In mid-August, the children and I (sans ET, he had to work) went to the North Carolina shore to celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary with all of my extended family members. All of us - grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. - stayed in the same house, so there was much opportunity for conversation and fellowship. On the first evening of the vacation, one of my uncles sat me down at the dining room table for a little chat. Innocently, he asked me when I was planning on going back to work.
"Well, probably not for a little while...I mean, I'd like to get our family settled into our new home before I make any plans to work again," I said, taken a bit off guard, but determined to give a better answer to his next question.
He persisted, "So, you think that you will go back to work in a little while? Maybe next year?"
"Well, actually, I'm pretty sure that I will be staying home with the children, at least until they've started school. I would prefer not to put them in childcare at such a young age, and it's a full-time job just taking care of our family! We were so busy when I was in graduate school, finishing up classes and doing an internship, with C in daycare, and I've really enjoyed the past couple years of being home with the kids. Since I haven't really worked in the field yet, there aren't many opportunities for part-time work, although there are plenty of volunteer opportunities that I'm thinking about. So until the children are school-age, I'll pretty much stay home with them."
Okay, that was a better answer. Now my uncle would understand my priorities and that would be the end of that. Or not...
"Are you planning on having more children?" he asked, with a knowing look on his face.
"Well, yes, that's our hope at least. We always say, one child at a time!" I said in my most cheerful voice.
"How many more children?" he asked.
"Well, like I said, we're taking it one at a time, but we're open to God's plan for our family."
With a look of dismay on his face, "So that's it, you're going to be a stay-at-home mom."
"Um, yes, I guess that's right. Look, Uncle Tom (not his real name), I believe that I use my education every day when I am with my kids, talking to them, teaching them things..."
He continued, now with a pitying look on his face, "It's such a shame, Kat, you're so bright. You worked so hard. You went to Princeton, and now you're just going to stay at home."
He might as well have added, "What a waste," but mercifully he left it at that. I responded with an, "Mmm-hmm, yes, that's what I'm going to do," smiled, and excused myself from the table, not being able to think of anything better to say in the moment. I didn't feel like having to defend my priorities to my uncle when I had just been shamed by him - after all, my whole extended family was close by and had probably heard most of the conversation, and his conclusion was quite clear: I was wasting my education and my talents by deciding not to work outside of the home.
I would imagine that many of us who stay at home have faced similar reactions from family members and friends, and I'm sure that sometimes we are happier with the answers that we give than others. Sometimes we probably walk away from these conversations and start asking ourselves our own set of questions, perhaps going something like this:
"Okay, so why I am staying home again? Am I wasting my degree? I mean, not everyone has the opportunity to go to college and grad school and get a great education...Oh my goodness, maybe he's right, maybe I should be working. I mean, maybe I actually have a social responsibility to be working! But then who would take care of the children? No, hold on, that's the whole reason that I'm not working, I want to stay home and take care of my family! That's my priority right now!"
Everyone's internal monologue is going to be different, and everyone's family is going to have different circumstances and needs. My reason in writing this post is not to garner pity or boast about some saintly path that I have chosen. Far from it: My reason in sharing this story is to offer all of you readers a little window into the thoughts that often fill my mind, with the hope that you will be encouraged if you also have similar thoughts. When it comes down to it, we all struggle to do what is best for our families, not always knowing if we are making the right choices but praying like crazy all along the way. I'm pretty sure that as long as we cling to Our Lord and to our spouses, we'll make it just fine.
May God bless all of us and our families today! Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, pray for us!