She gave up her career for her son and our country. Meet Kitty, former teacher and stay-at-home Navy mom.

The decision to stay home with our children can be hard enough, but it’s even harder when it seems there is no choice.
Kitty began her career in anthropology, but fell in love with teaching while interviewing residents of rural Alaska for a National Parks program. She taught elementary school for twelve years, but gave that up when she met her husband, a Navy pilot, and they moved from her home state of Washington to Florida.
There, she made plans to start a PhD program in public policy with an emphasis on education and was excited to begin. Those plans came to a halt when she became pregnant with their son, their only child. Kitty found her role as military spouse and mom made full-time work nearly impossible.
I interviewed Kitty four years ago when she was 40 years old and her son was 15 months. Since then, she and her family have moved three times, landing back in Florida again.
Kitty does not regret her decisions, but she plans to return to the workforce in a few years when her husband retires. 

This is Kitty’s story, in her own words:

I don’t know what I’m going to do.
When my son Evan gets older I am definitely going back to work. I cannot do this for the rest of my life, although I don’t really feel the drive to go back to the classroom.
I was doing a lot – up in Washington – of consulting work. I was on a state committee that was looking at fairness and bias, and I loved that. I really felt like before I got married I was heading in this direction where I was eventually going to be able to leave the classroom and sustain myself through the consulting work.
But that kind of came to an abrupt halt when I got married and moved down here. I don’t have those contacts and I’ve been out of the scene up there for two and a half, almost three years now. We’ll see what happens when we go back.
We’re going to be back in Washington again and I certainly can get back in contact with people, but my husband is going to be gone for months at a time on the air craft carrier and I don’t want to get myself into a situation where I’m in the classroom, working Monday through Friday. I mean I would have my parents around to help me, but you know, they’re elderly and they’re not up for babysitting every day.
I firmly believe that doors will open and that it’s right for me to stay home with Evan right now, but not forever. I wasn’t satisfied with teaching, and I knew that (graduate) school was one of those things where it would be lot of time commitment to do it right. I didn’t know if I was ready to jump into that.
Also, I knew we had a finite amount of time here in Florida, and that we were going to be moving eventually. If I didn’t hit it hard in those two years, I wasn’t going to get my coursework done.
In retrospect, that was really a very good decision. I wound up with postpartum depression and it was all that I could do to keep my head above the water. I’m glad I didn’t have the pressure of school or work on top of that.
Another reason I wanted to stay home was I always knew that if I had kids… I had spent twelve years in the classroom and I could pick out which of my students had been day care and which ones had been home with mom. The kids that had been home with mom or with a caregiver, like an aunt or a sister or a grandparent – somebody who is family and loves them and who wasn’t paid to take care of them – you know. There’s a difference.
Those kids were not as needy of my time and seemed to be a little more adjusted to who they were as people. The day care kids were adjusted as far as teams and following directions, but they just didn’t seem to know themselves as well. It would be hard for any nine-year-old to know themselves, but there was just a different confidence level that I saw in the kids.
I’m not knocking parents who had to put their kids through day care. I know that for most families it’s a financial decision to keep working put their kids in day care. I certainly have a lot of friends who are not in any position for the mom to quit their jobs.
The other reason, too, is that maybe there really is a subculture (in the Navy) – and here’s the anthropologist in me coming out — with its own customs and rules for belonging, and the vast majority – and I am not kidding when I say the vast majority – of women who have children stay at home.
One reason is because it’s very stable. I am talking officers’ wives here. It is a little different with enlisted. They don’t make as much money. My husband is not, for the amount of education and training he’s had, is not compensated very well. But we’ve lived comfortably, and part of it is through our benefits like the Commissary and the free medical. Right there, we’ll save hundreds of dollars. But there really is a support system amongst the wives. But, it’s kind of the expectation that you’re going to stay home and I just kind of slid right into that.
I miss intellectual stimulation. I miss the validation. I miss feeling like I’m in control and competent. I miss the satisfaction of a job well done. I miss the “thank you” and just the reassurance that, you know… I guess I had a lot of my self-worth tied up in working.
While I know in the long run what I’m doing by staying home with my son is going to be best for him, he’s like this little fifteen- month old. Now he gives hugs and kisses and stuff, but when he was little, it was just pooping and screaming and eating, and there weren’t a lot of reward in that. You know. Outside rewards.
It’s getting easier partly because I think I have adjusted, but little things where he comes up and gives me a big mouth kiss on the cheek or a hug, those are his little ways of letting my know that I’m the most important person to him.
That melts my heart.
But one thing I did take on is I became president of my Spouse’s Club. As I told one of my friends back home, “I’ve become that which I used to mock” because I’d look at the Navy wives – remember I taught in a Navy community – and they were all these moms who were just hanging out at school chit-chatting and gossiping with each other. I would always be thinking in my head, “Get a life.” Then they would move down in a pack to get coffee, talking about squadron stuff, and their whole conversation was “Oh, the squadron this. The squadron that.” I would just think, “Oh, they don’t have a life outside their husbands’ identities.”
And I’ve become that.
I mean, the first thing you do when you meet someone else in the military community is, “Oh, my husband. He’s a lieutenant. He’s a pilot over in whatever unit.” At what point did I become that versus, “Hi. My name is Kitty. I teach fourth grade?”
It was actually really hard and a real source of contention between my husband and me. Because I was like, “You don’t understand. I gave up my job. I owned a house in Washington. I sold that to move down here. I gave up my name. Now I’ve given up my job, and where am I? Who is Kitty? I am identified through Trent’s wife and Evan’s mom, and I don’t have anything that identifies me as “I am this. I am a teacher. I am a consultant. I am a committee member for fairness and bias.”
I have lost those identities to the past and I don’t like the fact that all the hats I wear now are not mine. And he was just like, “Oh, well. What’s wrong with being my wife? What’s wrong with being Evan’s mom?” And I’m like, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
I’ve come to realize that I’ll get my hats back.
If I could do it again, I would still decide to stay home and that goes back to the classroom. When my son is nine, I know he’s going to be better off because of the fact that I stayed home.
It has meant a lot of changes for us financially. We don’t eat out anymore. That’s an easy thing to wipe off your budget. The household is given $1000 every two weeks from which groceries and gas and incidentals, clothes for Evan or something for myself come from. Before, if I wanted something I would buy it. I think the big one is the eating out. We go out only for special occasions now whereas before we went out two or three times a week. And we don’t really buy prepackaged stuff anymore.
I don’t regret my decision. I know I will not be a stay-at-home-mom forever. I’ve just taken my hats off and hung them on the hat rack for a little bit. I’ll dust those hats off and they’ll be back. As you get older, you get more and more hats. I wear two very important hats now as a wife and a mom, but that does not mean I have to throw away those others.

