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The exchange happens all the time. At dinner parties or unplanned run-in’s with people from my past. You might be surprised at how easy it is to bump into people you have no intention of seeing in a city like New York. It’s always pleasant; I love exchanging hugs with old friends and former colleagues. But in the past couple of years, the conversation quickly turns down a path I wish it wouldn’t. After the basic pleasantries, we move to what we’re each “up to.”

And this is when I have to look them square in the eyes and say, “I’m home with my daughter.” I usually make sure to tell them, also, that I’m “still writing.” Like I owe them an explanation. Sometimes I even push it to, “I’m working on a novel!” which is, pretty much, true. But if we’re being honest, with the piles of laundry all around me and a teething toddler on my hands, the novel is about 30 pages in and currently on pause until I get my act together.

The truth is, my primary role is a stay-at-home mom. And even though I am happy with this fact, and my life is going great, I see it immediately. Every time. It’s a look somewhere between shock and pity, and it’s usually followed by some declaration to match. “Oh wow! You were always so career-oriented.” Or even better, “And you’ll go back to work when?” And I’m getting sick of it. Because I am a stay-at-home mom, but the reaction implies that I’m some kind of sellout. And even though this wasn’t my plan, isn’t it okay that the plans have changed?

My whole life, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. Even as young as second grade, I would sneak into my mom’s home office and steal her magazines, hungrily tearing through every fashion spread and article with the zeal kids that young kids usually reserve for the latest toy. I’d cut out photos and write product descriptions of the outfits; I’d research my favorite public figures and write lengthy essays on them, whether for class or just personal use.

I got into a great liberal arts college with a nationally renowned writing program, graduated as an English major with high departmental honors, and scored a few internships before landing my first real magazine job. By the time I was in my mid-twenties and madly in love with the man who would soon become my husband, I had just secured a big job as a beauty editor. My course was set. I was thrilled. And then things changed.

My then-fiance’s work moved us out of state. I left the big beauty job before it even started and found a corporate copywriting job in Texas. Soon, I fell in love with work again and the dream shifted. I would stay on this end of things, allowing time for my own creative projects on the side. Things were good. Then we moved again, and my heart broke as I said tear-filled goodbyes to my incredible boss and colleagues. Six months later, I was employed at a job I loathed, the fastest one I could get in our newest town. And then I got pregnant and quit.

Freelance writing and focusing on my blog was fulfilling, but I still wanted to work. I felt like my small contribution to our household income wasn’t enough. I felt guilty and frustrated. Like a loser. Every month when it came time to pay my student loans, I cringed. What a mockery those loans made of me as I sat, hugely pregnant and writing website copy for some real estate agency or whatever odd writing job I was doing only to pay that bill itself. Depressing.

Then my daughter was born. Hardwired as a worker, I felt guilty about money and pushed myself to earn it. When my newborn slept and I should have been sleeping, or at the very least cleaning, I was frantically typing away on stories that paid such an embarrassingly small fee, it was barely worth it. But I was a worker. It had always been my identity.

I interviewed for a few jobs, even did a trial run at one when my daughter was 5-months-old. After they gave me the official offer and we ran the numbers, it all kind of clicked. The dream shifted again. I was a stay-at-home mom. One who does freelance and personal projects, but not a career woman. At least not for now. And soon, I realized I was okay with this.

Right now, this is the best choice for our family and I enjoy staying home with my daughter. It’s shocking to everyone, I get that. Even to me. The workhorse. The one who was always babysitting on the side, hustling to make every possible dollar, wanting to be self-sufficient. Never in a million years did I picture myself being a stay-at-home mom. But I’m here, and I love it. So why do I have to constantly defend myself?

Women have enough demands on us in society, especially when we become mothers. I feel good about my role and my student loans no longer make a mockery of me. I’m still earning enough to pay them and contribute to our family’s bills. But even if I weren’t, who cares? A family’s decisions about who works where and how the budget and bills are arranged is private. You might not understand my choice, but don’t pity me please. We all have to chart our own course in life. And when the dream shifts, the people we need around us are the ones who support us no matter what, not the ones who judge.

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