Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Momming" at home doesn't mean this house is open for childcare business

In my time, I have been a work-at-home mom (WAHM), work-out-of-home mom (WOHM), and stay-at-home mom (SAHM).

The truth is, I hate the labels. For me, they aren't mutually exclusive, and have merged, blended and overshadowed one another at different times.

It sort of depends on the day of the week and the season of the year, which one I am.

I like to think of it as the best of both worlds. I concede, however, that some might see it as "neither fish nor fowl."

My vantage point, though, rendered me able---or so I thought---to see all sides to The Story of Moms.

From the first moment I became a mom, I'd been regaled with tales about the mommy war between SAHMs and WOHMs. I never believed in it, probably because my knickers weren't too twisted up about many of the hotly argued scenarios.

I have heard a lot about the war, though, and have participated in a few debates. On the whole, I considered it an intellectual exercise: arguing sides of a scenario is an excellent way to live consciously, I think. At the end, we should all go away feeling more open-minded, more aware of others and their lives...shake hands like good sportsmen.

I knew some ladies walked away still quite angry, though. And I really didn't get it.

From my perspective, parenting is parenting, and I figure the vast majority of us do it the best we can.

Yes, this means I hold no opinion in general about whether it is better for a parent to work, or stay home with the kids. I thought I'd continue working, but it ended up that this wasn't the right call for us. A friend of mine was sure she'd stay home, but then she realized she missed working, and she went back. At the end of the day, we both ended up doing what felt like the best thing for all involved.

So why, then, is there this alleged friction between working and at homing moms?

I think it just might be that a misunderstanding, a false assumption about who the other is, and where her priorities are.

I don't think there is any one type. Consider the stay-at-home mom...what image pops FIRST into your head?

I'm beginning to believe that a pure and simple stay at home mom is a mythical creature. I've never met one, or maybe the truth is, we don't really know what one is. I think she's kind of hard to pin down, if you really think about it.

Many moms I know have kept their feet in the door of their career. They might appear to be stay-at-home moms, but then they tackle their second job, fitting in a few hours in the evenings, mornings, or weekends.

For example, some are medical professionals who have taken on some agency or contract work, such as my best friend, who spends her weekends trying to keep premature and sick babies alive in the NICU. Others freelance or work for themselves, like me. Still others have flexible hours and are able to work quite a bit from home.

Other moms I know volunteer their time, such as spending days in the classroom helping out, shuttling food to shut-ins, running craft projects for mom's groups,and so forth.

Others create art, continue their education, teach parenting courses, walk dogs, remodel their home and more.

Every mom and dad I know has their hands in more than one pie, especially the stay at home ones.

All in all, it truly is individual how each person responds to work and children.

However.

Parents who work do need someone to care for their children while they work.

Parenting around work days is not the same kind of parenting as being home all day.

Momish put this into words really well when writing about a snow day at home with her daughter:

I honestly think if I spent all day everyday with this child, either she or I would be dead by now. By the time my husband got home yesterday, I was two shakes away from being committed. My patience is next to nothing when it comes to a two year old.

I felt like all I did all day long was yell out orders and reprimands in an endless frantic stream. “Stop that! Get down! Put that back! Don’t touch! Watch out! No screaming! Be good!” Occasionally, once in a blue moon, we actually had some fun and laughed together. But, those happy moments seemed to be fleeting and so fragile that I felt like I was holding my breath each time things were going smoothly, waiting for the bubble to burst.


I replied:

I believe the occasional day---with no set boundaries, routines, etc.---can be harder. However, at home all day every day with kids is hard, too. There *is* a lot of "can't do this but can do this" and redirecting and preventing and solving and disciplining and so forth. That's the job.

The fun moments, the loving ones, etc. are fleeting and fragile. That's the reward.

I think the biggest trap moms (and probably dads too) fall into is thinking that quality time = Hallmark moment of pure joy.

Anyway, in my experience, nothing can drive you to your least favorite aspects of yourself like a two year old.


Momish and I are both moms of two year olds; beyond that, who knows how many differences or similarities we have. I do know one thing: I'm not more momish than she is because I am home all day with my kids.

And I think that is the first, big, ugly stereotype I've hit that has really, really pissed me off since becoming a mom who is home.

(I want to make this clear: Momish had NOTHING to do with that. She wrote a beautiful post that moved me because I could 100% identify with it. Reading it simply motivated me, gave me the words to write about something that happened last week. I owe Momish many thanks for inadvertantly helping me process something that troubled me.)

Last week, a WOHM said something that really annoyed me.

She said, "Well you stay at home, your friends stay at home, can't one of you just watch my child?"

