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When The Mommy Wars Attack

Jan04

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Mommy WarsDear Amy,

I love your advice, I almost ALWAYS agree with it (in fact, can’t think of a time when I didn’t agree). My problem may not have an “answer” but I am hoping that you can perhaps shed some light on my relationship with my close friend, and why it’s causing me a lot of anxiety.

Ever since I had my first baby in 2010, I have been fascinated by the question of how to achieve work/life balance (or whether this is even possible). Very often, this question gets me into Mommy Wars territory, but I try to avoid judging anyone because I do not believe there is a right answer to the question of whether or not to work. (I currently work full-time but find it challenging, and often think about finding something with fewer hours, more flexibility, or just taking a year or so off.) I get into this conversation with friends and acquaintances all the time. I was recently at a birthday party where the SAHM’s were all sitting in a circle talking about how evil working moms are (I’m not exaggerating: one of them said “I think, to be able to leave their babies and go to work, those women are just evil”). You should have seen their faces when they realized I was one of “those women”–I was so embarrassed FOR them that I started talking about how I was planning to quit working soon anyway.

But that didn’t bother me as much as when an actual close friend said that children obviously benefit more from having a SAHM than a working mom–and this was a woman who used to be very successful in her career until the day she gave birth and decided to quit. I think it’s wonderful that she got off her intense career path to take some time to enjoy her baby! I was so proud of her, and have been very supportive every step of the way. She seems happier now and I am happy for her. I know that there is no one path for everyone. My mother worked and I was always so proud of her success–but I also liked it that she had a flexible job and could pick me up from school. We all make sacrifices in the quest to achieve something resembling “balance”–time with family, career goals, a clean house, whatever.

But I think my friend is convinced that she is making the better sacrifice. She says my practical side is keeping me from living the life I want, which is sort of true, but come on, sometimes we have to be practical. She even told me a story about her friend whose baby DIED at 18 months, and how guilty her friend felt for working while her child was alive (!!). Okay, I’m making my friend sound worse than she is. She used to be my favorite person to talk to about these issues because she really understands how HARD it all is to juggle everything (that’s why she quit working). We’ve been friends for so many years and have been through so much, but I’m sensing a shift in our relationship after so many disparaging comments recently about my choices, and I’m just not sure if I should wait and see if this is just a phase she’s going through, or if she really believes what she is saying. If she truly believes that she is the better mother because she’s at home all day, can she also be my friend??

She says that she doesn’t believe that at all, but then she will say things like “I could NEVER put my child in day care” (where do you think mine is?!) and “Of course working mothers are happier than SAHMs–being a SAHM is much harder work than sitting in an office all day! I am doing this for my child, not for myself.” The weird thing is, if I say something like “I want to spend more time with my child, but I also want to keep my foot in the door somehow,” she gets defensive. As though the fact that HER foot isn’t in the door is some sort of failure on her part.

I’ve always had friends with different religious and political beliefs, and I’ve just never had a problem with discussing those things because I like to hear different views–and I appreciate it when others make me question my own views. This whole Mommy Wars thing is just a different story for me. Every time we discuss it I feel like she is almost pressuring me to do the same thing she did.

How should I handle this? Should I say something to her? Am I just being overly sensitive because I somehow, deep-down, believe I’m really a bad mom because I work? Or: should I just ignore her comments and try to stay off the topic of working moms from now on?

Thanks for your advice,
Working Mom of the (Hopefully!) Non-Evil Variety

In my long, storied (but most Internet-based) experience with the Mommy Judgment Wars, I’d say a good 99.9% of the judgy comments stem from a place of insecurity about the commenters’ own choices. Even if they do believe they are making the absolute best, most obvious, universal good-mother-seal-of-approval choice, there’s usually some small part of them that worries that 1) it isn’t, or 2) it won’t turn out to be as important as they made it out to be, in the grand scheme of their child’s life.

Because seriously: Most of us will talk fondly about our own mother’s choices but can always add a caveat. “I was proud of her success at work and she was a good role model…but I sometimes wished she had more freedom to come to class parties and recitals or meet me at the bus stop.” OR: “I loved how close I was to my SAHM…but I hate how she was always so financially dependent on my father and doesn’t have any other options now.” OR: “It was so great that my mom was able to work from home…except for the memories of getting yelled at for the time I spilled juice on those Really Important Papers. Also, I watched way too much TV.”

As for your friend:

“The weird thing is, if I say something like “I want to spend more time with my child, but I also want to keep my foot in the door somehow,” she gets defensive. As though the fact that HER foot isn’t in the door is some sort of failure on her part.”

BIIIIIIIINGO.

