Stay at home vs. working moms: it’s a debate that may well have sparked the heated flames of the “mommy wars.” There haven’t been a shortage of opinions on this topic, and despite being rehashed to death, more keep coming. The latest voice to enter into the fray is Allison Klein, a former reporter turned stay-at-home mom who recently offered up an op-ed for The Washington Post. Klein writes:
“You see, I love being home with my girls, now 4 and 5. I’m just not such a fan of telling people that’s what I do. This is new for me. [...] This is D.C., where nothing about you is more important than your job, or at least that’s what people always say. And being a full-time mom doesn’t exactly up my Q score. These conversations are fraught because I want people to know I’m not giving up my identity as a strong, smart woman. Cue the eye roll.”
Mother judgment — it’s there regardless of what you choose. And, when we fight each other, nobody wins, because infighting only clouds the more important issue: the narrow way we frame this stay-at-home vs. working mother discussion. I wish there could be a huge disclaimer on these types of articles reminding readers that not every mother is in a position to actually make this choice. There are families that need two working parents in order to ensure that housing and food costs are met. There needs to be a greater understanding of the inherent privilege involved in even having this “debate” in the first place.
Making the this debate personal causes us to forget about the structural inadequacies that need to be worked on. Would this debate be as heated if we had a mandated paid family leave policy? What about more flexible working conditions? Better paid sick leave policies? Or even equal pay? If, on average, women were making as much (if not more so!) than their husbands and by default it made more sense for fathers to stay home, would these types of debates continue?
I never fancied myself as somebody who would be a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I was the primary breadwinner for a while. Then, my husband got a job that paid almost double my own, and we found ourselves moving to another state when I was six months pregnant. Who wants to hire an obviously pregnant woman? Not many folks, regardless of the legalities. So, for the last few months of my pregnancy I stayed home while simultaneously working on my Master’s thesis. Then, once my son was born, I continued to stay home. I finished my thesis, graduated (and even gave a speech to my graduating class with my four-month-old son perched happily on my hip!), and … stayed at home.
For us, it more a matter of convenience. I knew I would work again, my husband’s job was less flexible than mine, and to be honest, there was some piece of me that wanted to be the one primarily raising our son. But then, it got boring. The first year or two was a lot fun — and hard work too, sure, but mostly fun, I’m not going to lie. Yet soon I craved more, so eventually went back to work. Fortunately, those wishes coincided with my son starting preschool, which worked out well, and I was only out of the workforce for just under three years, which honestly didn’t damage my hireability (especially since I actually worked part-time once my son was around six-months-old…so perhaps I never truly was a stay-at-home mom?). But that’s my story/situation and it’s not the same for everyone.
Some women genuinely love staying at home and relish the whole homemaker lifestyle. That just wasn’t me. Plus, there was always that nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me about how much harder it would be to reenter the workforce the longer I was apart from it. Despite being more than happy and secure in my marriage (while only married for nine years, I’ve been with my husband for 16 years total), I was also incredibly aware about divorce rates as well as the possibility of sickness/accidents/death, and the reality of needing to be capable of supporting myself and my son. Most importantly, I wanted to work. There was a whole part of me that wasn’t solely a mother. After all, mothers aren’t monoliths!
I’ve been on both sides of this faux “debate” and let me tell you — the judgement is never-ending. Judgment about being home and “wasting your potential.” Judgment about working and “missing all those moments and milestones!” It can be utterly maddening, probably because never being able to “win” is utterly maddening. I’m aware at how lucky I am that I was even able to test both waters before settling on what works best for me and my family. And in the end, that’s what all parents need to focus on.
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamfesto. Her book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.
[Image of a baby bottle via Shutterstock]