Growing up, I was taught, every Sunday at church, that my sole purpose in life was to bear children, then stay at home with them. From the moment I was born, because I had the parts that would typically define me as female, it was a given that I would have babies. A lot of of them. I would spend my life serving my husband, others, and the church. For years, this was the version of my future I was sold. Even my own mother, who was highly educated and worked outside the home, bought into this rhetoric, and sold it to both her daughters.
In all honesty, I never had dreams or aspirations of being a stay at home parent. I mean, I wanted to get married, maybe, and I definitely wanted to have kids, but not a pack of them. I had no particular feelings about staying at home or not, despite the indoctrination I was subjected to. It all seemed so far away to me, so untouchable and unimportant. I did know that when I grew up, I wanted to be a writer. The rest was just noise.
When I was about 13 years old, I had come home from school, like any other weekday. My mother was in the corner of our tiny townhouse kitchen, speaking to someone on our red cordless phone. She was saying very little, but as I started rattling around the kitchen, she turned to me to hush me, and I saw that her eyes were red. It startled me: She was crying. My mother, the woman who showed no emotion other than anger, was crying. Unsure how to handle the situation, I ran upstairs to my room. Later that night, as my curiosity bested me, I learned that a local church member had thought it appropriate to call her to chastise her choice to pursue higher education. I never forget that day in the kitchen, the day when I saw a tiny sliver of humanity in my own mother. The day when I saw the impact of a woman judging another woman for her personal life choices.
It’s been well over a decade since that day. Now, I have my own family, my own life, my own choices to make – ones for me, and of course, my family. In the past I’ve been a working mother, but more recently, I’ve gained the title of stay at home mother. There’s not really an efficient way to sum up how and why that has occurred other than to be cliche: It’s just works for our family, right now. As tired as that statement is, it’s just simply the truth.
Of course, I always knew that the Working Mom versus Stay At Home Mom arguments were still alive and well with supposed controversy. In fact, I’m certain it provides oxygen to the monster Mommy Wars, a battle that was waging long before I showed up on the scene. There are those who believe a woman staying at home is an insult to feminism. There are some who tell you hell is about to open up and swallow us all whole because women work outside the home. There are others who tell you that women stay at home have it so easy and should be grateful. There are those who surmise that women who work were not really cut out to be mothers in the first place, and should not have had children. On and on it goes, a long list of insulting, contrite statements that are not applicable to the grand majority of us.
This rhetoric comes from every angle; “In Real Life” and of course, because the internet is a gift that keeps giving, we get it from strangers using their keystrokes to deliver their superiority. All of it, a constant flow of unfiltered opinions because everyone has the “right” to say whatever they want. Since you have a child, be it your first, second or even seventh, you are obviously in desperate, dire need of advice. Your cousin, your friend from high school, your mother, and mother in law, grandmother, sister, brother, stranger, coworker: They all have something to say about how you are being a mother, a partner, a woman.
I’ve gotten used to the random advice on my kids. The weird comments, the know it all statements, the passive aggressive insults cloaked as helpful commentary. Where it once would bring me to tears and scare me into hiding in my house, now it rarely even registers with me. That ability comes with time. Your skin gets thicker and you learn to just let those opinions roll off your shoulders. I can smile and nod with the best of them. I can say thank you without breaking a sweat and feeling like I have to explain our entire life to a stranger. I can post a status about my kids and ignore a know it all comment from someone because it’s simply a waste of my time. Being a parent has taught me the hard and fast rules of Battles: Some are worth fighting, some are not.
Recently, I posted this piece, Being A Stay At Home Parent is a Luxury…For Your Spouse on Facebook that presents the idea that for a working parent, having a stay at home parent is actually a luxury for them. I’d never actually considered this position, mostly opting to stick to the expected commentary about how grateful I am that I have the opportunity to stay home. Because, that’s exactly what is expected. I am grateful that I am able to stay home with my kids. I really am.
My constant presence at home does allow my husband the freedom to do what he needs to do in order to climb the corporate ladder.When he needs to log extra hours at work, late into the evening? He can. He doesn’t have to worry about the kids missing their extracurricular activities, or race home to make sure dinner is started for them. Because I’m home, he can focus his attention on work. He is lucky that I am here to do the things that are just as much his responsibility as a father. He is afforded a luxury by not having to worry about those things on a day to day basis.
After I posted the above article, I broke the first cardinal rule of being a stay at home mom. I admitted publicly that my husband sometimes takes my presence for granted. Suddenly, I was bombarded with “shoulds” and passive aggressive statements, that actually became more aggressive as I stood up for myself and my feelings.
My role was an expectation. My role is easy because I can’t technically be fired, because of supposed flexibility, because I supposedly get to choose my job description. There was a Working Vs Not Working mother comparison, and a statement that one is harder than the other. I don’t get paid for my job, so therefore my husband’s work is more important than what I do in the home. There was the blatant insinuation that my husband works harder than I do. Basically, I was told to shut up, and sit down. The final, swift slap in the face of all stay at home mothers alike: I needed to be grateful, because apparently stating that I have needs means I’m ungrateful for the paycheque my husband brings home.
This isn’t a manifesto about how hard it is to be a stay at home mom, though can I just say, on some days, it is really tough. But, that’s like any rewarding job. There are days when you love your job, and there are times when you feel undervalued, overworked, and most definitely underpaid. We all feel that way sometimes, no matter what we do. We all feel the pressure of society breathing down our necks asking us to account for our every minute, explain our personal decisions, daring us to even whisper a single complaint, because how dare we even admit our humanity. How dare we expect that we’re shown a little respect for the things we do, no matter what we’re paid or not paid. How dare I expect that my husband would meet my own emotional needs by telling me that he appreciates the hard work I do to make his life that much easier. How dare I.
Despite the utter disappointment I felt in knowing that there was a loved one out there that thought so lowly of me and other women, I realized that these statements weren’t necessarily about me. This old debate has been circling the drain for years, unwilling to just go away, and that commentary made me realize, it likely would never go away.
The fact that my working mother was dealing with the same ridiculous diatribe that I, a stay at home mother am dealing with decades later, just proves that there will always be people who get off on telling people they are doing it wrong. They enjoy being superior, they enjoy reveling in their own history, even if it’s not applicable now. The loudness of their opinion doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t mean that my role should be undervalued, or better than. It just means that they think judging my life decisions is more important than supporting me as a person. As a fellow human being.
We need to just leave these persons in their corner of the world, or the internet, and let them chew on themselves with the self-righteous superiority. Let them wallow in their smugness, and so called expertise. However, let’s not ever forget the way we felt when they rained down on our decisions. We need to remember that feeling so we never do it to anyone else.
Go and do what works for your family. The rest of it? The opinions? It’s just noise.