I was talking to a good friend of mine this weekend about the sensitive issue of working moms vs. stay home “managers” (as she very politically correctly termed it.) We were in no way debating the superiority of one over the other or pros and cons; we were discussing how any woman who chooses either with her family’s best interest in mind should be respected and admired for the sacrifices that follow.

She works, I do not. She hates her job but must contribute household income in order to give her children the life she envisions for them. And even with the addition of her paycheck, they are by no means rolling in the dough. They are secure, debt-free and sustained in a nice community with good schools. But she is miserable at work and in no position to take the risk of leaving her job in search of a more fulfilling career. Her husband is comfortable at Ford with steady work and good benefits. But she spends 40 hours a week with people she could care less about while she constantly worries about the ones she loves.

And I am here, home with my family, exhausted and stressed from the monotony and constant demands of three kids, in debt, big bills and little financial freedom. But I am a constant in my children’s lives and I can see the evidence of how that has shaped my children and I am proud. They are secure, confident and their home environment is a place of predictablility and comfort. I spend most of my day serving my kids, cleaning up after them and finding entertainment for them. This is rewarding in my heart, but in my daily experience often very difficult for me because I have an active mind and ADD, so I always have too many balls in the air and not enough focus. But still my house is fun and full of love and a place my kids enjoy. This is where everything important happens and usually under my supervision. For that I’m grateful. My friend who works is able to sleep at night knowing her mortgage will be paid off in 15 years and she can make many choices I doubt I will be able. I am constantly worried about affording everything for my kids in the upper grades and college while simultaneously planning for mine and my husband’s empty nest years – a time we dream of doing all the things we are unable to do while raising ou kids.

But in either case, mama has the weight of the world on her shoulders trying to figure it all out. I know the daddys do too, but for some reason they behave more like the “work horses” who just continue to go into work and do their jobs while mom fills her head with the worries. I am sad the economy had to plummet just when we were hoping to get our bearings financially and begin building wealth for our future.

I have another friend facing many of these decisions and worries who has recently made the decision to re-enter the work force in order to secure her family’s future. Unlike many women who have the financial freedom to stay home and have it all (money and time!) who squander those resources prattling about or pouring them into themselves, she is a woman fiercely devoted to making an art out of nurturing her family. For some unkown reason she has been uniquely endowed with the ability to selflessly devote everything she is and has to the benefit of her family. She is disciplined with her time, always making productive use of it, she is giving of her talents (she’s a gourmet cook and highly intelligent) to the enjoyment and comfort of her family, and always streaming her money directly into things for her husband and kids before herself. Her children are always clean and nicely clothed, fresh haircuts and good shoes, sports and enrichment activities a priority, new jeans for dad and trendy rooms for the kids, delicious food among all sorts of other simple-yet-important details that show her pride in her family. The fact that she is beautiful and fit makes it easy for her to skimp on herself because no matter what she wears or how long she waits to get her hair done, she looks ten times better than anyone I know who drops coin at salons and boutiques.

So the fact this woman feels a need to spend many hours a week now away from her home and her dedication to nurturing it seems like an unfair hand when there are so many women with half the character taking the luxuries they have for granted. As far as I can tell, her husband is every bit as intelligent and hard-working as the husbands I know who can indulge their wives with frivality. She will now nurture a career as she raises her family. This adjustment won’t be easy, but I am certain it will be one she’ll someday be grateful for. For a million reasons, even if one day to quit when she is able and know she did her bit when she needed to. Or to find self-fulfillment. Or to be one of the best teachers many kids will ever have, making a huge difference in the world.

Who knows. Who knows how I am ever going to reach the end of this tunnel in my own effort to finish my teaching degree and pay off a million debts all in hopes of giving my kids a good, quality life. Who knows how my other friend will figure out a way to get through her days in a job she hates, or endure the stress of finding a new one, all in hopes of giving her family a good, quality life.

A good, quality life. It’s all we want and it should be so simple. But there are too many obstacles and too many choices. Too many paths to pick from and too much competition in the world. Too much materialism and too much waste. Too many priorities out of order in what society deems as important. Women succeeded in securing their rights, but it has not come without a cost.

Why must there always be a female dilemma?

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