One of the last permissible forms of prejudice (besides fat haters) in our society, is the chasm between Moms who give up working and stay home with the kids, and those who go to jobs every day.
It is a conversation prone to instant flairs of temper and is right up there with politics and religion… you just don’t air your view because you either stay home and raise kids, or you go to work. You part timers are just faking at both by the way, so we aren’t talking about you at all today.
When the two solitudes meet, it can be uncomfortable. I have seen it happen, and have done it myself. You meet a cool new potential Mom friend and when the conversation turns to “what do you do?” the stay at home Mom steels her little self for all she’s worth and says something to the effect that she has chosen to stay home with her kids. When she is facing down the barrel of a turbo career mom, she knows what is coming. The momentary pause when career mom quickly slaps on her politeness filters, her eyes glaze over and she mutters something noncommittal and immediately starts scanning the room for her fast way out.
The decision to work through your mothering years, or to stay home is fraught with issues. It comes as a total surprise to people that neither choice is actually very fulfilling. Seriously, it bites to be home with your kids and be just smart enough to watch your brain turn into a freakin’ cupcake because you have made so many of them. It also rips your heart out to come barreling into the kids’ school on heels in a suit carrying their forgotten lunch, and you can’t remember which door is your kid’s class. It just gets worse when the principal makes you sign in because they don’t know who you are.
I am a career Mom. I have been the primary breadwinner in a high stress job all my life. I have a great marriage, and good family support and am pulling off this whole “having it all” shit. Oh, and I have shockingly low standards for almost everything to do with my home life, so that may be the magic formula.
To be very truthful, I don’t buy into the bullshit that your kids have to suffer if you work, they don’t. Raising kids who know that you worship them is actually possible, and doesn’t require being there waiting for them to come home from school. Even if you are out earning dough and don’t attend every lame assed recital they have your kids can turn out normal.
As an aside, where it gets hardest is for single moms. That deal is the worst, but risk can be mitigated. If he walks out and you are left standing there holding your apron stained with cupcake guck wondering what that train was that just hit you, it is your own damned fault. If you had a job, you would weather that shit better.
Many of the women on my career track have stepped off to be with their kids, but here is the big reveal: Many of them just don’t feel like working anymore. It’s perfect because they have pushed out of their vaginas the perfect martyrdom excuse. “ Little Billy is now glucose intolerant so I had to retire.” I hope your husband buys it honey because he is now paying for your yoga classes on his own sweat.
Another reason I cringe a little at the thought of non-employed motherhood is there is the issue of the power balance of money. He earns it, and that ends up being all he really has to do. Shit, I would love to have a stay at home wife myself. In many single earner homes, children learn that the Dad calls the shots because the power balance is geared to him who earns the money. It might be subtle and unspoken, but there is no real equality.
Here is another big reveal about the home based maternal unit. Unless they are raising 3 toddlers at the same time, they do actually have more time on their hands than you think. The secret trade union that stay at home moms belong to requires them to go on constantly about how much work they have to do and how busy they are. You may keep the faith sisters but I see you in coffee shops with your yoga pants and a stroller.. not so busy I see.
On the flip side, working and raising children has downsides too. There is not one single moment in your life where you feel like you are on top of things. Sit outside a grocery store and watch all the after work Moms running in to grab the last tray of cupcakes from the bakery aisle because they just found out the kid has to bring them to class tomorrow. All your life’s things are scheduling nightmares. Sadly even if you are the one earning most of the family income, it doesn’t get you out of the birthday parties, class presents, social arrangements, play dates and homework helping. Loaded up working moms live in a spiral of obligation and juggling multiple fireballs all the time. Once in a while it all totally falls apart – major meeting out of town and your kid falls off the playground swing. That is when the crashing unbalance pins you under a fist of guilt and pain and you would quit your job that moment if you could. Making cupcakes seems like the better deal on days like that.
What is funny to watch is two Moms, one on team “job” and the other on team “cupcake” carefully dancing around the conversation. Working Moms are kind of impatient and rush away quickly while the home Moms kindly put a band aid on a hurt child at school who’s Mom can’t leave work to come and help. They are generally nicer women.
My kids attend work related events and sometimes travel with me. They love the fact that if there is a stage or a podium it is usually their Mother holidng the talking stick. It has to count for something that they can be proud of two parents with interesting jobs and proud careers. The kids know deeply and fully that they matter and are loved, and that they are even the highest priority – it is about how communication and time is handled. The kids that are messed up are the ones that have a working mom who parents from a place of guilt or the home Moms who resent their kids and the drudgery and parent accordingly. Both ends of that dog bite.
If you are a Mom still trying to make this choice, or are just trying to find something that justifies the choice you already made, this next bit will be hard to swallow. Children will grow up and completely take you for granted no matter what you do. If you gave up your astronaut career to stay home with them, or flipped burgers on a night shift for 20 years, they still grow up, leave and think you are a lame ass for whatever you did.
Advice with a twist: www.magnoliaripkin.com