Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sometimes Becoming a Stay at Home Mom Isn't an Option

With the Babby's third birthday rapidly approaching, I'm in a bit of a funk. Last year, planning an overcrowded and chaotically awesome birthday bash for a tiny human being was at the top of my list. Party coordination and the making of things was exciting. Another chance to entertain! A reason to make a rainbow cake! Why not a matching birthday hat?

This year? It didn't even occur to me that the Babby's birthday was coming up until just a few days ago. And the realization filled me not with excitement, but with something else. Exhaustion, maybe?

I've been feeling a bit bitter - and I think that Ginger from Ramble Ramble (which you should totally check out), or maybe it was one of her commenters, helped me understand the reason. Or part of it. Somewhere on her site I came across someone - was it Ginger? - railing against the a particular group of SAHM mom bloggers who are absolutely convinced that becoming a stay at home mom is an option open to anyone, anywhere, provided they were willing to make the right one-size-fits-all sacrifices. No kidding.

Typically, these SAHMs are of the opinion that all working moms are selfish harpies who get weekly manicures, enjoy fabulous restaurant lunches daily, go shopping constantly, have live-in nannies who speak Portuguese to their charges, and so on and so forth. These same ladies also write books, as I discovered when I noticed that there has been plenty published on paper about becoming a stay at home mom.

The recipe for becoming a stay at home couldn't be simpler:

1. Start clipping coupons
2. Stop getting your hair colored at the salon
3. No more luxury shopping
4. Move to a less expensive area
5. Get a richer husband
6. Budget budget budget

In case you only scanned the list and thought, well, that all sounds reasonable, let me direct you to item five. You see, all of the aforementioned SAHM bloggers and books determined to convince you that becoming a stay at home mother is something anyone can do assume that the parenting partner (and it's always the man because single parents and lesbians do not exist, I guess) already makes enough money to support a family with some lifestyle adjustment. The second assumption is that the reason the reader is not already a SAHM is that she has squandered the families money on designer suits, organic caviar, and name-brand SUVs.

Things not accounted for include partners who don't actually make enough money to support a family without additional income because housing is quite expensive these days, people who can't change jobs because jobs are pretty hard to get these days, and people who live in expensive areas of the country and can't move become that's where the jobs in their field are.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, back to my bitterness. I was never a SAHM. I was a WAHM, but one with enough free time to make planning a kiddie party something to look forward to. Now I'm entering a new phase where I'm halfway back to being a WAHM, money-wise, but still working in an office, and so have one day off a week and look at the idea of planning the Babby's birthday party with some amount of tired dismay.

So when I accidentally stumble across some sanctimonious mommy blogger who maintains that working mothers are self-absorbed and only working because they're apparently too dim to clip coupons or too image-obsessed to give up those manicures, I'll freely admit that my panties do get in a bunch. Especially when I'm darn well going to power through and plan the Babby's birthday party as if I didn't have to work ever.


  1. I really hate the division between working and non-working moms. Or breast feeding and non-breast feeding moms. Or cloth diapering and disposable diapering moms. Or one child and multiple child moms. Why do women feel the need to hate on each other so much? Don't men do that to us enough?

  2. i heart you, christa :) and audray, totally agreed!!

    me... i was never meant to be a SAHM. not that it was ever really an option, as i was a single mom for my daughter's first six years and i was it. no rich man paying child support or anything. but even if that wasn't the case, i am just not the type of mom that would be good at home all day with the children. but i once had a very heated discussion with a woman (granted, a woman i did not know particularly well) in which she told me that all SAHMs are ruining their children. ruining! suffice to say that at the end of the night, we weren't chatting any more. i think that different things work for different people. and some people get to do the things that work for them, while some don't. but to say that one thing does or doesn't work across the board is ridiculous (with most things, really). and i think that to act like everyone can just achieve their financial dreams by drinking a little less starbucks is equally insensitive.

    ok, i'll stop now. thanks for letting me get that out ;) hugs!

  3. sorry, audrEy, i totally misspelled on you ;)

  4. I really hate the "Mommy Wars" and resent the women who get entrenched in one position or another (primarily the SAHM set who espouse what you've outlined). I'm not sure if it's a media construct, but it's certainly a false dichotomy. We're all moms; some of us work outside the home and some don't, and frankly, some kids do better around people NOT their moms. (I'm guessing some of those offspring of the sanctimonious SAHM set are going to grow up wishing they spent less time around their noble, sacrificing - blech - parent. I did.)

    Anyway, I find myself in a weird position: working mom from Pea's birth to almost 3, SAHM by plan for six months -- except there were no jobs when I started looking, and twelve months later, there still are no jobs. I'm awfully glad to be married to a federal employee, because I'd otherwise be completely screwed. It certainly wasn't what I'd intended to do during 2011 or 2012, but what can I do? I'm enjoying it because I don't have a choice.

