Recently on one of my Facebook posts a debate broke out: Who has it harder, stay at home moms or working moms?
This is, in my humble opinion, one of the hottest debated, and least productive questions I've ever come across.
It began with a silly post about my husband and I bantering about who should make dinner. His well meaning mother joined in, and pointed out that since I chose to stay home and he works, I should make dinner. She then made a comment about how hard he works, and how exhausted he must be at the end of the day. I get it. She is his mother, I made a jab at her son, she needs to come to his defense. But then my husband felt the need to point out that I also work extremely hard and I'm exhausted at the end of the day. He mentioned that he believes between the two of us (he and I) that I have the harder job, being the homemaker, and pregnant mother to two small children is physically and emotionally exhausting after all.
Cue the debate.
Of course, there are no winners in this debate. Only losers. How many times have working moms felt marginalized by stay at home moms, and vice versa? I think in order to understand the debate, we have to know where it is coming from.
Motherhood is often thankless, exhausting, and demoralizing. As mothers, we beat ourselves up about our choices. We question ourselves. We often feel like failures. So often, working mothers feel guilt for not being physically present, though a mother's thoughts are never far from her children. Stay at home mothers also feel guilty when they may feel resentment for their life, isolation, and loneliness. Because motherhood becomes the core of who we are, the yardstick by which our value as human beings is measured, we become defensive of our choices, even if we aren't always sure about them ourselves.
Stay at home moms are often labeled the martyrs of this debate. After all, they don't get the same kind of paycheck, literal or figurative, that working moms get. There is no money rolling in, no validation for the ins and outs of your time. They spend much of their time in isolation, dealing with challenges with little or no support from peers. They long for the day they can use the restroom in peace and quiet. In fact, they long for any sort of peace and quiet. Any ounce of time to themselves is a treasure. There is never reprieve, not even during sleep. Even the very term stay-at-home mom denotes a sort of lesser status, as explained in this recently published Time article.
Working mothers deal with both the demands of their professional life, and home life simultaneously. They are judged for their choice to leave their family to work outside the home. When they get home, emotional and physical needs of their children still need to be met, dinner still needs to get on the table, and laundry still needs to be folded. They battle with being pulled in two different directions. They are judged by others as putting their careers before their families.
So obviously, the debate strikes a chord with so many women. Women who feel the need to defend the choices they themselves struggle with on a daily basis. The problem is, the debate pits one hard working woman who constantly sacrifices, against another hard working woman who constantly sacrifices. The debate demeans, demoralizes, marginalizes, and judges others, who are just trying to do the best thing for their most prized treasures: their children.
When I became a mother, I had the fortune of making the choice for myself. For a very short time, it was necessary to work outside the home while I completed my degree in education. I returned to work three weeks after my oldest daughter was born, and completed my semester when she was nearly five months old. I dealt with a lot of guilt, a lot of worry, a lot of questions. I had a newborn to care for, and a classroom of third grade students that I was responsible for. I loved all of those students, and I wanted to do everything possible to create a positive educational experience for them. Yet, my heart was elsewhere. Always. It was excruciating. When I was at home with my daughter all I wanted to do was hold her, tend to her needs, love her. I remember not even letting my husband hold her in church because I missed her all the time. When my semester was over, I spent the entire day holding my baby, crying tears of gratitude for the option that I had to stay home and dedicate my time to being her full time mommy.
Yet, it didn't take long for me to feel completely isolated, alone, worthless. I no longer had stimulating challenges that allowed me to stretch my talents and intellect. I couldn't enjoy a meal; showering and getting dressed were considered high achievements. I'd dedicated so much time to developing myself as a professional, and now I might as well have been a nobody. I felt like I'd lost a giant chunk of who I was.
Eventually I found my groove. I was able to recognize talents as a homemaker and mother, and while nobody was validating me, I found an inner peace. Now here I am with two children, sitting on another egg about ready to hatch, and I can appreciate my two different experiences. Both tested me to my limit. Both allowed me to stretch and grow into the mother I am. I would be a different mother if I were a working mother, but that is obvious, because we always have to rise to whatever challenge we are faced with.
I loved this article recently published at KSL.com, my favorite comment being "I think the only way you could gain approval for your time-management, as a mother, would be to look after your children all the time," Williams wrote, "as well as working full-time but for some socially useful enterprise (ideally voluntary work), while never relying on a man for money, yet never claiming benefits either."
So why do people debate this? Because people have this inherent need to feel validated, even when it's difficult to validate themselves. What we should do, instead of debating who has it worse, and trying to "one up" another person, is spend our energy validating each other as mothers, even when our choices differ. Motherhood is hard enough without all the competition and judgment. I'll never look down on another woman's choices, because my daughters will one day have to make these same decisions, and I want them to know that, no matter what, I support them, and I validate them in what they chose to do. Because whether or not we stay at home with our families, or work outside the home, motherhood is the toughest job a person can have.