How innocuous that looks just written there, in black and white. Deceptively innocent and simple.

No, I can't just watch your child. I don't have the time. And, moreover, I don't want to.

It might be a shocking admission, considering I went through years of infertility treatment, tried oh-so-hard to have children, and now have dedicated my life to them, but...I don't really like caring for children, in general. As cute as they can be, as lovely, as amazing, they can also be loud, messy, illogical, tempermental, demanding, and troublesome.

I love my kids. I love my nieces and my nephews. I love seeing them. I love hearing about their lives, and interests. I love my kids' friends. I love my friends' kids. I enjoy playdates and time together. I'll willingly volunteer to watch kids when their parents need assistance. For a few hours. Now and again.

But.

That doesn't mean that I could become a childcare provider. It takes a very special person to regularly care for someone else's children, whether it is all day five days a week or pinch-hitting days here and there as regular back-up. I don't have the time, or the inclination.

What it does mean, I think, is that I just might have met, finally, the no-longer-mythical Snobby Full-time Working Mom who believes all this "mom stuff" is for lesser mortals. She's the woman who, when she says, "I don't know how you do it," isn't really complimenting, or at best, means it in a backhanded way.

She doesn't really appreciate the job stay at home mothers do. She doesn't really understand what is going on. She takes the "at home" part too literally.

My visceral reaction stunned me, as did the defensive thoughts that roared through my head.

I understand how frustrating it is to try to find and keep reliable childcare. I understand how stressful it is when you need to find a last-minute back-up plan. I understand the inclination to ask for help or seek ideas or suggestions. I understand that someone you know seems better, and easier, than shuffling through myriad nanny applicants or daycare visits.

But...but...this was such a clear misunderstanding on so many levels.

This wasn't a friend asking a friend. This was working mom asking a stay-at-home mom to find her childcare, find her some stay-at-home mom who will take on her child---a group, apparently, that is legion in this woman's mind.

This was someone not getting that stay-at-home moms, any of them, might not have the time or inclination for childcare.

And worst of all, it was a huge lack of comprehension about what caring for someone else's child involves, all day, every day. To frame it with, "no big deal" and "my child should be no trouble" and "just watch" along with "since you are at home anyway" is so flagrantly offensive that I can't quite grasp the kahunas you must have to say such a thing.

No child is no big deal. Kids vary on the challenge scale, it's true. But childcare is a Very Big Deal.

It's hard for me to comprehend how a mom doesn't comprehend this.

I stay at home with my kids because they are my kids, because I love them and this is what we prefer to do. Doing so doesn't mean I've put out the red light and am open for business.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Technorati
Tags: ,,, , ,

14 comments:

Momish said...

Terrific post! I really appreciate you delving into this topic in such a thoughtful way! I also appreciate you stating that moms that stay at home are not necessarily more adept at child rearing than moms that work (albiet maybe more stoic now and then!) Unfortunately, that is such an easy assumption to come by, especially when it seems all I seem do is flounder! It's nice to know that is just par for the course for any of us, regardless of our daily situation. I really appreciated your comments to my post and insight to the natural dynamics going on. Several people mentioned that the odd ball day at home is way harder then establishing a daily routine that eventually sticks. I can see how that can be now, and that alone does wonders for my frazzled soul!

I honestly can't imagine anyone proposing such an arrangement so off handedly as if it were nothing. I too would have been flipping mad if it happened to me! I hope you told that person exactly what you thought in the end.

P.S. I am going to update my post with yours, ok?

Gwen said...

I'm the only stay at home mom in my immediate neighborhood (and I will be your statistical outlier--I really have no fingers in any pies. :) )and last year, out of a spirit of Women Rawk, I volunteered to watch two children not my own after school a couple days a week. Well, I sort of volunteered, sort of got roped into it. By the end of the year, I HATED it. All those little girls, all squabbling and going into my frig for snacks no matter how many times I'd told them not to (and these are truly nice, well behaved children; they're also CHILDREN), the lack of freedom to do what I wanted with my own small family. So: I know what you're saying.

At the same time, I know mothers who work outside the home who feel guilty about their choice and who deal with that guilt by saying stupid shit like "I could never just sit at home all day like you doing nothing." and "can't you just watch my kid?" Okay, I don't know anyone who said the last one, but maybe that woman is blinded to the rules of etiquette by her own ambivalence about working away from home. It's hard NOT to be offended in situations like the one you describe, but those are the times I tell myself it's about the ignorance or neediness or issues of the other person and says nothing about my life and my choices.

Mayberry said...

That comment was plain rude, on so many levels. No wonder it made you angry.

Julie Pippert said...

