It doesn’t matter if you’re a mother or a father. It doesn’t matter if you are straight or gay. Unmarried, married, divorced, widowed. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, or any other shade. Rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you adopted your children or if they are biologically yours. And so on. None of it matters because parenthood is difficult for everybody, and levels us all out when it comes to raising our children.
This is why, in my opinion, we parents should support solidarity among our peers, never belittling or passing judgement on another mom or dad due to a major life decision, such as choosing to be a stay-at-home-parent versus a working parent. Every one of us either made the choice that we have because it was not only best for us, but also for our families, for our children. Likewise, for those not having a choice due to finances or lack of support, are in turn doing their best, too.
Of course, there is always someone who does incidentally have an opinion regarding which status we fall under. We can’t allow their thoughts — which tend to be negative — to make us feel badly, to second-guess ourselves. The worst of it though, is when it is another parent whose child is around the same age as yours that is shaming you for doing the opposite of what they are.
I experienced this about two years ago, when after having a falling out over the most trivial thing with a female who is not only also a mother, but a working one, as well as someone that I went to school with and had known since sixth grade, caused me to feel so very small and worthless when she decided to not only smear my name on her social media page, but bring into it the fact that I am not employed. “She doesn’t even work,” were part of her exact words. That made it sound like I was a lazy layabout, doing nothing at all with her life. A loser. And it made me feel horribly that way. Until I reminded myself that she didn’t understand my journey because she wasn’t meant to, and realizing years way too late, she is and always was a really rotten, heartless human being.
Why did this particular female want to cut me down to size? See above. Why did she neglect to tell all her minions and sheep (everyone on this person’s list always agrees heartily with her, either because they do think exactly like her, or are too petrified to stand up to her and tell her that she is an awful human being) that I choose to be home in order to care for and raise my daughter? That I wasn’t just adrift? I don’t have definitive answers, just my theory — manipulation, jealousy, and a heart full of hate — and a blog post written by another mother, a working one, but one with compassion who sees both sides.
The reason why Carolyn, the fellow momma and blogger I just mentioned, has duel sympathy is that the medical doctor and researcher just returned to full-time work this month, according to her page, http://carolynee.net. Her blog focuses on health and her personal attempts at balancing work and family. I think she and I would get along famously if we ever had the occasion to meet as one of her two children is the same age as my child, she has the same kind of spare time that I do — the kind that has quotes on either side of it (“spare time”), and she enjoys exercise as well as cupcakes.
I most likely would not have known about Carolyn or her blog had my good friend Kathleen — also a mother — not shared Carolyn’s post from February 8, “A Letter from a Working Mother to a Stay-At-Home Mother, and vice versa” on Facebook. The post is raw, yet beautiful, and provides insight for and about both the working mom and the stay-at-home mom, as well as for anyone that is not a parent. It provides solidarity and comfort, as well, as it never cuts down either type of mother. Not once. I immediately loved the post for this, and for the confirmation that there are other mothers out there willing to treat their counterparts like sisters, not enemies.
“Dear Stay-At-Home Mum
Some people have been questioning what you do at home all day. I know what you do. I know because I’m a mum and for a while I did it too.
I know you do unpaid work, often thankless work, which starts the moment you wake up, and doesn’t even end when you go to sleep. I know you work weekends and nights, with no discernible end to your day or working week. I know the rewards are joyous but few.
I know that you seldom have a hot cup of coffee or tea. I know that your attention is always divided, often diverted from a moment to moment basis, and you cannot ever count on completing a task in the one go. I know that you probably don’t get any down time when you’re on your own at home, unless you have a single child who still naps in the daytime.
I know the challenges you deal with daily, usually with no peer support or backup. The toddler tantrums, the toilet training accidents, the food battles, the food on the floor, the crayons on the wall, the sibling rivalry, the baby that never seems to stop crying. I know how the work seems incessant, like an endless cycle – you shop for food, prepare it, cook it, attempt to feed it to your children, clean it off the floor, wash the dishes, and repeat in three hours.
