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Hi, Carolyn: I am an at-home parent to two daughters. We had planned for me to go back to work when they were both in school, but the job market (and my time away from it) made that prohibitively tough, so I'm still home.

My girls understand this is my "career." My own mom stayed home with us kids, and I remember thinking her life was cushy compared with my dad's and other working parents'; I know I took her for granted, and I see that I will have to continually remind my girls not to do the same thing. For example, I am often treated as an errand girl, asked to drive all over at a moment's notice, and sometimes I say no on principle.

My girls have asked whether they will also stay home when they're adults. I try to give the "right" answer, that they should do what they believe is right for themselves and their families. However, I am worried that I am modeling at-home motherhood as the default. Two working parents are the norm in our community, but what they see every day is a mother whose role is to care for them, the family, the house and the many other things my life entails.

And if I am being honest, I would prefer they not stay home when they grow up. I am financially vulnerable and undersocialized. We are making student loan payments on two degrees I'm not using, while trying to sock away money for my daughters to earn degrees of their own. All the work we are putting into them is in hopes they will probably have professional careers.

I wish I could say this, but I don't want them to start looking at me as "less than." I want them to achieve more than I have, without looking down on me. How?

— Walking the Tightrope

Walking the Tightrope: You teach them that it’s not okay to look down on anybody.

Not for a line of work; not for economic or educational status, or race, or other demographics; not for a life input, not for a life outcome.

Teach them the honor of work. Teach them the value of contributing and the diversity of worth. If everyone collected trash and no one did cutting-edge research, then we’d be in trouble. If everyone did cutting-edge research and no one collected trash, then we’d be in trouble.

Child rearing is plainly difficult enough and important enough to justify making a career of it, and at-home parents are precious resources. Neighborhoods are safer for them. PTAs depend on them. Weekend and evening aisles are less crowded by them. And they stand as reminders that child rearing is a paramount function of human society.

Communities are also better for households where both parents have careers outside the home. They bring in money and diversity of experience, and remind us there isn’t only one way to have and be a family.

You are right to use “no” to teach your kids to respect your time and effort. Go further, please, if you don’t already, and insist they also treat (to use a school example) teachers, classroom aides, principals, coaches, cafeteria staff, custodians, specialists, bus drivers, (grand)parent volunteers, receptionists, substitute teachers and peers — at all status levels — with equal respect. Make sure they see them, thank them, know their names.

To master this teaching, you might want to practice on yourself. Is the point of your parental efforts really so your daughters “will probably have professional careers”?

Or is it so they have choices? And critical thinking skills. And purpose.

There’s the disconnect that I see in your reasoning, that has you so conflicted. It’s not at-home parenthood that’s the problem, nor would occupancy of the management class regardless of their interest in being there be any kind of solution.

The problem is that you feel powerless — and you want your girls to have agency. Reasonably so.

If I’m right about that, then reconcile it in your mind and adapt your “right” answer accordingly: “I want what you do as adults to be your choice.” Also openly connect what you give to them, ask of them and expect of them to the long-term goal of expanding their minds and expanding the menus they choose from.

As they get old enough, too, don’t be afraid to tell them your choices had both enormous benefits (your time with them) and some unintended consequences. Agency is not the same thing as 100 percent control, and part of using it well involves openness to the unexpected.

Speaking of: The best life-skills-teaching, resiliency-modeling, choice-explaining and respect-earning opportunity is right in your letter. You’re still home and you don’t want to be, and Plan A (and maybe B and C, too) didn’t work out? Okay. So. What are you going to do about that?

Fully embracing where you are is among the many options still open to you.

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