Momish, thanks! And thanks for the link back to my link back. :)

It is easy to assume that SAHMs have more "momish" ( I love that!) tendencies. But I think this is all reflective of an ideal that isn't reasonable, KWIM? I know I floundered plenty---still do---even at home. We're all just flying by the seat of our pants. I know some women seem so calm, but I think that's really more a personality trait than indicative that she's got it more going on. Or has been at it longer and has seen more, has more experience. :)

Gwen, puhleeze. You write. That's a finger in a pie. Don't make me link to your blog again to prove my point. :)

WRT this woman...this is sort of a "straw that broke the camel's back" deal. There's been a sort of pattern, which I gave slack to along the lines of what you said. This comment was the first time I went beyond "understanding, caring and concerned" to "wow that's rude."

Sometimes there are moms who end up moms unexpectedly. Maybe some of these moms end up a little resentful, especially if they have a particular life that doesn't really work with momhood, and they don't want to make any changes. There is a natural period of grief/dealing with/etc., and I get that.

However, IMO, when a mom makes the choice to go forward with the PG, and keep the baby, then disassociation from momishness is not an option any longer.

I guess I just found my own personal mom snobbery.

I stand by my belief that I trust in others in general, and believe they do their best and what they do is what they think is best.

However, the difference is...THINK and ACTIVE and TRY.

Upon reflection, there have been a few times I've really wondered whether someone is actually trying.

Thanks mayberry!

sillychick said...

I've done both too and I honestly think I am a better mother to my children when I work. I can come home and relax with them as opposed to possibly resenting them.

I do have utmost respect for any person who chooses to stay at home with their child. It's not all soap operas and bon-bons (or any for that matter!) and it's damn hard work.

When I did go back to work full time, I approached one of my SAH friends about watching my child before and after school. In my mind, I knew I'd have to pay someone and who better than someone you know and trust? Her reply was, "Ya know, I've been a nanny for years and I've watched so many kids for so long. I just want to spend time with my kids now."
I loved that response!!! She was able to tell me exactly what she wanted and you gotta respect that. My pet peeve is folks who will readily volunteer for something but yet bitch about it.
I think each person has to make the best decision for their family. That includes, too, saying no to these sometimes pushy people.

Rachel Briggs said...

great post!

I work full time and I hate the comments other mums make to me. I don't fit the "proper" mum profile. I drop my son off at school every day, which is quite a challenge sometimes, and other mums say things like "so, where are you dashing off to today"? and "so what exciting things are you doing today"?. The truth? I don't suppose most of them know my actual job, which is quite senior - so what I'm actually doing is driving like a mad thing for the 15 miles to get to work, dealing with a day full of other people's c..p, running my dogs around a field at lunchtime (they come to work with me), and spending quite a bit of time wishing I could find the time to clean the house,tidy up, spend more time with my son, be a "proper" mum and bake more, blah, blah. I find their comments really patronising. They assume I've got it made, I assume they have, and I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle. But I challenge any working mum not to feel a pang of ...what is it? loneliness? a wish they could belong? ... to the other mums calling across the school playground "so, what time are we meeting later? My house or yours...?"...

Truth is, we're all doing our best.

I am a better mum for working(although part-time would be wonderful!). My friend has it balanced so well - she works three days a week in a really challenging job, and has Thursday and Friday at home to get the house perfect for the weekend and spend time after school with her two kids. Weekends are truly family time. Clever lady!!

Mad Hatter said...

The kind of comment you wrote about not only cheapens the role of SAHMs but it also is a smack in the face to the qualifications of professional child care workers. Why does society pay computer support people top dollars and yet assume that just about anyone, anywhere can perform the job of child care? This attitude drives me nuts. Just b/c I am a mother does not mean that I would know the first thing about looking after other people's children.

Julie Pippert said...

Mad Hatter, yes, that's it EXACTLY!

Oh that is a post I've been ruminating about for a long time. It amazes that there is even a question, "Are teachers/childcare providers/etc. earning too much?"

We have a very limited budget so I 100% understand the pangs of paying out most of a salary for childcare, and feeling pinched or compromised because it is too expensive. But, who is the WORLD wants to advocate for lower pay for the people who help us raise our kids?

This is not the first time someone has asked me to look after kids, and I have actually had a SAHM watch my kids while I worked. And nobody was offended in that. It's cool.

The problem HERE is the assumption that just because someone is a SAHM means she is willing, able, inclined, and appropriate for childcare.

Sillychick, that's the difference. It just struck me. Thank you!

She did not just ask one person. It's like I said in the post...she assumed any old SAHM would be willing and right to take on this job.

I don't think anythign is problematic with approaching a person you know who seems like a likely candidate. I've done that. The difference is *something* told me this was a good possiblity for all involved.

