Reader, don’t think I missed the kerfuffle about Ann Romney having “never worked a day in her life” and the subsequent fanning of the flames over the tired old working mom vs. stay at home mom debate. I’ve been mulling, and I’m almost afraid to write about this because it’s an issue near and dear to my heart.
Let me begin by saying that I consider myself to be a working mom. This shift happened for me last fall when my youngest started school. It happened slowly, so slowly that it was subconscious. Instead of saying, “I’m at home with my kids,” I started saying, “I’m a writer.” Instead of being available for any and all volunteer opportunities, I started saying, “I work that day, so I can’t do it.” And when someone in my writing class asked me last week, “Do you work?” I didn’t immediately understand his question. I was thinking to myself, “He knows I’m a writer. Isn’t it obvious that I work? What does he mean?” Of course, I regained my social bearings and understood what he meant after a brief pause. It’s true that I don’t have a traditional job for which I leave the house each day. It’s true that I don’t make money with which to support a family. But every day while the kids are at school, I am at my desk working.
Which is not to say that I wasn’t working before. Anyone who has cared for one or more babies, toddlers, preschoolers for any period of time knows it’s hard work. Often, full-time parents are doing work that can be “outsourced” in families with two incomes: after school care, meal preparation, cleaning and laundry, etc. Personally, I don’t know too many parents who aren’t working hard one way or another. I suppose there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, I know of a family that not only has a nanny, but has one nanny per child. I’m pretty sure their reality is a little different from most of ours. So for argument’s sake, let’s exempt the 1% from this discussion. But if we start with the 99%, I think it’s fair to say that ALL MOTHERS ARE WORKING MOTHERS. And really that ALL PARENTS ARE WORKING PARENTS. And that’s where I’d like to begin my proposed treaty: The Be All End All Treaty For All Parents Everywhere Amen.
Article 1: ALL PARENTS ARE WORKING PARENTS (see above)
Article 2: WE WILL BE POLITE TO EACH OTHER I, for one, have been shocked at the things people have said to me when I’ve told them, “I’m at home with my three kids right now.” These are all real and true responses: “Oh my god, just shoot me.” “I’d commit suicide if I had to stay home with my kids.” “Some women stay home because they can’t hack being a working mom.” I cringe to imagine the response if I had said something similar to a mother who worked outside the home. Can you imagine –?? “I”d commit suicide if I had to put my kids in daycare.” ?? But for some reason, it’s socially acceptable, even funny, to say such things to parents who are at home (these comments got laughter from the group in each case). It’s not nice, and it’s not funny, and it should stop (whoa — on the re-read I’m adding: that’s my grouchy-mommy voice coming through:)). I’m sure some at-home parents have made their share of nasty remarks, too, although I can honestly say that I never have. I come from a long line of parents who worked hard inside and outside the home, and I admire them for it.
Article 3: WE WILL NOT MAKE JUDGEMENTS ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S FINANCIAL SITUATIONS Another not-so-favorite response I’ve had when answering the “what do you do?” question is, “Oh, it must be nice. What does your husband do?” This seems to imply that we are rollin-in-the-dough. On the one hand, I feel very lucky not to have to worry about how I’m going to pay for groceries most weeks (although there is the occasional tight pay period even now). On the other hand, Husband and I live frugally. We saved like crazy before we had kids so that staying at home might be an option for one of us. We’ve been on exactly three vacations since we married 13 years ago, and all of them were camping vacations, not beach resort vacations. We often forego gifts for one another at holidays and birthdays to save money. We don’t go out much. We both drive old cars; Husband’s is literally held together by duct tape. We are not living high on the hog here. And again, to put this to the reversal test, how would this remark sit at a dinner party: “Oh, that’s too bad that you have to work. What does your husband do?” Let us all agree that all parents make sacrifices for their children. Most families with an at-home parent are not independently wealthy, but have planned ahead and lived on a budget to make it happen. Many families with two parents working outside the home have two parents who really want to work outside the home, who enjoy their jobs and want to keep them. Both are valid ways of being family.
Article 3: WE WILL NOT ACCUSE ONE ANOTHER OF DAMAGING OUR CHILDREN I’ve read many articles, comments on blog posts, overheard conversations, etc., about how at-home mothers are damaging their children by hovering, by always being there for them thus depriving them of a chance to learn in the school of hard knocks, by failing to give an example of a working woman to their children, etc. etc., etc. I would like to propose this: Any obstacle to good parenting — by this I mean intentional parenting wherein the children’s needs are generally met, proper limits are set for behavior, and parents are focused on the long-term goal of raising kind, responsible, independent adults — can damage a child, but the issue of working outside the home or not working outside the home per se is not one of these obstacles. Obstacles to good parenting can come in the form of addiction, untreated mental illness, an obsession with body image, a chronic failure to pay attention to a child’s needs, an inability to deal with anger healthily, an obsession with money, and yes, a 90-hour a week job that never allows you to see your children, and yes, over-protectiveness, spoiling, hovering, and living vicariously through your children. Children get damaged for all kinds of reasons but it’s not usually the case that they are damaged by healthy, mindful, happy adults who are doing their best to balance a full life.
Article 4 — WE WILL TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO BE OPEN MINDED BY BEING OPEN MINDED I confess, in the case of our family I truly believe that having me at home while the children were not yet in school was the very best thing for our family. The truth is, our quality of life would’ve gone down if I had worked. And it would go down now if I took a full-time job outside the home. But I tell my kids that every family figures that out for themselves. I give them the example of their Aunt Katie and Uncle Andy, two brilliant scientists who have found a way to balance rewarding careers with two wonderful little boys. I give them the example of their Uncle Matt and Aunt Elaine, who at first both worked; who then cut spending and saved like crazy so that they could live on my brother’s teaching salary for a few years while their babies were little; and who now are putting Elaine through nursing school. My kids have friends whose parents do all kinds of things and have all kinds of arrangements for making sure the kids’ needs are met. They know that there are a million different wonderful ways to be a family. As the grown ups of the world, we should make sure to remember that as well.
Article 5 WE WILL PUT THIS TIRED OLD DEBATE TO REST ONCE AND FOR ALL This is a boring topic. Some parents have jobs outside the home. Some parents don’t. Some parents don’t want to stay at home. Some do. Some want to but can’t. Some don’t really want to, but they do it anyway for a while. All parents sacrifice. All parents work hard. End of story. Let’s be friends. Amen.
And, ahem, end of rant.