Former Wall Street banker Lisa Endlich Heffernan has reignited the heated issue of domesticity and a woman's role in the workforce with her short essay "Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom." While her article casts domesticity in a negative light, other mothers who have spent years in and out of the workforce present a very different picture.
"Although I am fully aware that being a SAHM [her acronym for "Stay-At-Home Mom"] was certainly a luxury, staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse," Heffernan writes in the Huffington Post.
She also lamented losing the respect of her husband and children. Her three boys "saw me cooking, cleaning, driving, volunteering and even writing, but they know what a 'job' looks like and they don't think I had one." She remarked that "my husband sees me as his equal, but in the years that I have been home, our partnership has developed a faint 1950's whiff."
The underlying theme – that SAHMs are a thing of the past and women find true fulfillment in the workplace – continued as she recounted losing respect for herself. "What I hadn't realized was how my constant focus on my family would result in my aspirations for myself slipping away," she wrote. "Despite it being obvious, I did not focus on the inevitable obsolescence that my job as mom held."
But Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., director and senior fellow of the Beverly Lahaye Institute at Concerned Women for America, shared a different story. "I was a full-time mother for my two children when they were young," she told The Christian Post on Monday.
"Both I and my husband earned our Ph.D.s while they were young – by working our schedules so that one of us was with them except for 15 hours a week (which we had read was the maximum that children ought to be in the care of someone other than the parents)." She recounted "pretty significant financial and material sacrifices," such as living in a trailer and giving up discretionary spending.
"I have had to be very flexible in my career choices, but God has always opened doors for me and I was always willing to walk through whatever door I found that would open," she explained. "Not all my career dreams and ambitions have been realized and I could not go in the direction of my strongest natural gifts, but I have had a meaningful, fulfilling, and challenging career path."
She also mentioned her "very strong, happy marriage and vital faith in Christ," along with her adult children's Ph.D.s and successful careers.
"The tragedy of Lisa's article is," Crouse explained, "that she made decisions without adequate research or preparation and worse, she made them with the wrong attitude and wrong reasons."
Domesticity is not obsolete, Heffernan just did it the wrong way, Crouse contends. "She did not respect her work in her home and with her children, consequently neither her husband nor her sons respected her sacrifice."
"The key statement in Heffernan's article is that the solution 'required imagination, not capitulation,'" Crouse argued, encouraging "young mothers to use their children's young years to further their [own] education and training so that they are prepared to re-enter the workforce" later.
Crouse dismissed Heffernan's use of the acronym SAHM. "It's very obviously something that she's using to send a message that the whole Stay-At-Home Mom movement is a sham," she said. "I don't know how you could read it any other way."
Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, disagreed. "At a time when more and more women are working outside of the home, there is a greater need to differentiate women's choices," she told The Christian Post. "From my perspective, SAHM connotes freedom and opportunity – since for many families a single-earner household is simply not a possibility."
"As a mom of three young children who has briefly been a full-time, stay-at-home-mom, worked part-time, and worked full-time, I know that each of these arrangements come with their own advantages and challenges," Schaeffer explained.
"Ultimately it's critical that women realize there is no one right answer," she added, "and that throughout our adult life women can create a work-life balance tapestry that works for them."
Heffernan's article "offers some sound advice" on weaving this career masterpiece, Schaeffer argued. "One doesn't need to be a full-time career woman, but it's important for all of us – men and women – to try to maintain identities outside of our roles as mothers and fathers…not always an easy thing to do with little children!"