By Sarah Skillrud
Some friends of ours were in town, a couple that we hadn’t seen in years. A few years ago they moved halfway across the country twice, had two children, and she’s also changed jobs twice. She has an MBA. She is bright. She had a 6-figure salary. And she now stays home with her girls.
As we were talking about the recent decision, she told me she still hasn’t changed her LinkedIn profile. Her response was, “I don’t know what to put, do I just put stay-at-home mom?”
I detected a twinge in her voice. Was it shame? Embarrassment? Does she feel that she’s selling herself short? Why is she not willing to stand behind this choice, finding it hard to explain what she’s doing, when she has two healthy, happy, beautiful girls?
I am a stay-at-home mom — for the most part. I also have a real estate license. And I am now blogging. It made me think, “What’s on my LinkedIn profile?” What do I tell people I do? Do I tell them with a caveat, or does my answer change based on who’s asking?
The answer is, yes it does. And the reality is that it should not. The answer to “What do you do?” should not change nor be delivered with reservation or explanation. So why do we reserve and explain ourselves?
I came to the decision to be a stay-at-home mom rather easily. It was something I had always wanted. I had great working experiences in marketing and sales roles at various magazines and most recently at the accounting firm, PwC. When I found out shortly after my wedding that I was pregnant with Jack, and a husband who travels very frequently for work, it felt like the right thing. So I settled into my new life as a stay-at-home mom. And then I was bored.
I decided to get a real estate license, thinking I could contribute to the financial well-being of my family and help friends in the business, while learning from my mom, a real estate veteran. Then I got pregnant with Eloise. It has been a roller coaster of emotions and a yo-yo game in my own head trying to figure out what works. And just when you think you strike a balance — along came our third child in three years, Henry. I feel like I finally have a balance: one day a week dedicated to real estate and personal activities, to take a much deserved break from my children, and home the other days.
The guilt and uncertainty all parents face in making and living with these choices is on display right in front of us every day, in conversations both in person and online. Articles and blog posts are constantly drawing divides in these choices. Some claim staying at home is more difficult; some claim continuing to be in the workplace while the kids are at home is the real struggle. Some have suggested pity or sorrow for the working mom or the stay-at-home mom. (Some attack women for breastfeeding, breastfeeding in public, or breastfeeding in public while not covered up, but that’s a story for another day.) Human beings have a long history of trying to divide. We do it all the time, both consciously and sub-consciously. And in our modern day society, we as mothers are dividing ourselves based on choices to work or not to work.
It must be said, for some it is truly a choice, while others are needed to contribute to the financial well-being of their families — and I want to be clear that working women, and especially moms, are strong, impressive, and talented, no matter what. My own mother started her business when I was 9 years old, and has always been an example of a wonderful working mom to me — which makes it even more curious that I have chosen this life for myself, to stay home with my kids.
The bottom line is that we have to figure out what works for us, and love that we have the ability to choose what that path is. To celebrate our opportunities, and be gratified with our choices. Give thanks to the women who pioneered these choices for us. Those who first went to work, to college, became doctors, journalists, artists. Those that fought for our voting rights, reproductive rights, anti-discriminatory rights. The list goes on.
When you are a parent, there is really no perfect decision — so we might as well do what feels good to us, and move to a place where we are grateful we have these choices. We can grow in confidence that we are making the right decision for ourselves and our families — but we also know that this is real life, and some days will feel tough, no matter the decision. Why not support others’ choices, and most of all be proud of the contributions we are making: to our family, community, or company. We will reserve and explain no more.
Sarah Skillrud and her husband met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and are avid Badger Fans. They’ve been married since May of 2010, and have Jack, age 3, Eloise, almost 2, and new baby Henry. She lives in her hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and stays home with her three kids. Sarah has previously worked in marketing and sales for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, and Chicago’s CS Magazine. She also loves cooking, meeting new people, running, and a good IPA beer!