All over the news and in the media last week was the age old battle about working mothers vs stay-at-home mothers. I refuse to get into the backstory of how the topic was brought up, AGAIN, but if you have a television, a computer and/or a newspaper, you already heard the whole dramatic situation over and over and over again, ad nauseum. And if you missed it, use Google.Needless to say, this is a HOT argument. Always has been, always will be. It cuts very close to the quick for many people, and it brings out some nasty rhetoric and comments all around. A mom is a mom no matter where or how she works, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think it is that simple.
This is one of those debates and topics that is hard to pin down. It isn’t really a conservative vs liberal discussion, and it isn’t feminist vs non-feminist debate either. There are women, and men, from all walks of life and all persuasions who have pro and con feelings and opinions about it.
This is one conversation I feel very entitled to speak with great authority on because I have been both a stay-at-home mom and a single, working mom. I have “been there and done that” and I have some strong feelings on the topic, and firsthand experience.
Let me say upfront that there are no winners in this debate, and as my husband loves to point out to me, life isn’t fair. Once you get over that concept, everything in life will become less aggravating. It took me most of my life to digest that truth, and it is still not always easy.I was a stay-at-home mom for over 10 years in the 1980s. I won’t go into all the particulars at this time, that whole story is too long for my purposes here. What I will say is that I have mixed feelings about it to this day. Let’s face it, being the primary caretaker of one or more children is an extremely challenging job.
If you don’t have children you will never understand the weight of that sentence. Seriously, being with kids 24 hours a day, 7 days a week could break just about anyone. Even if you have the best-behaved children in the world, IF DONE CORRECTLY (and that is a debate all its own), it is honestly the hardest job you will ever love.
BUT, and this is the one that is going to draw jeers from the crowds, being a stay-at-home mother is NOTHING compared to being a working, single mother who is consumed with putting food on the table and making enough money to pay the rent/mortgage, and STILL make time for the kids.
Okay, there, I said it. Hate away if you want to, but that’s my story and I am sticking with it. I have lived both ends of the spectrum, and there is no way in this world that a woman who has the LUXURY, yes, I said LUXURY, of staying home with her children while her husband earns a wage capable of sustaining a family; can even begin to imagine the difficulty of trying to balance home life, work life, and usually not the kind of fantasy career one imagines a working mom might have.
I am not talking about women who choose to work because they love their careers and don’t feel called to the vocation of being a stay-at-home mom. In all honesty, I believe the vast majority of women who work outside their home do so because they have to in order to make ends meet. Whether they are married or single, most women today work because it is not economically feasible to do otherwise.So, the debate is VERY complicated. In one corner you have a) the woman who works because she has to in order for the family to survive; in the other corner you have; b) the woman who works because she doesn’t want to stay home and she prefers a career; in another corner you have; c) the woman who stays home because her husband makes enough money to support the family and she has chosen to give up her career; and in the last corner, you have; d) the mother who stays home because daycare costs would be more expensive than her having a job outside the home.
So what does it all mean? It means that women do not have easy choices. Some women’s choices are easier than others. Some women have their choices made for them because they DON’T HAVE A CHOICE. At the end of the day, there are pros and cons for all 4 scenarios. No one gets it all. Trust me, you don’t.
There are wonderful things about having a career. It took me until NOW (almost 50) to FINALLY do the kind of work I truly love and get a fair compensation for doing it. Those 10 years at home with my children were priceless in terms of emotional rewards, but they cost me a lot professionally. Did I catch up? Maybe, maybe not? Was it worth it? In some ways it was, but in others way, I am not so sure. There are no easy answers because even the questions are difficult.We have all heard the extreme stories- the heiress who “stays home with the kids”, but actually the staff raise them. Or the working mom whose career goals are to the detriment of her entire family. (Many men have been doing that for centuries, but that’s another story for another day). Then there are the regular people, most of us, who do the best they can with the situation and the circumstances they are faced with.
Being a parent is a complex and complicated business. Those of us who have taken it on and done our best, which sometimes wasn’t enough, know how hard decisions about work, family, and children can be- even in the most ideal circumstances.
Yes, every mom is sort of a working mom. When I stayed home with my children full time I worked VERY HARD! I cleaned, cooked, chauffeured, entertained, cleaned some more, played, rinse and repeat; day in and day out. It’s nice to spend time with the children and have time to manage a household, but after 10 years, it can become mind-numbingly tedious.
Maybe I just didn’t do it as well as I could have, who knows? All I know is that I felt that I was more focused on other people for most of those years than I was focusing on myself. Many people will say that is the cornerstone of “good” parenting. Well, my answer to that is balance. One must attempt to maintain balance in all things, and parenting requires one of the greatest balancing acts imaginable. I made a grave mistake and became lost to myself because I believed that to do otherwise would mean I wasn’t a good mother. I wouldn’t wish that on any woman.
There are no absolute truths on this matter. The only thing that is truly evident is the more choices, options, and financial means a person has, the easier it is to spend time with their kids. Now, what they do with that precious time is key to how “good” they are as parents.
I will say that the happiest and best mothers I’ve known are women who have support, respect, self-confidence and solid self-awareness. They don’t view their children as extensions of themselves or live vicariously through them. AND they don’t do the bare minimum as far as attention and interest. The best and happiest mothers, regardless of their career choices, have achieved balance and serenity in their lives.
I think being loving, accepting, interested, responsive, and attentive to a child is far more important than what focusing on how many hours a day the child sees mommy. I have seen wonderful mothers and, what I consider, terrible mothers. They aren’t all stay-at-home mothers or work outside the home mothers. There are plenty of both to go around.