Can We Stop Shaming Moms for Working Yet?
I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to the “being judged by other moms” department. Aside from a run-in where a random woman at Starbucks told me that my son should be wearing a hat (in 65 degree weather), and another where a neighbor told me I shouldn’t drink caffeine while nursing my son, I’ve mostly just witnessed the sanctimommy thing secondhand.
But now, twice in two days, I’ve been shamed for my ‘decision’ to be a working mother instead of staying home full time with my son.
Here’s the thing — and it’s silly that I feel I need to qualify with this — I would love to stay at home with my 7 month old. It’s a constant source of stress, guilt, frustration, and sadness in my life. But the bottom line is that it’s completely not in the cards right now. I’m not going to go into nitty gritty financial details on our life, but we live in a decent suburb of San Diego with good schools, a 1900 square foot house with a San Diego-priced mortgage, student loans, a couple car payments, and an expensive horse riding hobby. And even though society has this sexist presumption that it should be cheaper for the mother to quit her job than it is to pay for childcare, it’s not even remotely close to true in our situation.
But like I said, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to. We’ve tried both a nanny situation and a FT daycare, and both have been painful for me. When I pick my son up at 5:30pm from daycare and he’s asleep by 7pm for the night, that hurts. When I receive photos from his care provider of him having fun all day, splashing in a kiddie pool for his first time ever, it’s wonderful to see but also painful to know I’m missing out on first experiences. On Monday morning, I’m dreading the idea that I have to go five days without spending more than 3 hours a day with my son. I cry about this. When Henry fell asleep on my lap while nursing last week after I’d only seen him for an hour, I had tears streaming down my face.
But I also enjoy working. I enjoy having the alone time during the day and being able to feel like a social adult again, interacting with colleagues. I like the fact that I have a career and that I’m modeling hard work for my son, just like my parents did with me. I love that while I’m working, my son is spending time right this second with 5 other kids, socializing and learning from them and having a truly fun day. I like having a purpose other than just being a mom. There’s no 100% perfect option.
I stopped at Starbucks this morning for a coffee, and my next door neighbor was sitting outside.
“Where’s Henry?”, she asked me.
“He’s at daycare, I just dropped him off.” I replied.
“Oh wow, I have no idea how you can do that. I stayed at home with all 3 of my kids. I don’t know how working moms can leave their kids all day while they work.”
Cool, okay, I get it. You were the superior mom because you stayed at home with your children, and I’m some freak of nature because I’m capable of abandoning my son all day while I do something frivolous like working. Even if she wasn’t trying to do this, it’s fucking PAINFUL to hear someone’s disbelief at how you’re able to do something that they never could. Especially when you don’t want to do it, when you’ve been wrestling with complicated emotions about it.
But let’s pretend that I don’t have complicated emotions about it. Let’s just say that I’m a 100% well-adjusted working woman with a high-powered career with an upward trajectory and I’m choosing to dedicate myself the workforce because I truly believe it’s the best choice for my family. Still, how am I supposed to respond to that? Should I defend my choice to be a working person? Should I just say “good for you” and walk away, like I want to?
We’re all just trying to make the very best out of our situation and do what we think is right for our families — so why do we have to defend our choices to other moms all the damn time? It’s impossible to defend your decision when it’s a situation you’re stuck with that you’re not even 100% solid with, emotionally or otherwise.