Seriously, Mommy Warriors: By preschool no one cares how long you breastfed, or if at all. Least of all, your kid. And there’s no stamp on anybody’s backpack indicating who did baby-led weaning and who ate Beech Nut out of a jar. Everybody potty trains and by elementary school  you’re happy if you manage to remember that other mom’s NAME, much less give a crap what her work situation is. I can’t chaperone every field trip and I can’t bake cupcakes for every class party, even with all the work flexibility in the world, because I’m juggling multiple field trip/class party schedules and a baby and gaaaaaahhhlifebalancefail. I’m there at the bus stop every day when Noah gets home from school (while he asks endless questions about the mysterious, awesome-looking “aftercare” place that a bunch of his friends go to instead), but a couple mornings a week I outsource the morning drop-off to a babysitter (who then watches the baby for a few hours) so I can get a head start on THIS VERY COLUMN OH THE IRONY.

(And funny story: Every single morning, the bus stop is fully populated with a ton of work-outside-the-home moms and dads…and my babysitter. At the afternoon pickup, I’m usually the only one there, save for one other family where the parents work flexible hours. All the other kids go to aftercare or friends’ houses on other bus routes. So no one even sees what an “awesome” mom I am for figuring out a way to be there for all my kids right after school because THERE ARE NO MEDALS FOR ANY OF THIS, FOR ANY OF US.)

I’ve pretty much done every arrangement out there, save for working part-time outside of the home: I worked full-time in an office, been essentially a full-time SAHM (with just a couple tiny blogging things that I could do during naptime), worked part-time at home with one kid, then two kids, and now work alllllmost full-time (but not quite) at home with three. Every. Single. Arrangement. Has pros and cons. Every single one was hard, in its own way. And not just for me, for the kids too. Yes, even the SAHM one. (I seriously still wonder if staying in daycare — with the structure and peer interaction and regular exposure to new things — would have been better for Noah’s development and delays rather than those aimless, structureless, playgroup-lite years with me. But whatever. I did the best I could at the time. Still am. It’s not perfect — I hate missing those mornings with my baby! — but we’re all pretty happy most of the time. I’ll take it.)

Point is, I could not IMAGINE sitting around at a party disparaging mothers who made a different choice than me. That’s just something so out of a badly written sitcom about What People Without Kids Think Close-Minded Mothers Are Like I cannot even roll my eyes enough. It’s GOOD that they were embarrassed. They DESERVED to be embarrassed, and there was no reason for you to try to ease their social discomfort with “oh, but I’m thinking about quitting!” Even if it’s true. They called moms who work EVIL? Whatever. Screw that. And them!

(The baby kept me up from midnight to 2:30 am last night and I’ve since had a LOT of coffee. Forgive me for not being at my most nicey-nice diplomatic this morning.)

And I’m wondering if maybe that’s the reason your close friend feels entitled to make all these ridiculous comments to you as well? She knows you are self-doubting a little and sees an opportunity to convince you that SAHMing is a self-doubt-free zone? (Which: HAHAHAHAHA! No.)

I presume you’ve talked with her about how you aren’t actually 100% satisfied with your situation and so she feels like the door has been opened for her to play this part of the 100% satisfied and fulfilled SAHM to “win” you over to her way of thinking? If that’s the case, she might be — like many SAHMs, including me! — struggling with the social isolation of staying home and kind of hoping you’ll just quit and have playdates with her or something. Though I still say her disparaging comments are coming from at least some insecurity about her choice to quit her job and stay home. Or even a little jealousy at your life beyond the childcare grind. Because if you’re secure in your decision, you don’t need to vilify someone else’s (i.e. you can breastfeed without being an ass to formula feeders, cloth diaper without tsk-tsking people in the Pampers aisle). Even if that person isn’t entirely sure they’ve made the right decision, you are able to respond with true empathy, not propaganda.

It’s possible that, while she seemed happier for awhile, she may be now realizing the long-term financial consequences of her decision, or how it changes the dynamics of a marriage relationship, or how lonely and monotonous being home all day, every day can be. These are all things that SAHM/WAHMs have to work through to differing degrees. Most of us, however, manage to do it without using their WOHM friends as a Why My Life Choices Are The Best Ones Ever sounding board. And most of us can ALSO listen to a working mom lament the downsides of THAT arrangement without thinking that hey! This is a great time to bring up dead toddlers.

If your friend really is a wonderful, important part of your support network and you’d like to get over this rift, I would just call her on these comments the next time she makes one. Use one of the responses you typed to me. “Oh, I could never put my child in daycare, that’s just so X, Y and Z!” “Dude. Where do you think mine is? You realize that’s hurtful for me to hear, because it sounds like you think I’m a bad mom, right? Can we please make our get-togethers a Mommy Wars-free zone, because I get it enough from other people. I’m so glad you’re so happy with your decision, but you’ve got to be more sensitive to the way you talk about mine.”

