WSJ: You're very insistent that mothers should stay at home as full-time moms for the sake of the child. But given our current economic crisis, is that feasible for couples who may require two salaries to make ends meet?
Dr. Schlessinger: Of course this is a huge concern right now with money issues being so tight. But what I have discerned is that people of modest means have been able to handle what's going on far better than people who are used to having a lot of stuff; it's the people who put their life's worth into products, and not people, that are probably the most shell-shocked.
One thing I've been happy as peach pie about -- because I'm all about the children and the happiness of a woman because that makes the happiness of the home -- is that nannies, day cares and babysitters are all collapsing, which is forcing moms and dads to raise their children at home. I've gotten a huge surge of mail and calls from people who didn't make the choice to be at home with their kids, but are just now realizing how wonderful and beautiful it can be. A home should be more than just a place to park yourself after a frenzied day of too much work. So even though there's less cash, people seem to be happier.
As a SAHM who is sometimes still struggling with the one-income setup we have, I won't deny that I do not feel insecure or threatened sometimes. What if my husband dies? What if one of us gets really sick? Where do we get the money to buy a house or pay for our son's education? Can we have more kids?
But the fact is, many households have survived on one income. Many households have survived with the father earning less than what my husband is making. Parents may have to settle for walks along Manila Bay or state univeristies but the fact of surviving/depending on just one income does not automatically mean the kids were shortchanged where it matters. Of course, living from hand-to-mouth is a totally different thing, but getting by with a little help from Pag-Ibig and SSS loans is also not that bad a thing.
So it's true. It's those who are used to the nice things that complain and suffer more in times of hardships.
WSJ: What do you tell women who are hesitant to leave their jobs?
Dr. Schlessinger: You know how when you try to quit smoking you chew gum? You replace one thing with another because it distracts you. What I would tell these women is that they're spending too much time thinking about what they have to give up, and feeling angry about not being valued. Look at me -- I made the transition from being a powerhouse to being at home, folding laundry. What they need to do is find value elsewhere. I tell these women to look in their children's eyes. When your husband comes home, wrap your body around him at the door and look at his eyes. What people need to learn is that it's not about the drudgery of housework -- it's about being at home for all of those incredible moments that make your life more valuable than the person who replaced you at work. No one can replace mom. Kids who don't have moms suffer a lifetime.
I am still struggling with finding value in being home. But it's really great to have a supportive husband. And there are very liminal moments where you're clear that you're reaping the rewards of having made that sacrifice.
Because it really is not easy losing money and friends and opportunities to impress other adults with your brilliance.
WSJ: What questions should working mothers ask themselves when deciding whether to quit their jobs and become stay-at-home mothers?
Dr. Schlessinger: The nut questions should be: Do I feel fulfilled as a woman? Do I feel like my husband's girlfriend? Do I feel like I have touched the soul of my kids? Those will help you decide.
Me... I asked myself, can you forgive yourself for missing your child's firsts?
WSJ: Where do stay-at-home dads fit into the picture?
Dr. Schlessinger: I recommend that during the first three years, the mom should be at home because all of the research shows that the person whose body you come out of and whose breast you suck at, at that stage, really needs to be the mom -- unless she's incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. After that, flip a coin.
And I thank Yakee and hubs for acknowledging that i'm not incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. But yes, darling guys, I could be more.
WSJ: What about the women who can't choose their hours?
Dr. Schlessinger: Well, everyone's capable of it. For everything in life, you have to make a priority list. This must be done. If we truly believe in something and cherish it, we find a way to make it happen. Women go from making seven-figure salaries to staying at home, and things just start to be less important. I remember once our house burned down, and another time there was an earthquake in L.A. and I'll tell you, this family [of mine] never had so much fun. My kid was still little so we played "Sorry" and card games and laughed and giggled and told stories -- none of which costs money. Families across the nation are starting to discover that it's the smallest things in life that make you smile. You don't have to work 9 to 7. If your priority is to raise your child, it's not just a matter of making sure they don't get killed or have food to eat. The question is, "Do you want them to learn what's moral and of value from your perspective?"
That's also the same question driving me to make homeschooling work. I want my son to learn what I feel are important, and the why of it from my point of view. That's not to say that he can never have a differing point of view, but he'd at least know the why of mine. Few kids ever had that with their parents. So if my children will be privileged, it's going to be in this area.
WSJ: Do you think it's possible for a working mother to raise a smart, successful child?
Dr. Schlessinger: I didn't write this book about working moms. I wrote it in praise of stay-at-home moms. It's a wonderful choice, but to be absolutely truthful, having been on both sides of this mentality, my heart hurts for what these women miss and what their children miss from them. No argument, no criticism. My heart just hurts -- because when you get those pudgy arms around your neck, and being told you're someone's lullaby -- the fact that a woman would miss that is so, so sad.
I believe SAHMhood isn't for every woman. And I am actually not entirely convinced that it's for me. But it is what I want and feel passion for. And it is what am trying to make work. And for the life of me, I really cannot be away from my child for so many hours on a regular basis. Not only do I feel like am shortchanging him, but I also feel that I am denying myself of really priceless moments.
We all find our own niche. I work but since my husband and I both have the flexibility to choose our own hours, we usually spend a lot of time with our kid. Of course, we have a lot of help in the chores department coz that really comes least in my priorities :). I'm happy to say that I haven't missed any important milestones so far.
I admire SAHMs and tell my patients who are that they should not say that they're "housewife lang po" because it's difficult to be one. For me, it's even more difficult than working outside for pay.
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