Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another parenting rant, wherin I call bullshit. Repeatedly.

Mothers who choose to return to work after having children are selfish narcissists who value money and status over their own flesh and blood, and who probably shouldn't have had children in the first place if they were just going to hand them over to be raised by day care providers.

Mothers who choose to stay home after having children are lazy, unmotivated women looking for a free ride who spend their days watching movies and getting pedicures, and whose audacity to be satisfied by motherhood alone has set the feminist movement back at least 20 years.

And women who return to work part-time, or who work from home, or who stay home for only a couple of years and then reclaim their previous careers? Well, you people are just too difficult to categorize so we hate you too just to be on the safe side.

Welcome to the world of motherhood where no matter what you choose to do with yourself, it's wrong - a fact made abundantly clear by the reaction to Katy Read's Salon article, "Regrets of a stay-at-home mom." Of course, Read probably expected the shit storm. As The Man pointed out, there are few topics more emotionally charged and polarizing than how women should behave as mothers. But Read put herself in a uniquely vulnerable spot in the debate as a woman who hadn't done what either side wanted her to do. She offended working mothers by opting out of the workforce in the first place, and she offended SAHMs by suggesting that, in the end, staying home had been the wrong choice. And while the commenters raged back and forth, lobbing insults at Read and at each other, the actual point of her essay was nearly lost entirely.

Fourteen years after opting out to focus on her children, Read now finds herself divorced and needing to reenter the workforce, but is finding it extremely difficult due to the gaping hole in her resume (despite the fact that she worked part time during those fourteen years). Her essay was intended to be a cautionary tale to new mothers considering leaving the workforce to focus on kids: it's difficult to jump back in again should you want (or need) to. You will not be able to pick up right where you left off. Your salary and career trajectory will suffer. And, should your situation change - whether through divorce, or a spouse's illness/death/layoff - you may find yourself unable to provide for your children.

Unable to provide for your children. That's a terrifying thought. It need not change your mind about staying home, but it's something that ought to be considered as you debate your options.

In other words, Read has a valid point.

But since so many of the comments devolved into attacks on working mothers who "aren't interested in raising their children," I have something to say:

Not all working mothers want to work; for many, staying home is not an option. Making sure there's enough money coming in the door to put food on the table IS raising your children. But some women are working by choice, and there are any number of reasons they would chose to do so over staying home. I can pretty much guarantee that "I don't love my kids enough" is NOT one of those reasons. Working mothers are busting their asses out there. They work a full day at a busy office where they are probably not being paid what they're worth, and then they come home to cram the same amount of household chores and parenting duties into a fraction of the hours. They have to prove themselves EVERY SINGLE DAY to their employers who are fearful that their commitment to their families will impinge on their commitment to their jobs, and then they have to prove themselves EVERY SINGLE DAY to their families and other mothers (and themselves) who fear that their commitment to their jobs is impinging on their commitment to their families. They perform complex scheduling acrobatics to make sure they devote enough time to their careers and to their families. To even begin to suggest that these women are not raising their children is bullshit. To suggest that these women are not committed to their families is bullshit. To suggest that these women are bad mothers for not sacrificing hard won careers in favor of devoting every minute to the comfort of their children is bullshit. To suggest that the children will be less confident, less intelligent, or any less well-adjusted as a result of mommy's job is bullshit. What they do every day is really fucking hard, and they deserve more than a little bit of credit for being able to pull it off.

And since so many other comments devolved into attacks on SAHMs who are taking the easy road at best and short-changing their gender at worst, I have something else to say:

SAHMs are busting their asses out (or in?) there. They've sacrificed their careers and financial independence to pour everything they have into their kids. They have to prove themselves EVERY SINGLE DAY to their families and other mothers (and themselves) who assume that being "just" a mom means their days are quick and easy, full of smiling babies and celebrity gossip. They spend hours in relative isolation, weathering countless diaper changes, incessant questions, and epic temper tantrums (and yes, smiling babies). They spend entire days devoted to your least favorite things: doing dishes, folding laundry, cooking food that's scorned by fickle taste buds, and pretending to be interested in the minute details of Batman's various weapons. They don't get a salary, sick days, lunch breaks, or vacation days; they don't even often have two hands available to complete any given task. To suggest that these women have an easy free ride is bullshit. To suggest that these women have no ambition is bullshit. To suggest that these women are setting the feminist movement back by decades is bullshit. To suggest that the children will be spoiled by the attention, less independent, or any less well-adjusted as a result of mommy staying home is bullshit. There are obvious perks, but what they do every day is really fucking hard, and they deserve more than a little credit for being able to pull it off.

