(Choosing Yourself) Contributing to Society
The phrase reached my ears while discussing future plans with a former boyfriend. I shared my dream to someday be a stay-at-home mother and still provide income, but not bear the primary burden of family financial security. To this he responded, “Not only do you not want to contribute to society, you want me to pay for it!”
It touched a sore spot, I confess, which is probably why I still remember it. I see smartly dressed women putting in long hours, laboring hard at their professional careers and seemingly loving it.
But some of us, for whatever reason, just don’t seem to be made that way. I am one of them. All my employment experiences in “normal” jobs left me frustrated with the world and myself, emotionally frazzled, dispirited about life, and creatively ready to burst at the seams. Maybe I never found the right 8-5 job. Unwilling, however, to spend time finding a fitting position, I jetted out several years ago to make a living my own way.
When I pass those women on the street, the smartly dressed, successful looking ones, I sometimes still feel a tinge of jealousy. Why can’t I just fit into that role? Instead, I just want to sit and think about philosophy and art, then go create something with my sewing machine, capture a feeling with my camera, tinker in my dad’s wood shop, write some essays, learn how to draw and paint. Only the jealous part of me wants to spend hours on end in an office building.
I refused to recognize it for years and years. It felt to me, too, that it wasn’t contributing to society. But I’ve grown, and now I have to admit, I am an artist.
There are still moments of doubt about giving up a normal, good career path. But a gentle reassurance floods in to remind me: many of the beautiful things surrounding us come from people who rejected the norm. People who trusted themselves enough to listen to their intuition and did something different, something daring.
Take for example, the musicians playing sounds in my ears, the artists who made paintings on my walls, the authors who penned books sprawled on the floor beside my bed, even the person responsible for the shoes on my feet (for an entertaining story, read Phil Knight’s autobiographic Shoe Dog to learn the humorous struggles and daring self-belief undertaken by Nike’s founder).
To you stay-at-home moms, you artists, you finding your way through the messiness into something perhaps scarier and more fulfilling than a normal career, thank you for adding so much beauty to life.
It strikes me that the best way of all to contribute, the truest, fullest form of contributing, is to unabashedly follow what you know deep down you are supposed to do. If you need a good nudge to DO THAT THING YOU KNOW YOU ARE MEANT TO DO, you may enjoy The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Every time I read it, I am filled with shame at not being more proactive about new ideas and with motivation to put fear aside as I charge into the unknown.
I never told my mother about the phrase the former boyfriend fired at me. She is a very creative, stay-at-home mom herself. With five of her children running their own businesses, six of us buying and renovating a platoon of old properties, and all seven (yes, seven) of us unable to run away from creativity, it’s clear she contributed quite a lot to at least this society.
Have you ever had someone cast scorn on you for wanting to be a stay-home-mom or wanting to quit your day job to start your own business?
Self drafted shift dress with french seams made with FS Bleached Midweight linen and naturally dyed slightly off white with elm tree bark.
You ARE a smartly dresses woman. Love your post.
I don’t think we still need to divide the world into “them” and “us” particular in a post feminist, post pandemic world. The myth is that you can “have it all” and be a mom and an executive. No shame in choosing one over the other except society shaming us for ANY choice we make, let’s not do it to each other. I’m glad you found what makes you happy, you don’t need to defend it to anyone.
Thank you so much for writing this! You have articulated what I have spent a lifetime trying to communicate!
While it is a distinct privilege and somewhat of a fortitude to be a stay at home mom, it is often overlooked how much better society functions when children are raised by their moms. It is my believe that many of today’s troubles are rooted in people having to search for their own path without having a guiding parent show them the way. I have been a stay at home mom, a full time, highly successful executive, and back to being a stay at home mom again. Every part of that journey was fulfilling. However, it was my choice. In a partnership, that may not alway’s be the case. When one is needing to go to work when your babies are little is really hard and economically not even that advantageous. So glad to read that the comment affected an ex-boyfriend. Imagine how heartbreaking that relationship would have been if he had had the opportunity to be demoralizing every day. Glad this writer found her calling.
