In the winding path my career has taken, I have spent substantial time both in and out of the workplace since my children were born. As a result, I am constantly at war with myself and have a hard time “picking sides” in the Working Mom vs. SAHM debates. So instead of taking a side, I offer seven non-negotiable truths I’ve revealed from my time moving across the battle lines.
1. All working moms “have” to work.
Anyone, I repeat ANYONE who spends the greater part of their waking hours doing a job that takes them away from their kids HAS to work. This is non-negotiable, even though I admit I am SO guilty of putting up this defense mechanism. But it’s just not true.
Some people work to pay the electric bill, some people work to afford private school, some people work in an effort to break glass ceilings and kill the patriarch, some people work to preserve their sanity. But telling a working mother she doesn’t really “have” to work is the most offensive thing you can possibly say. I’m guilty of it, but since I’ve gotten it thrown in my face — never again. It’s simply not true. If they didn’t feel they had to work they would be spending their time at museums or the mall (with or maybe without their kids). No one gets up each day and goes to work without a sense of duty. Don’t rob them of it.
2. All stay-at-home parents make sacrifices.
All working parents make sacrifices as well, but that seems to be a given. Many people like to think of SAH parents as privileged, but I find 99% of the time it’s not true. Especially in today’s economy, no one can afford to sideline an income without important sacrifices. That means giving up dreams of owning a house, time for a hobby, or buying organic food. Even if they have enough to make ends meet, they worry more about their spouse losing their job, they worry about future costs and how they keep growing. Even if they have all the money in the world, they are still sacrificing time and energy that could be put towards a job or charity or leisure. And unless they popped out babies before ever having to enter the working world, they are sacrificing part of their identity that existed in their career. Most stay at home parents sacrifice a lot to do what they think is important as a parent, and it’s not fair to minimize that or act like they “do nothing” all day. What they do all day is vital to their new identity and it doesn’t deserve to be trashed.
3. We are all trying to do the best for our kids.
I have never met a parent who didn’t think about what was best for their children and act on it the best they could. For some that means staying home to be a guiding force in their kids lives from a young age. For others it means going to work to provide their children with more than the basic necessities of life. For some parents that means knowing that their career is inextricably part of their identity and giving it up would leave that child with a depressed and directionless parent who serves no one by staying home. Everyone is thinking and making choices. There should be respect for that process, even if the outcome is different from what you believe in.
4. We have the right to change our mind.
When my son was born I thought it was most important to be home with him. I was raised by a waitress and a cab driver – they took their shifts in a way that meant one of them was always home with me and my brother. To me, that is what parenthood looked like, so I thought that was what I should do — always be home for him. When my daughter was born I started to think about the example I was setting for her. I wanted her to have the choice to have kids or not, to go to work or not, but I felt compelled to show her a working mom’s life.
We also have the right to redefine our work. I work during the week to support my family. I work during the weekend and at night as a freelancer to pursue my passion for writing, which I hope someday will grow into a steady job where I can earn enough to alleviate the pressure on my husband as a sole breadwinner but also let me stay home with the kids more than my current job allows. Unless there is some specific handbook I don’t know about (in which case please send me two copies), we are all doing the best we can, gaining information along the way, and adjusting our approach as necessary. It’s not being contradictory to change your mind, it’s called growing.
5. What we have in common has little to do with how we spend our days.
Last year when I was home with my kids, my “mom crush” was a working mom. We met at my son’s school and it was love at first day of phase-in. We had the same hopes and goals for our kids, we shared many of the same opinions of the world we were raising them in. We also had so much in common from our interest in yoga to the cities we had lived in and the stories we shared. If she had written me off as a SAHM with nothing to add to the conversation and I had assumed she was a working mom who didn’t prioritize her kids, we would have never become friends. It’s worth it to keep an open mind and find people you relate to no matter how they spend their days.
6. Bedtime is the worst part of the day.
This applies to any parent, anywhere, no matter how you spent the past 12 hours. If you get home from work to put your kids to bed, it’s nearly impossible to transition from getting stuff done at your job, to negotiating with kids who don’t want to do basic tasks like brushing their teeth, peeing, and getting their pajamas on. If you have been home all day, the energy needed for that last push to get through the nighttime routine feels impossible. After a day of successfully negotiating meals, crafts, schoolwork, whatever, bedtime feels like it requires superhuman strength. Every single parent dreads this time of the day and sends us all declaring we “just need a GD break.” Which reminds me…
7. None of us get a break.
There is no break from part of who you are. You are a parent. If you aren’t physically managing your kids, you are worried about them. You wonder how you will pay for college, you wonder how you will get them to try new foods, you wonder if they will make friends, you wonder if your choices are screwing them up royally.
The struggle for a working parent is often figuring out how to transition from work where you are valued for being productive, to being with your kids who require you to be less productive and more present. The struggle for a stay at home parent is the ability to persevere through days that can feel like groundhog day and break the monotony when there is no change in your routine — from day to day, and from week to weekend. Bottom line: there are no breaks from being a parent and we could all use a little time to sit back and relax without anyone demanding something from us. Like always being perfect.