  5. You know, I don't think I'd be so anti-Mommy War if all mamas were where they are by choice. Then we could all debate the relative merits of one way or another or a third way to our hearts' content and maybe even enjoy it. But as mentioned, not everyone gets to make the choice they'd make in any particular situation. Some moms want to work and the job/support isn't there; some want to stay home and the money/support isn't there. In which case, telling a mama they're doing it wrong is pretty lame since they're doing it the only way they can do it at that time, making the whole silly debate process an intellectual exercise that is basically a huge waste of time.

    Also what Audrey said.

  6. On Oprah awhile back she had a SAHM and working mom point of view show and that was exactly what it was like. One of the SAHMs actually said "you just have to get rid of the BMWs for awhile." This obviously proves she is well off in an above average way and doesn't have any concept of how most of us live. I drive a Corolla and live in the crappy part of town already. The things I would give up by not working are food and health insurance, not BMWs and Starbucks and pedicures. I can't stand people like that!

  7. I've been amazed how many people have suggested that either Paul or I should quit our job based on who makes more instead of considering a nanny with our jump from two to four kids. We earn pretty near each other and since his company also provides health insurance (paid for) for the kids, it makes it close to 50/50. So, whoever quit, we'd still be down 50% of our salary.

    So, they say move. Well, we are about as good as it gets for public schools in our area right now. If we move, that will drop significantly. And I'm really thinking private school for four is not a great option.

    Also, I love my job. I love the challenge and the problem solving of it. I love playing with data and numbers and legal documents and helping retirees and pension systems. I love my kids too and really relish random holidays that let us do fun things around the house, but I don't think I'd be a very good day-in, day-out parent.

    I think I'd get lazy and frustrated and just be a bit crappy.

    So, I'll work on. I do have the nice benefit of a very flexible and family-oriented company and my office (as well as my husband's) being within a mile of the house.

    And that's my official ramble of the week!

  8. I really like Audrey's comment.

    Everyone has to make their own decisions, I'm so over people judging/being judged about it. Blech. Get a new husband, give up the BMW... holy crap!

  9. As a SAHM I have to say that there is another side of this. It's been made very clear to me several times by various kinds of people that by not working I am just lazy and leeching off of my husband's good graces. I was also told, and later convinced that I was wasting my education. I decided to go back to work 2 days a week to stop the comments from my husband's family. I'd like to say I am happy to be working again, but I'm not always.
    Once again, motherhood puts women in a damned if you, damned if you don't situation. In one social group you might be the queen because you're extended nursing, non vaccinating, organic food eating, cosleepers, but in another social groups you are just a disgusting hippie making selfish choices. How do you win? I have a feeling that it has something to do with finding love in the situations where it is not apparent and ignoring the haters.

  10. I would never argue that criticism doesn't come from all sides, but I think the difference is that you're living the life you want and that feels right to you.

    But imagine all you wanted was a job and you were trying really hard to get one but you just weren't getting any offers, and then the criticism from your in-laws rolled in - plus the admonishment that if you really truly wanted a job, you'd just get one.

    That's what it's like on my end. I'm a working mom who would love more than anything to be a SAHM mom, and in addition to getting called selfish and cold and having people imply that I don't love my child as much as I could and that our bond will be weak, I get told that if I really wanted it enough, I'd figure out a way to stay home and the fact that I have to work means there's something wrong with me.

    The worst criticism I've ever heard? "If you can't stay home and take care of your daughter yourself, you never should have had her."

  11. Christa, if that was directed to me, I really don't think you should make such an expansive declaration like, "you're living the life you want..." It's just absolutely not true. The worst criticism I ever heard? "Just accept the fact that you were always meant to have a C-Section because of your selfishness. You'll keep making bad choices all through parenting because you can't let your selfishness move aside. Just because you're educated in something doesn't mean it applies to all aspects of life." I'm not saying my life is a living hell, but living the life I want? No way.

  12. I'm not sure it was me, but I have wicked smart commenters who I"ll take credit for :-)

    It's always hard when you feel STUCK. It's one thing if you're able to proudly stand up and proclaim "this is my choice and I'm (mostly) happy with it!" It's another thing entirely when you feel like you're stuck.

    I once had someone comment to me that I shouldn't have bothered to have a kid because I wasn't raising him. And that having a stay at home dad didn't count because "dads aren't mothers." That was the comment that convinced me that people are just a&&holes sometimes--and I can't give those people space in my head anymore.

    Whether you work or stay home, no one has any right to question your love for your kids. And being at home or at work doesn't have any bearing on how good a parent you are. And anyone who thinks that EITHER choice is just a matter of finances...well, those people really REALLY aren't worth your energy.

