Week 32: Home Economics

In three weeks, Sarah quits her job to become a future stay-at-home mother. This may not sound terribly earth shattering; there are more than 5.4 million stay-at-home moms in America, according to the 2004 U.S. Census Bureau. (There were about 100,000 stay-at-home dads.) But Sarah is a middle school principal at a public school she built up from nothing. She went door-to-door in the toughest housing project in Chicago to recruit students—undeterred by gunfire, crack addicts, and skeptical parents…

In three weeks, Sarah quits her job to become a future stay-at-home mother. This may not sound terribly earth shattering; there are more than 5.4 million stay-at-home moms in America, according to the 2004 U.S. Census Bureau. (There were about 100,000 stay-at-home dads.) But Sarah is a middle school principal at a public school she built up from nothing. She went door-to-door in the toughest housing project in Chicago to recruit students—undeterred by gunfire, crack addicts, and skeptical parents.

She decided it’s not impossible to give 100 percent to her job and 100 percent to raising a child the way it deserves, and simply chose the child over the job. It’s a decision that I have a lot of respect for. This is a woman who spent years teaching students to be responsible human beings, respectful and respectable. People who will go to college, get a degree and a job and raise their eventual children to follow a similar path. Sarah’s decision is the natural extension of the lessons she’s teaching.

There are those who think Sarah is selling out the school kids: How could you take the kids this far and then just say, See ya? But is it a sellout to spend two years helping others, then moving on to help yourself—or a sellout to have never lifted a finger in the first place? For most of these children, she’s done more than any other adult in their lives. Worse, there are those who’d say she’s betraying her very gender. That she’s turning her back on feminism, proving that after all her hard work to show she could excel in a man-dominated world, she’s saying that all she really wanted after all was to be barefoot and pregnant.

To which I say: You don’t know my wife. She wants to have a baby now? Fine. She wants another a few years down the line? Great. In ten years, she’ll be heading up a homeless shelter, or building houses with a construction crew, or running for alderman of the 42nd Ward. And she’ll get her kids involved. This is not the end of her life as a professional woman. It’s just another adventure in a life full of possibilities; one that will give her more strength to make this world a little bit better.

If I sound defensive, it’s because I understand Sarah’s decision—and I don’t care what people think. Sarah is still ambivalent, but I think once that baby comes she’ll know she made the only choice she could have.

So where does this leave us? With a lot of pressure on me, that’s where. No one ever made a killing as a journalist, and I’m certainly no exception. My salary is not enough to support two people, much less three. So, what to do?

Take three months off, that’s what.

Unpaid.

The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles new fathers to up to 90 days off within a year of their child’s birth, and the same job waiting for them when they return. (Thank you, Bill Clinton.) For some, it may sound like career suicide. Or with the mounting baby bills, a three-month vacation could be seen as fiscally loco. But it has come to this: I don’t want to miss out on my child’s upbringing. Even if we have to borrow money to make it happen, I want those three months.

I asked my father recently what he remembers from my first year. He couldn’t come up with much—and this is a guy who usually remembers everything. I’m willing to bet he’d give anything to turn back the clock.

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