Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Please Don't Tell Me I'm Not a Full-Time Mother

I know I shouldn't be this sensitive, but I have to admit feeling down when I see the words 'full-time mother' used to describe only those moms who stay at home with their kids. Truly I know I shouldn't let it irk me because 99.9% of the time it's not meant as a dig at us working moms, but rather as a way to describe the SAHM option in a positive way. The fact is, though, that whenever I do see those words, I can't help imagining the person on the other end of the computer looking at me and ticking off a little box next to the words 'part-time mother'.

But working mothers are not part-time mothers.

Working mothers are full-time mothers, just like working fathers are absolutely full-time fathers. How is that? Earning money is something working moms and dads do to care for our families. It is as much a part of feeding our children as cooking. It's as much a part of dressing our children as shopping and mending. Working is just another step in the process of caring for a family, and for the vast majority of parents in the United States, it is an absolutely necessary part of parenting.

As much as I dislike my current employment situation because, yes, I would rather be home with my children, I am also grateful for it. My job is not some calm, blissful oasis of adult conversations and beer o'clock kid-free lunches - no kidding, I have heard people call working parenthood super fun and easy because OMG lunch* - but rather one of those stressful, but unavoidable elements of being a responsible mom. My job sucks but it helps keep P. warm in winter, for one. It gives us a chance to save and get out of debt and the possibility of sending her to a good school. It also gives us the chance to provide small, but enriching extras like ballet and tap class - even if we're still budgeting to do it.

In other words, working is something full-time mothers and full-time mothers do because they are parents, not because they're a bunch of jerks looking for a profitable way to avoid spending time with their children for eight hours a day.

Sure, I suppose the mister and I could both quit our jobs so we could fit into someone else's narrowly defined full-time father and full-time mother roles, but somehow I think not living in a van down by the river probably trumps the time we have to spend apart from our kids. Which is why I think that even suggesting that working parents are not full-time parents because they're providing for their families is pretty darn mean.

full-time mother - working mother

*Today's lunch break was devoted to grocery shopping. During any given "lunch," you're likely to find me washing the dishes, folding some laundry, organizing baby and kid clothes, vacuuming the basement, cleaning something, doing yardwork, or focused on freelance work because working parents don't get a free pass on household management. At least not at our income level!

12 comments:

  1. Yes, I dislike the full-time-mother thing as much as I hate the idea that stay at homes don't actually work. I feel as worn out physically and emotionally by 8pm as I did when I worked retail full time as a teenager. It's work DAMMIT. ;)

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    1. I think we need better terminology all around. And I also think people should just stop being such meanies to everyone because really, no matter what, moms get it from all sides. And dads get pooped on pretty often, too.

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  2. I've never liked the societal emphasis on paid work in general; in mental health, there are several models of assessing someone's functioning where everyone is expected to have a paid job and a romantic partner, and if they don't, they're defective. Some of these tools don't even ask about where and how people actually get support and contribute to a community, but just have these checkboxes about whether you're doing the expected white, middle-class, able-bodied things.

    Interestingly, right now I'm experiencing the polar opposite of what you describe. While Spousal Unit and I have a lot of privilege in terms of education and life stability, we travel in a lot of less-privileged circles right now because we don't make a lot of money, we live in the inner city, our child is being adopted from foster care, we're eligible for a lot of public benefits, her special-needs services serve a disproportionate amount of low-income children, etc. In these situations, it's considered a deficit that our child DOESN'T go to child care. We explain that Spousal Unit and I work different shifts (and that it's better for a newly adopted kid to be spending time attaching to us, not left with other people if we can help it), and we still have a lot of supposed professionals thinking that it's best for every child to be in a child care center all day. They all are operating under this inner-city at-risk-family assumption where a child who doesn't go to child care is in front of a TV, parents are ignoring the child, and the child isn't being taught anything -- even after they talk to us about the routines and stimulation our child experiences, they still are hesitant and are like, "OK, but you really should be looking into getting her into child care..."

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    1. I don't care for the emphasis on paid work, either, but as someone without a choice in the matter the demonization of it really hits me hard.

      Funny how you find yourself in a "culture" where child care is valued and I find myself in one where utilizing child care means you're only a part-time parent! Like I said above, no matter what a parent does, it always seems to be wrong!

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    2. Are most of the people labeling you people with more class/income privilege than most? It seems the people who think it's horrible that I or you work at all are basing this assumption on having never been in a situation where, um, people have to work. We've had rich people at our synagogue who are like horrified that we both work and have politely asked me about my plans and then been genuinely shocked that I don't have some bank account from my parents. The people surrounded by rich people assume that I'll stay home 24/7 with the kid, and the people surrounded by poor people assume that I wouldn't even be capable of this.

      I definitely agree that parents just can do no right in some people's eyes. Especially as someone with a kid whose needs are really really different from most people's -- assholes love to tell me how something that worked for their kid's normal toddler behavior should work perfectly fine for my kid's I have-tons-of-medical-issues-and-I-got-ripped-out-of-my-home-and-sent-to-live-with-strangers behavior.

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    3. I think in many cases they are up a bracket or two from us, but then you get the opposite - folks who have to really work like dogs to make the budget. People who stuff their families into tiny one-bedroom trailers and eat Ramen so one parent can stay home because apparently the only truly important part of raising a child is the physical presence of a parent.

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  3. Yes! Mom's who work full time are mothers with two jobs! You and your husband are full time parents, without a doubt!

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  4. I hear that so much it is just silly. I was out with my job and a grandparent volunteer came along and asked how long I had done this for, I told her 5 years, and her response was "well, are you about ready to move on?" I told her we are expecting our third and probably not able to afford daycare for all three and she said that is very good because I must not spend very much time with my other children. Ouch. I chalked it up to her being old, but still, it wasn't very nice.

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    1. !!!

      Oh, to be old and have no brain-mouth filter left. Sometimes I think that in some people, age makes that filter crumble into dust.

      Seriously though, studies have shown that the amount of real one-on-one quality time in most households stacks up about the same no matter how many parents are working or not.

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  5. Great post. I commented over on Linked In.

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