Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Mothers Work

An online friend of mine recently authored an eye-opening blog post about what it's like to be a mom who works outside the home. I guess it was especially interesting to me since I live on the other side of that white picket fence. In case you didn't know, I'm a proud Stay at Home Mom or (SAHM). It's such a hot button issue, I can't believe I've never written about it before.

In her post, she spoke about the fantasizing that goes on in either camp - what life would be like if you were to hop over that fence and feel that green grass growing under your own toes. And so I wonder. Especially on the bad days here when I'm at my breaking point and I just want to walk outside and scream at the top of my lungs. I wonder how that other half lives. I wonder if I would be happier over there, or if I'd just find myself wishing for the other life. I'm not delusional, I know that it's a challenge to miss those milestone moments in your childs' lives. I know it's heartbreaking when your children ask you not to leave them. And I know it must claw at your soul to watch another woman mother your children.

But in an office, you are a person. You have a job with an end, a product, a result. Something you can stand behind in the end and say "I did this". In an office, you sit and do your job, eat your lunch or get out for lunch, go to the bathroom by yourself and on a good day you might even hear that you did a good job. Sure you can make the same argument for children I guess, but that's really more of an end-of-life recognition where your boss says you did well. But in an office, you have an autonomy that you simply do not have at home. And that I do think that every working mother understands. Probably even appreciates.

There are other things too, like no one says to the working mother "Oh I know you stay home with the kids, so will you head XYZ Committee?" And yes, of course you can say no, but there is a tremendous amount of competition that goes on between SAHM. Everyone wants to be the room mother (or at least, everyone wants to SAY they are the room mother). Everyone wants to volunteer in their child's class. And yes, conferences and events at school can be tricky for the working mother who must arrange for time off. But when you have more than one child, they are still tricky as I must think of child-care. If the working mother had to beg off one of these events, she would find herself excused for her job. A SAHM? I'm sure there is a soap opera and bon bon joke in there somewhere...

And speaking of competition, the SAHM carries the full burden of child-rearing. No one expects the mother who works outside the home to be teaching her children their shapes, colors, letters, numbers, how to read...But the SAHM? We're responsible. If the child isn't potty trained by their second birthday? Judged. If their child can't name all of their colors at the same time as their peers? Judged. And if they fail to send their child to Kindergarten ready to read? Judged. What about your child's health? The SAHM mother best be sure that her children get plenty of exercise and also develop the most healthy of eating habits. Those habits are for life peoples!

She also touched on something that has been in the front of my mind lately too. As we look for a larger house to give our family a little more room, I am often reminded that we could have more income in a few years when I am able to return to work. Being a stay at home mother means working as hard as you can (often harder than you imagined was possible) for a few years in an effort to make your position obsolete. That is the end goal right? To raise kind, intelligent people who will be able to live without your constant care and attention. It kind of makes me have a new respect for models and athletes - having a job with that short of a shelf life blows.

So yes, when Kell goes to school in a few years I will be able to return to work. But I didn't really have time (ok, or motivation) to get any kind of career off of the ground before I had children. But what if I had? Even if I had finished some professional degree that offered me a field to return to, I'd still face a staggering lag in salary. Economists have said that giving up a career to be a SAHM can cost upwards of 1 million dollars over a lifetime. Ouch!

Would I change my decision to stay home with my kids? No. Not a chance. These days are few and precious. I know plenty of women who would be miserable with my day-to-day. Women who thrive in an office and would find this clean, dress, cook, clean, shlep life stifling and isolating. And certainly I don't think this SAHM gig is for everyone and I'm beyond supportive of my peers who shatter that glass ceiling and go into an office to make the world (or at least their home) a better place every day. But that just wouldn't be me. I've always been more sweats than pantyhose anyway ;)

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