Mitt and my marriage has always been a partnership: His job was putting money in the bank; I was a full-time mother. Being Mom was my job: I cooked every meal, I was the taxi service for five active boys, I cleaned the house. Baseball season was especially tough on our dinner routine; we ate a lot of boy-friendly meals, a lot of spaghetti, tacos, and chicken fajitas. Food has always been the glue in our family; after all, our meals were one of the rare times when we could all be together.
While I felt completely fulfilled personally, I also knew that there were some who judged women who had chosen my path. Mitt was at Harvard Business School, surrounded by type-A personalities chasing success, while I was a stay- at-home mother during the day and attending Harvard extension at night. Mitt and I got married young, but I promised my father I would graduate from college. I knew that those who judged my choices had different priorities from mine; that their happiness came from following a different path. Most important, I knew Mitt completely understood I was working just as hard as he was, but in a different way, and that he valued my contribution to our family. It wasn’t just lip service. In every way, he truly considered me as an equal partner.
I so wanted to speak out for other stay-at-home moms, but I just didn’t know how to do that. I got that opportunity in the mid-1970s, when the Harvard Business School invited Mitt and me to join several other people speaking about our career choices. Career choices? I had never actually seen it that way. I understood why Mitt had been invited. He was on the path to great success. He was a relatively young vice president of a respected management consulting firm. Only a few years earlier he had sat in that same auditorium as a student and could offer some valuable real-world advice. But me? I had spent those same years changing diapers, burping babies, and making sure our kids got to school on time.
At the time we were asked to speak, we were living near Cambridge, where the feminist movement was in full bloom and motherhood was going out of fashion. There were many people in academia who believed the role of stay-at-home mother, my job, was no longer a viable option for young women. While I had agreed to speak, I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to say. I would be speaking to students at one of the best business schools in the world, and I knew for certain they weren’t spending so many thousands of dollars on tuition so that, one day, they could drive a station wagon and watchSesame Street. Years later, Mitt would describe me as “chief family officer.” That was clever, but it certainly wasn’t a title that these people were pursuing.
As the day of my speech got closer, rather than being anxious, I became more resolute. Rather than preparing my speech, I decided to be bold; I was going to speak from my heart and talk about the profession I had chosen. Somehow I had to justify the fact that while so many of my contemporaries were shattering the glass ceiling, I was home scraping Marshmallow Fluff off our boys. As I sat on that stage next to Mitt, watching students stroll into the auditorium, I honestly expected to be booed.
I was the last person scheduled to speak. As the five people who spoke before me explained how and why they had chosen their high-paying occupations, I didn’t move. When Mitt finished, the audience applauded politely. Then it was my turn.
“I could have done a lot of different things,” I began. “But I didn’t. Instead I became a wife and a mother.” I turned and pointed at Mitt. “And, by the way, my job’s more important than his, because what I’m doing lasts a lot longer than what he’s doing.” I channeled all my energy into that speech. I hadn’t realized just how long I’d been waiting to say these things, and they flowed out of me.
Being a wife and a mother is a complex and physically challenging job, I said. Not only that, it’s a lot more difficult than an office job, because it consumes twenty-four hours of every day with no time off. Once I got rolling I didn’t hold back. Every child is unique, I continued. Every child is his or her own person, with needs and wants, and no handbook could possibly provide all the information and advice I needed to be a doctor and a nurse, a psychologist, a teacher and a speech therapist, a consultant, a coach, a caregiver, sometimes a boss, and always a friend. I spoke for about ten minutes, which might have been the longest I had ever spoken to an audience.
Finally I concluded: “Mitt and I both know how important his job is. He’s the provider, and it’s challenging and he’s good at it, but we both know that our most important job is raising our kids, and that a lot of that responsibility is mine. And I am fortunate to have a partner that values me as much as Mitt does.”
My goal hadn’t been to change anybody’s mind about their own future; I just wanted a little more respect for women who had made the same choice I had. And whether the audience at Harvard liked it not, I had finally gotten to say it.
As I gathered up my note cards, the applause began— and it grew into a standing ovation. I wasn’t used to anything like that, and I probably turned a little bit red. Yet I couldn’t spend too much time basking in the recognition — I had to pick up one of our boys to take him to a basketball game and then go home to get dinner ready.
From IN THIS TOGETHER: My Story by Ann Romney. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission