Before I got baby fever and started perusing the online parenting world, I naively had no clue about the “Mommy Wars.” A few hot debates quickly jumped out, such as exclusive breast feeding versus bottle feeding and attachment parenting versus the cry it out crowd. While I think it’s unfortunate that these debates sometimes sink to a hurtful level, I can understand why the conflict exists. People are passionate about both positions, and assuming no medical exception, they often believe there is an idealogical “right or wrong” answer.
Here’s the one that caught me off guard, though. Why are we tearing each other down over whether a mom stays home full time, works full time, works at home, works part time, or any other of the myriad of choices that are all perfectly acceptable options. Whether or not someone else chooses to work outside the home has no impact on what you do or on what kind of parent that makes you. If you choose to stay at home full time, that doesn’t make me less a mother of because I work outside the home. It doesn’t mean that I’m not “raising” my kids; it just means I’m raising them differently than you’re choosing to raise your children. And me working full time doesn’t make the mom who stays home and works to eliminate costs where she can any less of a household contributor than I am.
I suspect that the root of this particular war is that as moms, we might just be the most guilt-ridden people on the face of the earth. And as a general rule, when we feel guilty, we’re prone to become defensive. And when we feel defensive, we often fall into the trap of justifying our lifestyle by minimizing someone else’s opposing choice. If I make your decision seem smaller, insignificant, less important, then I can bolster my feelings about my own choice and perhaps feel less guilt.
I don’t think the “right” or “courageous” choice is whether to work outside the home, stay at home, or work part time; frankly, for many people that’s not a “choice” they have at all. The “right,” “courageous” choice is sacrificing, risking, making changes, trying new things, or approaching life from a different angle to ensure that you’re the best possible parent you can be to your child. The reality is that the desire to be a good parent will always require courage, regardless of your work status. The love we have for our children is unlike any other love in this world. We all want everything that is good and right and beneficial for our children. That kind of soul-changing love brings an incredibly heavy load of responsibility with it and that makes all our choices a little scary. We all know that the choices we make may very well have a deep and lasting effect on our children.
It takes courage to look for daycares, knowing that for 10 hours a day these strangers will help shape your children’s thoughts and meet their physical needs. It takes courage to look for work when you don’t know if you can bring in the money your family needs to exist. It takes courage to trust someone else when your child is sick or hurt and is an hour away from your office. It takes courage to say that you believe your work is of sufficient value to the world or to your family that it’s worth the sacrifice of more time with your children. It takes courage to admit that you personally are a better mom when you work outside the home. Conversely, it takes courage to leave a job you know and are comfortable in to take on the challenges of managing your home and providing physical and emotional care 24 hours a day, while simultaneously teaching your children all the things they would be learning in daycare or preschool. It takes courage to wonder if anyone will see you as contributing to the world outside of being “____’s mom” and deciding it’s worth that risk. It takes courage to leave your salary behind and make cuts to allow you to stay home. It takes courage to stand up for yourself when others think you’re wasting your education. It takes courage to leave a world with normal evaluations that always leave you knowing how you’re doing and where you stand. It takes courage to sacrifice some of the independence and security of working outside the home.
And then there is another category of “choice.” For the last year, I’ve faithfully gone to work every day not because I “chose” to work outside the home, but because we had to have the money that I could make. In fact, the first couple of months I was back at work, I felt really dark and twisty and bitter about the fact that I didn’t even have the option to stay home. But moms who are either working because their families have to have the money from their paycheck or staying home because they can’t afford childcare are making a courageous choice, too. We’re choosing to do what has to be done, to set aside our own desires and preferences for a time, to put on our happy faces and make it through the day doing the best job that we can in circumstances that we didn’t get to choose.
At the Blue house in the last couple of months, we’ve had reason to question what we want my future work arrangements to look like, and I can tell you that it has been incredibly difficult to weigh all the pros and cons for our family of me working outside the home, staying at home, or working part time. In separate posts, I’ll share with you some specifics on our decision making process, but I’ll be woman enough to say that it’s a scary decision. I’m not 100% sure what life will look like in a year or two, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to make that choice for myself for the first time.
The paths we take look different for each of us, but as long as we’re all making choices that are best for our family, we’re all being courageous and making the “right” choice (even when it doesn’t feel like much of a choice). We’re choosing things that we believe will lead each of us to a healthy family, financial stability, and happy, growing kids.