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You Will Regret Stay-at-Home Mom Years

About 40 percent of military spouses are stay at home parents.  Are you going to regret stay at home mom years? Lisa Endlich Heffernan, coauthor of Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest probably thinks you will.

Heffernan came out with a HuffPost confession that she -- gasp !-- regrets being a stay home mom. Like some of my MilSpouse friends, Heffernan (not a MilSpouse) regrets using her driver’s license more than her college degree. She regrets that her nearly grown kids don’t think she did anything with her life. She is afraid she let down her entire gender with her parenting decisions.

In a HuffPost essay, the author seems to forget that during her SAHM years she became a New York Times best selling writer. Instead she frets about the past. ”No part of my brain sat itself down and thought, What is the price, both in this year's dollars and my lifetime earnings, to leaving the workforce, and is it a decision that I might regret a decade or two from now?”

All the major news outlets picked up on this thing as evidence that being a SAHM is a poor life choice. SAHM bloggers came out in full force to defend the meaningfulness of their life decisions and their precious moments with their children.

Oh please. What a lot of navel gazing.

As military families, we can’t afford this big fret fest over SAHMing. There are lessons to learn from essays like this, but whether you are are going to regret stay at home mom years (or be canonized for them) is not one of them. Here is what I was reminded of:

Everyone regrets career choices.

The mainstream media does not seem to recognize that no matter who you are, someday you are going to look up and regret some of the choices you made about your career and your kids. Are you going to regret being a stay at home mom? Yes. Because that is what people do.

If you are a stay home parent, someday you are going to have to reenter the workforce. Yeah, you are gonna wish at that moment that you had this prodigious resume behind you.

If you are a working mom or dad, someday you are going to look at your kid's tail lights as they drive away and wish you spent more time with them.

If you are a servicemember, someday you will regret spending so many months and years deployed.

Guess what? That’s OK. Regret does not mean that you have earned a scourging and a hair shirt. Regret is a mild emotion. It is a tool meant to urge you to move forward into the next phase of your life, to do some of the things that need doing.

Don’t judge yourself while teens live in your house.

So many of these essays about regretting SAHM years are written by people with kids in their teens and early twenties. This is not a time to figure out whether your devotion to parenting was worthwhile.

My husband reminds me all the time that teenagers are an unfulfilling, half-baked product. Looking to them to determine whether or not you spent your adulthood wisely is like biting into a half-grilled chicken. You are bound to get emotional botulism.

Hindsight is blindsight.

When I read these “regret” type posts, I always try to remember that these people aren’t really regretting past decisions. Instead they are working through their current reality -- the empty resume, the unsatisfying teenager, the flown child.

They are looking at a hurdle and wishing, wishing, wishing things were different. It is so easy to look back on past decisions and decide we were wrong. It is especially easy for us to forget the relationship calculus required in order to combine the military and child-rearing and a spouse career.

We forget the intensity of a deployment schedule. Or what it was really like to move to Camp LeJeune. Or how we were bored to tears working for the bank or the hospital. Or how a particular baby wanted to be held every minute of the day or didn’t adapt to change easily. Or how our partner was so sure that this next job would take them to the next level.

Unlike some of our civilian counterparts who can apparently drift into their life decisions, in the military we do sit down and calculate costs. We put together wish lists for detailers and monitors.  We debate whether or not now is a good time to have a second baby. We confront the reality of lost spouse income with every single move.

We know regrets are coming. They are with us now. No matter what our choices are about childcare and career and the military, we are all making the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. We have to trust that. And know that we will change courses as required in the years to come.

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