If you had asked me if I wanted kids, at the age of 19, the answer would have been a big hell no. By 25, it had morphed to a yes, but in the far future. By 30, I was as mentally prepared as I’d ever be, and by 33 I’d given birth to my only child. (Who is quite unbelievably now 5.)
At NO time during any of those years would I have said that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum. A SAHM. Ugh. Bad job title, no interest, no thank you. And yet, here I am, tapping away at my “mom blog”, folding little pants whilst stirring a bubbling pot on the stove. Sometimes the train of your life’s plans gets pretty thoroughly derailed, or at least shunted off onto a siding for a good long while. So no, I didn’t set out to be doing this with my days, but I accept and embrace with all the grace I can muster that this is where I am.
In my neck of the woods, we SAHMs or SAHDs (Stay-at-home-dads? That’s an acronym-fail) are a bit of a rare breed. I live in a neighbourhood where there are a lot of mums on mat-leave pushing strollers and a lot of caregivers ferrying little ones to school. Of my circle of friends, only a few don’t work “outside of the home”, the majority are employed full-time, with the remainder working either part-time or self-employed and working from home. There is a huge range in what these people have chosen to do for childcare: nannies, daycare, Montessori, part-time caregivers, family members stepping in for school pick-ups and drop-offs, and the list goes on.
Is it possible to choose one of these solutions and say, “This is, without doubt, the best possible situation for all young children.”? Obviously not. Seems to me that the important thing is that we all make the best choices that we can for ourselves and our individual families, and try not to be overly judgmental of the choices of others. Ah, you say, but we are humans, we LOVE being judgmental of the choices of others!
In the battle of the SAHMs vs. working mums, I hear – or see coming across my news-feed – a lot of polarized opinions. The working mums faction opines, “I do what you do and hold down a full-time job.” And the SAHMs lash back with the passive-aggressive guilt, “Well, as long as you’re happy to let someone else raise your child, you can selfishly go to work whilst I toil at home.” Unbelievable, yet true.
A friend posted this article today, whose author tells stay-at-home moms to “stop pretending you’re better” and slates a SAHM for writing about her conflicted emotions in responding to the dreaded what-do-you-do-all-day question. When I read the first article, yeah, I felt riled. Stop pretending you’re better! How terribly blunt and insulting. I am insulted on behalf of stay-at-home mums everywhere!
Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself of two things. First, this woman’s job is to write snappy copy for the country’s biggest newspaper, it isn’t about being all squishy with her feelings. Second, despite that, the article is coming from an emotional place – and that place is hurt. The author felt judged and criticized by some SAHMs she knows who fired some unthinking questions her way, and by one in particular who actually said this, “You always arrive so late for the group violin lesson, you make the rest of us moms look good!”
Feeling judged isn’t a comfy place to be – even if the judgment is completely unintentional. I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair few well-meaning but kinda hurtful comments like, “Oh, you’re a stay-at-home mum, fun!” (Belittling) “So what are you doing with all your free time these days?” (Guilt-inducing) and my personal favourite, “You’re so lucky that you are able to do that.”
Lucky. Such an overused word that indicates that all that happens to us is a matter of random chance. As it happens, random chance has been on my side. In fact, I’m one of the luckiest people I know.
I live in a great house in a great neighbourhood in a great city (crack-smoking mayor aside) in a great country.
I have a loving family and wonderful friends.
I don’t know hunger.
I turn on the tap and drink clean, potable water.
I’m in good health – cancer hasn’t caught me yet – and my son is alive and thriving.
I am spared the truly thankless drudgery that is the lot of the majority of women in the world.
I’m a lucky, lucky middle-class North American woman who owns the supreme privilege of even entering into this ridiculous mom on mom debate.
But when these people tell me that I’m lucky, they’re not referring to all of these things that make me really fortunate. They’re referring to our household income, and probably think we’re rolling in it. We do fine. We don’t buy a lot of stuff. We get a lot of support from both sets of our parents.
A lot of families I know could survive on one income, if they chose to do so. It just hasn’t been their choice, and I don’t judge them for that, as I hope they don’t judge me for mine.
Our choice is the one we made for our family, and it came out of a place of desperate need. My son needed me, probably more than any child will ever need a parent, his very survival depended on my presence. And although that is in the past, all of his ongoing health stuff means that I spend whole weeks at home with him, caring for him. LITERALLY a stay-at-home-mum.
Yesterday at Bean’s school the heat had been turned off all night, and his classroom was 4 degrees in the morning. His teacher recommended taking the kids home for the morning, if possible. So he and I returned to the house together.
We spent the morning playing Uno and making paper snowflakes. I think we can all agree, both jobbed and job-less moms, that it was a pretty lucky place to be.