The decision to stay home with our children can be hard enough, but it's even harder when it seems there is no choice.
Kitty began her career in anthropology, but fell in love with teaching while interviewing residents of rural Alaska for a National Parks program. She taught elementary school for twelve years, but gave that up when she met her husband, a Navy pilot, and they moved from her home state of Washington to Florida.
There, she made plans to start a PhD program in public policy with an emphasis on education and was excited to begin. Those plans came to a halt when she became pregnant with their son, their only child. Kitty found her role as military spouse and mom made full-time work nearly impossible.
I interviewed Kitty four years ago when she was 40 years old and her son was 15 months. Since then, she and her family have moved three times, landing back in Florida again.
Kitty does not regret her decisions, but she plans to return to the workforce in a few years when her husband retires.
This is Kitty’s story, in her own words:
I don’t know what I’m going to do.
When my son Evan gets older I am definitely going back to work. I cannot do this for the rest of my life, although I don’t really feel the drive to go back to the classroom.
I was doing a lot – up in Washington – of consulting work. I was on a state committee that was looking at fairness and bias, and I loved that. I really felt like before I got married I was heading in this direction where I was eventually going to be able to leave the classroom and sustain myself through the consulting work.
But that kind of came to an abrupt halt when I got married and moved down here. I don’t have those contacts and I’ve been out of the scene up there for two and a half, almost three years now. We’ll see what happens when we go back.
We’re going to be back in Washington again and I certainly can get back in contact with people, but my husband is going to be gone for months at a time on the air craft carrier and I don’t want to get myself into a situation where I’m in the classroom, working Monday through Friday. I mean I would have my parents around to help me, but you know, they’re elderly and they’re not up for babysitting every day.
I firmly believe that doors will open and that it’s right for me to stay home with Evan right now, but not forever. I wasn’t satisfied with teaching, and I knew that (graduate) school was one of those things where it would be lot of time commitment to do it right. I didn’t know if I was ready to jump into that.
Also, I knew we had a finite amount of time here in Florida, and that we were going to be moving eventually. If I didn’t hit it hard in those two years, I wasn’t going to get my coursework done.
In retrospect, that was really a very good decision. I wound up with postpartum depression and it was all that I could do to keep my head above the water. I’m glad I didn’t have the pressure of school or work on top of that.
Another reason I wanted to stay home was I always knew that if I had kids… I had spent twelve years in the classroom and I could pick out which of my students had been day care and which ones had been home with mom. The kids that had been home with mom or with a caregiver, like an aunt or a sister or a grandparent – somebody who is family and loves them and who wasn’t paid to take care of them – you know. There’s a difference.
Those kids were not as needy of my time and seemed to be a little more adjusted to who they were as people. The day care kids were adjusted as far as teams and following directions, but they just didn’t seem to know themselves as well. It would be hard for any nine-year-old to know themselves, but there was just a different confidence level that I saw in the kids.
I’m not knocking parents who had to put their kids through day care. I know that for most families it’s a financial decision to keep working put their kids in day care. I certainly have a lot of friends who are not in any position for the mom to quit their jobs.
The other reason, too, is that maybe there really is a subculture (in the Navy) – and here’s the anthropologist in me coming out -- with its own customs and rules for belonging, and the vast majority – and I am not kidding when I say the vast majority – of women who have children stay at home.
One reason is because it’s very stable. I am talking officers’ wives here. It is a little different with enlisted. They don’t make as much money. My husband is not, for the amount of education and training he’s had, is not compensated very well. But we’ve lived comfortably, and part of it is through our benefits like the Commissary and the free medical. Right there, we’ll save hundreds of dollars. But there really is a support system amongst the wives. But, it’s kind of the expectation that you’re going to stay home and I just kind of slid right into that.
I miss intellectual stimulation. I miss the validation. I miss feeling like I’m in control and competent. I miss the satisfaction of a job well done. I miss the “thank you” and just the reassurance that, you know… I guess I had a lot of my self-worth tied up in working.
While I know in the long run what I’m doing by staying home with my son is going to be best for him, he’s like this little fifteen- month old. Now he gives hugs and kisses and stuff, but when he was little, it was just pooping and screaming and eating, and there weren’t a lot of reward in that. You know. Outside rewards.
It’s getting easier partly because I think I have adjusted, but little things where he comes up and gives me a big mouth kiss on the cheek or a hug, those are his little ways of letting my know that I’m the most important person to him.
That melts my heart.
But one thing I did take on is I became president of my Spouse’s Club. As I told one of my friends back home, “I’ve become that which I used to mock” because I’d look at the Navy wives – remember I taught in a Navy community – and they were all these moms who were just hanging out at school chit-chatting and gossiping with each other. I would always be thinking in my head, “Get a life.” Then they would move down in a pack to get coffee, talking about squadron stuff, and their whole conversation was “Oh, the squadron this. The squadron that.” I would just think, “Oh, they don’t have a life outside their husbands’ identities.”
And I’ve become that.
I mean, the first thing you do when you meet someone else in the military community is, “Oh, my husband. He’s a lieutenant. He’s a pilot over in whatever unit.” At what point did I become that versus, “Hi. My name is Kitty. I teach fourth grade?”
It was actually really hard and a real source of contention between my husband and me. Because I was like, “You don’t understand. I gave up my job. I owned a house in Washington. I sold that to move down here. I gave up my name. Now I’ve given up my job, and where am I? Who is Kitty? I am identified through Trent’s wife and Evan’s mom, and I don’t have anything that identifies me as “I am this. I am a teacher. I am a consultant. I am a committee member for fairness and bias.”
I have lost those identities to the past and I don’t like the fact that all the hats I wear now are not mine. And he was just like, “Oh, well. What’s wrong with being my wife? What’s wrong with being Evan’s mom?” And I’m like, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
I’ve come to realize that I’ll get my hats back.
If I could do it again, I would still decide to stay home and that goes back to the classroom. When my son is nine, I know he’s going to be better off because of the fact that I stayed home.
It has meant a lot of changes for us financially. We don’t eat out anymore. That’s an easy thing to wipe off your budget. The household is given $1000 every two weeks from which groceries and gas and incidentals, clothes for Evan or something for myself come from. Before, if I wanted something I would buy it. I think the big one is the eating out. We go out only for special occasions now whereas before we went out two or three times a week. And we don’t really buy prepackaged stuff anymore.
I don’t regret my decision. I know I will not be a stay-at-home-mom forever. I’ve just taken my hats off and hung them on the hat rack for a little bit. I’ll dust those hats off and they’ll be back. As you get older, you get more and more hats. I wear two very important hats now as a wife and a mom, but that does not mean I have to throw away those others.
All interviews in this series can be found in their own blog: Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms.