My wife’s job can be brutal. Monica easily works 80 hours a week and is on call 24/7. 3 a.m. intrusions are the norm. The demands of her job change by the day, if not the hour. If she wants to get something done, she generally has to do it herself. Her two direct reports don’t really follow instructions, and they’ve been known to outright refuse her requests while throwing fits. One of the two also slobbers.
If you were to see her job description on CareerBuilder, you’d likely run the other way. But Monica would be the first to say that raising our 3-year-old and 10-month-old boys is in many ways her dream job — combining her diverse skill sets into the work of developing the boys, crafting our legacy and nurturing thoughtful men for this next generation. She cherishes the opportunity to witness their every milestone and wonder-filled moment of play.
Though we live in a society obsessed with categories, Monica cannot be reduced to “stay-at-home mom,” a label conceived decades ago to paper over the infinitely worse “housewife.” (The “stay” in the title is particularly laughable, as Monica puts 3 or 4 times the miles on her car as mine.) She’s that rare person in Type A-saturated Washington, D.C., who decided that the best way to use her talents, even mid-career, was in raising our two children full time.
HOW SHE LANDED THIS JOB
This vocation — and it certainly is one — has seen a spike nationally in the past decade, as the share of mothers not working outside the home has climbed to 29%, reversing the trend of the prior decade. Yet as I celebrate Monica this Mother’s Day and marvel at what she does, I will relish all that she is: a thinker, writer and editor extraordinaire; a musician, singer and teacher; an amateur child psychologist; a wine aficionado and a seasoned foodie; an Italophile, traveler and storyteller. She was all of these things well before she became a mother.
Monica arrived at her decision to leave the workforce through a circuitous route. When our first child was born, we both shifted our work schedules as journalists — Monica part-time, me with a four-day rotation — to alternate child care. Exhausting but fulfilling, this was our routine until I received an unexpected job offer. The new opportunity offered financial flexibility for us — a privilege we’re aware so many families don’t enjoy. Suddenly, it became feasible for Monica to embrace the work that had become her passion while continuing to write occasionally without the pressure of regular deadlines.
People inclined to paint Monica’s vocation with the brush of domesticity and the dated expectation that household work must rule the day might be channeling shows that were popular when TVs had rabbit ears. In fact, we tackle chores equally so that she can effectively do her day job and I can do mine. Monica uses her working hours to help shape, teach and love Sebastian and Luke so that they grow into authentic, strong and caring men who will thrive through adolescence and into adulthood.
OUR CHOICES, OUR LIVES
What she does, every day, is extraordinary. And it’s something that could never be calculated simply in dollars and cents. Much as teachers today are categorically undervalued — or at least underpaid — so are stay-at-home moms. As writer Anne-Marie Slaughter laid out masterfully in The Atlantic a few years back, American society doesn’t properly value caregivers. “An America that puts an equal emphasis on care and competition would be a very different place,” she wrote.
How do you quantify the patience of a mother who is ill and sleep-deprived, yet reading Adventures of Frog and Toad lovingly and enthusiastically to a child?
How do you put a price on her willingness to answer literally hundreds of questions — “Why do roads have lines painted on them, Mommy?” “Why don’t lizards talk?” “Do butterflies have faces?” — with actual information rather than easier dust-offs?
And, selfishly perhaps, how can you properly weigh the value of having a person — no matter the gender — dedicated to your family 24/7? A champion. A model of our faith. A mama bear.
Celebrating Monica and the millions of mothers in this country who also raise their children full time is not a judgment of “working moms,” a title as loaded as “stay-at-home moms.” For to judge the former would be suggesting that my own mother (who raised me and several of my siblings full time until my father died unexpectedly), my three sisters, my many sisters-in-law and countless colleagues and friends aren’t doing what is right for their families by working outside of the home. They most certainly are.
This Mother’s Day, we should indeed reflect on the integral and unique role that women play in raising children and contributing to society in immeasurable ways. But in doing so, let this reflection show each mother in full color rather than reducing them to black and white.
John Siniff is the former op-ed editor at USA TODAY, where he met Monica, who was an editor in the Travel section. He now works at Subject Matter, a creative advocacy firm in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter: @jmsiniff