I have lately become very doubtful about the reply I usually give when I am asked why I stay home to raise my children; more often than not, I say that I wouldn’t be able to earn enough to cover the costs of daycare and still have a sum of any significance left at the end of the month, which, combined with the difficulties of commute from where we live, the fact that we don’t have a second car, and I don’t even have a driver’s license… etc, etc.
Is the above true? Yes, it is. But lately I began to feel more and more strongly I have a problem with continuing to say those things, because it’s like saying, “I’m a victim of my circumstances. If only I had chosen a profession that would enable me to earn more, or if I could get someone to watch my children for me without having to worry about the cost of it, I could be earning a paycheck.”
In short, it is implied from what I say that it would be perfectly alright for me to leave my children in the care of a stranger for the largest part of the day and week, if only I could ensure I get enough money in return.
If it’s all about the money, no wonder the first thing well-meaning people start suggesting is how I could earn more while obtaining the lowest possible cost of daycare. “Women who work full-time get government benefits and daycare funding, you know”. Yes, the sad irony of this is that working part-time in Israel, for a mother, is often worse than not working at all, which means that very often, women at typical “feminine” professions who work half-time are actually worse off than if they would have stayed at home. This is meant to induce women to work full-time.
The full truth and the real, unequivocal reason for a mother to stay at home with her children, in my eyes, is not at all about money, but it’s so very difficult to get up and say it, when asked about it, because it would pass off as extremely odd or judgmental; most mothers where I live are either working outside the home, or staying at home on a temporary and semi-involuntary basis.
No doubt home is the first in their list of priorities, but I’m afraid it would still be taken in the wrong way if I explicitly state my belief that it is better for the children to have their mother at home on a permanent basis, even if, at a superficial glance, the family is financially worse off for it. I’m not saying unable to make ends meet, as someone will undoubtedly suggest; merely unable to put off a larger sum in a savings account each month, or to afford things like a second vehicle, trips abroad or a lot of extracurricular activities for the children.
I suppose that in a small community like the one we live in, the inducement is even greater to avoid direct confrontation and clash of opinions. The downside of this is, that I present my situation – which really is blissful, staying with my dear children in a nice and pleasant home, always with plenty to keep me busy but without the enormous additional pressure of a job outside the home – as an inevitable, irksome circumstance, rather than a conscious choice made for the benefit of my entire family.
I’m afraid many of us will have to continue facing this dilemma, on how to confront our family, friends and general well-wishers who aren’t really familiar with our ideas, until homemaking as a full-time career becomes an acceptable choice once more. But will it become an acceptable choice if we never defend it for what it is?
It should be done in an extremely careful and very gracious way, of course. I imagine it would be enough to make a fellow mother fire up and become defensive, simply by saying “I think my children are better off at home with their mother and not at all in need of all-day-long interaction with their peers in a daycare center”. Even if I put emphasis on the words “my children”, not anyone else’s, there is still no hiding I believe the above is true for nearly all young children. I have no wish at all to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I do not want to continue presenting my own situation as second-best, while I believe it is the absolute best for everyone involved.