Choosing Home: 20 Mothers Celebrate Staying Home, Raising Children, and Changing the World

Book Review: Choosing Home: 20 Mothers Celebrate Staying Home, Raising Children, and Changing the World Edited by Rachel Chaney and Kerry McDonald

The personal stories collected in this new book are by mothers who gave up careers or decided not to go into fulltime work so they can be stay-at-home mothers. The refreshing honesty and vitality of these writers makes their stories resonate as these women describe their career, education, health, and financial decisions head-on and they defend their choices. Rachel Chaney, one of the contributors and co-editor, writes in her introduction:

Women should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, whatever those might be, but gender equality in work for pay outside the home does not represent the ultimate social good, or the ultimate reflection of a just and equitable society. Insisting that both women and men must work in equally high paying and prestigious jobs to attain gender equality explicitly assumes that high paying jobs reflect the pinnacle of success and importance. We disagree. When mothers (and increasingly fathers) stay home—whether they earn a paycheck never, now, or in the future—they change the world for the better by raising and prioritizing children, cultivating family and community, and investing in the future… … While all of us have chosen home, our paths to home have differed widely. Some of us could easily stay home, since our husbands made enough to support our families without much adjustment. Others had to make drastic lifestyle changes, sell cars and houses, eat beans and rice, and count every penny, in order to forgo an additional income. Some of us chose home long ago, others chose home on the brink of returning to work after maternity leave. Some of us extended our choice of home into the education of our children by homeschooling, while others of us send our kids to school. Some of us work from home, or plan to work once our kids are older. Others of us make home our work, and try to reclaim the productivity that used to characterize most homes.

This is not an ideological presentation of the value of keeping a parent at home; religion and politics are not the primary reasons these writers stay home. Some grew up in uncomfortable, stressful homes; others grew up around parents who had mental illness; working mothers raised others; the variety of experiences that people feel that move them to choose home is fascinating. Saira Siddiqui, writes, “As much as I looked forward to motherhood, I didn’t fall in love with it at first. In fact, I hated it. I felt like my brain lacked all stimulation. I even went as far as to create Excel documents charting the babies’ feeds and diaper changes just so that I could analyze the graphs. I had spent my entire adult life working toward the pursuit of other things, and now, with the flip of a switch, I was expected to put all of that aside in a tiny little box and embrace my role as MOTHER.”

However, they all choose home because they decided it was the best choice for them and for their families at this time of their lives. Some, like Siddiqui, grow to relish their choice of home over work. Several writers note how they plan to work again, or have done so as the children got older and more independent, but they are not bitter that their careers were short-circuited by child rearing. Indeed, they are excited that they didn’t let their careers short-circuit their parenting!

Their journeys into motherhood and home are complex and varied, but one element I saw in several stories leaps out to me because it is a common problem and solution I hear from homeschooling parents and children. Becky Gates sums it up when she concludes, “Once I had some social support and connections, being at home became much more manageable.” The image of being home often connotes isolation, but being home can also mean reaching out and connecting to one’s immediate family and to the wider community, as the stories in this book make this quite clear. Choosing home does not mean choosing isolation or being idle; it also means choosing to make your home a place of purposeful activity, a place of play, a place to eat and talk, and a refuge.

This is not a how-to book, but rather a why-to book, and you will be surprised by some of the author’s stories. The authors all recognize the value of relationships and deliberately put themselves in positions that allow their families to develop them. For instance, Kristen Cutler writes about her mother, “I’m amazed at how well she balanced caring for three children and managing a household while working fulltime as an elementary special education teacher. . . . but I also want to have the freedom to give time to my children without also having to feel the pull of a career. I remember feeling nervous about talking to my mom about things because I knew she needed to focus her limited time on housework and other chores. She did her best to listen and understand, but I felt that she was often distracted, focusing on the next task needing to be accomplished.” Deanne Skow notes, “Too often, children are seen as a responsibility to take care of or one more item on the to-do list. The drive to just adhere to the duty of childcare instead of taking the opportunities to connect, bond, and genuinely get to know these little people can be overlooked.”

I think this issue lies at the heart of this book. These mothers create time to be with their children and families that goes beyond what conventional work and school schedules allow. They don’t view themselves as managers of their children, supervising the manufacturing of their childhood. Tracy Barsamian Ventola writes that, “when childhood is viewed as an unfolding process (a blossoming into one’s whole self), motherhood takes on a deeper richer, meaning. It becomes about creating a safe, quiet sanctuary for one’s family.” The mothers in this book write eloquently about the criticisms and social pressures they feel for not choosing to send their children to preschool and for not continuing their careers by choosing home. However, none regret their decision. Fortunately, these woman and their spouses don’t view their lives as solely driven by economic concerns. They view themselves as being more than their job titles and college degrees, and, as Kerry McDonald does in her essay in the book, they take to heart the phrase from La Leche League’s book The Classic Art of Breastfeeding, “Motherhood is a special season in my life.”