We walked out of the sporting goods store for what seemed like the 100th time this spring. I turned to my eleven year old and said, “Maybe I should just get a job here.”
“Well, I already spend enough money at this place, so if I worked here at least I’d get a discount,” I chuckled, swinging the bag containing our recent purchase.
We got into the car and drove away. Then, from the back seat, I heard, “You should. You should get a real job like other people, like my friends’ moms—for money.”
Those words hit me hard. My son wasn’t trying to be insensitive. He wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, he was just naming a fact. Still, it stung. A real job. For money.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). Amongst errand-running, kid-ferrying, and house-keeping, she stepped in and stepped up. She was a Brownie leader, food pantry coordinator, arts-in-the-schools advocate, church lay leader, “costume mama”, I can go on and on. She spent much of her time helping to make our home and community a better place (which she continues to do, to this day.)
What do your parents do for a living?
I remember, though, being in middle school and meeting new friends’ parents for the first time. One of the first questions they inevitably asked me was, “What do your parents do for a living?” I always felt awkward trying to answer that question for my mom. Because I couldn’t say “nothing.” I couldn’t say, “She doesn’t work.” But, through a child’s eyes, she didn’t—not in the world’s sense of the word. I learned to say something about her volunteering in the community, but that never quite rolled off the tongue in a convincing way, and I always felt a little sheepish.
I believe my rising sixth-grader might be experiencing some of the same feelings I did. I may be the only one among his friends’ moms who doesn’t work outside the home—for money. He knows I work hard trying to make a stable life for him and his brother. He sees me in the community and at his school. My husband reminds him how I continually make sacrifices so that I can be around to drive him to practices and lessons and to give thought and care to the food we eat. But, how does my son explain what I “do”?
Life isn’t always what you plan.
My younger self never imagined I would be a SAHM. I figured I would live a wonderful work-life balance with my kids. But, there is no career for an Episcopal school chaplain here in Bloomington. But, here is where my husband’s job brought us. I knew I would be making a career sacrifice when we moved nearly fourteen years ago and I was pregnant with our first-born.
I wasn’t always a SAHM, though. For a few years, I was able to engage in some fulfilling, part-time work. Ten hours a week was perfect for our young family, giving me adult conversation, a creative outlet, and an outer purpose. I eventually moved on from that position to be at home. Nearly six years later and I’m still a SAHM.
Stay home or re-enter the workforce?
While it was the best choice at the time, now I feel guilty about it. To me, it seems more socially acceptable to stay at home when you have young children. But I have middle-schoolers. Big kids. What, now? Many of my mom friends who were fellow SAHMs are beginning to go back to the working world. They are embarking upon new part-time or full-time endeavors. Some are reinventing themselves and starting small businesses or services. I have one friend who, as a working mom, is now moving across the country for her job and her career promotion. And so I feel guilty. And lazy.
And I ask myself:
What is my worth? What am I worth? Am I doing enough? How am I contributing to the household economy? Those years of education—have they been for naught?
If I feel so guilty why don’t I just get a job? For money?
Because the work-home tension remains. For now, even with feelings of inadequacy, I feel pulled toward SAHM-life. It’s what I know I can do to take care of myself, my family, and the community. My home work does matter. When I do have the Stay-At-Home blues I need to remember a recent conversation I had with a woman who has a college-age daughter. We were asking get-to-know-you questions and she asked, “So what do you do?” You would think that after all this time I would have a good, solid, convincing answer to this question. Still, I wavered, I waffled. Then I resigned, “I’m mostly at home with my kids.” Cue guilt-ridden expression on my face.
What she said next surprised me. “Wow! You’re lucky.”
“I wish I didn’t have to work. I wish I could’ve been able to be home with my kids when they were growing up. I just couldn’t. And time goes just so fast…”
Mom-Guilt Doesn’t Care Where or If you work.
I know that most moms don’t have the luxury of choice. I am well aware that my Midwestern living, even on my husband’s academic salary, puts me in a position of privilege to choose to stay at home (insert more guilt, here). My heart has broken for friends who had to return to work 6 weeks after giving birth. I’ve known moms who wished they could stay home with their littles. But, it had never dawned on me that a seasoned mom would be jealous of me—for staying at home. And, that she felt guilty because she worked. She also has made sacrifices. Through our conversation, I was able to sense a bit of the guilt that many working moms feel, too. They also ask, “What is my worth? What am I worth? Am I doing enough?”
In her new book Wolfpack, Abby Wambach reminds us that we are to “Be for each other.” We need to stop comparing and competing with expectations of motherhood that are often unrealistic. Let’s remember to rush toward and point to all the stay-at-home, work-at-home, looking-for-work, and working moms. Mamas, we are all in this together. We are all at work for our children and those we love. And we are enough.