Friday, April 13, 2012

a popular debate

Recently, a frequent "discussion" which has always simmered in polite society has been brought to the surface on the national political level. I use quotation marks around the word discussion, as really - it's more often a claws out, catty, mud slinging fight. I refer to the "stay-at-home" vs "working-mom" debate, and having been a working mom for 6 months and a stay at home mom for 6 weeks now, I'm obviously qualified to give my two cents. Obviously.

The Seattle Times ran a pretty good article on it this morning; you can find that link here. Here's my synopsis:

In the context of the Presidential Election, Hillary Rosen, a democratic strategist with ties to the Obama administration critiqued Ann Romney, wife of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt. I believe Rosen said something along the lines of how Ann, a stay-at-home mom to 5 boys, has "never worked a day in her life" and as such cannot understand the plight of working women. Obviously this set off a sh*t-storm with people on all sides throwing stones, and ended with Rosen's apology. But we all know it hasn't ended, and even when tomorrow's news sweeps this under the rug, the debate goes on.

And here's where I step in with my commentary, trying to make this as minimally political as possible, and avoid trying to get all democrat vs republican on this issue (which, of course, the parties have been trying to do - but it's really not about that).

I grew up in two households - one with a stay-at-home mom, one with a working-mom. Both of these moms I love dearly and respect greatly. So let that be said. And let me be clear here: I refuse to play into the whole "put a qualifier in front of either term" which so many bloggers do, so as to avoid hurt feelings. I refuse to say "working outside the home mom" or "household project manager" or "working without pay but just as hard but staying at home while tending to the children and household mom". It's simple to me: both kinds of moms add value to their families, and both exert a great deal of energy, and neither performs easy tasks. Both have hard, long days. But notice how I didn't say, "both kinds of mom's work" or "both have hard jobs". That is because I refuse to acknowledge that staying home is the same kind of job as working, and to me, a job is something you get paid for. In currency. :)

Let me address stay-at-home moms first: In the last 6 weeks I have rarely felt as exhausted at the end of the night as I regularly feel now. Every joint in my body aches. I lug a 20 lb toddler around, throwing out my back constantly, very rarely sit now and almost never get any time whatsoever to "relax." Sleep while she sleeps?? Ha. My "job" (for the sake of argument) is to be responsible for 95% of the household chores, while my husband's job is to earn enough money to pay the bills and mortgage. Because this is how we've divided the workload, I do almost everything else - it's only fair to him - the one who gets up, heads out the house, works his ass off all day long, buses home only to open his laptop and continue working nights and weekends. So I do the dishes, laundry, cooking, shopping, cleaning, etc. And on top of that, I take care of the toddler/baby, who is QUITE a handful, doesn't understand the word "NO" and as such needs constant attention lest she kill herself while munching on a power cord. It's exhausting. If I nap while she naps, I am not holding up my end of the bargain (despite my sweet husband encouraging me to leave everything and rest, nap, take time for myself, etc).  I've only been lucky enough to get a moment to myself - three hours to be exact in the last six weeks only - because I have a support system (ie, my own mom) who is around and happy to help. At the end of the day, I am exhausted and in pain - BUT - this "job" is a job of privilege. I can choose to do this because my husband makes enough money to allow me this choice. Ann Romney said that being a stay-at-home-mom was her "career choice" which puts her, and I, in the small, very lucky and fortunate group of Americans who have this luxury. And it's not the same as working. It's doing something we love to do only because we are fortunate enough to have this choice. And I am so, so, so grateful. But, it's not the same and my days are no longer relate-able to a mom who works outside the home.

