We have all heard the quote “Making the decision to have a child - It's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Well I’d like to add to that discussion.
“Making the decision (or embracing the reality of having) to work outside of the home- it’s momentous. It is to decide to put your faith and trust in others to assist you in the caring, nurturing, and education of your child; to give them perspectives on life that you cannot; to share your joy in watching them grow; and to become members of the circle of family and friends who will help shape them into the people they were meant to be.”
People have been lamenting the state of the American family for as long as there were families in America. In the late 80’s, Murphy Brown was at the epicenter of a hotly debated term- “family values”. The Baby Boomer women who entered the workforce in droves came under attack for their desire to integrate career aspirations with the call to motherhood. As a 10 year old, I remember being confused about why people were so angry at a television character. I knew she had a baby out of wedlock, which, to my wee little Catholic brain seemed like a huge no-no; but she didn’t choose abortion, she was having her baby. Wasn’t that what we all wanted? More recently, Laura Schlesinger, famed (former) conservative radio host & author penned a piece of non-fiction called “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms”. Having listened to her talk show and read sections of her book, I can sum up her position by saying that in her world view, children are best served by having their mothers stay at home full time and that day cares are universally damaging to a child’s growth and development. Making a blanket statement that all day cares are damaging is as preposterous as saying that all mothers have the temperament and patience to stay at home full time with their children. This doesn’t make them bad mothers, if anything, it’s a statement about how rigorous a job it is to stay home with your children full time.
Today, an entire generation of women who grew up with career women as mothers have become very vocal about the fact that they have made the choice to stay at home with their children. To this, I say I respect and admire you! I support this sacrifice; I admire your desire to be the primary caregiver, educator, and buddy for your children every day. I applaud the mothers, like my cousin Erika, who are researching curricula and schedules to make sure her children receive as much intellectual nurturing as they will emotional nurturing.
But there’s always a flipside, right?
For every mother who has announced her decision to stay at home with her children come the waves of supportive comments. See if any of these sound familiar:
“Best decision you’ll ever make- there’s nothing better for your babies!”
“You will never regret being with your children, it’s the best job in the world!”
If that same mother made an announcement that she was returning to work after having a baby, how many people do you think would comment that it’s “the best thing for your children” or “you’ll never regret it”? Instead, she’d get comments like:
“I’ll be thinking of you.”
“Keep your chin up, I’m sure your baby can’t wait to see you!”
“It’s going to be so hard, but you can do it!”
I know, because I got them. The subtle, but damaging message in these statements is that any one of us can say with any certainty what is or is not best for our children. We have made great strides in supporting our stay at home moms (and dads!), but let’s not make those strides at the expense of the emotional support our working mothers still need. We read those comments and it hurts. Our husbands read those comments and they feel badly that they cannot be the sole providers. Every time I see a comment that says that staying home with your children is the best thing for them, the guilt that I bring with me to work every time I kiss my baby goodbye bubbles up to the surface and I start to second guess all of my choices. And when I felt like the world was sending me sympathy cards for having to return to work after maternity leave, I started dreading going back and lost a lot of the self-affirmation I had spend 12 weeks building up in an attempt to remind myself that Jack will love me and be proud of me no matter what. How inspiring would it be, if we all simply replied with love and encouragement?
For the stay at home mom:
“I’m so happy that you get to share so much time with your children!”
“I look forward to hearing about all of your adventures!”
For the working mom:
“It’s wonderful that your children will have a positive example of how to integrate a career with motherhood!”
“Enjoy your time at work re-connecting with your co-workers and diving into new projects!”
I was raised by a stay at home mom and have wonderful memories of my childhood. By the time my youngest sister Mary Laura was in preschool my mom had returned to the workforce. I remember looking through her childhood photos at her graduation open house and remarking at what a happy, playful child she was. There were photos of her at day care wearing a birthday crown while our brother Frankie playfully smiled at the camera right alongside of her. There they were on the swings together and building forts; all the while laughing and smiling. If you compare my childhood photos to hers you will see two happy brunette babies who loved to play and be creative- one grew up with day care and one did not and I bet you couldn’t tell which one was which. What was the thru-line? A loving, devoted mom who made the most of the time she had with her children and who ensured that only the most loving, creative and responsible people helped care for her children.
We knew that having a baby at this point on our lives would mean that I would continue to work full time while Trevor finishes school and enters his new career. This is our life and these are our choices and finding self-affirmation can be hard when the guilt creeps in. When we begin to look at our path and compare it to others - we start to resent and fail to see the great blessings of our unique and wonderful life (thanks mom).
Having talked with friends who stay at home, they deal with all kinds of stressors that don’t impact me, and vice versa. We’d be foolish to assume that one scenario is any easier than another and for that reason, we’d be foolish to assume that children will turn out any better or worse based on who helps care for them. A stressed out frazzled stay at home mom is as equally unavailable for her children as a stressed out frazzled working mom. I believe it's more about the women herself and the way in which she integrates all of the many aspects of her life. Every woman has her own story and every family has landed where they are through a series of difficult decisions.
There is this magical moment I get to relish every day around 5:15 when I pull into the driveway. I grab my bags and go into the house. When Jack sees me, his eyes get big and his arms start flapping around. He looks at me and then he looks at my husband, then back to me and then back to my husband. It's like a little mental roll call. A smile spreads across his tiny lips. Everyone is together again. And despite the long hours we just spent apart, we go on with our evening all together without skipping a beat. We play and talk about our day, eat our dinner at the table as a family and enjoy every single second of our time together. As I tuck him into bed at night, I pause and look around at the house we've given him, the warm clothes on his back, the cozy room that's all his own and I remember that being a mom who works outside of the home has allowed me to provide these things for him without skimping on the love and I think he's turning out simply wonderfully.
There’s too much woman-on-woman violence in the world- that is, the tendency women have to tear each other down to keep the playing field equal. We all need to do a better job of judging less and supporting more. In a world of social networking, each of us shares our thoughts, our victories, our failures, our fears…our lives. When we throw those thoughts out into the universe, all any of us can hope for is a little love and affirmation in return. I don't need any sympathy, I love my life and I love your life if it makes you happy. And if there is anything I can say with 100% certainty- when the mama's happy, everyone is happy!