sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

April 16, 2012

How to Afford the Luxury of Not Working at Home

Filed under: parenting, politics, Soviet Union — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 1:53 pm

Confirmed: “natural” is in the eye of the beholder.  In September 2007 Vogue printed Rebecca Johnson’s piece on Michelle Obama, a shortened version is available online (I hope they won’t disappear it).  Barack Obama claimed that his family didn’t have “the luxury” for Michelle to stay at home, but The interview, titled The Natural, confirms that Michelle — how should I put it? — pretty much hated stay at home motherhood with every fiber of her being (via Political Junkie Mom):

Every year, Michelle Obama considers quitting her job and staying home full-time to take care of her children. “It was a gift having my mother home every day. I want my kids to feel that way,” she says. But having experienced the pleasures of work outside the home, she is reluctant to give up her independence. “Work is rewarding,” she says. “I love losing myself in a set of problems that have nothing to do with my husband and children. Once you’ve tasted that, it’s hard to walk away.”

Then, too, there is that little-discussed fact that staying home with children can be—how else to put it?—less than intellectually stimulating. “The days I stay home with my kids without going out, I start to get ill,” she says. “My head starts to ache.” When she mentioned it to her mother, Marian Robinson told her daughter she didn’t think Michelle could handle the boredom of staying home with kids. [Cursive mine, — ed.]

Naturally, cum laude Michelle preferred to work for the Chicago machine.  The Lonely Conservative comments:

Look, there are days when kids drive even the most perfect, loving mothers a bit insane. Nobody can deny that. But for someone with a six figure income to classify the choice of staying at home to raise her children as a “luxury” is disingenuous at best.

Every once and a while we all need a break.  Actually, we need a lot of breaks, even if we don’t describe our aversion to spending time with our children in such tactile terms.  Perhaps Obamas who found child-rearing too difficult of an undertaking can show some respect for women who actually did it.

Anywho, I am lucky to have my mother come over every week, as expected from a Russian granny.  In the Soviet Union we were practically raised by our grandmothers.  In the four decades following World War 2, Soviet women had very long maternity leaves after which they had to go back to work full time.  Now, one of my grandmothers managed to be a homemaker, which was unbelievable.  My mom likes to say that she and her husband lived in the 20th century as if it was the 19th.

My mother worked out an agreement to work half a day, which was also unbelievable.  I didn’t know any other kid who had it so sweet.  One of my earliest memories is sitting with my grandmothers and waiting for her to come home in the middle of the day.  All other kids were tended to by babushkas or were in daycare and kindergartens.  My grannies were of the opinion that day care was low class, and I started kindergarten at 4, a year later than everyone else.  It was pretty much a factory of conformity and despair, which is a different topic altogether.

Although my daughter started part time pre-school when she was ready for the social experience, we have no sitters and no nannies.  I had an opportunity to hire a trusted Russian woman with a nursing degree, but passed.  Money is one reason, another one is that we prefer family members taking care of each other.  My children had developed relationships with people who love them more than anything else in this world and who will be there for them until their death. I’m not against sitters, just pro-granny.  I think people who can afford sitters should hire them — along with maids, gardeners and other service providers — to give themselves a break.

I was eager to leave home as a teen, and moved out when I was admitted to a university.  My experience is fairly unusual considering that even in this country Russian kids don’t move out until they get married.  Living alone, or at least far from parents, can be great fun for people in their 20s, but once we get on the breeding path, it’s reckoning time.  Thankfully, I didn’t move too far.  Balancing family and opportunity is something for young people to consider.

Since many Russian American women are able to pursue both carriers and motherhood because they have grandmothers tend to their children, I was intrigued by the role of Mrs. Robinson, Michelle’s mother, in the upbringing of her children.  Turns out, it was not a big one.  Here is the clue:

To keep things as normal as possible, Michelle’s mother will soon be retiring from her job as a secretary at a bank—in order to help watch the Obama daughters, Malia, nine, and Sasha, six.  [Cursive mine, — ed.]

So basically, while Michelle entertained herself with the Chicago machine, the Sasha and Malia spent their formative years in the care of strangers.

UPDATE: Forgot to include this portrait of “natural” motherhood: matching daughter’s clothes to self.  Anyway, one example of many.

Obama matching outfit

Yahoo comments: "Put on your to do list: Mother-daughter matching days". Oh come on, stay at home moms, don't be party poopers.