All interviews in this series can be found in their own blog: Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms.

Twice she stayed home with her children, and twice she went back to work. Meet Billena, proof that moms can have it both ways.

Billena and her family on New Year’s 2013

Many stay-at-home moms worry they will never be able to re-enter the workforce. Billena is proof that fear is invalid. She has returned to the workforce twice after stints at home, once as a massage therapist and, just this month, as a medical assistant.
I came to know Billena of Chelsea, Michigan, nearly six years ago through a forum for women who were pregnant with twins. We have remained friends since. I interviewed Billena four years ago, just after her twin girls were born.
Billena is now thirty-nine years old. Her oldest daughter is fifteen and her twins are six.
Billena stayed home with her oldest daughter until she was in kindergarten. Then she went to school for massage therapy and worked in her field for about three years. While pregnant with the twins, she put her career on hold, returning to school just before they started kindergarten.
She and her husband initially gave up one car to make the decision financially feasible. Her husband is an engineer. 

Here is Billena’s story, in her own words:

We always said that I would stay home and be with the kids while they were little, but I think it was mostly my choice. He (her husband) didn’t mind, but he does prefer for me to stay home. He doesn’t like the kids to be in other people’s care.
I do miss work sometimes.
People ask me all the time, “When are you going to start working again? I need a massage.” I haven’t decided when I’m going to do that. But I have to say I do miss it. I have thought about a couple weekends a months or something, but I haven’t got any definite plans yet.
What did I give up? I sacrificed my car in October. I sold my car and we did pay off our credit card with it. We have no credit card bills at all now. That’s awesome.
I don’t think I’m going to have to sacrifice it for very long. I’m hoping by spring I’ll have a car. But we thought, just for this winter, let’s try to save some money and see what happens with that. I mean you have to sacrifice.
I don’t get to go out like I did before. With Marina (her oldest), when it was just the three of us, we used to go out to eat probably three or more times a week. Now we rarely go out. But we mostly rely on his income.
My income wasn’t a huge income. I guess that was kind of play-around money. Going out and doing fun stuff. I do have to say having the twins has been a little bit more strenuous.
We do live about eight or nine blocks from downtown. So I can walk.
Of course, in the winter I’m not going to want to do that with the kids. So, basically, I don’t really go anywhere during the week except on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He has a friend who picks him up if I want to use the car. Actually, I meet Holly and Rachel (friends) at the mall and we exercise.
I do have the car two days a week.
I am enjoying life right now.
I love staying home with the kids.
I really do.
To me it’s just a small sacrifice to make because they are just little for a very short time. I can give up going out to eat and going to the movies. I’m not liking not having a car. I told my husband when we had to take the kids to the doctor, I said, if we had two cars, I wouldn’t have to worry about you getting here. He’s notoriously late for everything. That doesn’t fly with me.
But, to me, it’s just a small sacrifice because they’re small for only a short time. It goes by so fast.
I think that staying home has freed up more time because I have dinner ready and I’m not rushing to get it done because I’m just getting home from work. I have it done earlier. We like to play Scrabble and board games and I think it has freed up more time. But, on the other hand, I think my husband does think I should do everything.
I still think we have more time as a family because we do more things together—playing games and things. The babies, of course, can’t play the games, but the three of us—we always sit down to dinner together and, usually, we pull out some game after. So I think we have more time together.
Usually, I would get home and I’d forgotten to get something out of the freezer, so everything’s frozen and I’d say, let’s go get something take-out, or we’d go to the restaurant. That was just with the three of us and now, with the addition, with the twins, we don’t eat out very often at all.