My six month stint in the "working mom's club" was the hardest time of my life. Only women who have done it understand how hard it is. As a mom - nursing mom at that (which is, in my mind, harder than a non-nursing mom, as you get to squeeze extra time out of your day to pump and to get up as many times a night as your baby wants to eat so you are extra, extra sleep deprived) - you now have to rip your heart in two as you make the selfless effort to bring in additional income to keep your family afloat. Sure, it's easier for some working moms to do this than others, but for ME it was agony. Leaving my precious baby at home while I tried to be productive and add value to my company was extremely difficult for me. She was so tiny, so young, and it went against every evolutionary instinct in my body to protect and care for my child at all times. Those instincts are mighty powerful and can't be turned off, so they must be pushed to the backburner as far as possible to accomplish this task. In working I was now allotted approximately two hours a day with my baby, which was conveniently during dinner time (so required me to be multitasking and didn't allow me to give her my undivided attention), unless we wanted to eat much later thereby staying up later, thereby getting less sleep and making tomorrow that much more difficult. The household chores were still there too - only instead of having 24 hours a day to do them, we now had about 3. This is the reality that the majority of American moms face. Oh, and in my case - pumping 3x/day, being the parent with the most flexibility to leave early, stay home with the baby if she was sick, etc - probably kept me among the ranks of the lower earners at my company. I can only imagine a higher paid job would have had much less flexibility. So - in allowing myself the flexibility I wanted - I was also solidifying the income which meant I was working for literally a couple dollars an hour after childcare and commuting expenses were removed. Talk about a no-win situation. I can't even recount the numerous times I had well-meaning people who made/have a lot more money than I tell me "Oh I just wish you could stay home" or "oh, but she's only this young once, can't you find a way?" or "I'd hate to have my baby in the hands of someone else" or worst yet "I just believe that families should always have one parent at home with the kids." Uh yeah - believe me - no one wanted to stay home more than I, but having health insurance - which we only had access to through my job - and having enough money to pay the bills was the priority.

What's my thesis in all of this blabber? That working-mom's deserve the acknowledgement that what they are doing is incredibly selfless, incredibly difficult and, quite frankly, much, much harder than staying home. These two camps of women are not separate but equal. Do stay-at-home moms have tough days? YES! Do they give of themselves? YES, of course! Is it exhausting? YES - duh (and maybe in some ways more so, as at least if you're working you can count on the relative solitude of a commute to gather your thoughts and energy). But, those of us on this side of the fence should never forget how incredibly fortunate we are to have this opportunity and the luxury of being able to make this choice.

(off my soapbox now!)

1 comment:

  1. Great post Julia!

    I absolutely agree that working full-time would be way harder for me! I can't imagine the strain of working 40+ hours away from my precious children, and trying to manage all the other responsibilities. I can't imagine how incredibly hard it is for a nursing mother. I am grateful and thank my lucky stars every day that I have had the choice to stay home. I have the upmost respect for all moms, but especially moms who are forced into the workforce to provide for their families when their every fiber wants to be home with their children.

    What I find unfortunate, is how this topic is just another area where bullying between parents runs rampant. Not everyone values the stay-at-home mom like you do. I am not going to argue whether being a SAHM qualifies as a job or a career. But it is what I do, what I always hoped to grow up to be, and what I form my identity around. When asked what I do at a social gathering, people are more interested and ask many more follow-up questions on my “part-time” job than the other 6 days a week that I am home with my children. Our society values successful people, and this success is often measured in terms of dollars and/or job title. I get a lot of “Oh that must be nice to get to play with your kids all day and do whatever you want.” I politely smile and nod, because I know how lucky I am, but it can be pretty isolating for the SAHM. Add this to the fact that it is very apparent how (pretty much) no one wants to hear about your children. Take this post for example:
    (Granted, I did laugh quite a bit at this post. I am SO guilty of so many of these! It’s all part of being a pathological over-sharer! ;) ).

    I am not even for a second trying to say that being a SAHM is harder, I am just saying they are highly undervalued and also deserve a lot more respect. My point is that all this debate/discussion/catfight is doing is creating a further divide between women that are trying to do what is best for their family with the circumstances they are given. I wish all mothers were able to make the choice to work or not, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Love you friend, and I appreciate your honest and respectful post.