If she gets bent out of shape and tries to turn it around on you, like “oh that’s only hurtful because YOU think, deep-down, that you’re making the wrong choice,” tell her that there are no wrong choices, full stop. And then stop letting yourself get drawn into these conversations “all the time.” You say you’re fascinated by the topic, but it sounds like most of the time you’re walking into a social minefield where it’s your confidence that’s getting blown to smithereens by people who sense WEAKNESS! WORKING MOMMY GUILT AND WEAKNESS! LET’S GET HER! You don’t owe anybody outside of your own little household any explanation as to why you work or why you don’t, other than a smile and a “I’m doing the best I can and my child is happy and safe and thriving, just like yours. Isn’t that great? Now where’s that birthday cake already?”

 

Picture by Naughty Betty Greeting Cards (hat tip: to Stephany Aulenback)

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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51 Responses to “When The Mommy Wars Attack”

  1. jL Jan 04 at 2:23 pm Reply Reply

    Love this column. I have 16 month old twins and we are trying for #3. The plan has always been for me to stay home when there are three and we have worked (and are still working) really hard to get a financial place where that is possible.
    Before, I didn’t feel “guilty” about staying home b/c I didn’t have another option. We needed my income. I have always wanted to be a SAHM but I feel like the twins are at the age where it. is. just. crazy. a lot. and I think, “how will I do this with 3???” I don’t love my job. It is just a job. And that is all. But that 8 hour break every day is pretty sweet sometimes. And other times heartbreaking. I think I will look back and regret working (at something I am not passionate about and sometimes hate a lot) and not getting to be with them more at this age. But then I am worried I will look back and say, “what if we could have saved more money?” and what if we have to live so frugally that life will just suck? Amy is right, there is pros and cons to each scenario. But no one else has any right to judge. For reals.

  2. April Jan 04 at 2:27 pm Reply Reply

    “And most of us can ALSO listen to a working mom lament the downsides of THAT arrangement without thinking that hey! This is a great time to bring up dead toddlers.” That made me laugh out loud at my desk. My evil, working mother desk. MUWAHAHAHA….. lol

  3. Martha Jan 04 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    I love your point about our discussions of our own mother’s choices. It was a good reminder of how things will look ages from now. Many older moms I know who worked wished they worked less, and the ones who didn’t often wished they worked more. It is difficult to be a mom in the modern age but sometimes part of that is how hard we are on ourselves, and on each other. If I had a friend who talked to me like that (BRINGING UP DEAD TODDLERS, e.g.) I would probably tell her to cut the bullshit. I don’t think I could handle it!

  4. Procrastamom Jan 04 at 2:37 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, you hit it out of the park with this column.  OUT. OF. THE. PARK!!!

  5. JCF Jan 04 at 2:45 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, excellent response, Amy! I am with you, in that I would (politely but firmly) call the friend out on her hurtful remarks. Like you said, many choices in parenting cease to matter with friends as kids get older. I just moved to a new city, and no one here knows what my choices were/are regarding birth, circumcision, vaccination, etc. my kids are no longer tiny infants, and none of my friends are currently pregnant. So those big discussions I have been having with every friend for the past five years? They’ve changed. Now we are discussing discipline methods, school choice, etc.

  6. Mona Jan 04 at 2:53 pm Reply Reply

    Yep, this ranks up there with the boob or bottle wars. As always, Amy, you know just what to say. And anybody who carries on about other moms for their choices is purely insecure.
    For myself, I love my two boys fiercely (3.5 years and 3 months old). But I also like my career, spent eight years in college and ten years at work and I just plain enjoy being here. SAHM isnt for me- my boys have a lovely babysitter, get to connect with other kids and spend time with a mommy who is so excited to see them at the end of the day! But I fully applaud the SAHM’s too. I applaud everyone who is making the right choice for them and is happier for it.
    Happy mommy = happier kids.

  7. Karen Jan 04 at 2:53 pm Reply Reply

    Great column. I work part time and have a long-time friend who is a SAHM. She made a series of choices to set up her family for success like moving to a less expensive part of the country, etc. so staying home was a “calling” for her rather than a decision when it came time to have kids. We have slowly drifted apart over the years and I pin it pretty much on the working/non-working issue. That is such a core-issue for women with young children that once you remove it from the conversation, everything else goes out with it. I felt bad for a while, but realized that having empty conversations, or going passive-aggressive wasn’t really productive and I now find myself closer to other women (who mostly happen to work part time, isn’t that fascinating???)

