Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Great Mom Debate

I found a box yesterday full of papers and stories and embarrassing journal entries I had written from the time I was in middle school.  I stumbled across a journal entry from 8th grade that hit a strange nerve with me. In my 13 year-old wisdom, I seemed to have known that one day I, like a bajillion other women, would be entangled in one popular debate: To Work After Baby or Stay at Home?

Although I was naive in my world experiences and my writings, I was most definitely not a mom. But I had managed to pick up on a few key issues:

1. Women that choose or have to return to work post baby almost always have a bitter taste in their mouth about doing so. They translate this bitterness into little snide comments towards stay-at-home mothers regarding their lack of drive, failure to contribute financially to the home, and/or their disgusting amount of free time.

2. Stay-at-home mothers typically respond by saying, first and foremost, that they respect working mothers for the difficult decision and busy schedule they have chosen or are forced to adhere to. Then, to counter snide comments, they let flow several equally passive aggressive comments regarding how staying at home with your child is actually the hardest form of “work” and it is the very best that one can do for her child.

If a woman falls into either of these two categories, it is pretty much impossible to convince her that she is wrong or misguided. #1′s and #2′s stick to the group they are in with very little tolerance or ability to see the other group’s point of view a lot of the time.  This is just sad, and very close-minded in my opinion.  You see, I have been both women.

Now that I am a mother, I appreciate my 13-year-old point of view on the topic, the black and white harshness with which I decided, in all my infinite wisdom, that mothers will not and cannot appreciate what other mothers choose to do.  I did believe I would rather be the latter of the two women at the time.

Immediately after school however, I delved right into the grown-up work world. Forty hours a week, carefully planned weekends, timed lunches and the like becoming my normal routine. I enjoyed my career in the exciting Apartment industry.  It was fast-paced, fulfilled my constant desire to help people, and exhausted my God-given ability to chit-chat all day long. Everyone deserves a vacation though, right?  When I found out I was expecting Baby Grouchy Pants, I didn't hesitate in deciding (with BC, of course) that it was doable for me to stay home for awhile. I had been working for 8 years in the same industry and was reaching the point of "burnout".  For months ahead of time, each time I had a particularly difficult day at work, I would daydream about lounging on the couch, watching Law & Order reruns, and taking up numerous pointless hobbies to fill all of my spare time. It seemed that staying home would afford me a life of leisure with no boss and no demands of me.

It only took a matter of a few weeks home with a newborn to understand my new reality.  I was seeing pretty clearly that the whole “life of leisure” thing is a crock of dog doo. I DO indeed have a boss. He pees through his clothes and gets fussy every hour and a half. He demands me to feed him, clothe him, bounce with him, sing with him, wave loud musical toys in front of his face. It is very much the job that I thought I was leaving with the exception that I do not clock out at 6 p.m., I am not guaranteed vacation pay, and I most certainly do not wake up on Fridays to find a fat check deposited in my bank account.  My "newborn boss" and I got along as such, but I desperately craved that adult interaction again.  I wanted to talk to someone who didn't "goo-goo-gah-gah" or give me blank stares when I tried to converse about my tragic weight-loss frustrations or Dr. Phil diagnosis.  I was bored.  And by one-years-old, so was Mr. Grouch.  It was finally decided that I would enter the working world again.

A few years later, while working my little booty off showing and leasing and marketing more apartment homes, I was overjoyed (and a bit shocked) to realize we were expecting Baby #2.  Mr. Grouch took up most of my evenings and weekends and my job took up the rest of my time.  I was wondering just where exactly this new stinker was going to fit in.  I had a routine; a schedule; a plan.  And a new little monkey was going to make "working my way up the apartment industry ladder" a tad more exhausting.  But that's what I wanted, right??

It took going straight back to work after Mr. Stinky Pants came along to wake me up and make me realize that THAT was not my dream anymore.  As much as I had a need for "grown-up time", I also felt that I could personally not do my "mommy job" well when I was emotionally, physically, and mentally drained by the work day's activities.  I had nothing left.  This might very well have been my inability at time management, as many of my friends rock both jobs with style and never miss a beat.  They are rock stars! But it was not what I wanted anymore. When I became complacent in my day job, and was "released", so to speak in the middle of the summer this year, BC and I both agreed that my life needed to take a turn.  I would pursue other life-long interests and school, but more importantly, I would become a stay-at-home-mom.  It's not always been the easy choice, but it's been the right choice for our little family. 

Earlier, in my first few months of staying home, BC had often made the comment that he worked during the day, and therefore needed more sleep and general lazy time at home.  Hmmm, what exactly does he think I do all day? After enduring the weeks and weeks of people saying “Well aren’t you lucky!” when finding out that I was a new, stay-at-home mother, I felt like I could scream. YES, I am so lucky! YES, I don’t have a job with a professional title! YES, doing the same thing over and over all night and day with a toddler screaming in the background is a blessing from Jesus himself! My sensitivity was not necessarily towards BC (although it showed in spurts of sarcasm now and then), but towards the public at large. There have been quite a few days that I would pay someone a million bucks to sit behind a desk again in my comfy rolling chair, file paperwork, and take coffee breaks. Peeing without a 2-year-old in my lap would also be a perk. Although my life is great in large part to these two crazy monkeys I call sons, the privacy and control over my life pre-kids is sometimes missed.

A few weeks ago, I talked with my sister-in-law about my situation. She had children at the same time as I had and also been extremely career-driven as a physical therapist (another fellow rock star mom!). Most of our conversation revolved around her frustration of balancing work and home life in general, her kids’ various illnesses and ailments, and, finally, how I was lucky not to have to work at all. I shut up and resolved to adjust my perception of the great Mom Debate.
So here it is:

If you have kids, they must be taken care of. By the Department of Children’s Services, your partner, or you…whatever… someone has to feed them. If it's most fulfilling for YOU to do so AND it's possible, then do it.  But if it's more realistic to know that they are safe and nurtured by people you trust and that you may have a nervous breakdown if you did it full-time, please be strong enough to let someone else do it.

For all my fellow stay-at-home moms-- we DO have a “real job” but with less structure, downtime, or financial reward. If you work, good for you, you are taking care of the financial part which is all too necessary a part with little ones that need to be fed.

But mostly, being a mother is WONDERFUL, so whatever your position is on staying home or heading for the office, do so happily and willingly. Don’t judge or assume, just take care of your monsters and I’ll take care of mine. Currently, I plan to do that this way.

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