I know you fantasise about having an hour to yourself to eat your lunch in peace, or about having an afternoon nap. I know you sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it, and feel envious of your friends who are having coffee breaks at work. I know that sometimes when your partner gets home in the evening after his work is done, he wants to put his feet up exactly when you need a break the most, and this can bring you to tears.
I know that you are misunderstood by so many who do not appreciate the difficulties of caring for small children on your own, all day, and refer to you as joining the “latte set”. They imagine you spend your day sipping coffee while your children play quietly. I know you miss your financial independence. I know you feel amused and sometimes annoyed when others proclaim “TGIF!” because to you every day is the same – there is no Friday, no break from your job. I know that many people do not understand that you work – you simply work an unpaid job at home.
SAHM, I don’t know how you do it. I admire your infinite patience, your ability to face each day cheerfully and bring joy into your children’s lives even when they wear you down. I admire your dedication to being a constant presence in your children’s lives even if it isn’t always easy. I admire the way you work without expecting any reward – no promotions, no fame, no salary. I know you want your children to feel important and loved, and SAHM, you do this the best.
I just wanted you to know that I understand. We’re both mothers. And I know.
Love from the trenches
Dear Working Mum
I know you sometimes get judged by others for leaving your children in the care of others to work. Some people imply that you don’t love your children as much as us SAHMs do, and that it’s best for children to be at home with their mothers.
How can they say this about you? I know you love your children just as much as any other mother. I know that going back to work was no easy decision. You weighed up the pros and cons, long before you conceived a baby. It has always been one of the most important decisions of your life. You thought about this even while you were in high school and were choosing subjects for Grade 11.
I see you everywhere. You are the doctor I take my children to when they are sick. You’re my child’s allergist, the one who diagnosed her peanut allergy. You’re the physiotherapist who treated my husband’s back. You’re the accountant who does our tax returns. My son’s primary school teacher. The director of our childcare centre. My daughter’s gymnastics teacher. The real estate agent who sold our house. What sort of world would it be if you hadn’t been there for us? If you had succumbed to the pressures of those who insisted a mother’s place had to be in the home?
I know you weigh up every job to see if it will suit your family. I know you wake up an hour before everyone else does, just so you can get some exercise done or some quiet time. I know that you have attended meetings after being up all night with your toddler. I know that when you come home in the evening, your “second shift” begins. The nay-sayers don’t understand that you run a household AND hold a job. You come home, cook dinner, bath your children and read them stories. You tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. You pay the bills, do the grocery shopping, the laundry, the dishes, just like every other mother does.
I know that you often feel guilty about having any more time away from your children so you sacrifice your leisure time. I know you can’t bring yourself to take a “day off” for yourself when your children are at daycare. I know you accept that work is your “time off” for now. I know that when you are at work you don’t waste a single minute. I know you eat your lunch at your desk, you don’t go out for coffee, and you show complete dedication and concentration to your job. You chose to be there after all. You want to be there.
I know how discerning you are about who is looking after your children, and that many long daycare centres offer excellent care. I know you only leave your children in a place where you confident they are loved and well looked after. I know that you spend many days caring for your children at home when they are sick, and sacrifice your pay. I know that you secretly enjoy these days, and revel in being able to be with your children.
I know that sometimes you feel guilty about not being there all the time. But WM, I know this. You are setting a wonderful example to your children. You are showing them that a woman can have a career, contribute in some way outside the home, and still be a loving mother. You are showing your daughters that they can do anything they want to do in life. You are displaying strength, endurance, dedication, tenacity, and you do it with so much joy and love.
I just wanted you to know I understand. Because we’re both mothers.
Love from the trenches
Dr. Carolyn, you’ve said it all here. You took the words right out of my mouth, explained it all in a way that I wish I had. In a way that plenty of other mothers (and in general, other parents) might not have been able to find the words, but I think might feel grateful to you for doing so were they to have the chance to read your post, too.
We’re all in the same endless cycle, trying to be our best for our children so that they can become their best. Let’s not fall into shaming each other. After all, do any of us really have the time or energy for that?