipate the Facebook effect. Seeing my friends succeeding and advancing in the working world has made me reflect on the opportunity cost for professional women of staying home with children.
Work that brings income also brings standing in society. Whether a hair stylist or an accountant, a bus driver or a bureaucrat, anyone that earns a wage is given a place at the table and a certain recognition of his or her importance in the common national enterprise. We also often use our paid work to create an identity for ourselves; our job becomes our brand, our niche in the world. One new mother recently told me that she wants to return to work because being a nurse “is who I am”.
Which makes me wonder, now that I am without power suits or income, who am I to the world? The first year of staying home was the honeymoon period when I felt I had the best of both worlds: still a lawyer, but also a Mom. But year two onwards, as my law degree started getting dusty and my working identity faded, I began to feel almost invisible to the world.