(Editor's note: Sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're tackling parenthood in the 21st century -- or being tackled by it. This is the latest in a series of reflections by UPI writers.)
Just six months after the birth of my first daughter, I faced the most difficult decision any mother has to make.
The live-in nanny I had engaged so I could return to work left for a higher-paying job, and my husband said he wasn't able to adjust his schedule to allow employment of a part-time babysitter.
I was given the choice of finding another full-time nanny or quitting my job as a writer and producer at a major Chicago radio station. All of a sudden I was facing the kind of life-changing decision that Robert Frost wrote about in "The Road Not Taken." And like the character in Frost's poem, I ended up choosing "the road less traveled" for a woman in the 1970s. In the dawn of the women's liberation movement, women who stayed home to raise children were viewed as intellectually and socially inferior. Career women would invariably ask their stay-at-home sisters, usually in a condescending tone, "What do you do all day?" ("Watch soap operas and eat bon bons," I always wanted to reply but never had the courage to do so.)
Even men saw working women as superior. When I told my boss at the radio station that I was quitting to stay home with a baby, he didn't believe I was serious. He thought it was a ploy to get better hours and offered to change my schedule to any shift I wanted. It took awhile to convince him that I wasn't seeking a better assignment. I had no idea at that time what lay ahead but I marched out of the station, stopwatch in purse, and headed for the great unknown of full-time motherhood and semi-poverty. That day our family income literally dropped in half.
The loss of income turned out to be the least of my troubles. Overnight I became a non-person because my identity was completely tied to my job. Since I was no longer a working journalist, I had become a nobody in the truest sense of the word. That fact was driven home to me while attending a bureau meeting in Washington for the news magazine for which my husband wrote. I was talking with the Los Angeles bureau chief at a cocktail party when she suddenly asked me for what publication I worked. I meekly told her I was home raising a child and with that she turned and walked away, leaving me so stunned my mouth dropped open.
I came away from that incident realizing I had to develop an entirely new persona -- that of helicopter mom! I was going to tackle the job of motherhood the same way I would tackle any journalism assignment. I read everything I could about child-rearing and saw to it that my daughter and her younger sister had every non-monetary advantage. I served as a Brownie and Girl Scout leader, volunteered countless hours for the PTA and even taught Sunday school. I was in my children's face 24/7. Through it all, I never had to suffer the guilt that working mothers feel when career comes first.
Even though being a stay-at-home mother placed me in the minority for my generation, I discovered other women on the same path. There were lawyers, Harvard MBAs and even a doctor or two who ditched their careers to care for children. As Robert Frost so brilliantly wrote: "I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."