Lisa Endlich Heffernan, a British banker, airs her regrets about the years she spent at home with her children.
Because of her regrets, she’s trying to warn young women not to give up their careers for their children. If I’ve learned anything at all from 25+ years as a mother, it’s that there are a lot of different ways to successfully mother children. Therefore, in the interests of presenting the other side to young women, and following the structure that Enlich Heffernan used, I offer my 9 reasons why I have no regrets about giving up medical practice to stay home with my four children.*
I stood on the shoulders of the women who came before me. Although I entered medicine at a time when there were few women doctors and scientists, I was not one of the first. I never questioned my ability to handle college, medical school, internship and residency because other women had done it before me. And although I am grateful that they paved the way for me, I don’t for a moment think that they did it because of me or my generation. They became doctors and scientists because they deeply, fiercely wanted to practice medicine or engage in scientific research. They were willing to make sacrifices that I was not prepared to make (no marriage, no children). My generation wanted something more: they set out to have the careers of their dreams WITHOUT having to sacrifice the rest of their lives. In other words, they set out to be just like professional men.
I did not do this to inspire future generations. I did it because that’s what I wanted. And the fact that I and other women refused to compromise in the ways that the first women doctors and scientists were forced to compromise sets a new standard for professional women.
I used my driver’s license far less than my degrees, but I used it a lot. Yes, I spent years driving my children around. Lots of years doing lots of driving. But I discovered an amazing phenomenon: Children believe that when their mother is driving a car, she cannot hear. Therefore, I learned a great deal by listening to my children talk to their friends about the events of the day, the squabbles at school, and the worries of my children and their friends.
I used my degrees nearly every day and in every way during the years I stayed at home. In the first place, I never stopped being a doctor. I worked at night until my oldest was 8 years old and was home during the day. Even when I stopped practicing obstetrics, I always worked as a writer, both for pay and for my own enjoyment.
Second, I, with my husband, was my children’s first teacher. My education prepared me to give them knowledge and experiences that I had not had. My years as a professional gave me confidence to advocate vociferously for my two children with special needs and I think it made a tremendous difference for both of them. It’s not that I was more committed to their success than any other mother; it’s simply that I had a great deal of experience in how “the system” works and knew how to navigate it.
Third, it’s really convenient for a mother to be a doctor. I was able to diagnose ear infections with my otoscope, chest infections with my stethoscope and to tell the difference between mild and serious illness based on my clinical experience.
My kids think I did nothing. Erdich Heffernan complains that her kids think she did nothing. My kids think I did nothing, too, but not because I stayed home. They were also distinctly unimpressed with their father, even though he worked long hours at a prestigious job.
When my oldest was in the 3rd grade he came home with the results of his standardized tests and we discussed them while his 1st grade brother was present. The 3rd grader had done very well. The 1st grader asked me if I had taken those tests when I was in school and whether I did well.
“Yes, I did do well,” I replied, “but Daddy was an even better student than I was. In fact, when we graduated from college, Daddy was one of the top students in our class.”
My son was shocked.
“Really?” he inquired. “Our Daddy?”
Children, even children who have grown to adulthood, don’t see their parents as people. They see them as parents. It’s the nature of the job. If you think your fancy credentials and long hours of hard work are going to impress your children, you are doomed to be very disappointed.”
My world opened up. The author of the HuffPo piece claims that her world narrowed on leaving the work force. Mine opened up. I finally had time for something else besides practicing medicine. I was able to keep up with current events. I did graduate work in medical ethics. I read — voraciously, and still do.
I did a mountain of volunteer work. It was good for me, good for my children (setting an example for them) and good for my community.
I did not worry more. I am a Jewish mother; I could not worry more if I tried. If anything, I worried less, because I was there to supervise and observe. I spent time in my children’s classrooms, went on field trips and hosted playdates. I always knew what was going on.
My marriage remained exactly the same. Actually it got better, because I had more time for myself and more time for my husband. When I was working, he came after the kids and work and frankly, I was so exhausted I didn’t have much time for him. When I stopped working we had more time simply to be together and that was good for us.
My marriage never changed because I was no longer making as much money as I had earned before.
When my daughter was small, she asked me if I felt bad that Daddy made all the money and I had none.
I gently corrected her. “Daddy makes all the money, but it’s all MY money!”
“How does that work?”, she enquired.
I told her.
“If you marry the right guy, who believes that marriage is a partnership, not a business deal, it works just like that.”
I did not become outdated. If anything I am more up to date on the scientific literature than I ever was when I was practicing. Sure, I couldn’t go back to practicing obstetrics without a period of honing my surgical skills, but I could go back if I wanted (though I have no intention of doing so).
I never lowered my sights and I never lost confidence. Why should I? I have lived my life on my own terms, making the decisions that were best for me and my family without regard for what others thought I should do.
I have no regrets about being a stay-at-home mother. That doesn’t mean that it is the right choice for every woman and her family. As for advising younger women, I would say that the right choice is the one that works for you.
Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
*It goes without saying that having the option to stay home with children is the result of privilege. That’s a topic for another discussion.