In my almost seven years as a mother now, I have been every “kind” of mom I can think of in terms of career. When our oldest was an infant, I went back to work full time for a while, then cut back to part-time hours. When I was pregnant with our second baby, I had some pre-term labor and stopped working around my seventh month of pregnancy, and was then a stay-at-home mom right through his infancy and when our third child was born. And then, a little over two years ago, I started my photography business and began working out of my home. I do mainly weddings and lifestyle photography, so when I have a “job” I am usually on location, but all of my editing, marketing, and social media work is done from home. I call it part-time working from home, although I usually end up working about 30-40 hours a week on average during my busy season.
Let me tell you this, knowing what I know from experience: every single “way” of being a mom is hard.
I honestly cannot say with any certainty that one is easier than another. When you work outside the home, there is often a feeling of guilt that you aren’t with your child(ren) and some jealousy that someone else is. And when you are home with the kids, you often feel like there is never a moment’s peace and wish that you had some kind of adult interaction.
My husband and I came from very different households in terms of our moms. My mom went back to work, as a loan officer at a bank, when all of us were just a few weeks old. She did so both out of financial necessity and because she knew that working outside the home was what would make her happiest. She liked her daily routine of working with other people, and although she wishes she had started her later-in-life career as a teacher much earlier, she was happy with her decision to work. My siblings and I were well cared for by close friends of the family when I was very young, and later on, our grandmother retired and watched us full time. We got to bond with her in a way that would have been very different if we hadn’t seen her so often. On the other hand, my husband’s mother stayed at home with him and his two siblings when they were all small. They were all very close in age (almost Irish triplets!), and it made sense for her to stay home with them, and she loved it. Once they all went to school, my mother-in-law got a job in the school so that she could work only the hours that they were there too. It worked for them, just as my family’s situation worked for us.
There is this strange culture of mom-bashing that tips over into basically any choice that a family makes in regards to their children. And even though it is exactly that – a family choice – it is more often than not strictly moms who bear the brunt of negativity about their decisions. I think that the negativity stems mostly from feelings of guilt and jealousy; even if we are perfectly happy with the decision we make to either work or not work (or a combination thereof), we tend to question our decisions when faced with people who do something differently than we do, and get our backs up in the process. There is this constant feeling of defensiveness, and it sometimes comes out as snarky or condescending.
I have been on the receiving end of the snarkiness, both when I worked full time outside the home and when I became a stay-at-home mom, and it is incredibly hurtful.
Internet culture plays a huge role in this particular Mommy War. While moms of my parents’ generation generally hung out with mostly moms of the same career path, that is not often the case anymore. There are parenting forums, message boards, and blogs abound, so we virtually “hang out” with parents from every end of the spectrum on a daily basis. And when you are sitting in front of a screen, instead of a real person, it’s a whole lot easier to say things that may come across as mean or rude. I don’t get it, personally – I am kind and respectful to anyone I am having a conversation with, in real life or otherwise. But even beyond that – I just don’t understand the competitiveness of this issue at all. It’s hard, no matter what way you look at it, to be a mom in this generation.
Being supportive of each other means respecting each other’s decisions – and that is what is best for each individual family, no matter how you feel about it personally.
Just as being a stay-at-home mom certainly isn’t sitting around eating bon bons while your children watch television all day, being a work outside the home mom isn’t an all-day social hour. I feel the envy myself – when I’m trying to work on a project on my computer, I’m a little jealous of the moms who get to spend all day doing activities with their kids. Then when my stay-at-home mom hat is on and I’m doing one of the not-so-fun tasks (constantly feeding/cleaning up meals is the bane of my existence), I feel a stab of jealousy of the moms who can go to an office all day with other adults and only worry about feeding themselves lunch.
The point of it is this: it’s more of an interior struggle than an exterior one.
I challenge you to take some time to encourage another mom for her decision to either work or stay home, whether it’s the same decision as yours or not. And maybe even go a step further in helping another mother out: if you stay at home with your kids, offer to watch a working moms kids one afternoon during a school vacation so she can have some “me time”. And if you work outside the home, invite a stay at home mom out for an evening of socializing that doesn’t involve feeding other people or changing dirty diapers. I know an offer of either one of these options would make my day!