Log on to any online parenting forum and odds are you will eventually hear the same story: Generation X women, who spent their own childhoods as latchkey kids, are now opting, despite advanced degrees and professional careers, to stay at home with their children.
Generation X, the generation of "slackers" now in their thirties, was labeled as having little gumption of the previous generations. Tagged as selfish and self-centered because we went to college, delayed getting married, and are only just now beginning to start our families, many Gen X-ers feel like we are anything but. Talk to anyone in this age group about why they put off these normal stages of growing up and you'll hear the same thing: divorced parents and/or two parents working outside the home made growing up in the 1970s a very lonely existence.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, census data showed an unprecedented number of women joining the workforce and leaving the children in daycare. The general consensus seemed to be that this was a good way to generate independence and self-sufficiency in children.
"Maybe it did make me independent," says Sarah, 27, who is planning on staying home with her future children, "but it also made me really, really lonely."
There's a good chance that was true for many other Gen X children raised in the 1970s, for now, roughly 51% of our nation's children are in the care of their mothers. If you take into account all the grandparents and fathers watching children, the number of children being cared for by family members shoots up to roughly 64%-according to census 2000 data.
Ann, 33 and a new mother of a 3 month old, left a lucrative career to stay home with her baby. There are grandmothers willing to help, but she wants to stay home "and not miss any of the milestones." Her own mother stayed home with the first two children but went back to work with the third. "I think my youngest sister missed out on a lot."
This doesn't mean a return to the 1950s homemaker moms, however. Today's stay-at-home moms aren't likely to be found ironing and starching shirts in between baking cakes and cookies, rather you will probably find them operating home businesses, telecommuting, and frantically asking for baby advice online at www.stayathome.com or www.familyandhome.org during baby's naptime.
Perhaps Generation X moms are taking motherhood so seriously because we took so long to have children in the first place. While the number of stay-at-home mothers has increased, the age a woman becomes a mother in many parts of the U.S. has also increased. When I went to my obstetrician for my first appointment I was feeling old and tired at 34. Something in me said "maybe you should have done this earlier when you had the energy." My obstetrician informed me that I was her youngest patient-median age for her patients was 38. Might there be some wisdom that comes with age? A certain suspicion that one can't quite do it all-and that that's okay?
"I really would like to stay home with my children until they're in school, and find work after that which allows me to be home with them when school's out-or not work at all, if possible, precisely because I hated being a latchkey kid. I didn't have the attention from my mother that I'd have liked," says Stella,36 and mother of two.
But rather than blame our mothers, Stella, like many of us also recognizes that some things can't be helped. "She was a single mom. What else could she do?" she asks. Feminism in the 1960s and 1970s may have paved the way for our mothers to enter the workforce, but it is also what allows Generation X moms to give up their first careers to stay home.
For Ann looking down at her 3 month old, the answer is simple. "I took a vow when I got married to accept any children as they come. What would be the point in having them if I wasn't willing to be with them?" It's not always easy to adjust to a new life, she admits, but she's confident she'll get used to it, and also get used to the slimmed down finances.
For Stephania, 36, who sometimes does freelance work from home, it's about striking a balance. "I look forward to the time when my child is in school so that I can work more. But right now, I see my job now as raising my girl (and hopefully another child soon) and feel that I am doing very important work. She is absolutely my priority."
Staying at home, working online or at a home business, and being with and there for our children: maybe this is the new version of "having it all." This recipe for a new type of success combines an amazing mixture of acknowledging the need for a strong family life, women making their own choices about their lives, and technology providing work from home and contact with the outside world. This is the version of family life that no one who stereotyped our generation would have ever predicted.