I read this blog today about how being a stay-at-home mom is a gift to your spouse. I liked it and I think that she is right, being a stay-at-home mom is a gift to your spouse and your whole family, really. And though there was nothing antagonistic in it at all, it brought to (my) mind, the ultimate mommy war: stay-at-home vs. working mom.
My husband and I have a unique work schedule that allows me to experience both lives simultaneously. Basically, I cram all of my work hours into four days and my husband works six or seven days, leaving me on my own, with the kids, at home, on Fridays and most Saturday mornings. On most Sundays, we pretend that we are independently wealthy and luxuriously spend the entire day together. And so even though I am a working mom, I can at least relate to many of the struggles faced by stay-at-home moms.
I talk to all kinds of moms in my day-to-day life, my internet friend moms, sports moms, school moms, my pre-kid friend moms (friends that I actually had BEFORE I had kids), my sisters, and my own mom. I would say that roughly half are stay-at-home moms and half are working moms. And in talking with all those moms, I think the mommy war boils down to the fact that we think we are being judged, probably because we judge other mothers, and so we feel like we have to defend ourselves.
A recurring theme in blogs about being a stay-at-home mom, is this need to justify what they do all day. As a person who is the sole caretaker of three kids 1.5 days a week, I KNOW what you do all day. You put out fires ALL DAY LONG. You shovel while it is still snowing every single day. You get to the finish line (bedtime) only to find out that you are right where you started: sleeping kids, laundry in the hamper, dishes in the sink, and nothing else changed in the house to suggest that you have been in constant motion since 6 AM. And even if your kids are in school all day, there is always more to do, beyond the standard cooking and cleaning. It is difficult for me to define what that “stuff” is because it is different every day and it could range from taking a sick kid to the doctor to cleaning out the gutters.
Working moms often feel the need to defend the fact that they work outside of the home. We have this guilt wired right in because we feel like other people might view us as not being “mom” enough, or as being completely selfish people who are not willing to sacrifice for our family, or that our priorities are all screwed up. And maybe sometimes we feel that way ourselves. It is a very delicate balancing act, for sure, to try and meet the needs of a job and your family, always being pulled in this direction or that, always weighing risks and benefits. Every single new school year, I change my schedule at work as though there is some magical formula for making working 36 hours a week and taking care of the family more doable. (There is not, by the way.)
Just last night, I was dropping Brady off for his first night of religious education. It turns out that one of the children from his elementary school will be in his class. I briefly spoke with his mother outside of the classroom. I had never met her before. I was telling her that I always try to walk to and from the school if I can because I am afraid of the parking lot. She told me that she wished she could, but she had to leave right away for work. And then I saw the flash of guilt across her face. I could tell that she had assumed that I was a stay-at-home mom and she felt that she should feel bad that SHE could not walk her child to school because of her work schedule. I laughed and told her that I have a nanny drive the kids to school in the morning so that I can leave for work, I only walk in the afternoon on the three days a week that I am able to pick him up from school. She looked relieved that I could relate.
So after talking to so many moms and reading so many blogs, my question is, why are we so damned insecure about the choices we make? Why do we feel this constant need to feel guilt, or to defend ourselves? It is not as though our choices were made lightly.
Seven years ago, I made a mental list of pros and cons, sacrifices that would be made if I stayed home or continued working, and I made my decision. It is not as though I looked at my helpless three-month-old and thought, meh, I am sure he does not REALLY need me, let me continue working and making lots of lots of money while neglecting my child. And it is not as though it was a decision that I made and never looked back. Each return from maternity leave weighed very heavy on me. In fact, I make the decision to be a working mom every single day.
My sister quit her job as an engineer two years ago to stay home with her kids. I am guessing it was not super easy to give up half of their income and a job that she spent four years and a small fortune training for in order to be a stay-at-home mom. And I am also pretty sure she was not thinking she was going to quit her job to sit around and watch TV all day long.
We all make decisions that we think will work best for our families. So own it. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel like you have to defend yourself to anyone. But most of all, don’t judge. One of the biggest reasons we think we are being judged is because we know that we judge other moms (I am guilty too.) And let me just say that being a mom is hard, whether or not you work outside of the home, it is hard. Staying at home has different challenges than working outside of the home, but it is ALL challenging.
I think if you talked to most moms, you would find that we are all working hard, we all put our families first, and we are all just doing the best that we can. And we could probably all use a little more support and a little less criticism.