He (her husband) will say, when you’re done, when you go back to work, things will be better because we’ll do this. And actually I’m thinking about going back to school to finish—to be a physical therapist or an assistant. I’m going to go for the assistant first. I’ve been talking about that, so he’s been talking about when you do that we’ll have a second income and it won’t be so bad. And we’ll do this and that.
I think sometimes he’s a little stressed because we don’t have that second income.
I worked when she (Marina) was in school, but with being a massage therapist, I had the flexibility of making my own schedule. I was my own boss. I was self-employed. So I always made my schedule around her. I think our relationship is the same as before because I always made sure I was available to her when she came home from school.
I may be in denial about my identity right now.
I realized that I just put on a form that I am still a massage therapist and I’m not doing that right now. So I may be struggling with that a little more than I thought I did.
They are just growing up so fast. I do think that I do struggle with that (identity) because you get out and you are doing something and you have a title. Not that I don’t have a title now. My new title is mommy and homemaker and that’s such a great title.
Still, it’s something more. You’re in the world out there doing something for people. I think maybe I have to explore that a little bit more.
I think that it (staying home) has impacted me physically too. Before, I used to work out a lot more than I do now. I think that mentally I am more tired even though I’m at home, but it’s probably that I’m tired because I am at home.
There are so many more things to do and you can’t get it done. It seemed liked when I was working, I think I did get more things done maybe because—I don’t know—maybe I’m a little bit more lax on my schedule because I am home. I think I’m more tired because of the twins.
But definitely, physically? Yeah. It has impacted me. I am struggling with the weight loss. I think I did have a better grip on it when I was working because—this might sound silly but—I think I cared more about what I looked like going out and getting dressed everyday for work, putting makeup on and getting it all put together.
I think so.
Yeah.
I don’t go anywhere anyway.
I think it will change.
I told myself the other day I really need to start exercising and eating better.
If I could do it again? I’d stay home.
I would advise them (other moms) that if they could do it financially, if they didn’t have to have a second income, then I would recommend staying home. It’s very rewarding to stay home and see all their little milestones.
I mean, I don’t have all the clothes that I need for work anymore. Sacrificing that—going out and all the extras, going to the movies all the time and all the little extras—to me, it’s such a short time to sacrifice.
We’re almost at a year now. If I stay home with them until they go to school that’s three to four more years, depending on if they go to preschool or not.
Really, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing much at all to be able to stay home with them. I know I’m lucky to be able to stay home. I know there are many women out there who are not able to. But if they are able to financially, I would say, go for it.
I do feel that being a stay-at-home mom, a homemaker, it is a full-time job. I feel like it’s twenty-four/seven. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t a break.
But it’s rewarding.
It is.
It can be challenging at times, but I feel it’s very rewarding. It’s peace, I guess for me. I know that they are safe with me and that they are not being exposed to someone who could hurt them. I mean you hear things so much.
You hear so many stories about day care providers or nannies doing something horrible to someone’s child and that, to me, is just a fear that I don’t want to have to think about when I’m at work. I don’t want to have to fear someone is hurting my child.
A lot of my friends who have children who go to day care, they are always sick it seems like. The bigger the day care, the worse it is. I know that they are getting fed and cared for because I’m doing it here at home. That’s a peace of mind for me.
And I would hate to think that I missed their first step or a new word that they said or a new game that they learned or blowing kisses. I want to teach them that. I don’t want anyone else to teach them that.
I’m selfish.

