Giving It All Up: One Woman's Decision to Stay Home to Raise Her Children

Kate Obenshain | 2000/01/07

I believe with all of my being that we as a society are making a tremendous mistake by allowing nannies and day-care workers to play such a fundamental role in raising our children. And I believe that my decision to stay home and raise my children was right, not just for me, but for many women whom our culture, thanks primarily to the radical feminist movement, has convinced otherwise.

Often I'm asked by those who know that I'm at home raising two little boys, "Do you work at all?"

I used to feel sheepish at their evident scorn, or at least bewildered. But now I say self-confidently, "No, I'm at home raising babies, full-time." When I assure them of my delight, the response is curt and invariably the same. "Oh, well, it's nice that you have that luxury." At this, I want to wave our tax returns from the past couple of years in their faces.

But let me tell you a little about myself, and how I came to my decision.

When I was nine, my world came crashing down when my father was killed in an airplane accident while campaigning for the United States Senate from Virginia. From then on, my mother had to work to support her family. I wasn't brought up to be a stay-at-home mother. We children were thrown into what was an exhilarating and often addictive world of politics. And we learned early on how to be self-confident and knowledgeable on the issues. I was not trained in the fine arts of housekeeping and raising children, although my parents were deeply conservative and traditional.

Cutting my teeth in politics prepared me for a career in that arena. After college, I served as lecture director for Young America's Foundation and gained invaluable experience in public speaking. I also met some of the greatest and most influential conservative leaders of our time, including Bill Buckley and the late Russell Kirk. And I built what is now the largest conservative speaker's program in the country. But politics was in my blood, and all I needed was somebody to believe in, and I would get back into that world.

George Allen came along with fire in his belly and, I believed, the conservative principles that reminded me of my father. So I went to work for him. He won in a landslide, and I followed him to the governor's office, where I advised him on health and education issues.

Then, love came my way, and I married and moved to Winchester, Virginia, where my husband was a young lawyer. I began consulting on my own for campaigns, freelancing, and traveled occasionally to college campuses speaking on issues such as political correctness and feminism. And then, without much delay, Phil and I began a family.

It wasn't long before the consulting tapered off, and by the time our second son was born, I decided to commit myself completely to raising the children. I do continue to serve in a volunteer capacity as vice chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and I travel about one day a month, thanks to my gracious husband who takes time off to look after our children.

I do not want to overstate my career. In that regard, perhaps it was easier for me to make the decision to stay home than for women who are more established and wait before having children. I had a lot less to lose.

But psychiatrist John Bowlby got the point when he said that "young women with promising careers," like many of you in this room, "take a tremendous amount of pressure regarding what for them is the very difficult decision of whether or not to stay home and raise their children."

In any case, I decided to give up a career just as it was beginning to get exciting. I had earned a reputation in both the policy and political arenas and was in the perfect position to cash in.

Was I pressured by my husband to get out? No. He was none too pleased at the prospect of cutting our income by more than half. But as I came closer to motherhood, and then when my first child was born, I became convinced that the best I could do for the well-being of my family was to stay home to raise our children. I had been writing about the importance of family life since my college days, and as much as I enjoyed what I was doing, I believed it was time not just to talk the talk, but walk the walk.

Has it been easy? No, not always. There is a powerful social stigma, thanks to the resounding success of the radical feminist movement, to being a stay-at-home mother. Psychologist Michael Lamb said, "Especially in professional and middle-class circles, it is often rather shameful to admit to being only a housewife and mother."

I have felt the sting at cocktail parties when professionals, having discovered my primary occupation, made a quick exit from my company.

Do I feel fulfilled and stimulated as a stay at home mom? Do I feel appreciated? These needs have been touted by the feminist movement as only achievable in the workplace, and we as a culture have really bought into that. I've encountered many who say, "Oh, I wouldn't be happy or fulfilled staying at home, and that would not be good for the children. It's better that I work." If they were to ask their children about that, I wonder what they would say. It's as though society almost cannot stand the thought that some choose to raise their own children.

I experienced pressure to reenter the workforce in a very real way. I was about six months into my home career and still a bit uncertain when I received a call from a prominent member of the conservative movement. I was surprised and flattered. He informed me that a congressional commission was being formed, and he thought I should apply for the position of executive director.

I knew that this was a tremendous opportunity, and that with this on my resume' I could really go places.

Almost immediately, I forgot about the kids. I was swept up in the excitement of power and politics. Everyone--and I do mean everyone, even my mother who is a passionate believer in mothers staying at home--urged me to apply for the position.

There were two exceptions. One was Henry, my little boy, just on the verge of walking--clearly an opponent of the idea. And to my surprise, the other was my husband. Fatherhood had brought him a long way from the days when income was his primary concern. In the final analysis, he said, he could not imagine leaving Henry with anyone else. Additionally, he thought I would always regret the things that I missed while I was not at home. And he was absolutely right. I didn't apply for the position.

Now, I can honestly say that I don't believe I have given anything up. At a recent cocktail party someone said that I must have a real need to be considered important and useful. But I do. It's hard to believe when you're in the workplace, particularly when your self-esteem is soaring, that you could ever be adequately fulfilled staying at home with small children.

No, you don't get the same rush. Rather, there is peace; peace in knowing that you are where you should be; peace in passing an afternoon quietly reading a story to a little one; peace in taking a leisurely afternoon stroll.