It seems that criticizing women for their choices, those they have the ability to make for themselves as well as those that circumstances make for them, still flourishes. I think that none of our choices or having those choices makes us ‘superior’ to anyone else in any way — as people. There is far too much judgment of others and of self, especially for women. Certainly many men who hold power in this country feel free to tell women what to do with their lives and cast their judgments on us, too. I hope for the day when more of us pay more attention to the ‘rest of us,’ so to speak, with concern and care, and do what we can to make life better for all of us. I’m a Unitarian Universalist, who was reminded of these words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew the other day: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” (a likely not perfect quote, King James version of the Bible).
Wow. I could not leave my small children in the care of someone who didn’t love them. I hope I contributed to society by the fact that they are grown, functional adults. I went back to work when they were in school, but I feel like the demands of home and family still fell to me, except for a period of my husbands unemployment. Not contributing?!?!? I find his wording offensive to women everywhere, who usually bear the brunt of unpaid work in the home, even when working full time. Wow. Just wow.
I always felt resentment at having to work while my kids were being raised by a babysitter. I always wanted to be home with my kids and take care of the house. Thank you for putting all my thoughts into words.
I also chose to be a stay-at-home mom until we moved and I felt a strong need to rejoin the world. I managed to do both by working part-time, I contributed to our family’s income tho I never made nearly as much as I would have if I had gone full-time..
How absurd that contributing to the well-being, mental, emotional, creative, and physical, of the next generation is asking someone else to “pay for it.” I think we are looking at really bad long term effects of pushing child rearing to the periphery of our lives, and relying upon paid providers (day care, pre-school, and up) to fill the needs we as parents should take responsibility for.
Kudos to your Mom and you! I too am a stay at home Mom, and a beginning, budding artist. Homeschooled my two children, one who has 7 and is starting her homeschool journey, and one who just graduated high school and is starting her art business. It’s encouraging to hear that there are younger people who see the good and the beauty in listening to the call to nurture the creativeness in them. The world needs all kinds of people with different talents. I hope we can all see the good and beautiful in everyone whatever those talents may be. Thank you for sharing your, albeit painful, memory with us.
Thank you for this perspective! I am an attorney but have been home with my young children the last four years. Even though I felt it was the best choice for our family, I felt a loss of worth at first. I know society doesn’t value the work of childrearing at home, precious as is. And what a privilege too (I know many women don’t have a choice.) With some time and perspective, I’ve come to see that what I truly enjoy and am passionate about is creative pursuits. I loved the advocacy aspect of being a lawyer, but the business of it always left me burnt out. I’m still trying to figure out what my pivot looks like, but this is wonderful encouragement.
Yes! Discovering and developing your truest fullest self is THE way to contribute to the world! Some of us can only do “work“ that is directly life-making and creative; nothing else makes sense.?
That question mark posted instead of an emoji
Thank God that you had the example of your mom and your perspective wasn’t just shaped by the same influencers as your former boyfriend. I believe many feel they don’t have a choice because of their programming, but their heart still yearns to follow their own dreams and passions. By your sharing, I hope someone else will look deep inside and ask “how” . How can I follow my “why” and make the impact on my world that I am here to do? Being a “present” mother is the highest calling of all as helping little humans find their uniqueness and calling in an atmosphere of unconditional love while learning the gift of work and contribution, as well as survival makes for good citizens in a thriving society.
your ex sounds very abusive. he thinks parents and stay at home moms are not “contributing to society”? wow- i hope for everyone around him that he grew up some. a lot of people ran the numbers and it turns out that unless you have a pretty darn well paying job? you can end up not making much money (or even losing money) going to work when you have to pay for daycare, and often meals out and so on.
the funny thing is that so many people think women who go to *work* don’t ‘contribute to society’ because so many people have such narrow views of what people- women in specific – should do.
In any given society there are a lot of tasks and roles, and the point of a SOCIETY is that not everyone is doing the same thing! at a very basic level, in a society there were always people who “stayed near home” (if not AT home) or whose work was based out of their home, so they could watch the kids until the kids were old enough to help. Just like there were people who were really good at one thing (say making baskets) and could specialize in that because someone ELSE was doing all the “not making baskets” jobs
Thanks for this perspective.
I think this is a lovely blog post about your discovery of your true desires for your life. I do think it would have been good to acknowledge the amount of privilege that goes into a decision to stay home. Not everyone working away from him home does so because they love it. Most folks go to work because they have to.
This IS one of my favorite articles ever wrote! Love, truth, dreams, hope…
I think of a similarity, very moving work, the bridges of …
Selflessness in its truest form is love…all kinds.