All interviews in this series can be found in their own blog: Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms.

"Motherhood truly softened me." Seattle mom Kathleen talks about the choice to stay home.

Kathleen, 43, hiking with her children.

Kathleen is unlike most of the stay-at-home moms I interviewed for this biweekly series, Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms.
Most struggled with their post-career identities, unaware of the toll the social isolation would take on them.
Kathleen, who lives in a Seattle suburb, worked as a nanny for seven years before she had kids, and then in a private preschool for eight years.
She was accustomed to the lifestyle.
Staying home is important to her, she says. Her parents divorced when she was young and she spent much of her time in the care of sitters.
She didn’t want that for her children.
I spoke with Kathleen, 43, five years ago. Her children are now 11, 9 and 7. She is thinking about going to school and getting a job, but she  keeps herself busy now volunteering at school, caring for her household and her kids and keeping the whole family physically active.
This and all interviews in the series can be found in their own blog: Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms. 

Here is Kathleen’s story in her words:

We’d always said what you say when you’re dating. (I was nannying when we were dating.) When we have kids I can always work with the first one and by the time you have two, you stay home.
Really I was working at a daycare that was quite elitist. It had infant massage every day. This place was very, very fancy. I don’t know how I got a job there, but a lot of people wanted their kids in there, so to be able to have my child go there was really, I thought, kind of a blessing. We were glad to have it.
But, the problem was, they kept adjusting my hours, you know working the latest shift that you could have. The place closed at six thirty, so I was there until closing. Technically, I could see my son on all breaks, but that was when he was sleeping. I would get home. He would fall asleep on the commute. I never saw him. He was pretty much just there to get me in the carpool lane back and forth.
It was really, really depressing.
Then on the weekends, he was just pretty much going through withdraw from being in pretty much the most glorious daycare. I wasn’t happy with my job. They wanted me to work more and more hours. Half my paycheck was going into his daycare. I was getting a fifty percent discount, but being such a fancy place, it was a very expensive program.
He started at four months and by the time he was eight months old, I quit. It kind of all blew up in my face. All of a sudden, I just couldn’t stand it anymore.
It was great to stay home but, to be honest, it was really hard because I had to get to know this baby that really didn’t want to be with me. He really wanted to be with the other people.
That was hard.
He did and it felt lousy.
They did baby sign with him there and I didn’t know what he was saying. I had no idea what he wanted. I just really never got to spend that much time with him, which was a terrible thing. He was my first child. I’d been with other people’s children more than mine own as a newborn nanny.
That was hard. I think.
It was so depressing and so I gained a little weight and then I finally really had to get myself out there and start doing things, because that wasn’t good. It wasn’t really a big paycheck in the first place. It wasn’t like we went through this monumental change. It was literally like if we cancelled the diaper service and I washed diapers and we didn’t go out to eat as much and I wasn’t really buying a lot of wardrobe… He (her husband) always had a good enough job that he could have supported us. We always knew it was coming. I don’t think we intended for it to come that fast.
And then I got pregnant again right away, so it worked out.
I’ve thought about going back and getting a different kind of degree. I actually don’t have a degree, but getting it in just a completely different field, getting a degree in nutrition because I got really into eating healthy and stuff like that.
But it was just one of those things where it would have had to have been after my youngest was out kindergarten before I could even start going back. In reality, it’s really important for us to have somebody at home. I was raised by a single mom without supervision and that was not a good thing. When you think kids are more independent, that’s really, really when I want to be home.
So I think we just kind of focused on having somebody here or, if I did go back it would just kind of be a hobby. But we don’t really need it. My husband’s a tightwad and I’m pretty much a hippy and those two things actually can really work out well together. We’re pretty tight with money, but I think it’s more that that’s how our lifestyle is.
Our lifestyle is unusual. I make ninety percent of what we eat. We grow a lot of our own food. We have goats. My husband is from Europe, so we still go back to Europe. He doesn’t really have a big bling-bling job or anything like that, but we are pretty tight with what we spend it on compared to other families. He works in IT and he does well enough to support a family of five in the city and everything. So I guess being at home really did put the focus on living more of a natural life.
