It seems to be very common these days for stay-at-home moms to say that they ‘gave up a lucrative career’ in order to raise their kids. That specific phrase seems to be very common in the mommy blogger world. Personally, I didn’t give up a lucrative career. I was working full time as a department head at Hobby Lobby when I met my husband, and very quickly became aware of the “double shift” phenomenon that certain groups like to talk about. However, the strain wasn’t that I was working all day then coming home to a man who expected me to do all the housework, but rather in the fact that my job was interfering with my overwhelming desire to please him and care for him. I desperately wanted to show my love for him by giving him a pleasant home, but I couldn’t do that because my job kept me too tired. When I told him of my frustrations, he agreed to take on all of the financial responsibility, and I agreed to take on all of the household chores — I quit my job, and have never felt any desire to go back to work since.
The phrase, “I gave up a lucrative career in order to be a stay-at-home mom,” has a lot of problems.
First, the idea of “giving something up” implies that there was a sacrifice relative to the choice that was actually made — “It would have been better (for me) to keep my job, but I gave it up.” The phrase doesn’t describe the choice as being inspired by love, but instead as something that they were compelled to do at personal cost.
Second, the use of the word ‘lucrative’ emphasizes a focus on material gain. These women aren’t portraying their careers as being a routine career that they perhaps enjoyed doing, but instead as a high-paying career that would have landed them in the lap of luxury for the rest of their lives, if only they hadn’t decided to quit. Given typical female career tracks and professional conduct, I am inclined to believe that this is actually an exaggeration — which inflates importance of their former careers, making the supposed sacrifice that they made appear all the greater.
Third, the construction is self contradictory: on one hand, the magnitude of the ‘sacrifice they’ve made’ is exaggerated, creating the impression of martyrdom; on the other hand, they discuss it in terms of their ‘choice’ to become a mother, and present it as a decision to be lauded. This way they can gain sympathy for giving something up, while also gaining recognition for doing something worth doing. So which is it? Is motherhood better than having a career, or is having a career better than motherhood? And if they’re equal, how is choosing one or the other a ‘sacrifice’?
Fourth, they treat it as being perfectly natural for a woman to covet the man’s role as provider and career person, without discussing the sacrifices that entails — how deeply such a choice conflicts with a woman’s role as mother and nurturer. For a woman to actually maintain a truly lucrative career (law, medicine, engineering, executive management, e.g.), she would have to give up any chance of being a mother; the demands of such careers are extreme and leave no time for children. They talk about how they ‘gave up’ a potential (it’s not real until the contract’s signed, people!) career path to have children, while failing to mention that pursuing the chance at fame & fortune would have very certainly destroyed their actual capacity for motherhood. If a man complained that he couldn’t be a stay-at-home dad and hold a lucrative job, he would simply be seen as being selfish and wanting impossible things — so why is it seen as acceptable for a woman to want to have her cake and eat it, too?
Fifth, the whole idea that it’s a ‘sacrifice’ to give up having a career, implies that there is something wrong with women who simply want to do what women do best — which plays right into the idea that traditional male roles are the only ones that have any value. Women who get married right out of high school and spend their lives raising children are treated as being inferior to the former career woman who gave it all up. So-called “career women” have, in society’s eyes, proven their ability to imitate men, whereas women who jump straight into a feminine role are considered “uneducated,” “inexperienced,” and “oppressed,” no matter how much they excel in their roles.
Finally, no matter how nicely they say it, this is precisely the same sentiment as screaming, “I could have been an actress!” at one’s children during some existential melt down. It’s saying what one could have been, what one gave up — it’s just like a company listing all the technical faults in their product and immediately following with, “So we’ve decided to triple production” — only the ‘product’ in this case is children, children who can and will read your blog in the future, and wonder why their very own mommy would say something like that if they really truly wanted them.
As for me, I find that being a wife and mother is more fulfilling than anything than any other life path that I could have taken — so much so that I don’t feel the need to think about what those other options could have been. How could money ever compare to the genuine love of a family?