Yesterday Jenny discussed some of the challenges (read post here) that working moms face. Today, I’d like to talk about the other side — how hard it is to NOT work.
I recently heard a commercial that included this phrase, “I’m a working mom so…is perfect for me.” A working mom? Hmmm…What does that make me? I thought. A non-working mom?
Technically, I’m a “stay at home” mom. But, I almost loathe that term. To me it’s always sounded like a type of social leprosy, confining certain women to their houses during the daytime hours.
Perhaps what amazes me most is just how often I’m forced to tell people I “don’t work.” Yes. I use those words. The conversation plays out the same way almost every time:
Them: “Do you work?”
Me: “Oh no, I don’t work.”
Them: “Well, you have four kids, that’s work.”
Me: “Oh yes, it actually is.”
But, even in their nod to the fact that I don’t lounge around watching The View and eating homemade cake pops, I somehow feel like I’m in a lesser stratosphere on the “work” front. Like they know I have to change diapers and fill sippy cups, but they really don’t think that’s work.
That is one of the hardest parts about being a SAHM, I feel that the legitimacy of my full-time job is constantly questioned. In an era where there are oodles of capable women excelling in the work force, checking “homemaker” on the profession list seems archaic to some. When I share that I “stay home” I often get a nice smile and the equivalent of a “bless your heart” from women who don’t. I frequently feel as if I have to explain that I chose this, that I resigned from a job I loved to do this job. I even sometimes explain that I believe mothering my children is the only career for which I am uniquely qualified.
But, then, the truth is, I sometimes don’t feel entirely comfortable with it either. I’m always scheming for something else to do on the side–from selling used stuff on ebay to work-from-home money making schemes, to, oh yeah, blogging! Turns out I struggle to feel like it is enough some days, too. At times, I feel like I’m not contributing …not doing my part…I wonder if I am actually working. Even my Facebook page announces a job I spend two hours a week at when it should, more accurately, say SAHM (though I hate that acronym).
So, why do I feel pressure, like having a “real” job is better? I think, in part, our culture shouts that moms who balance jobs inside and outside of the home hold more superpowers than those of us who do not. And, somewhere deep down, I want you to think I’m Wonder Woman.
Yes, I won’t argue that working moms have it tough. Balancing it all is super stressful. I look at my piles of laundry and am so grateful that I don’t have to get it all done after I’ve put in a full day at work, cooked dinner, and gotten the kids into bed. But, I also think that just having to care for the constant needs of four little ones — all day long, every week day and every weekend day — can be pretty wearying. My bad days at home have been far more taxing than any bad day I ever had at an office. And, I could escape from the office!
The other challenge is that many stay at home moms are like me: moms who have done some time in the working world. I spent a little more than a decade as a professional. In that time I experienced success and learned to enjoy that feeling. Motherhood doesn’t always afford me that. My Master’s degree is in public policy, not in anything with the words “child” or “education” in the title. I feel competent explaining to you how a bill becomes a law. I feel significantly less apt at potty training.
And, that’s the big rub. For all moms, but especially for those of us who stay at home, we are in roles for which we have received no formal training or education. Essentially we hold a full time job that we really have no idea how to do. A usable job description for mothering your children does not exist. There is no “one size fits all” business model that can help you do it “right” or successfully. No, you just have to wait and see how they turn out.
Just like those first years of working in a new field, you feel lost, uncertain, frustrated, and at times, completely incompetent when you first become a mom. Only, motherhood is worse than learning a trade. Just when you master what to do with a baby, he becomes a toddler. Just when you have the “now they are walking and talking” game down, he is a preschooler who wants to learn. And so it goes, and goes, and goes. It’s like getting a promotion every few months to a new job that, once again, you have to figure out from scratch.
That’s why I think many women who have a choice, who could afford to stay home if they wanted to, go back to work. Feeling incompetent is an unfamiliar and a difficult adjustment if you’ve been on the other side…if you had a paying job you were trained for, or good at. I think going back to work at a job you know feels better, and allows an escape from the daily grind of the awkwardness of mothering.
It’s harder for a SAHM to feel successful, daily. Compound that with the culture questioning the value of her contribution and you’ve got a tough row to hoe if you decide not to “work.”
So Why Do I Stay Home?
I do feel blessed that I don’t have to hold a job other than the one with the title of Mom. It is a choice I made based on my personal convictions. But sometimes I struggle not to feel lame that I have the PBS Kids TV schedule memorized, that the biggest hassle of my day was cleaning up Play Doh crumbs, or that the masterful way I coordinated nap times isn’t really curing cancer.
I do know I’m making a difference. I know they like having me around and we both enjoy the time we get to spend together. No, I don’t have a boss to tell me, “great work on that ‘value of sharing’ lecture” or anyone to commend me on the way I organized the seasonal clothing changes, but I do have kids who say things like, “Mom, you’re really great.” And, to me, that’s better than a bonus check.
What do you think? Is it harder to WORK or STAY AT HOME? OR, are both equally difficult?