The Great Mom Debate

The claims:

Stay-at-home moms are lazy and do nothing all day but watch tv.
Working moms are selfish and obsessed with money.
Stay-at-home moms care more about their kids and have smarter children.
Working moms care more about their kids and give them a better quality of life.
Stay-at-home moms are uneducated.
Working moms have no maternal instinct.

There are a thousand more, and every one of them is ridiculous.  I don’t care about studies or professionals or scientists opinions.  In the end, the only thing that produces a solid and happy family is communication and balance.  Parents have to sit down and have a discussion about what each of them and their children need in terms of financial resources, stress reduction, and personal care.  Each parent has to know themselves and their children well enough to know what will be best for them mentally as well as financially.  And most importantly, the judgment has to stop.

Some families are in a financial situation where no matter what they do, no matter what they cut back, no matter what they WANT, both parents have to work.  Some families are financially secure on a single income and can have a parent stay home without any issues or cutbacks.  Some make the choice to give up certain things, and others don’t feel comfortable doing so.  Are there people out there who would like to stay home but don’t because they feel like they can’t cut back?  Sure.  Are some of the things they choose not to sacrifice things that someone else might see as frivolous, like cable or internet?  Sure.  But why does it matter?  If what you’re doing, whatever it is, works for you then I don’t see what else matters.

I stay home.  I also work from home.  I also take classes from home.  I don’t bring in a lot of money, but it is a tiny bit and it does help a little.  I am a smart girl with a good resume and a lot of skills.  I am educated.  I don’t stay home because I am too stupid not to.  I don’t stay home because I have no other skills.  I stay home because I am in a place in my life where I feel capable of doing it without going crazy, and I love the time with my daughter.  It’s not always fun or easy.  Some days are stressful, just as stressful as some days in the office were.  Some days are tiring and long and leave me with a headache and a strong desire to drink wine.  Some days are beautiful and fun and fantastic.  Most days fall somewhere in between.

Staying home with my daughter makes me happy, and it seems to make her happy too.  We spend time trying to do educational things together, exercise together, and I try to fit in work and school either while she is napping or when she’s busy playing on her own.  I feel like it’s a good balance for us.  Sometimes things are pretty tight financially, and sometimes I worry about whether or not I am denying my daughter a “better” life by not making more money… but mostly I think this is exactly the right fit for us right now.

I have a good friend who works full time.  When her daughter was born, she and her husband had no other choice.  If they wanted to keep paying their bills, eating, and living in a house, she had to go back to work.  Her daughter is just as smart, just as sweet and happy and vibrant as mine.  She is no less loved, she is no less content with her life.  My friend wishes sometimes that she could spend more time with her daughter, but the time they do have as a family is spent doing fun, relaxing, happy, and educational things to make the best of their more limited time together.

Another friend has said recently on her blog that she is looking forward to going back to work now that her maternity leave is coming to an end.  She’s gotten a lot of crap for that, and I don’t understand it.  Again, knowing what you and your family needs is always best.  If being home all the time would stress her out or make her crazy, why would anyone say she should do it?  How would a mother who is stressed and tense all the time be a benefit to a child?  Why would that be better than a caring and responsible daycare situation and a mother who feels prepared to give her best to her child after coming home from work?  We have to know ourselves.  No one is doing themselves or their children a favor by going against their own nature for the sake of a societal ideal.

A comment on that same blog said that stay-at-home moms are stupid and naive because at any point their husbands could come home and demand a divorce.  I suppose this comment is pointing out the financial vulnerability of parents who don’t work, but there are several issues with it.  First of all, looking at the world through a lens of what-if-the-worst seems awfully negative to me.  I know some people would call it “realistic,” but I just don’t think so.  I don’t think it is realistic for me to plan for the day when Aaron divorces me.  Why would I live that way mentally and emotionally when everything is going beautifully in our lives?  And if I’m wrong?  If he comes home tomorrow and says he’s leaving?  He owes me half.  Because we’re married in Maryland, I own half of our stuff even if I don’t bring in a penny.  A friend who was a stay-at-home mom recently got divorced, and her husband now sends her a sizable check every month to not only pay child support for their kids, but to pay her living expenses.  Is it ideal?  Probably not, but it does mean she’s not high and dry with no options.  For me, I’m smart.  I’d move in with my parents until I got a good job, which I don’t worry about happening, and then I’d be set on my own and I’d be getting child support.  Although again I will argue the oddness of assuming the worst in order to plan your daily life.  I don’t plan my errands or vacations based on the possibility of car crashes or natural disasters, so why would I plan my family life based on the statistical potential for crisis?

Also… I’ve totally been in the position to defy statistics more than a few times.  So I’m not sure I find them terribly useful personally.

In the end, I think too many women are projecting guilt over their own choices onto other people’s lives and situations.  I don’t understand why we can’t just support everyone’s efforts to make the best decision they can with the knowledge and resources they have at the time.  We’re all just doing the best we can.

5 Responses to “The Great Mom Debate”
  1. Nicole says:

    When you actually look at the data (and I know that you’re academic enough to consider evidence!), the consistent finding is that if mama’s happy, then that’s what’s best. The women who are less satisfied aren’t those that stayed home, or those that work, but those who did one but WANTED the other.

    During my 6 years as a mother, I’ve worked full-time, part-time, not at all, freelanced, and now telecommute full-time from a home office. I’m happier working (though I think if I had my pick, I’d work 30 hours a week from 8-3, but I like my job).

    For me, I’m a much better parent during the time I am with my kids than I was when I was with them all the time. Key words being: for. me.

    When I look at my 6-year-old’s kindergarten classroom, I can’t tell a difference between her peers that were in daycare and those whose parent stayed home. I *can* tell the difference between those whose parents are invested in their children and those that aren’t. That longer-term perspective may help when you’re in the trenches of baby and toddlerhood.

    You’re an awesome mama and you and Aaron are working hard to “do your family” in the way that makes sense to you. I’ve been so happy to see you become parents 😉

  2. H says:

    Hear hear! The thing that kills me is how no one questions men’s choices. A man who works isn’t seen as a bad parent. A man who stays at same is seen as practically a saint. For that matter, a father who does any public parenting is showered with praise. I have seen it! But women are mostly critiqued for whatever they do.

    For my part, I think that raising a family is very important business, and I support dads and moms everywhere who are doing their best.

    • FAy says:

      Yes yes yes. This. It drives me NUTS that no one ever talks about “daddy guilt” or questions whether a man can have a job and be a parent at the same time.

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