I don’t think my social life changed intensely. I stopped going out, but I did that years before I had kids. I gave up my theater tickets. That was pretty much the only big switch. It was hard to get my husband to come home early, so I could go to the theater. My husband, I think he likes it. He has somebody here. Somebody is looking after the animals and somebody is with his kids. He really likes that and I think it’s nice to come home and smell dinner.
My friends, I think they really think I lucked out. I mean, they know we are not excruciatingly wealthy, but a lot of my friends were single moms most of the time. Like I said, they’ve raised their kids already or maybe they were working moms. I think they were not necessarily jealous, but I think they definitely think I lucked out. I feel sad that they missed out on everything that I have. I think it would have been really nice for them to be able to stay home and have that kind of a bond with their kids. I can imagine that some of them feel a little remorseful because they just weren’t able to do that.
I came from a divorced family and I’ll tell you my parents have the utmost respect for it. I was raised by a single mom. I think it’s really healing for my parents to see—my husband and I have a very strong, very loving marriage—to see us raising children in a way that my parents weren’t able to do for whatever reason. I think it’s really good for them. I guess I have a lot of admiration from my friends and my family for that. I am very supported and I guess I’m just really lucky.
I’m really happy with it (her decision). Coming from a divorced family and being raised by a single mom, my main goal as an adult was to have children and be able to stay home with them. I didn’t suffer. It wasn’t like I was beaten or anything like that. My mom worked very hard and she’s a really good person. It’s just that, you know, she wasn’t home and I really, really miss that. I’m just so grateful to be able to do that, to stay home with my children.
My oldest, he is in kindergarten now and he had a cold and it was just a cold and it was a slight fever, but I got to stay home with him. I was so grateful to be able to do that. Whereas, when I was a kid you had to be vomiting for my mom to be able to take a day off from work.
I’m very happy with the position I’m in.
I’m very happy about the life I lead.
I feel really good about it.
I don’t think I could be this happy about anything if I was working a job. It would never give me this kind of satisfaction.
His family? I think the hard part is that his older sister isn’t married. She never married and she really would have been a wonderful mother and she would never have children in her own or anything like that. They are a different generation and from a different country and you just don’t necessarily go out and adopt children on your own. There is probably not a lot of hope in her marrying at this stage, which just breaks my heart to even say.
His second sister doesn’t have any children either. She and her husband have tried and tried for years and have gone through IVF, I think, four times, They’ve been on an adoption waiting list for a few years now. You can’t adopt Irish children. You have to go out of the country. So I think that they see me as very blessed and I’m sure I do have a good relationship with his family, but I would like to think that they see me as being appreciative and grateful for what I have.
I would never, never complain about staying at home with the kids or anything like that. Neither of them have children and I know they want them. There are really not a lot of people I can bitch to about it. A lot of my friends are going on the same boat as my husband’s sister. They are going through IVF so you can’t really complain.
I don’t complain that much.
I do a lot to my husband.
Going out? I don’t know what to do by myself. I really don’t. My husband will be like okay why don’t you go off and do something, and I don’t have anything to do. I’ll say okay, I’ll just take so and so, one of the kids, and he goes, don’t take one of the kids or it’s not time for yourself. It’s really nice actually for me to have one-on-one. So I do enjoy taking one of the kids. It’s nice to go with that one person and talk to them. I don’t have like a gaggle of girlfriends just waiting for me.
I think it would be very presumptuous of me to tell everybody that they should be Becky-Home-Eccy. I think there are some people out there who are just meant to work and there’s nothing wrong with staying at work if you really want to work. God knows, my OB is a mother and my pediatrician has children in school. I would never judge someone for that.
But I think if you go to work and decide you would rather stay at home, there’s a lot that you can do to do it. There are so many cutbacks and things like that. So I think it’s nowhere near impossible. It’s how much you’re willing to give up. Just find your own groove and find something that works and stick with it.
Motherhood truly softened me.
Like an emery board, it just sort of smoothed out the rough edges.
I can’t remember who my mentor was before, but now it’s Mr. Rogers.