My van is 12 years old and has more than 250,000 miles on it. We bought it brand new from the dealership. The salesman took pictures of my husband and me standing next to our new, overly priced investment; smiling proudly, and completely ignorant of the fact that we’d been had. We needed the van to support our growing family. But we did not need the top of the line Warner Brother edition, complete with DVD player and a free Looney Tunes cooler bag.
But we had money to burn.
We both worked at the time, and had plenty of income. My kids were daycare veterans. Mom always came flying into the parking lot about 5 ‘till 6:00 p.m.; always working, usually on one more call as I drove. The kids were used to being the last ones there. It was just how we did life back then. We enjoyed many a family vacation in our souped-up van. I used to buy each kid a new movie to take along as a special treat. Maybe a peace-offering for all those last-minute pick-ups.
I read the transcript of your recent speech at Rhode Island College. You know the one now being shared all over the internet, and possibly taken out of context. I first watched the short clip, like everyone else, with your comment about not wanting women to make the choice to leave the workforce, and a goal to enroll 6 million children in high quality preschool education. This is not the kind of thing I typically even engage in. I usually avoid taking any political position, and definitely avoid making public statements about my position. But this came up for me again the other day, and so I looked up the complete transcript. I wanted to better understand your message in context.
My daughter and I were driving through town the other day in our now run-down van. This daughter has never known daycare because I made the choice to leave the workforce after she was born. One of the stipulations for me to be able to afford to come home was to pay off the van. I worked until we made the last $500 a month payment. That was about 7 years ago, and each year the van problems get a little worse. My husband is faithful with the maintenance, which I know has helped keep the van running. But we never know if something will work or not. The DVD player stopped working years ago. That free cooler bag had leaked on one of our family vacations, all over the electrical wiring. The radio doesn’t work whenever it rains. It has to dry out for a couple of days first. We sing our own songs, or just drive in silence while we wait it out. The passenger-side window doesn’t go down anymore. This is a nuisance on hot days when you are waiting for the air conditioning to actually blow cold air. Which, mercifully, it does – eventually. The blinkers are hit or miss, and so are some of the heat settings. The latest problem is the wind shield wipers stand straight up when I try to shut them off. For some reason, they will not go down. This is what my daughter and I were discussing on our drive. Specifically, how dumb we must look in our rusted van with the wipers now standing straight up in the air!
I want you to know, Mr. President, how personally I identified with much of what you said to those students. Like you, I was raised by a single mom. No one in my family ever went to college. I was the first, but never finished. I worked my way up in banking, like your grandmother. Then I branched out into Manufacturing, and later Healthcare. I worked my way up to a Senior Director level by age 30. I was pretty proud of that, and of my six-figure income. I frankly couldn’t foresee any other life. I thought I was living mine pretty well. But all of that changed in 2004 when I became a Christian. As I came to know Christ more, I sort of came into my own. I realized that He first made me a mother, before I became all of these things to everyone else. I realized all the stuff I had worked so hard to provide for my family were not as important as my actual family. And slowly, God pulled me to a new understanding of motherhood, and myself. I had two more children, and felt Him leading me home to care for them. I still thought this was just while they were little, because back then I felt more suited for the corporate world than the toddler world. It’s been a real change process for me to acclimate at home. To just be Mom, and believe that is enough. I still wrestle with my choice to homeschool when the days are long and hard.
I understand many single moms don’t have the luxury of a choice. I was a single mom myself for a time. We have to work to survive and support our children. We should make the daycare environment the best we can for our kids. I also understand many women choose to work, pursuing higher education and career advancement. I celebrate women in the workplace, and the opportunities we have to advance. My family and I personally benefitted in many ways from my work income. Women are every bit as capable and should be treated equally. I don’t judge women who choose to work, or suggest they are failing their children at home when they do.
My question, Mr. President, is when did it become a bad choice to stay home with our children? Why is this choice viewed as a concession, loss, or failure for the economy?Why can’t we celebrate families who are in the position to make that choice? Is it really a bad thing for children to have their mother at home? Do we really believe high-quality preschool can do better than a God-given mother?
I hope not, Mr. President. I hope not.
All I can say from my personal experience is that I made the choice I felt God asked me to make, and He has been faithful in helping me adjust to see motherhood as He does – a high and holy calling that is precious in His sight. I realize talking about God is as dangerous as talking politics, but I felt it was important for you to understand that sometimes mothers make the choice to come home in faith, believing it is His will for them and their children. Sometimes a mother answers to a higher authority, if she has ears to hear. And I pray that you, Mr. President, being in a place of authority, will speak of mothers who choose to stay home in a way that validates and honors them for answering this calling. I pray you will see mothers at home not as making a bad choice forced on them by economic realities, but as making a valuable and worthy contribution to the world. After all, a mother does not leave the workforce when she goes home. She is the workforce who has taken an active role in training and equipping the next generation.
As my daughter and I made our way through town, I fretted about what we must look like to others with our crazy, defective wind shield wipers. It was she who paused and then said, “You know, Mommy, we are blessed just to have a car to drive around in and keep us out of the cold”. And I thought, this is the truest meaning of thanksgiving. For a child to know what truly matters in this world; to be sensitive to the real problems of life – like lack of transportation or housing in the cold, and to be able to express a genuine, heartfelt gratitude.
I am thankful to have had the choice to stay home with my children. I believe the work I am doing here matters – for all of us. If we have to drive a beaten down van, so be it. Turns out the bells and whistles don’t matter as much as having the mother to drive you through town. Not that I take any credit for my daughter’s understanding, or her wisdom. She came to that place all on her own. And you know what? She’ll make a fine mother one day, and I couldn’t be more proud.