I hear a lot about these alleged “mommy wars” in the media. Working mothers and stay-at-home mothers* are pitted against one another, and are made to seem like enemies decrying one another’s life choices.**
We all know this is crap, right? I mean, sure, we all encounter individual people full of opinions about what we are doing, want to do, and have done. But that’s not the same as imagining that the parents are all forming big, ugly teams, ready for battle. Our media is looking for another exciting way to tick us all off and bring out the Crazy Commenting Brigade (CCB).
However, I do get comments from women who do not work outside of their families, that how they don’t know how I do it all. Nice comments from nice people, usually. Simple expressions of the fact that we all feel tired and overwhelmed, and watching someone else seem to be able to add something else on feels confusing.
But I am not sure we parents are remembering that other parents are not adding another perfected task onto a pile of perfect tasks. Sometimes we fail to appreciate one another’s struggles, sacrifices, and blessings–and even to understand and name our own. Blundering around in our own lives, we look at other people’s lives and envy whatever they’ve got going on, or wonder how in the world they fit in some whole other arena of activities.
In the seven years in which I have been a mother, I have held a broad range of roles in my family and work life. I have thought of myself primarily as a stay-at-home parent, and in the last year, I have been pulling longer and longer hours at the office (the one in my house). I have held a job outside of my house, and I have run my own business from my bedroom.
However, sometimes by choice and often by necessity, I have always had some kind of outside work. My daughter was born in my second quarter of graduate school, and I toted her along to classes, nursed her in my advisor’s office, and worked on book-publicity projects while she napped.
Family Photo–Which I Used in a Grad School Project
When I started working as an editor, I usually brought her along to my job. I loved my job and the people I worked for. I felt really lucky that I was able to both work and be with my child.
Except on days when I wanted to cry because she was having a bad day and wouldn’t stop crying. I worked with such lovely, lovely people that often, on those days, someone would come downstairs, pick her up, and carry her away to play in their office. Nobody gave me the Look. But still, those were days fraught with joy and stress. I cried and also felt such relief when I finally signed her up for a preschool a few days a week.
When my second child was a baby, I scaled my freelancing back a lot, but I still did work for clients who knew it might take me a looooong time to finish editing their books. The extra money helped, but the work also helped my self-esteem. Sometimes, when you’re the parent of a three year old and a baby, you need someone to tell you you’re doing a good job at something.
And that’s one of the blessings I enjoy as a working mother, that I need to remember to enjoy and appreciate. I love using my non-parenting skills of writing and editing, and I often think I am probably a better mom for building myself up outside my family so that I can feel buoyed by my awareness of my worth when I am among my family. Everyone needs this and can do this apart from a business setting (and often must do it apart from a business setting). It’s easier for me, however, to find external appreciation and internal pride when I have child care and I feel “allowed” to do the things I am good at and enjoy–because I have to to pay the bills. I am assuming we’re all guilt junkies here, as parents, and it is hard to feel like you can take the time and money for outside hobbies. I think you should. But I don’t, not really. I have been trying to build this in more outside of work, too. And I would probably also feel really different if I hated my work.
At My Desk Full of Clutter and Kids’ Artwork
But here’s the thing. Obviously I joke and admit here in my blog that I drop a lot of parenting balls. But in case it’s not clear, I’m not doing it all. Please don’t think I am, if I have somehow fooled you. I find myself envying those who do not hold jobs outside of their families, because when I worked less, I saw my friends a heck of a lot more. Our conversations were interrupted, and the logistics of hauling kids everywhere were frustrating, but I could spend time with friends nearly every day, and now I can’t. I envy people I see bringing their kids to Fairytale Town on a Wednesday morning.
And I suck at keeping all the must-do plates spinning, and sometimes Selah’s homework falls through the cracks, to my horror. I have completely failed to RSVP to two different parties she got invited to this summer. I have forgotten to go at all to two other parties, even after I said I was going to go! I cannot express how mortified I am about this kind of thing. My children do not have clever, homemade costumes, my house is a mess no matter how hard I try, and my required parent volunteerism is always a huge stressor, because my art docent shift almost always conflicts with my work deadlines. And yet I am so, so tired at night that I can’t imagine doing another stay-at-home job like correcting everyone’s homework, too close to what I do all day.
Pride is probably one of the earliest casualties in parenthood, and mine is just constantly being trampled.
I always prided myself on punctuality, organization, following the social rules, and lots of other stuff that has just…evaded me lately. I am late and I forgot the thing I was supposed to bring, but I may not have even known I was supposed to bring it because I lost the invitation, and I didn’t bring the thoughtful gift to boot. I may also have gotten lost driving there. I have stains on my clothes because the baby didn’t want to let me go, and when I was holding him, he rubbed his nose on my shoulder and transferred Crayola marker from his belly to my sweater. Meanwhile, I have so many soccer team emails and invitations and back-to-school reminder emails that I may also have forgotten a work email or two in my inbox. And I value all of this stuff. I want to maintain my work reputation so that I can keep paying the bills. I want my children to participate in sports and arts, because those are important and the kids like them. I want to help them learn to be organized, good students. I want to look good because I’m still human. I want people to know how much I care about and respect them, and thus want to be on time and thoughtful.
But those of you who know me in person know I often show up late, looking frazzled, and am snapping at my kids and also near tears when I find out I have dropped the ball again. I’m hoping you don’t notice because I’m hoping you are in more or less the same state. I know you don’t have it all or manage to do it all either. I know that whether you do most of your work in a fancy high-rise, in a home office like me, or in an infant’s bedroom, you are trying really hard, and that it can be a struggle to put up with how you see yourself and others see you. We are not at war. None of us can handle any additional conflicts or defense-building anyway. And I hope you will forgive me my envy of your out-of-home office/stay-at-home ability to organize your kids’ closets/fancy work wardrobe/handmade items/etc., because it’s a symptom of the fact that I haven’t quite let go of my desire to actually have it all, have all of the blessings and none of the struggles of all of the various motherhood arrangements. I still want to have it all and be it all, doggone it.
But I can’t.
This Couch Never Doesn’t Have Laundry Piled on It
*I say stay-at-home mother or parent rather than work-at-home just to express the difference between people (like me) who are “employed” but work from home and those who do the great amount of work that children and a household require but do not get paid for this. Please understand that I know how much work you do and the value of that work.
**Plus, please don’t freaking reduce me to just a working or stay-at-home mommy. My motherhood and my personhood are multifaceted, and I am as different from the next working mother as I am the next childless man.