A few weeks ago I was walking the halls of my dance studio. I love getting a chance to watch the little ones glow with confidence as they leap and groove, but I also love watching proud parents light up while watching their kids I had the opportunity to introduce myself to a mom who is new to the studio and we began chatting. Inevitably the conversation meandered to my own 4 year old son and pre-school. I lamented the shortage of schools that offer year-round and full time care in our community. The response: “Yeah… I made the choice to stay home and raise my children, so I never had to worry about that.”
THUNK… There it was… working mom shame.
I asked myself, who would respond to this? “Diplomatic Business Owner Mom” “Tears Brimming, Guilty Working Mom” or “Are you F#*%ing Kidding Me Mom.” With an audience of other parents in earshot, I chose to say, “Wow, being a stay at home mom is so much work! It is a full time job!” I meant that and it was an honest response. However, I did not address how much it hurt. I was hurt because I am raising my son just as much as a SAHM. And I was even more hurt that she didn’t realize the deeper implications of her statement. She unwillingly (or willingly) was suggesting that by working, I was less. I was less of a mother. I was less than her. Also, the word ‘choice’ is hurtful. Working, and staying home for that matter, are not always a choice for parents… especially in the expensive place that I live. The choice to leverage work vs. staying home often involves valuing our time, which further politicizes this issue. When a family has means, and a woman truly has a ‘choice’, that word becomes a weapon for those of us who grapple with difficult decisions in order to afford to live in the place we call home. What is that choice? Moving to another town or state? Living paycheck to paycheck? Forcing our family and our kids into debt and loans in the future? A simple statement felt like an attack on my ability to mother my child, my economic status, and my integrity.
My inner-optimist hopes that this was unintentional, even if somewhere buried deep, there was an attempt to gain self-worth at my expense. This made me realize that instead of waging war, we should be trying to educate each other on the ups and downs of our roles, while finding comfort in our shared experiences. The grass may always seem greener, but at the end of the long day as a mom of any kind, we are all in the trenches trying to survive.
I am surviving as a wife, mom, and proud dance studio owner. I spend 40-60 hours a week working away from home (depending on the season). I give up my own child’s practices to help other people’s children develop their passions. I am daunted by the great privilege and responsibility of teaching other people’s children and raising my own. I wanted to quote my mentor Misty Lown who poignantly wrote, “Teachers, coaches (and all working parents): I’m sure there are times when you wonder whether or not it’s worth it. Maybe you’ve even had moments where you wonder whether or not your kids are in any way damaged or worse off because you chose to, or had to, go to work.” My son doesn’t love me any MORE because I choose to work. He doesn’t love me any LESS because there are times that I have to work. He just loves ME because I’m his mom.
I think every woman knows it shouldn’t be a contest, but honestly, sometimes it is hard to relate to the ‘other side’. I can 100% see the hellish challenge of getting through a grocery trip with a toddler and newborn, or even worse, facing a whole day/week home with the flu trying to care for a troop of energetic banshees. However, I have also developed an elaborate fantasy about what it must be like when the kids are old enough that you can grocery shop alone mid-week, lunch with a friend, or do yoga (before you turn into what feels like a glorified chauffeur). I emphasize fantasy, because this is likely not what it is really like, or maybe it is. One of my friends explained it as her sanity time. It helped me realize that I get it too… in a different package. I relish in my student’s victories, developing leaders, and making a safe place for children to find worthiness. These precious moments make the long days worthwhile.
Trust me… working is not all peeing alone and power lunches. My challenges are squeezing all of the housework into the limited time that I want to spend with my son. Have you been to Trader Joes on a Sunday? We try to monetize a housekeeper because it literally equates to time with my family, even if it is not the best for our budget. It is miserable trying to find child care when my son is sick and I have a show or deadline. The biggest pain point is dulling out the voices who try to make me feel like ‘strangers’ are raising my son or comments that loosely insinuate I am not as good of a parent, or should feel bad, because I work. Nobody ever asked my husband if he felt guilty about going to work.