It wasn't assuming that just because someone is a SAHM she wants and can do this. KWIM?

This lady didn't care per se who...she was "can't one of all these SAHMs just care for my child?"

Yes, saying no is an art.

And both sides have their ups and downs.

Rachel, you know, it surprises people to learn that I work. I try to juggle it all and keep work over *here* and family *over there" as much as possible, but obviously it crosses over now and again.

I know that feeling. Yes, it's feeling outside of it. And working I felt badly that I wasn't there sometimes. Staying home I missed that feeling of work sometimes.

Yes, doing the best we can...dealing with it all. And pros and cons to all situations.

If it helps, I wish I could find time (and inclination) to clean my house too LOL.

Gwen said...

I feel like I need to clarify: I didn't mean that the woman's comment WASN'T rude, just that it said much more about her than about you and your choices. Rachel is right in that we seem to want what we don't have, or to glamorize the other side more than is necessary. This is one of my mantras: I can have it all; I just can't have it all at once.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

I really don't see why we all just can't get along! ( I apologize...I just couldn't help myself!) I am a working mom....I have no desire to be a stay at home mom, but I have all the respect in the world for those who do. I love my children. I would do anything in the world for them....anything, that is, EXCEPT spend 24/7 with them....there are not enough meds in the WORLD for that to happen.

I realize this comment may SERIOUSLy impede my quest for "Mommy of the Year"! :)

Julie Pippert said...

Gwen, you are oh-so-right. It is about her. And generally this goes right by me. But this time, wow, nope, I let myself get offended. Listen to me, wha a geek. let myself. LOL

I like your mantra. :)

Queen, long live you and your wisdom! I think mainly we do all get along pretty well. But when guilt, expectations, judgment, insecurity etc. flare up, we're less likely to.

Holy mackerel, if that's all it takes to be out of the running for "Mommy of the Year" I was out long ago. So, my eBay ad jokes about selling my kids...not winning me votes, eh? LOL

Mary-LUE said...

Julie,

I am soooo behind on your posts! I've been lagging behind in general blogging. I think my 8 day stint as primary nurse to Marley wiped me out!

There is so much I relate to in this post as far as what I am like as a SAHM although I've been fortunate enough to avoid a comment like the one you had the joy of experiencing. I am not a "kid person." Like you, I love my kids, my neices and nephews, my friends' kids and some of my kids' friends. There are a few miscellaneous kids who I come across who capture my heart. Beyond that, kids just do me in. I'm much better with high schoolers--except for mine. (The exception here is babies. 0 to almost walking. I love babies.)

I worked 3/4 time from the time my son was two until he was six. When I quit, it was assumed I was quitting to spend more time with my son. Um... no. People were shocked but my son was in school and I was always able to work around his school schedule. I quit to have time for myself! My husband traveled, I was only paid $8/hour, I was quite heavily involved as a volunteer leader at my church. I wanted those 30 hours per week for me. Of course, the cosmic irony here is that within six weeks of quitting, I was pregnant. Curses! Foiled again!

I want to say something about the woman's comment but I think everyone else here has covered it quite intelligently, especially Gwen's insight about the comment being a reflection of the woman's own issues.

For some reason the situation reminds me of someone I know who was starting her daughter in kindergarten against the advice of the teachers. They felt she needed a year to grow. I realized (when I heard about it a year or so later) that part of her resistance to waiting was that both parens worked full-time and this was their third child. I think they were anxious to be done with the cost of and difficulty of arranging childcare. The pressure of their situation led them to resisting the good advice of those around them. (I'm not saying their decision was right or wrong just that their ability to consider the options was hampered.) Without excusing the woman who said what she did because obviously everyone who feels the pressure of finding childcare wouldn't say something like that, her perspective may be so skewed by the pressure that she feels that it leaks out with inappropriate comments.

Well, as usual, I didn't start out to comment on the woman and I did. (At least I know my long-windedness is welcome here!) I'll hopefully be moving on to the next couple of posts this weekend.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

WAIT! You can auction your kids on Ebay? I had no idea......excuse me, I will return shortly! :)

What's a flowery way of saying "absurdly stubborn"

Headstrong....yes, I think I will go with headstrong!

:)

Julie Pippert said...

Mary-Lue, I'd been missing you! I kept checking your blog for updates. So glad to see you. And your long-windedness is always welcome. I think your insight is correct. Plus, it's always great to hear from someone who knows what I mean.

Queen tsk tsk tsk. Never say headstrong. ;) LOL

Have you ever lived in an old house, a fixer upper?

What you mean is: dedicated, with high self-esteem :)