On Lucrative Careers and Motherhood

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?

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5 thoughts on “On Lucrative Careers and Motherhood

  1. For me, feminism is very simple. A woman should have the unobstructed right to choose how to live her life. Want to stay at home and be a mom? Fantastic! Want a high powered career? Fabulous! Want to have kids and have a career? Great! I know many women who do both and are very happy, fulfilled and well rounded individuals (although it is challenging). I think we need to get to the point where women are not looked down on or ridiculed for their life choices. There are days when I think that we just can’t win sometimes, every decision a woman makes about her life seems to be put under the microscope in a way not experienced by men. I think a woman should be free and *feel* free to live her life as she chooses and just be happy :)

  2. Just what do you mean by ‘free’? Define ‘free’. Women have been free to lead all sorts of lives for hundreds of years — Maria Mitchell, for example, was a professor and astronomer in the mid 19th century, while Mary Somerville was a writer, translator, and polymath. The catch is that most women aren’t very good at these pursuits and most women don’t really even want to do them.

    A healthy & sane society encourages people to do what they’re best at — but if one’s talents are truly exceptional, one finds a way to realise them even when it disagrees with society. The idea that men simply refused to acknowledge women’s accomplishments or stole their work is complete and utter fiction. (FFS, Mary Somerville was given a 300-pound gov’t stipend starting in 1835 because of her work, and was widely sought out by men in the mathematical community; her translation of the Mécanique Céleste was used for nearly a century!)

    Your suggestion that women should not be ‘criticised’ or ‘ridiculed’ is preposterous; while it would be completely fair to suggest that women should be lauded when they succeed in their endeavours, a woman should not simply be given a pat on the ass and a free round of applause for trying something women simply are not good at on average; success warrants laurels a-plenty, but merely attempting to break one’s mould should be actively discouraged — it keeps out weaklings and riff-raff.

    Also, your suggestion that a woman can have a career and kids is flatly ludicrous — unless your notion of “having kids” is to pop out a couple of snot-nosed brats who grow up in front of TV and at daycare, but that isn’t being a mother, that’s being a glorified incubator. Being a mother requires BEING THERE on a near constant basis until one’s kids are at least 5 years old. It means being able to drop EVERYTHING at any given moment to deal with some baby catastrophe. It means truly believing that every little goop, poop, blurp, and squirm is the most important thing in the world. It does NOT mean simply fulfilling a basic biological function and running back off to one’s busy busy “life”. For a mother, her children ARE her “life”.

    Finally, your comparison to men is not only flat-out wrong, but indicative of just how over privileged and clueless you truly are; men’s decisions are made under a level of pressure that women cannot even begin to imagine. There IS not “stay at home wife” option for men — it’s a man’s duty to work, provide, protect, and die if necessary, and they are utterly castigated and ostracised if they fail. Men are made to handle more punishment than women; they have higher pain tolerance, better emotional control, larger brains, stronger bodies, and there are twice as many men with an IQ above 130 as women (in all fairness, there are a lot more men with an IQ below 80 than women, too). Consequently, men are judged far more harshly for failure, given far less sympathy when they fall flat, and treated far more roughly when they’re hurt. And you know what? That’s FINE. It’s how it should be. But I don’t like seeing women who truly don’t know what they’re talking about going on and on and on and on and on — especially since men are stupid enough, when it comes to women, to actually listen to what they’re saying, in their efforts to please them. That just leads to trouble.

  3. Hello and thank you for your reply. Although I disagree with much of what you’ve said, I respect your opinion. I think that just like men are different from women in some ways, there is a spectrum of lives that women lead too. But we’re all human; we’re all essentially the same. Everyone wants to be happy and be free from suffering. I wish that for you and all my fellow brothers and sisters.

  4. Kat, although I appreciate that you’re being civil in your reply, very little of what I said constitutes ‘matter of opinion’ with which you can disagree at your whim.

    The existence of women who had excellent reputations (among men!) throughout history as mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists is a simple fact. (Bonus fact: for much of this culture’s history, women have had a substantially higher level of education than men.)

    The logistical impossibility of holding a career and raising kids one’s self (daycare does NOT count!) is a simple exercise in numbers.

    The pressures on men are well documented and easily accessible to anyone who can read; the social consequences of male failure are equally well documented.

    The differences in physiology, cognition, psychology, and capabilities between men & women are well documented in their respective fields (although not, necessarily, well publicised by the current, liberal media complex).

    That leaves the following positions with which you can debate if you so wish:
    -That a healthy society encourages people to do what they will excel in doing.
    -That a woman should NOT be lauded simply for attempting to break the mould.
    -That a mother’s “life” is her children, and providing them with a nurturing home.
    -That it is acceptable for men and women to operate along different standards as a result of their different capabilities and strengths.

    As a final note, which may (and I care not) come off as confrontational, it is not acceptable, civil, or even humanly decent to simply pretend the world is how you want it to be when the evidence speaks otherwise. I can, if required by circumstance, produce studies, literature, and historic documentation which will support my point — unless you can say the same of your own, using first hand sources which do not include liberal or feminist supposition, emotional or irrational rhetoric, and blatant distortion of known quantities, you are obligated as a human being to re-evaluate your outlook. Only animals and slaves are incapable of changing their thinking when presented with evidence contrary to their impulses or opinions.

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