  1. As usual, so much here. Kids underfoot, so I presume you will forgive fragmented thoughts.
    Grannies, and assorted family, are best. But twist for out generation with Boomer mothers–I know many grandmothers who would not consider babysitting or their grandchildren. (Not mine. I’ve got a gem.) In retirement, this is their time. Then there is the opposite problem of grandmothers as primary caregivers, which means they can’t have spoiling privileges. Our take, any family member with “great” or “grand” in their title can indulge the children. Important breaks for kids and parents. That doesn’t work if they have the kiddos most of the week.
    Then there are modern mothers who only allow themselves to be home for the sake of their children, not as housewives. I’ve lost count of the number of mom friends I have who could use regular breaks or a date with hubs, have the family around or funds available to have scheduled breaks, but don’t because they chose to stay home. They think that turning anything over to someone else, even for a weekly date night, is shirking their duties. Occasionally a dad is in on this, but most of the time, it is self imposed hardship. Generally a mom can only sustain this premise with 1 or 2 children. It starts to break down by the 3rd. Forget it by the 4th. I myself am a fabulous mother (heh) and one who turns into Ogre Mommy if the stars align and I have all the kids to myself for a weekend, say, a not uncommon occurrence with a traveling husband. Those are the days I’m given to yelling–yes, yelling– things like “If one more person calls my name, I’m changing it!” My kids like that one. Makes them laugh and breaks a bit of the tension.

    Comment by AHLondon (@AHLondon_Tex) — April 16, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

  2. Oh and I forgot the grandmother age issue. A few friends and my husband have parents who were in their 30’s when had them. They then waited until 40’s to have children. My mother in law would be more involved if she could move more. The difference between her in her mid 70’s and my mom in her mid 60’s was huge. Then many of my friends were in 40s when had children. If their kids then waited until 40 to bear children, then this Granny-is-best idea is only theoretical. Such a loss on all counts.

    Comment by AHLondon (@AHLondon_Tex) — April 16, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    • It’s probably true about the boomer grandparents. DH’s parents are not Boomers, though. They do live in SoCal, and my MIL has serious health issues, some of which she had for a long time.
      Yes, I should have mentioned, as I did in some of my earlier posts, that Russian grannies are younger. My mom had me when she was 30, and everyone was worried silly about her giving birth in such advanced age.

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — April 17, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  3. […] no, since becoming a mother I can’t recall one day of boredom.H/T Political Junkie MomUpdate: Edge of the Sandbox linked – thanks!Tweetvaso linkTags: Barack Obama, boring, headache, luxury, michelle obama, […]

    Pingback by Flashback: Michelle Obama on the ‘Luxury’ of Being a Stay at Home Mom | The Lonely Conservative — April 16, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

  4. I’ll have to ask her, but I don’t remember my wife ever complaining of boredom. I know that when I have the grandson to myself he absolutely wears me out, but bored? Not ever. He is entertaining to say the least. Donna gave up a great career so I could pursue mine since we had determined early on that one of us was going to be a homebody when the kiddies started showing up. Hopefully the Obama girls will suffer no ill effects from learning of this as they are bound to do. In some ways the internet is a curse, isn’t it?

    Comment by calihurder — April 16, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

    • I think it was very unwise of Michelle to spill the beans on this issue. Mothers today post too much about their children in general. It’s one thing if she would tell them when they are much older, like her mother did, that she always found parenting excruciating, but as they are growing up, she should keep her feelings to herself. Coupled with the way she described it, it’s mean.

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — April 17, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

  5. Her choice… but based on what I found, they could have made those “sacrifices” for Michelle to stay home. Like many, this is a smokescreen for why she didn’t stay home… she didn’t want to.

    Comment by Harrison — April 16, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

  6. Thanks for the link and the post. (Though as a military wife, can I officially say that I’m wicked jealous your mom comes over once a WEEK?! Oh, what I would give for that, a luxury in my mind! I’m excited to be moving back into the same time zone as my folks soon, a two day drive instead of a three or four!) I agree with AH’s point about grandparent age: since I’m a bit younger than hubby (though I was in my early 30s when we had #1) the difference in our parents is marked now. Mine haven’t hit 60 yet since they had me in their early 20s. And pjHusband’s are mid-70s. My mom can do so much with my daughter, my MIL not so much.

    Comment by pjMom — April 17, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

    • I consider myself lucky. Did I mention that she stays overnight, so we can have a regular date night and I get to sleep in until 8am the next morning?
      On the other hand, she’s in her late 60s, and I do feel increasingly uneasy with trusting her my toddler. He’s 40lbs, and we pretty much need DH to give him a time out.

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — April 18, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

      • Spends the night. Date night once a week. I’m officially beyond jealous. (And you sleep in? Be still, my beating heart. Lately pjKid has taken to ignoring her awesome clock and just moseys right on in. I love cuddling with her. But not as much after 3 hours of tossing and turning. Pregnancy insomnia stinks.

        Comment by pjMom — April 18, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

  7. […] Sitting on the Edge of the Sandbox expands a bit on this topic, with how to afford the luxury of NOT working at home. […]

    Pingback by MUT’s Flaming Hot Capitalism Celebration — Day after Tax Day Edition « Temple of Mut — April 18, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

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