Truth: I didn’t become a stay at home parent because of a burning desire to spend every moment with my children.
Truth: After my second parental leave, I returned to my corporate position two months earlier than required. I LOVED my work…and my kids – but also, my work.*
I was an unlikely candidate for the stay-at-home role, but when we moved across the country to be closer to our extended family, I had a decision to make: apply for a new job, or stay at home. I chose to stay at home.
As parents, we know when our kids need us more than usual: sometimes, it’s for an hour, a day, a year. When our family moved, I was confident my youngest would be fine no matter what. I could leave him with a pack of wolves for three years and he’d still be all rainbows and butterflies upon his rescue. Amelia (my oldest), however, was just going into grade one, and had a sensitive, shy personality. I felt I needed to be there to help her navigate things. I considered myself more of a “See How the Year Goes Parent” than a stay at home parent.
Actually, the year went well. I aligned Amelia with some good children and had after school play dates to strengthen her new friendships. I caught up on the school goings-on during our walks home from school, and was around enough to identify when Amelia was being bullied by a neighbourhood kid. My choice to stay home was definitely the right thing for our family.
Here’s where the feminist in me kicks in. As was the case for us, there are times when it makes sense for one spouse to leave the work force and focus on the family. If you have the luxury of making this choice, you’re luckier than most. But when push comes to shove, it’s almost always the female who leaves the work force. There are many reasons for this, a common one being that men are often the primary income earners. The call for pay equity in the workplace is beyond the scope of this post, but I have to acknowledge it, because I believe it would resolve a good portion of this issue.
What I want to talk about is the other part of the equation. People say things like, “sometimes a kid just needs her mom,” but most of the time, a kid just needs a nurturing parent – and that role isn’t gender specific. If we, as a society, teach our boys that being nurturing is not only acceptable, but desirable, we create an environment where men can find the same joy from staying at home that many women find from it. In doing so, we diminish the unspoken career judgement that happens when men take parental leave, or leave the workforce for other family-related reasons.
So, how do I help drive that change? I encourage my son to be nurturing. When people raise an eyebrow because he plays with dolls, I remind them that boys also grow up to be parents. I teach my daughter and son that there are no “boy/girl jobs.” I play lego with both of them. I raise them in a home where chores are divided not by gender, but by availability. I leave the kids with my husband for a few days at a time so they don’t think child-rearing is gender-specific. And when my son is older, I will read our favourite book, “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” to him alongside my daughter. None of these things are dependent on my employment status. Thank goodness!
*Please note that I have purposely used the term “Stay at home parent” instead of stay at home Mom. Same thing for “parental leave” in lieu of “maternity leave.” Let’s change the way we talk about these things!