Last week, an article appeared on the Huffington Post entitled “Grown and Flown: Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom.” It’s the latest salvo in the tug-of-war between mothers seeking to validate (or invalidate) their life choices. The writer, Lisa Endlich Heffernan, quit her corporate job at the age of 33 because, in her words, her family life was “hopelessly out of control.” Two decades later, she reflects on this decision and feels “real remorse.”
I’ve now read this piece three or four times, and a few things continue to bother me.
If I could wind back the tape, have a do-over, what would I have done differently? Looking on at my grown and nearly-grown sons, I am grateful for the gift of time we had. Yet, I wish I had tried to keep a finger, a toe or a hand in the working world to ease an eventual return. I did not have a job well suited to part-time work, and work at home was technologically impossible at the time. But, the solution required imagination, not capitulation, and with hindsight, I would have recognized that over time, my parenting and career would both ebb and flow, but neither would — nor should — ever end.
Despite the title of the piece, Heffernan states pretty clearly that she doesn’t regret staying home with her sons. What she DOES regret is closing the door entirely on her corporate career, not leaving herself an escape hatch through which to return later. The piece is filled with memories of her former job (which may have been whitewashed by time), in which she worked with cutting-edge technology in a fast-paced environment, where her education and intellect were prized, and where she surrounded by a pleasingly diverse crop of people. Now she feels all her former coolness, hipness, with-it-ness is gone, sucked away by decades at the domestic grindstone.
There’s a term for this. It’s called “mid-life crisis.”
This phenomenon has been recognized in men for decades. The sports car purchase, the new trophy wife, the sudden and overwhelming desire for relevancy through acquisition – it’s a joke now. I believe that something similar is happening to women like Heffernan, but because they don’t have a framework for dealing with these feelings (even a stereotypical one), they flounder.
Quite frankly, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away from Heffernan’s story. She claims she is deeply dissatisfied, yet wouldn’t do much different if she had the chance. She claims she should have kept a finger in the corporate world she left, but also admits that options that would help NOW (like working part-time or telecommuting) were simply not available when she quit.
You know what I call it when my kids raise complaints without offering reasonable solutions?
This brings me to Hillary. Clinton, that is. In an October, 2012 interview with Marie Claire, Clinton said something that I want printed on t-shirts:
“I can’t stand whining. I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they’ve made. You live in a time when there are endless choices. … Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself. … Do something!“