By Lucia Davies
In the Hollywood version, Diane Keaton is an advertising power player who suddenly has motherhood thrust upon her. After falling in love with her little charge, she decides to give up the paycheck, move to Vermont and be a stay-at-home mom – who then finds a way to integrate a successful business into her (and her daughter’s) life, all while staying true to her priority of being a good mother. The movie was “Baby Boom.” And no, it had very little to do with real life.
Cut to current-day Maine, and the working mother versus stay-at-home moms (SAHMs for short) dilemma rages on. While working moms have a career and can better financially provide, SAHMs offer their kids consistency and a sense of security 24/7, but without collecting a salary or benefits.
So why does a recent Pew Research analysis show that SAHM-hood has spiked to 29 percent, up from the modern era low of 23 percent in 1999? Why are masses of women walking away from fast-tracked jobs and the financial freedom that a two-income family allows?
Sarah Lozier of Biddeford stays at home with five children ages 3 and under (yes, there’s a set of twins in there). With a plum job in federal government, she hadn’t considered staying at home. But she didn’t anticipate the avalanche of love she’d feel upon the birth of her first child, Emilia. Still, the decision wasn’t easy. A recent Gallup poll survey reveals that SAHMs are more likely to experience depression, sadness and anger than their wage-earning counterparts, and Lozier’s initial experience reflects that. She remembers being pregnant with her third child, while Emilia was underfoot and her second child, Victoria, was an infant. Laundry and diapers were everywhere and, she confided to her mother-in-law, she was overwhelmed.
“I just wanted a normal job,” Lozier said. “She told me that if I wanted a job to go and get one. I realized then that I wanted to be at home – without the difficulties. That just wasn’t possible so I decided to give that frustration over to God and trust that He would help me be content with my choice and with myself.” So far, she says, it’s working out.
The day is non-stop for Terri Hutchinson of Auburn. She’s a SAHM of two boys, and the president of the central Maine chapter of the Rebecca Foundation (therebeccafoundation.org), a charity that donates cloth diapers to families in need. She has the added complication of her younger son’s food allergies, saying, “Breakfast has gotten interesting since discovering that Rohan is allergic to oats, wheat and gluten. We went through so many eggs before finding out about rice and coconut flour.”
Danielle Faucher from Lewiston blogs about her SAHM life (raisinglittletreasures.com) and believes that stability is the greatest gift you can give your children.
“They have a consistent disciplinary system in place, instead of, ‘This is how you are at day care,’ ‘this is how you act with Grandma,’ and ‘this is what is expected of you at home.’”
Faucher, like many SAHMs, believes the trend away from public/private education into homeschooling is a big impetus for her to stay at home with her kids.
“After a lot of consideration, we decided that educating our children at home will have the greatest learning benefits,” she said. “They will have one-on-one help, which allows them the attention needed whether they excel or need a little extra help.”
Lozier also believes in homeschooling. She remembers being in sixth grade in a co-ed health class and “the teacher [gave] a demonstration of how to put a condom on a banana. I was 11.”
She wants her kids to have age-appropriate lessons and, firmly grounded in her faith, plans to teach her kids about all other religions besides her own (Christian) beliefs.
Lauren Skoczenski of South Portland is open to whatever works for the individual child.
“I think a sense of community is really important for kids and families, whether it’s school or church or, you know, some social setting,” said Skoczenski, mother to daughter Emelina. “I don’t want my kids to be sitting at the kitchen table all day. [But] the thing about homeschooling I like is that kids learn at their own pace. You don’t have that in public school.”
Still, the downsides to SAHMing are real. Besides losing a second income, sheer fatigue can be a bear – Lozier’s day begins at 5 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m. with barely time to take a bathroom break in between – and loss of identity can happen.
Says Skoczenski, “I could literally wear my pajamas all day. You’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is my life!’ It’s finding that balance.”
Hit hardest by the sacrifices, not surprisingly, are low-income moms who experience stress and worry more than SAHMs who are financially secure.
“The most difficult challenge for me is not being able to afford the house and travel that I would love to be able to give my children,” says Hutchinson, but then quickly brightens, saying, “Although they do have something that money can’t buy – love and trust and knowing unequivocally that we are there for them no matter what.”
Another factor that the Pew analysis cites for women making the choice to stay home is the high cost of child care. Between 1985 and 2011, weekly day care costs have skyrocketed a shocking 70 percent. That, along with a tanking economy, has been behind many SAH decisions. Faucher’s comments point to the struggle countless families have faced since the Great Recession.
“Until my husband was able to secure a job that could support buying a house,” she said, “I learned to pinch pennies, make all of our own food (bread, yogurt, applesauce), and [made] my husband’s paychecks stretch as far as possible.”
One more way these families save money is by doing something also good for the Earth. Over time, using cloth diapers can save up to $4,000 and abandoning disposables makes for a positive impact on the environment. Says Faucher, “I always knew that I would cloth diaper my children because it helps us financially afford for me to stay home.”
Of course, trends in parenting are constantly changing. Choices are everywhere: from schooling to diapers, breastfeeding to vaccinations, and of course, whether to stay home. As Hutchinson comments, “These are not decisions to be made lightly, most require a commitment. But we’ve come to the conclusion that these are the best decisions for our family.”
Bottom line? With motherhood comes sacrifice – and great rewards. Whether we choose to stay home or have a career, we’re all doing the best we can for our families. And that’s good enough for a Hollywood ending.
Sarah Lozier with husband Jeremy, Robert, Victoria, Emilia, Lillian and Leo. Lauren Skoczenski and her daughter Emelina. Danielle Faucher and her family: husband Nathan, and children Peter, Thérèse and Anthony.