Melissa Stanton is the author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-tested strategies for staying smart, sane, and connected while caring for your kids, which was published last year by Seal Press/Perseus Books. Prior to becoming a Stay-at-Home mom, Melissa was an editor at People and LIFE magazines. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Parenting, Redbook, and Organize. She lives with her family in a rural suburb of Washington, D.C.
Was it my dream to be a stay-at-home mom?
No, at least I didn’t think so. But I’ve recently realized that becoming a stay-at-home mom, which I’ve been for nearly eight years, might have been an unintentional dream come true.
This past year, for the first time in my stay-at-home career (yes, career, more about that later), all three of my children—a boy, now 11, and twin six-year-old girls—were in full-day school. With my newfound freedom I started working through my giant To Do List, which had gotten significantly longer during my years of caring for small children. One of the biggest tasks on the list has been to go through two decades worth of files and boxes that my husband and I have accumulated from various jobs, degrees and homes.
A few weeks ago I was sorting through boxes from when I left my job at People magazine, where I was a senior editor. At the time, a confluence of events—my husband taking a job in Baltimore when his Wall Street-area employer hit hard times, my being a weekday single mother with a demanding career and long commute, September 11—led me to conclude that I needed to work a different way, and live a different way. I decided that the traditional course of working full-throttle until I retired, got laid off or died wasn’t working for me.
In the chaos surrounding my decision to leave a career I had aspired to and worked hard at for more than 15 years, I didn’t realize I was making one of my dreams come true. Nine months earlier I had participated in a career development workshop. As is true at many corporations, staffers at my company were encouraged to attend these programs, which most of us groaned through, as I did with the “empowerment” class I attended. The instructor told us to write down three personal goals we wanted to achieve within a year. The activity’s mantra:
“Don’t just think it, ink it.”
As I sorted through the old work papers, I found the class handout and my scribbled list of goals:
- I will have a family-friendlier career.
- I will have a second child.
- My husband and I will be more financially secure and able to pay down some debt.
It turns out that within a year of “inking” those goals, I had achieved each one—although not in ways I ever imagined.
- After leaving People, I started freelance writing from home and working very part-time at a local Williams-Sonoma. The job wasn’t a career, but it was family-friendly, and after years of climbing the corporate ladder working an hourly retail job was fun.
- Baby Number 2 materialized as Numbers 2 and 3.
- My husband’s new job enabled us to get by on one income, and selling our New Jersey home bought us a larger home in Maryland with money to spare.
My goals (or dreams?) had come true.
The experience of navigating the huge transition from an active work life to a life dominated by domesticity led to another goal, or dream. I wanted to combine my “past life” as a writer and editor with my new life as a stay-at-home mom by writing a realistic, non-Mommy Wars “support-group-in-a-book” for, as one reviewer would so aptly describe, “any mom who has felt she has the best job in the world, and the worst job in the world, all within a two-minute time frame.”
While some women love every minute of being a stay-at-home mom—and are, in fact, living their dream—many others struggle with the demands of being a 24/7 at-home mom. To them, stay-at-home motherhood isn’t necessarily a calling. And that’s okay. I believe stay-at-home parenting is a job, and stay-at-home moms are “working moms.” We work as moms. No one loves their job every minute of the day. Not always loving stay-at-home motherhood doesn’t mean a woman is a bad mother, or that she regrets leaving the workforce, or that she doesn’t love her kids or appreciate her good fortunes. It just means she needs a break, and she needs interests and activities independent of caring for kids.
(To naysayers who gripe that stay home moms are “lucky not to work” and shouldn’t complain, I respond: “Imagine if you lived and worked in your office. Imagine if you were on active duty for an 18-hour-plus shift every day, and then you were on-call. Imagine if anytime you left the office your boss, colleagues and direct reports came with you!” Enough said.)
After many, many rejections from agents and publishers who didn’t want to do a “stay-at-home mommy book,” or else wanted a book with a “strong” platform (“Mothers should stay home with their children” or “Mothers should stay in the workforce”), my pitch landed on the desk of an editor who had once been a stay-at-home mom. She understood the need for the book (which I researched and wrote at night while I cared for my kids by day) and championed it to publication.
Would the former me have ever dreamed that I’d someday write a book about stay-at-home motherhood? Absolutely not. But just as dreamers need to live in the real world, dreams—manifested as goals—emerge from our realities. (emphasis added)
My new dreams, which I’ll dare to “ink” here and not just think, are to:
- Write a “support-group-in-a-book” for stay-at-home moms seeking to re-enter the paid workforce.
- Re-enter the paid workforce myself, with a truly family-friendly career that allows me to earn decent money and do significant, professional-level work without having to sacrifice myself and my family to my job. (Unlike the last time, I’m making my current goals a bit more specific.)
What dreams would you dare to ink and not just think?
At the beginning of a new year, instead of writing out New Year's Resolutions, have you ever written down what you wanted to accomplish (without resolving to, just sort of a ‘nice-to-do-‘ list) and gone back a year or two later, and recognized that the mere act of ‘inking it', moved you toward making something happen?
“Is there anything you'd like to dare to ink and not just think?” Great question! I can't wait to check in with Melissa in 1-2 years and see how her dreams have unfolded.
Now that she's ‘dared to ink', any thoughts on how we can help Melissa make her dreams happen?