I read a very passionate blog today by a husband and father defending his wife against what he perceives as condescension from working mothers for her choice to stay at home with their child.
The comments were as interesting as the blog. Here is a sampling…
From a SAHM who left her career: I won’t look back years from now and say “gosh, I wish I took the easy road to returning to my pharmaceutical sales career.”
From a SAHM: I just want to know how anyone can think that when a little kid is awake 12-14 hours a day that spending 8 of those hours at daycare is better than spending them with a loving, involved parent?
From a WOHM: I’m sorry, but there is nothing that young children throw at a mother day-to-day that comes anywhere near the stress of many jobs, including my own.
From a WOHM: I know some truly awful SAHM’s. And they are usually the first to tell you how ” hard” their life is.
In response to a home-schooling mom: You homeschool? I feel sorry for your kids.
And my personal favorite, from team stay-at-home:
Seriously? You working mom’s are a bunch of guilt-ridden hateful wenches… Kid yourself into believing that you do what they do and more. Ask any kid of a SAHM if he’d rather have more material things and vacations or a soft place to fall after a bad day at school with a homemade cookie and a glass of milk. I wonder if your afterschool care program offers loving advice to your daughter when the other girls are mean to her at school all day…
The comments tended to be some variation of those above, riddled with attacks and a general lack of insight from either side to the side of the other.
Several years ago, when my daughter was a baby, I had returned to work after a very generous maternity leave. My heart ached to leave her, just as it had when I had left my son four years earlier. My children’s grandparents had graciously stepped in to look after them both when they were babies, but of course I would have much rather been doing that.
Getting over the initial hump was relatively easy after the first day, because my return to work was on a part-time basis for the first month or so. Once I settled in to that groove, it was actually nice to let someone else have a turn at rocking, feeding, and changing for those four hours a day that I was at work, interacting with adults.
The transition back to full-time was a much harder adjustment, though. After coming home to nurse the baby, wash and sanitize the day’s pump parts, and conduct the standard dinner, bath and bedtime routine, there wasn’t much time left until I put myself to bed, and things around the house fell apart as they often do when parents are navigating the baby stage. One dreary morning as I prepared to leave the house, I took a look around and noted the baskets of laundry, piles of random clutter littering every surface, and dishes in the sink, and I drove to work in tears and called my friend Tiffany to spill my heart out.
“My sister-in-law got laid off from her job, and she gets to stay home with her kids now, but she never even wanted to stay home with her kids, and it’s just not fair,” I choked out as my throat tightened. “I want to stay home with my kids. I’m tired of pumping. I only have a few hours with Mia when I get home!” And on and on and on, and she listened kindly as I sputtered out and gathered myself up so I could be presentable at work. Over time things got better, although sometimes worse, because sometimes there is balance, and sometimes it eludes me.
Tiffany gave birth to an extremely premature baby girl. After several months in the NICU she came home in almost perfect health, save for damaged lungs which had to be protected for as long as possible from any illness whatsoever. That meant, of course, no day care, no mother’s day out program, no Mommy and Me class. While Tiffany was filled with gratitude that her baby was even alive, the loneliness and isolation sometimes overwhelmed her. One day she sent me a long message after a friend came down with a migraine and had to cancel a visit that Tiffany had very much looked forward to …
“I love my kid to pieces but taking care of her all day every day by myself not only gets exhausting but there’s days where it makes me crazy. My only identity is being a mom…
“Sorry to complain. I know you want to be able to stay home with your kids and not work. But I can just about guarantee you that it wouldn’t be what you think it is in the end and that eventually you’d want to go back to work. I’m just having one of those days. All I want to do is cry.”
Over time things got better for her and she was able to spend a lot of time taking care of her daughter and her next baby.
Kirsten left her job at a newspaper over ten years ago so that she could give birth to and care for her triplets. Within a few years she returned our department at the university to teach one class each semester as an adjunct. When she was updating her vita – a resume in the academic world – for our files, it dawned on her that she had no new relevant career experience over the past several years to add, beyond the one class per semester that she has been covering. She lamented this fact on Facebook, where her friends pointed out that taking care of her three children IS work, and very important work, not to mention the fact that she had been named volunteer of the year at her children’s school, and that she led school’s efforts to publish the yearbook each year.
In my illustrations, I am seeking to show that each mother, each parent, has to choose their own road, and each road will inevitably lead us to ponder the road that we did not take. Most working mothers will at some point daydream of making delicious meals from scratch, taking their children to story time at the library, and being there when their child tearfully exits the bus after a very bad day. A mother who stays at home will inevitably have a day where they crave an existence separate from their role as parent. A mother who has left a rewarding career may eventually ponder what might have been had she remained, while trying to orchestrate an entrance back into that career.
I saw a lot of absolutes spoken in those comments, and the problem with absolutes is that there are always prime examples at hand to disprove them. I know mothers who work outside of the home who are dynamos and make it all fit, with the clean house and the child-centered activities and the whole bit. I know stay-at-home moms (some in my own family) who accomplish so little that it seems that day care would be the more stimulating option for their children. There’s my sister-in-law, who adapted beautifully to staying at home and learned to fill her days with constructive activities that, in all honesty, those of us who go to work every day really cannot fit into the hours that remain.
And then there’s me, always paddling away, with the best of intentions and occasional breakdowns.
It seems the least productive avenue is to attack the choices of those whose shoes we do not occupy.
Here is the original blog, if you feel inclined to witness the mayhem: themattwalshblog.com