A Woman's Home is Her Castle

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The South can be envisioned as a flipping coin. The sides are vying to come out on top, and the tension between the opposing sides embodies the South’s search for its identity. As the South marches away from what it once was, it is figuring out what it can be. While these two sides are turning, my mother occupies the edge of this coin, living where the heads and tails of being a Southern woman meet.

She’s heard it a thousand times.

Why didn’t you go back to work?

My mother has given me many stories about her life and who she is, and if there is anything that I know about my mother, it’s that she loves to work hard. She finds no greater joy than accomplishing a task that she deems valuable.

Before my birth, she worked in an ophthalmologist’s office. Her boss was a tough woman who didn’t believe in excuses.

“That woman had no sympathy for me,” my mother told me. “The doctor fired me. She had just been pregnant a year earlier, but she fired me because I had to step away from my desk on account of the morning sickness.”

My mother and I still debate whether losing her job was my fault, and I’m still holding onto the hope that one day I’ll win that argument. Losing that job dramatically changed the direction of my mother’s life.

“The plan was for me to take my maternity leave and come back.You were going to stay with your mamaw or nanny while I worked,” she said.  Even though I never stayed with them like she’d planned, I saw both of my grandmothers often. But it was usually from my mother’s arms.

After losing her job, my mother and father had a long conversation concerning what would happen. They were not wealthy.

“We were just kids, and we weren’t sure your dad’s income would be enough with you on the way,” she told me.

After many late-night discussions concerning the future of her budding family, my mother decided to become a stay-at-home mom. While the particulars of these meetings are beyond my mother’s memory, she explained to me that, “At no point was I forced into being a stay-at-home mom. If your father was able and willing to take on the extra work, I would be willing to stay at home.”

Questioning this decision to be a stay-at-home mom is something that caused my mother to become defensive, and I can hardly blame her. She has many stories about women who have looked down their noses at her “domesticity.” While my mother may be willing to point fingers, I’ve never been quite as bold as she is, so for the sake of those who have earned her anger, I must show pity and exclude their names from the record.

“Those women never said it to me plainly,” she said. “It’s always these digs here and there, asking me, ‘Why didn’t you go back to work?’ or ‘Why didn’t you get an education?’ Basically asking me why on earth I’d ever want to stay at home and raise my children myself.”

My mother came to view these questions as an assault on her liberty as a woman. Why didn’t she take up the old torch she once carried? Well, it seems that she found a new vocation that was a family tradition.

“My mother did it, my grandma did it, and after thinking about it, I came to enjoy the idea of impressing my beliefs and values on my child,” she said. She came to see raising me as the most important job she could ever have.

She explains it better than I ever could, saying, “I can’t think of any higher honor than to know that you brought up the next generation, that you played a part in forming someone, helping them become who they will be one day.”

Why was this her duty?

“You were my baby,” she explained “You came from me, and I couldn’t imagine that anyone else was better equipped to form your mind and help you grow. Being a stay-at-home mom was the hardest job I had ever done in my entire life, but that being said, nothing has ever been so rewarding.”

The short-sighted question that immediately pops into the mind of a man who’s never mothered anything is, What’s so hard about being a stay-at-home mom? I’ve asked this question once before, and if looks could kill, I’m afraid that I’d be a dead man.

I suppose I can be comforted by the fact that I am far from the first person to ask that question, and I feel sorry for those hapless souls who will ask the very same thing.

As I said at the start, my mother is a hard worker. She has put everything she has into being a stay-at-home mom. Her home is her castle, her pride. She took charge of the house and its inhabitants. Today, my mother’s household stands as a shining beacon of her success.

Alex Francisco is a lifelong resident of Sale Creek, Tennessee. After being the first member of his family to receive a bachelor’s degree, he began his current endeavor of working towards a master’s degree in rhetoric and professional writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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