So I’ve seen this blog post getting linked around Facebook, and I’ve mostly scrolled by it with a good-natured “harrumph”. It’s Matt Walsh writing about how his wife is doing a bang-up job of raising his kids, what with the birthing life into being and instilling of morals and hygiene and societal values while staying at home and never having a career anymore. Most of the people I’ve seen linking to it are stay-at-home moms, and I don’t want to disparage what they do. But one friend of mine took exception to Walsh’s tone because it seemed really patronizing to the mothers who do work, and that made me think about a lot of things.
Let me start by saying that being a stay at home mom is hard, incredibly hard. I did it for five years, and looking back I think it was more emotionally draining and difficult than parenting while working. You never get to clock out of being a parent, especially when your kids are on top of you every second of the day and a good bit of the night. It’s hard to deal with feeling unappreciated and unproductive. It’s nice to get a pat on the back every once in a while from someone who affirms stay-at-home-mommyness as something of a sacred calling. But being a working mother is a whole different type of hard, and while I can’t say the two are equal or unequal, what I can say is it takes a strong-ass woman to do either with any amount of grace. Women who manage to actively raise their kids into productive members of society in today’s world deserve praise REGARDLESS of their employment status.
My family needed me to have an income, so I went to work. Then, I went to school and work. And it’s funny, because while my professional life post-stay-at-home-mommydom has gotten me many “god bless your heart” pouts and shoulder rubs and people with wide eyes saying, “how do you MANAGE?”; there’s a lot less of a sense of screw-everyone-else solidarity amongst working women than there was in the stay at home mom world.
I suppose there’s a feeling that we’re betraying someone, or something.
It doesn’t help when people, in feigned congratulations of my courage, say things like “so you go to school AND you work? Who takes care of your kids?”
Um, I do. And their dad. We raise our children together, thanks for implying that I am somehow crippled as a mother because there are hours I am not home. No, I can’t always pick them up from school or tuck them in to bed. But I am present in their lives, the moon that pulls their tides, regardless of if I am available to them every second of the day (including bathroom breaks) or if I am only with them for two hours. What matters is if the connection to them is actively nurtured. What matters is when over dinner I ask them what the happiest and saddest moment of their day was. What made you feel victorious? What made you feel like you failed? What will you work harder at tomorrow and what you do differently? What can I do for you? Is there anything you want to talk about? Want to cuddle and read a book? Need me to mend the sleeve of your dress?
I mean, I may have to boil a days worth of parenting into a few hours sometimes, but there are other days I’m home all day. There are days where I give my essay project the middle finger and decide to make cupcakes with my daughter or play Minecraft with my son. I still actively work at being a parent. I do not shove that responsibility off on anyone else (except their father, who actively shares it).
Being a mother is hard. Being a parent is hard. It’s hard whether or not you work. All of the reasons to stay at home, or to go to work, belong to the parent and not to society. Stay at home moms need to ask themselves if they have the patience. Can they go for a few years without even peeing alone or reading a book uninterrupted? This is a serious question, because child abuse happens when they cannot. Working moms have to ask themselves can they feel connected to their child if someone else is the one seeing the first steps, hearing the first word? Can they marvel at their children without having to know every detail? These are serious questions. My dad got a lot of Monkeypants’s firsts. That was really difficult for me. But you know what? I get her everydays, and her everydays do not suck. They amaze me.
Mothers shouldn’t have to stay at home to be congratulated and praised. Fathers should be praised, too. You know why? Because like Matt Walsh says we bring life into the world and we rear it… regardless of whether or not we have another job. We worry about our children and we do our best to raise them well. We give ourselves to them, we center our efforts around them… and, yeah, sometimes we make getting or keeping or furthering careers a priority because as a parent we have a responsibility to ourselves as well. We have a responsibility to model how to be a good member of society, and sometimes that means learning how to be a doctor or a schoolteacher or a nurse or an accountant or what have you. And sometimes for financial or spiritual or personal reasons that means staying at home.
Sure it does.
But whatever being a parent means, we shouldn’t all have to be competing with each other to prove that we are somehow good parents regardless of how we live our lives. We’re good parents because of who we are to our children and who they are to us.