Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mothers with Careers vs. Career Mothers

From the moment you are brave enough (or naïve enough) to share the good news of your pregnancy with your family and friends and let’s face it, the general public because you can’t hide that thing for long, you are faced with millions of complicated questions about your intentions for life after the baby arrives. Are you a breast or bottle girl? Will you vaccinate or just focus on really good handwashing? Disposable or Cloth (which really should be phrased as gross or GROSSER)? Will you have your son circumcised or will you just let nature be? At their core most of these decisions are more about your baby, than you. Except there is that one burning question that is equally about both of you (and your spouse/partner/whatever) too - will you work or will you stay home?

And no matter which you decide to do, you will find that immediately it will set you squarely into one camp of mothers or another: the mothers with careers or the career mothers. And the mothers from those camps don’t cross over, they may coexist peacefully on the playground, but their relationships are tainted with suspicion and judgment and of course, guilt. Of course moms may get along one on one with other mothers from the opposite camp, but when it comes to group interaction you’ll see a line down the middle more clearly than you would at a sixth grade dance. I could spend pages exploring, the psychology and the guilt and the motivation behind making and living with this decision, but I am not a social anthropologist and really, I am the mother of three with a load of laundry to do and a bathroom to clean. So I’ll spare you. I do however, want to let you in on one little secret and I think once I put this out there it might be as eye-opening for you as it was for me. This whole tension between the mothers with careers and the career mothers may be due to a simple misunderstanding. By way of explaining, I’ll share a little anecdote with you.

During a visit to the playground, a friend of mine (who happens to be employed - just so you know that I do have one or two of that kind of friend) overheard a conversation between a couple of moms in the career camp. One mother was bemoaning the fact that her nanny had been absent for a week or two and she had taken her place at home with the children. Now you must understand, this mother was not begrudging her nanny the time off. And she wasn’t complaining about all the things she couldn’t do because she was home with her kids. Instead she was simply admitting to her friend that she was miserable at home because she didn’t like who she had become since being at home for a couple of weeks. She warned her friend "Shoot me if I ever tell you I want to stay home, all I do is yell at these kids all day long." While a part of me would love to poo-poo this mommy with a career and claim that she is clearly not cut-out for full-time childrearing, I know that’s simply not the case.

What I do know is that someone, preferably a stay-at-home type mom, should take this woman and absolve her of her guilt by telling her our (career mommies’) little secret, that’s all we do all day too! That’s what mothering is, hard and frustrating and relentless. And yes there are little moments of hilarity and tenderness and all that good stuff, but there is a lot of struggle in between. This poor woman has been at her office all these years thinking that all those PTA moms and after-school brownie bakers are greeting their kids with sing-songy voices and simply coping with all the hair-pulling, and spills, and selective listening and general bad behavior that comes up in any given day. She could not be more wrong. Sure, we stay-at-home-moms may have a few more tricks up our sleeves for these situations, like turning on the vacuum cleaner or locking ourselves in the closet, but we’re not having any better of a time than she would. So I say this to all the working mothers out there who are struggling with guilt over leaving your children at home: stop second-guessing yourselves, the reason no one is yelling at your kids right now is because you are at work and there is someone with them who you pay to NOT yell at them.

And to all the stay-at-home moms who have wondered if they would stop yelling and start appreciating their kids a little more if they weren’t with them all of the time: stop second-guessing yourselves, no matter how much time we spend away from our children we will never altogether stop yelling at them, because they are our kids and we love them. And sometimes they deserve it.

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