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President Obama, Moms, and the Choice to Stay Home

All weekend I’ve been thinking about President Obama’s comments about mothers and the choice to stay home. If you missed this sound bite media frenzy, you can quickly read up on it here. If you are looking for an angry post about why his words were scandalous, you can stop reading now. I’m not writing for a fight and I hate to disappoint.

I sometimes say President Obama has the childhood that mostly closely resembles my own: a single American mom, a foreign father he didn’t really know, a hopping of continents. And for this I feel a strange kinship. As a politician he often speaks about working moms who are trying to make ends meet. I believe he wants to make right decisions by them, I really do. And he is a family man. By all indications he is a supportive husband to a strong woman and a committed dad to his girls. Our nation needs more role models like this. So all of this to say when I first read the now publicized excerpt I chose to extend grace and believe a few edited phrases didn’t really indicate he thought staying home to raise children is a bad choice. And now that I’ve read more of the speech I truly think one sentence has been taken out of context. But scandal and controversy sell I suppose.

Based on the responses and comments I saw on social media there were obviously a few ruffled mama bird feathers out there. This topic of work/home balance has been on my mind the last few months as I’ve made some decisions of my own in this arena. In fact, I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago over at Hello Darling which then was picked up and posted at ABCnews.go.com about my own journey. Women shared and reshared the posts, commented on each other’s Facebook pages and sent me private messages. Why? Because we are desperate to talk about how to make these critical decisions around work and motherhood, or how to live within our circumstances that often dictate where and how we spend our days so we can pay our bills.

As American women we’ve bought into this belief that our job is our identity and that if we aren’t paid for what we do we are somehow less valuable. We are a nation of productivity and compensation. So the comments made by President Obama, the cultural assertion behind them that “more” in your work life is better, is consistent with our larger belief system.

I have to say when I read the edited sound bite, the words stung a little. They felt personal because these choices are so personal. When making the recent decision to step back from paid work I took into account my children’s peace of mind, our family budget, what we could live on and live without, creating space for my husband’s calling, and my own gifts and calling within God’s world and his purposes for me while I’m on it. In this “Lean In” time in history it is seen as a pity when talented women step away from paid work because they aren’t “living up to their potential.” But when we CHOOSE to say “no” to something in order to say “yes” to something else, this is actually a position of STRENGTH. Please do not pity me because I am living out my priorities, but cheer me on.

I also couldn’t help but think this weekend of our nation’s First Lady. Here she was a decade ago a blossoming attorney, a working mother balancing a demanding profession and parenting. And then her husband goes and runs for President of our great nation and wins. Somewhere along that path, she stepped away from her paid job to stand next to her husband and take on the role of First Lady of our country. It just wouldn’t have worked as well for their family, or for the greater good, if she’d said, “You all go ahead and go to D.C., I’ll stay here and keep plugging away at the firm. This was my plan and I’m sticking to it.” The role she may well be best known for was one that wasn’t paid.

Funny enough today is National Housewives’ Day. Not a holiday marked in my calendar. Probably not one in yours either. Here’s to all of us who act as First Ladies of our homes, our mini nations of love, whether we are paid for the work we do or not, let us extend grace to ourselves and our friends remembering we are all trying to make decisions for our little realms of influence for the greater good. Let’s cheer each other on.

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