  13. as neither a mom nor a stay at home parent I fully admit that I have it pretty easy-- I don't get harassed for going to work and enjoying it while my wife slaves away watching the kids during the day and working a few nights herself, which thankfully is both our decision. I just want to resonate with what I'm hearing from you ladies that you are often in a rotten place and doing the best with what you've been dealt... specifically @ Christa, I hope that someday you get the chance to give one of those critics what they deserve -- a good punch in the nose! I feel like (I at least hope) that we all can have an opinion and worldview and still have love (i.e. be empathetic and helpful) towards people like yourself who feel STUCK. I've loved reading this thread...

  14. @Erin Well you certainly hide it well - from an outsider perspective, you're living your authentic life and owning it! And c-section selfishness? What does that even mean? What a horrible thing for someone to have said to you :(

    @Ginger I hope whoever said that to you wasn't married with children! What a sick diss on dads! I think SAHDs rock!

    @knight Agree with everything you said, even the punch in the nose. Well, maybe not the punch in the nose, heh. Nice to know there are great guys like you out there who "get it" :)

  15. As a SAHM of 20+ years I would have to say I have a great job. Being a SAHM is not an alternative to a job - it is a job and one that is remunerated in hugs and kisses not dollars and cents! For me it was a career choice just like any other woman who has made a career choice. Part of my frustration is that it is not viewed as a career by most. There is no monetary value attached to being a professional Mother unless you count the things you can no longer buy - and they never were BMWs!! However, surely in our so called 'modern era' the optimal situation is being able to do what you (and your partner if this is approptiate) feel is right for your situation. Having the confidence to make the decision to work outside the home or inside the home, to make money by your labour or not, to do the best thing for your family is the most loving thing we can do for our kids. To teach them by example. Then, of course, we pray to whatever gods may be listening that we are given the opportunity within our particular set of circumstances to be able to make that choice. There are no right or wrong ways of doing things - just each person's own particular shade of gray. Since we all love our children and believe that we would always try our darnedest to do what's best for them surely as a testament to our compassion we should extend this understanding to all Woman and praise them for their committment to loving their children in their unique fashion and eliminate the destructiveness of critiscism.

    I apologise if this sounds overly preachy but I have had many reproaches over the many years of my parenting ( i have 5 children aged 21 down to 6) and have had to develop the confidence to believe in the benefits of my choices for my family, choices that like all have us have often been shaped more by circumstances than by design.

  16. Just found your blog and LOVE THIS POST!

    I find that I'm already doing all of these things and I work full time. I clip coupons, don't get manicures, etc. etc. There really isn't anything else to cut out except maybe my massive student loan bills but I need to work to pay those off...ugh I hate when SAHM do posts like that.

  17. I say different strokes for different folks and I wish the know-it-alls would quit judging other mothers for their decisions to be a SAHM (I've been told I'm not setting a good example for my daughter by not having a job outside the home); WAHM (who are assumed to be ignoring their children all day); or the working 9-5 moms at an office moms (who get browbeaten for not raising their own kids). I've heard it all (hell, I admit I've thought some of these things). The books and movies that target moms (I'm thinking of the recent "I don't know how she does it") need to be burned in a bonfire!

  18. I've mostly been lucky not to encounter a lot of people or even bloggers with this horribly Sanctimommy attitude. But recently when dealing with a frustrated parent of one of my students, she felt the need to tell me that she was a very "hands-on parent" because she was "so blessed to stay home with her kids all this time." It took everything I had not to say, "Um, you're not the only hands-on parent out there, and plenty of them work outside the home, too." I don't know, it just rubbed me the wrong way, as if she was commenting on the fact that perhaps I, as a teacher, was not a hands-on parent. Since I was dealing with her idiotic complaint while giving my children a snack, I felt extra annoyed.

    Anyway, I think one of the most important lessons of adulthood is that there isn't a right answer for everyone, and we should focus more on what works for our family and less on what we think everyone else should do.

    Great post!

  19. No wonder many working moms think we are wealthy because I SAH! I never got that list. It's those manicures I've never had and the fact that I buy my produce out of the back of an 18-wheeler just so we -can- have produce around here. We fall on the poverty line. We would actually be working to put our son in DC...and that's it. Even with a voucher. I used to enjoy working outside of the home - I LOVE SAH, too, but I miss the social interaction. Anyway, it's hard when you feel you have to justify your reasons for what works for your family...

    1. It's funny - I hate working outside the home, which is why I've done everything I can to figure out working from home. I did it 6 years and now I'm doing it again, yay! I have a lot of friends with flexible schedules so I end up not missing out on social stuff.

  20. I've spent the last six years as a working mom and only just became a stay at home mom while I go back to school for a career change. There are so many misconceptions on both sides. I can tell you that I NEVER had time to get my hair done or weekly pedis while I was a working mom...and I still don't as a SAHM mom! Whether we work or not, we're the ones whose name gets yelled when a butt needs wiping. I don't get the mommy wars either.

    1. Mommy wars? Such a waste of time! I'm okay with people being proud of what they do but the tearing people down, ugh!

      Enjoy school - wish I could go back :)


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