Monday, April 16, 2012

Some of Us Have to Work

I was at a party yesterday and several of the guests had traveled from out of town.  I asked them if they were returning home later that day (Sunday) or staying through the week.  One of the women said that they were leaving on Monday but they couldn't stay much longer because, "Some of us have to work."  She said this as she looked over at her mother and sister (who has 7 children).  On the heels of  Anne Romney, current poster girl for stay at home moms, facing the media, I flinched a little.  I chose not to follow the story in the news this week of whether or not Anne Romney has ever worked a day in her life.  I chose to not listen to the political banter about what ends up being a huge personal struggle for many people. I chose not to listen to the defensiveness and forced expressions of empathy from both sides of the debate.  I've been there and it wasn't fun.  Thirteen years ago I decided to stay at home with my two sons.  My sister, my best friend, and hosts of other friends and family members pursued paid work and exemplary motherhood in tandem.  We spent lots of conversations reassuring the other person that their decision for their family was right for them.

Save them this fate. Don't stay home from Work...
Save them this fate. Don't stay home from Work^ - NARA - 534711 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What I know about this debate is that both sides are filled with self-doubt, feeling judged, worried about their children, lonely, misunderstood, and tired.  Hopefully, both moms at home or in the paid work force, also feel pride, accomplishment, and engagement. Many of my conversations with friends, during those early parenting years, were about whether we were making the right choice or not.  Would it be better for my kids if we had extra money for organic food or music lessons?  Was I really offering enough to them in my sleep deprived state?  Was I just tired or mildly depressed from limited interactions with other adults?  I would frequently come to a place where I was convinced that I should look for a paid job and then talk with one of my working mom friends and change my mind.  They would share the host of questions that they had.  Would the feelings of guilt ever lessen?  What was going to happen to their children from their limited contact?  Was the child care provider the right fit?  Were they going to be fired anyway because of the sleep deprived state they were in?  I'll insert here that these questions came up among men that I knew who were struggling with staying home or going back to work as well.

I think the stay at home vs. working parents debate heats up when people project their own internalized doubts onto others.  When I say, "My work is just as important as paid work.", I believe that part of the statement is coming from my own doubts about whether or not what I'm doing every day is making a difference or not.  The bottom line is that all the choices in our life, especially parenting choices require a delicate juggling of variables.  On the work decision, we're evaluating our child's specific needs, available child care resources, our own earning capacity, our own health, the family support system, and of course the little issue of our family budget.  We are the only ones that can judge all those elements and discern what will be sustainable for our unique family.  It would be great if our culture, our corporations, and our government actually offered programs and policies that made some of these decisions easier.  For now, I'd be happy if we could just all agree that families need more support, period.  Whenever possible, let's give each other encouragement instead of judgement, we're all being hard enough on ourselves most days anyway.
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  1. I don't even want to speculate on the number of disapproving glares a mother with a nanny would elicit. Everyone makes choices that work for their families - I applaud all parents who do the best that they can for their children - whatever that means for them. From the single mom with 2 full-time jobs who leaves her kids with neighbors just to make ends meet to the double income couple with a nanny and private school for the sake of giving their kids "the best" and all those parents in between - no way to tell which kids will turn out "better"

    I definitely agree that all parents need more supports to level the playing field.