Last night I was scrolling through various blogs on the iPad when I noted a very interesting disparity: if the site was called a "baby blog," it was all cute, artsy photos taken with an expensive camera and sweet tag lines like, "My journey as a breast-feeding, baby-wearing, cloth-diapering mom!" If the site was called a "mommy blog," it was written in a much more frank, open manner. There were no artsy photos or declarations of cloth diapering or baby wearing, although one woman was witty enough to tag her blog, "This is the blog that will make you feel better about your parenting." Ha! That made me laugh.
I don't know what this blog would be labeled as: mommy or baby. I don't really care, to be honest (that's not the point of this entry), but it made me think about the general competitiveness of Motherhood. Why do people need to declare their preferences? And while I could really care less if people wear their babies or plop them in a stroller, it made me think about the grand daddy of Motherhood debates: working versus staying at home.
I think it's finally time we address it here.
I feel like there is this intrinsic bias toward the stay-at-home mom, like we somehow got it "easier" since "all we do" is stay at home. (which technically is a misnomer, since we actually leave our homes from time to time, but why debate semantics?)
The most common response I hear when I tell others that I stay at home is, "You are so lucky." I always feel confused when I hear this. On one hand, yes, I agree very much. I have the ability to manage Scotty's life from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed. I get to see every major milestone in action. I have very little mommy guilt, particularly around his care and health. (That is worth its weight in spades, let me tell you.) However, when other people, particularly working moms, say the aforementioned comment, I've learned to interpret it as: "I wish I could spend more time with my child," which is absolutely a different statement all together. Missing out on any of the events mentioned above would be tough, without a doubt. But at the same time, I have to admit that when people tell me I'm "so lucky," it really ruffles my feathers since it feels kind of condescending and demoralizing.
You can agree or disagree with me on the following points, as you are entitled to your opinion (and I welcome comments, but I wield the delete button with a loose thumb. Ha!). But whether you think what I'm about to say is thoughtful or whiny, just let me say it: staying at home is tough, too. Really, really tough. Tough in a way I did not anticipate. Tough in a way that I have never felt more isolated, more alone, and more without an identity. Tough in a sense that I really have to temper and watch any kind of growing resentment I may feel towards my husband, since if I let it get out of check, it can fester and breed into something really ugly. Tough in a way that I cannot leave, even if I wanted to. Tough in a "good for my child, but is it good for me?" kind of quagmire. And, what I think no stay-at-home-mom anticipated prior to staying at home...there are no weekends for this job. You can't quit. You can't ask for a raise. You can't even negotiate with your boss about your work hours, since his only response is, "Ball!" or "Juice!" (for me, at least).
I have harbored these thoughts for awhile, believing that there must be something wrong with me for not loving every minute of being at home with my child. But then recently, a dear friend of mine confessed her own frustrations. And then after that, another one followed. And another one. I realized this is like any other job: you have your good days, and you have your bad days. We SAHMers are not any different than anyone else who gets mad, frustrated, or irritated with what happens during the course of their day. And because we are staying at home doesn't mean we need to be beaming rays of light, whistling through dinner prep or merrily folding the endless piles of clothes. We are people too, meaning we are permitted to express the full range of human emotions, whether that be joy or misery or somewhere in between.
I remember in one of my career counseling classes we were asked, what is the most stressful job in the world? Everyone shouted out different answers ranging from lawyer to heart surgeon to President of the United States. We were all wrong. Turns out the correct answer, to everyone's shock, was "assembly line worker." I know, take it in for a moment (while you curse your current occupation and its unbelievable amounts of stress it causes you) while I explain why: it's low-paying. It's low-status. It is repetitive work that offers no chance to express one's creativity. And most importantly, it has low autonomy, meaning the workers have very, very little control over what happens next to them. So if a part is put together incorrectly earlier in the assembly line, they have a limited amount of time to figure out how to fix it (if they can at all) before it backs up the rest of their production. They have no control over their environment, which causes stress to peak.
Obviously, other careers were in the top ten as well, like lawyer and doctor, but those carry high-paying, high-status, and high levels of autonomy with them. Knowing this, it made me think about where staying at home ranked on that list: no pay. Status of a SAHM ranks pretty low. And as for autonomy? Very, very little. My world revolves around whatever my little Bear would like to do, whether that be sleep, eat, poop, or cry. Just yesterday I wrapped Christmas presents at lightening speed since I didn't know if he was taking a 45 minute nap or a three hour one. I cannot create a routine since I don't have a schedule of what is going to happen over the course of the day. For a planner like myself, that's rough. Do-able, but rough. It's out of my element and out of my comfort zone. In practice, I lived my life 50 minutes at a time, and I was quite good at it. This...not so much.
I'm glad more people are talking about this and are looking at both the positive aspects of staying at home, as well as its challenges. I'm glad my friends are brave enough to not tote the company line ("I love it! I'm so lucky!") but be courageous enough to talk about their struggles. And most of all, I'm glad to realize discussing Motherhood's downside, regardless of working or staying at home, has nothing to do with how you feel about your child(ren); it has to do with how you feel about yourself. And nothing ruffles my feathers more than someone looking down on a mom for thinking about herself: mothers are not meant to be martyrs. If we mourn for our previous identity, it doesn't make us bad people. It makes us human.
So the only conclusion I can come up with is this: Motherhood is hard. Really hard. And whether you work or you stay-at-home, it's challenging, stressful, guilt-inducing, and never-ending. It doesn't have to be a competition between working moms and SAH moms as to who has it worst. We're all in this together.