the be all end all treaty for all parents everywhere amen

My great-grandmother, Olive Mastin Spencer, who, when her husband lost his farms in the Great Depression, started a newspaper as a means for earning money to feed the family. The newspaper is still published today.

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.

23 thoughts on “the be all end all treaty for all parents everywhere amen

  1. This is a lovely treaty. I hope that everyone adopts it and abides by it. Now if I could just convince folks that I’m not damaged or defective for having chosen not to have children. Maybe I should write a treaty on that!

  2. Amen to that. I agree everyone needs to do what they think is best. I stayed home with my three children and volunteered in my community.When the Recession hit and my back was against the wall I ended up going back to school and finding my passion in writing. Our individual paths happen for a reason. I enjoyed your post.

    • Diane, thanks for your comment & I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I really like your idea that “our individual paths happen for a reason.”

  3. Well said, Molly. I don’t even have kids and I agree with all your points. I especially appreciate the way you turn each statement around to reveal how inappropriate the comment: “Oh, that’s too bad that you have to work. What does your husband do?”

    Well done.

  4. Love it! 🙂 My favorite part is Article 5! Whoo hoo! Amen! On that note, can I tweet this?! I would love for this post to go viral!

  5. Amen. I, too, like how you turned those comments around. Reminds me how, as a rather thin person, folks think its fine to say “my, you’re so skinny!” — and I’ve often wanted to say, “my, you’re so fat!” But I don’t, of course. It’s interesting what passes as socially acceptable commentary.

    I love the point about open minds — in all things, that seems like such a valuable lesson for kids — and indeed, all of us — to internalize.

    • Sarah, I used to get that “you’re so skinny” comment, too, back when I was the Teeny Tiny Woman. Just once I wanted to tell someone “Yeah, I’m very ill and that’s why I’m so thin” but I never did. Hooray for open minds everywhere!

      • allow me to opine, as a woman who has experienced fat days, chubby days, and thinner (never thin) days: i agree with you both that it is so inappropriate and gross when people make comments such as you mentioned. and mol, i would LOVE for you to retort in that way, to develop some sense of understanding (and hopefully restraint) in others. now here’s the part where i (smallishly) rant: let’s not be naive in expressing incredulity about why it’s ok to joke about being thin…being thin is THE merit badge in this country, if not much of the world. it is the pinnacle of success; proof that a person (read: woman) has her life in control. thus, when one makes jokes about another being thin, it is not typically (i believe) out of cruelty or debasement. in fact, it is (i believe) largely based in envy or jealousy or admiration or (sadly, sometimes) self-loathing. it is not (i believe) meant to disparage the thin recipient, as a “fat joke” is meant to disparage and shame an overweight person. bottom line: there is NOT the same shame or sense of failure or embarassment in being thin as there is in being fat. period.

      • shannon j.c. I’m glad you smallishly ranted, and I agree with you. I sensed the envy in people, “You look so great for having three kids.” Hello, I looked like an 11 year old boy — but such is the strength of the cultural associations with a thin physique. I didn’t mean to express incredulity about the fact that people were commenting on it (because I agree with you that “thin” comments are meant as compliments, while “fat” comments are meant to shame and ostracize), rather incredulity that people would envy my wasted (literally), 90 pound body. We should all remind ourselves that the etiquette experts caution against making personal remarks, and this issue is a good example of why.

  6. Amen, sistah!

    I think most parents at some point, myself included, wonder during the harder parts if they’re doing the best job they could be and if another arrangement might be nicer. Some accept a little doubt as part of every arrangement, but others look for validation to feel better, usually in the form of seeing other smart parents making the same choices they did.

    And oh, people DO say equally wildly inappropriate things to working mothers. I’ve had the “What does your husband do” with the assumption that if I’m working, it must be because either my husband is unwilling or unable to support us–the looks of pity!–or if they feel he DOES make enough, I work because I’m selfish–then our child. And as a freelancer? Everyone assumes that my husband either earns enough to send our (poor, suffering) child to daycare AND support me while I pursue this ‘hobby’… or that I’m evil for ignoring my child and bleeding my husband’s paycheck to follow my own silly dream. These same people assume that since I’m ‘just writing,’ can I can come over at a moment’s notice and watch their kid in the middle of the day.

    There are so, so many things wrong with all that–sexist! rude! not to mention inaccurate–I hardly know where to begin. And the same is true of judgment going the other direction. Parents, mothers, we kind of can’t win until we all just start supporting one another for real.

    By the way, your grandma rocks.

    • Mary H, I agree with you that the ambivalence and uncertainty and challenge of one’s own situation can lead us to seek out validation in others. Is any parent 100% certain about the decisions they’ve made? I doubt it. I don’t want to say I’m glad you’ve also received the raised eyebrows and insulting questions — but there’s a cold comfort in knowing the world is not singling out at-home parents on this issue. Totally agree that we can’t win unless we support each other. Thanks for chiming in! And thanks for being an example of someone who takes her writing seriously and commits to it as a professional.

  7. Pingback: friday roundup: more on working parents, naporevmo update, and Night-Pieces | the stanza

  8. Huzzah, Molly! This was a terrific rant–I want to print out and frame this rant! I’m amazed and delighted at the similar track you and I seem to have been on, down to the youngest in kindergarten this year, and the decision to say “writer” when people ask…what they ask. It’s been hard for me to do, but I’m learning. (Last month was the FIRST month I said no to a kindergarten volunteer assignment because I had writing deadlines, and I just didn’t want to skip or shelve them.) And yes, I’m so glad you addressed the entitlement people have, that they can question each other’s choices. In my community this practice seems to go hand in hand with some crazy transparent drama over whose kid is most destined for fame and fortune, too. Parental Judgments: the next generation. I find it draining, and the comments about staying home? I am ashamed at how long it’s taken me to build up defenses against them. If I’d had your rant handy five years ago, just think how much time I would have saved! 🙂 Anyway, thank you for this validating post, and for the reminder to make sure our children learn to be open-minded from our example, so we can spare their generation more of this stuff.

    • Sally, so glad you enjoyed the rant — I admit I enjoyed writing it :). Yes, we seem to have that drama about whose kid is destined for fame and fortune here, too, to the nth/Silicon Valley degree. We do our best to opt out, but it can be draining. In case you need it, I just thought of this response today for when someone asks about your kids’ test scores (yes, I’m planning ahead): “Why do you ask?” 🙂 If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think I ever have given a good response to the comments about staying home, because I am always shocked into silence. Anyway, three cheers for trying to save our children from all this drama! And thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Write on!

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