The fact of the matter is this: the decision to stay home or go back to work is an intensely personal one, based on a number of factors that vary greatly from one family to the next. It is either naive or extremely self-centered to assume that the best choice for your family is the best choice for every other family. Most kids turn out just fine regardless of whether they grow up in a household where mom works or one where she stays home. Better than fine, even. To suggest otherwise is bullshit. And to continue to attack each other's choices as mothers - as women - THAT is what's going to set the feminist movement back by decades.


Alison said...

I totally agree with you. Being a SAHM is not for everyone and the "job" force is not either...and I have to say thank goodness. I happen to be a SAHM with a job I have turned parentig into a profession and dare any of the "educated professionals" to tell me they know more about my job or could do it any better. We all make tough choices to do what we think is best for our families and should not be critizied for doing the best we can!!

Momma Sunshine said...

Either option presents it's own set of challenges.

I was a SAHM for 6 years, and now, because of my divorce, I've had no choice but to re-enter the workforce.

And while I'm not 100% sure I was suited to be a full time stay at home mom, I'm definitely sure that I'm not suited to be working full time, that's for sure.

Getting back into the workforce took me over a year to get there. I worked temp jobs for an entire year, only able to make ends meet with the help of social assistance and financial help from my family, barely able to hold things together. Not working was not an option.

Those who throw harsh judgments at other people are, in my opinion, trying to justify their own decisions. Whatever happened to making the right decision for YOU and the old adage of, "Live and let live"?

Great post!

ChopperPapa said...

That was a well written post. Being a man with no option on whether to work or stay home, I can't comment on the work vs. stay at home that mothers face.

I can say, on the outside looking in and to your point, that this lambasting each other because one's choice doesn't support another choice ends up making women in general look like immature and naive little school girls. Like finding some way to criticize another girl because she has a nicer jacket that you do.

Working moms should support SAHM and vice-a-versa. Unfortunately, from my experience, these attacks look to be based out of jealousy. But again I'm a guy and don't claim to have a clear understanding.

T said...

A-fuckin-men! Love this post!

I, too, did both. I left a high paying career to be a SAHM and found it very difficult (and still a challenge salary/travel-wise) to re-enter the workforce. For some reason, "mom" on your resume, even though I was working full time, doesn't look all that impressive to most employers.

It's the same with single mothers too. Some single mothers will bash other single mothers because they're getting child support while others do not. Or THEY have a supportive ex-spouse while others have sperm-donors who don't give a rat's ass about the child they helped to create.

As women, we're just fucking mean to each other. Like CP said, we're always looking for a reason to be jealous or feel like a victim. Always looking for some other reason to hate each other.

Can't we all just get along?!?

T said...

*sorry, I meant to say I was working PART-time while being a SAHM.

Soccer Mom said...

I was going to write about this today too. This is insane. I read her essay as a cautionary tale...a tale you NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR. It happened to me. I worked from home (practically full time though) for 11 years in my writing/editing field so I was able to get a job after a year and a half of looking after the divorce. BUT I FOUND A FULL TIME GIG! Thing is I don't regret any of the time I was with the kids. What I regret is not taking a portion of the money I earned and putting into retirement or something else---education---certificates---anything to add to my resume. I am making more than I did when I got out of college in 1996-----but only barely. It would likely be different if I hadn't stayed home but...I did. I don't regret it. I don't judge other women/mothers. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY WOMEN/MOTHERS WHO JUDGE OTHERS? It hurts us all!

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