One of my very best friends is a stay-at-home mom. She has said to me, “I always knew I wanted to stay home with my kids.” Not in a condescending way, but in a way that states that her choice was never a question in her mind. When our differing choices come up in conversation, I always find myself justifying my choice. Not because I have to – I feel like she respects my choice, even though it is different from hers, but because I feel like I need to justify why I choose to work instead of choosing to stay home with my children full-time. In my mind, staying-at-home is what I feel society feels that I “should” do and I’m still trying to explain — to myself, to my friends, to anyone who will listen — why it wasn’t the right choice for me.
Honestly, I never, not once, before my children were conceived, considered being a stay-at-home mom. I simply assumed that I would return to my traditional, brick and mortar teaching position and carry on. Staying home truly never even crossed my mind. Then, I experienced infertility. Suddenly, I was reading tons of mommy-blogs. I was studying up – not only on how to achieve and sustain a pregnancy, but also on how to parent. All of the ideas that I’d previously held to be true, including the idea that I could work and raise a child, were called into question. In the blogosphere, it seemed that the rampant assumption was, “If you’re going to try so hard to have a child, then you should stay home with the child.” I’m sure that all of you have read, heard, or felt this implication at some point.
And so it began — this crazy tight-rope that I’m currently on – where I’m driven by career goals, aspirations, and desires — but yet torn to be everything I can be for my children (aren’t we all?). For awhile, I tried to do both – I truly was a SAHM and a working mom, both at the same time – nearly killing myself in the process. I felt like I wasn’t giving enough of myself to my career and at the same time, even spending a few hours a week working was taking away from the constant attention and care I “should” be focusing on my children. In the past year, I’ve been doing better — realizing that child care is a need and that it’s okay to utilize it (it helps that my trio loves their preschool and their teacher). Realizing that I need to expect more from my husband. Realizing that it’s okay to be a working mom, even if it is a different choice than some of the people I’m close to, and learning about myself and why working is the right choice for me.
There are numerous reasons why I choose to work. Money, of course. But if I was willing to change my lifestyle – live in a smaller house, not wear name-brand yoga pants, not take vacations, this wouldn’t be such an issue. We could get by on less. We choose not to. But really, the money and all that it enables, is only a small part of the equation. I have a killer work ethic. Seriously, the thought of not working throws me into spasms. I was raised by a single mom and my grandpa who was raised during the depression. Put two and two together and it’s obvious that my deep-seeded work ethic comes naturally.
I was also raised with a fear of not having my own money. This comes from several specific instances within my childhood, but I can specifically remember my mom drilling into my mind how important my education would be — and how important it would be to be self-sustaining and able to care for myself, no matter what situation life threw at me. In all honesty, my job is a security issue for me. I’m terrified of not being able to support myself and my children. It’s not that I expect Mike to leave me — but I know that it can and does happen. I don’t ever want to be in the position of not being able to put food on the table for my family. While I’m sure all moms would say the same thing - my personal experiences with these fears tip the balance for me — making not working seem like less of an option.
Also, given my Type-A personality, I think it is probably a good thing that my kids aren’t with me 24/7. They need to be exposed to the personalities of other caregivers and this allows me to hover and helicopter less than I otherwise would. I have another outlet (my work and writing) to focus on outside of my kids – which for me, is a good thing. My work is my break from parenting and I find that it replenishes my reserve of patience. And patience isn’t my strongest virtue to begin with. It isn’t that my kids aren’t still my first priority — they definitely are – and I’ve managed to find a schedule that still allows me ample time with them — but it also provides me with at least a few hours a week where I can string actual thoughts together in order to work towards a different goal.
One of the many things I love about my best SAHM friend is that she never makes me feel bad for working. While I know it isn’t the choice she chose to make, she doesn’t make me feel bad because I did. And while yes, I still try to justify myself — as I am doing again here, at the root of it, I know it is my choice. And her choice is her choice, for her own myriad of reasons. I think both choices are wonderful and serve a purpose and place in our society — we’ve chosen the right choice for ourselves and our family. And over the long haul, I feel certain our kids will turn out just fine – maybe even better – because we made the choice consciously.
Do you find it difficult to relate to friends who choose a different career/mothering path than yours? How do you deal with these differences within your relationship? Are you a justifier like me?