A reader says, "I know of several stay-home moms who have filthy homes and put their kids in front of the TV while they chat on the phone all day. I know several working mothers for whom working fulfills them as people, energizes them, and gives them more energy, patience, and attentiveness for their families. Different scenarios work for different people."
First off, just the fact that a mother stays home does not make her automatically better than the mothers who also work outside the home. If the stay-at-home mother has no vision, no self-discipline, no goal of serving her family through devoting most of her time to them, she might well slip into habits of laziness, selfishness and self-indulgence. The most precious resource wives and mothers at home have is their own time. Since no one stands over us to make sure we don't waste it, it's important that we do it ourselves.
Second, I have often heard women say, "oh, I could never stay at home full-time, it would drive me crazy" - yet when the arguments are analyzed, often it turns out that their desire to work outside the home actually has to do with things that aren't strictly related to their work. Most women here where I live don't have very ambitious careers, they have jobs. They are secretaries, preschool teachers, school social workers, school psychologists; for many of them, the issues with which they deal at work are similar to what they face at home (whiny toddlers or disobedient teenagers, for example). Yet what prompts them to go out and take care, for example, of someone else's kids instead of focusing on their own?
"Going to work stimulates me to dress up nicely, get out of the house, talk to people," I often hear. Well, you know what? If I were to be stuck within four walls wearing my frumpiest clothes for weeks on end, I would probably become depressed pretty quickly! I might not dress up every day, but I always put on such clothes as wouldn't make me blush if an unexpected visitor comes along. Besides, it's my husband I want to look pretty for, not strangers! And we go out every day. Co-workers are not the only people with whom one can socialize. Admittedly, for me meeting fellow moms is quite easy - all I need to do is step out to the playground. Some need to go out of their way to make social contacts, but I can't think of a situation when it might not be possible at all.
Some say they must work for the money. Interestingly enough, those are often women who work as preschool teachers or social workers (both are low-paid jobs in Israel), while their husbands work very nice jobs with good salaries. So, they do have something at the end of the month left after daycare and travel costs are deduced, but it isn't that much compared to what their husbands make. Now, for some families this little something might be all that enables them to pay their rent or mortgage, but for some, it's no more than a perk-up they are perfectly capable of doing without. The peace and stability and the gentler rhythm of life that are gained by having a mother at home are worth it, even if it means living simply and reducing costs.
Another thing to remember is that you can't plan special moments with your family. You can't say, OK, I finish work at 6, come home at 7, and until 8 p.m. the children will have the time of their life with me, which will make up for me being absent all day long. It just doesn't work this way. A relationship is built around the mundane, around the daily rhythm of breakfast, play time, lunch, a walk, dinner... and the spontaneous moments in between, when your child reaches to take your hand, or runs to you to show you a curious something they have found. Things like that cannot be scheduled in advance. They are lived moment by moment, day by day.
It is true not all families fit the same mold. Sometimes a father is absent, sometimes the family is going through a period of illness, debt, or other stress. I just feel we ought to always think what we value most. What is truly precious, what will matter as we approach the winter of our days.