I titled this speech "Giving It All Up," but I don't believe I gave anything up. I believe I reaped far more from my decision to stay home than I ever would have had I stayed in my career.

I could be engaging in more intellectually stimulating exercises--policy research and development, writing papers and speeches--it's captivating, invigorating, and a little bit addictive. Instead, I wake up every morning about 5:30. I tiptoe downstairs, and I head out on a forty-five minute walk. I come home, jump in the shower, and try to squeeze in a quick cup of coffee with my husband, and chat about today's news. That's on a good day.

Usually, right before or right after the shower, I hear the pitter-patter of little feet, followed by, "Mommy, I'm ready to get up." Then our day is in full swing. But our day--that of Henry, Paul, and me--is becoming increasingly unique in our culture. There's no bundling up rushing off to day-care. I'm not scurrying around trying to find clean clothes to wear to work. Instead, we have our leisurely oatmeal and juice, and I face a day of diapers, naps, books, hugs, boo-boos, tears, and giggles.

I belt out all of my favorite tunes throughout the house. I read fairytales, play "ring around the roses," kiss bumps, tickle, and change an extraordinary number of diapers.

And there are scenes in my life, each of them like an epiphany or a reminder of why I do what I do, scenes when time seems to stand still. At those moments, my home is the center of the world, and I'm oblivious to anyone existing outside my sphere. At those times, my contentment is absolutely complete.

My two-year-old could be playing happily on the floor with his trucks, occasionally looking up at me smiling, maybe sharing one of those stream of consciousness thoughts. I'll be sitting closely on the couch with my youngest sprawled on my lap, his warmth flowing freely. The last afternoon rays are streaming through my front door, and I have quiet music playing in the background. Something tells me that this is as it should be.

I'm not out there producing cutting-edge white papers. But God willing, I will help to mold these little ones in something we see less and less of these days--responsible, generous, courteous, God-fearing, and productive citizens of this land that was built by men of those same traits.

Do I feel as if exciting things and changes are happening that I have no say in? No way. I have a stake in the future here. And I believe that I'm influencing it profoundly.

And when my children are older, I'll become involved again and try to influence our world in other ways. I do believe you can have it all, just not at the same time. And I also believe that after experiencing full-time what I see as the world's most fulfilling endeavor, motherhood, you may no longer want it all.

But thanks to the battlecry of radical feminism, quite a few women are determined to have it all, and right now. Fifty-nine percent of mothers with children under one and 65 percent with children under six are in the workforce, although not necessarily full-time.

Children are coming home to empty houses, either because they're a product of broken homes and their mothers must work, or because their parents must work to keep themselves above the poverty line, or all too often because their parents have certain economic standards and expectations. Or sometimes it is just because the mothers want to work, searching for true fulfillment anywhere but home.

But do we really find fulfillment in the workplace when someone else is looking after our children? Writer Kay Ebeling wrote, "The reality of feminism is a lot of frenzied and over-worked women dropping kids off at daycare centers so they can rush off to jobs they don't even like." So is this just a personal decision or does it have broader social ramifications?

The nurturing, or lack thereof, that a child receives in the early years as he or she grows into the confusing times of preadolescence and adolescence will affect self-esteem, confidence, and the ability to learn and succeed. John Bowlby, the only psychiatrist to have received the American Psychiatric Association Highest Award twice, said that the attachment between baby and mother is "the foundation stone of personality. The young child's hunger for his mother's love and presence is as great as his hunger for food. And that if absent, inevitably generates a powerful sense of loss and anger."

To me it is just common sense that our children's sense of security will be largely determined by the response they receive from their parents. Are the parents, particularly the mothers, nurturing, encouraging, and responsive? Or are they worn out, preoccupied, and often absent?

What is the price we pay for children being left alone with no one to turn to for support and guidance except their peers, video games, or television, with all its incumbent messages of sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence? Hence the rise among teens in violence and death, drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancies and suicide, and the list goes on and on.

How tough is it to figure out that our kids need their parents? And they need them to be strong and unified, and, most importantly, present.

Recently the Richmond Times Dispatch ran an article about more professional moms opting to come home and raise their children. Karen Jackson was going to become the first female black astronaut, but she quit. Why? "My oldest son was having trouble in school. He was severely withdrawn and depressed. He had failed sixth grade. My son was fast becoming a statistic. He was another black male headed for trouble." After only nine months of home-schooling by his mother, her son went from testing at the fourth grade level to the ninth grade.

No one could say it better than former Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, Leah Lamcone, who retired to stay home with her three sons. She said: "My decision to leave the bench after fourteen years was not easily made. Looking back on my years of both judge and mother, I have come to realize that the greatest impact I have made in any life is that which I've made in the lives of my children. While I suppose I could continue as both judge and mother, at age forty-four after the stress of a hard day, I doubt that I could be all the mother that two young boys and an infant deserve.

I leave with alarm at what I have seen daily. I leave with a warning that we as a culture must end this cycle of procreation without committing to parenting dysfunctional household units and abdication to the government of the family's role in teaching moral, spiritual and social values."

And she concludes, "Hopefully, by investing more of my time in my own home, I will look up at the end of my life to see three young men emotionally vibrant and self-reliant, ready to face their life's drama. With that solid foundation, perhaps they will be better equipped to meet the challenge in their future of putting back together the pieces of society we let crumble in our hands."

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