  8. Stephanie Jan 04 at 2:54 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, this was such an excellent response! Eighteen months ago, my family and I moved to the far suburbs of our city. When I say far, I mean I now have a 30 mile commute. We moved because we wanted a bigger house, better schools and it only made sense to move to where my husband works. Now he has the five minute commute and I have the 40. Okay, whatever. What’s my point? Oh yeah, 95% of the moms in this city and the next one over are SAHMs. I joined a Moms Club to meet other mothers and they’re ALL SAHMs… until a subset of us met who are all working mothers. Now we get together almost every Saturday for a playgroup, and it’s nice to have the support of moms who get that working is either a necessity or a choice. But when we get together with the larger club, there are often comments of “oh, I don’t know how you do it. Or, I could never have my baby raised by strangers.” It is hurtful and unnecessary. But I just tell them that I like working. It works for me, and it makes me a better mom to my 2 1/2 year old. She loves her daycare lady and she loves the other kids there.

  9. eden Jan 04 at 3:15 pm Reply Reply

    sitting here at work reading this, breastfeeding my 8 month old. wasn’t what we planned but hey, our family is extremely happy! should have been back full time by now, baby was going to stay with grandma. kids=change of plans. I’m a sahm, working mom, working mom with baby…each is a part of my day. new moms need support, not judgement!  love your honesty amy, keeps me grounded. 

  10. Olivia Jan 04 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    I’m in a similar boat as JL, but with our second on the way. I’ve worked full time since our first was born and I’m mostly glad I did so I could have that experience to refer to. However, with the second I am planning (husband’s job permitting) to quit for at least a year and stay home with the kiddos. I’m excited about this prospect because 1) more time with my children, 2) not pumping at work and 3) my job is just a job and maybe I’ll finally figure out what I want to be when I grow up. But, I’m also terrified because 1) one income, 2) TWO kids all day, ever day. 

    Anyway, all this to say is that every mother’s choice to work or not (should she have the privilege of it being a choice) is valid and we need to say “Enough!” to the mommy wars bullshit.

  11. Hannah Jan 04 at 3:45 pm Reply Reply

    Hear hear! All decisions to do with kids are tough. I work full time, and my husband stays home with the kids. This avoids the “but your kid is being raised by strangers!!11!! OMG” thing, but opens up a whole new world of “why can’t your husband get a job? He should get a job!”. You. Can’t. Win. So take a deep breath, tell your friend to belt up and own her own choices, and if she can’t and continues to bring up dead toddlers (sheesh, that’s a douche move), find someone else to talk to (I’ve heard that cardboard cutouts of Justin Bieber, for example, are lovely. They smile, are approving and NEVER judge.)

  12. EmJay Jan 04 at 4:01 pm Reply Reply

    I find myself in this situation at school and birthday parties. People make ridiculous assumptions.  I work full time outside our home in corporate america, but don’t often look that way when I show up for my kids’ events.  I stump them every time, by proudly letting them know that I work and my husband stays home with our three kids.  I am amazed at the number of people who cannot fathom that arrangement.   It was a no-brainer for us to decide who would work.  Would I be a better stay at home parent than my husband?  Maybe in some ways, in other ways not so much.  The mommy wars are bad, but I’m here to tell you the way other women treat my husband is equally horrible.  That same insecurity makes people say the most sexist, mean things I have ever heard. My stock response…”WOW” and a head shake.

  13. Emma Jan 04 at 4:02 pm Reply Reply

    It’s crazy how many different things moms can come up with to argue about. I may not be a saint and I may not always say the right thing but I try. I have heard people bad mouth working mothers, and as a SAHM/WAHM myself, I sometimes can’t decide who has the rougher life. For ME personally, I love being home with my kids, and sometimes I hate it too. I don’t know what it would be like to have them in daycare full time and I’ve never left them with a sitter that was not someone I know personally. If I had to, I would. I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I also don’t think working moms are jumping up and down about it either.
    I have a friend that was telling me about a 3 day community service trip she wants to do next summer that is 250 miles away from where I currently live. She was suggesting my husband and I attend. When I told her it wouldn’t be possible for us to do it she got defensive, asking why not. I had to explain I couldn’t leave my two children (by then 2+ and 10/11 ish months) with anyone for 3 days. She thought I sounded insane. She plans to leave her then 18 month old with her father for the trip, which will entail her flying 1000 miles away and for her that’s ok. She has a reliable helpful support system who can watch one toddler/baby that eats solid food and sleeps at night. I have 2 and no such support system and will probably still (hopefully) be breast feeding my little one who refuses to take a bottle. (A whole OTHER issue.)
    The judgement goes both ways. I don’t want to/won’t/have to leave them, I get the 3rd degree. Some moms want/have to work and so do they. Maybe we could all just lighten up on each other a bit. None of us is the perfect mother.

  14. Kari E Jan 04 at 4:05 pm Reply Reply

    This column hit home for me – I am getting tired of justifying working as I will be heading back full time after 3 months of maternity leave. I worked hard for my career. I LOVE what I do – I have known what I would be when I grow up since I was 3. Why should I have to give that up or feel badly about choosing to keep it up just because other moms make a different choice? I try my best to respect and support the decisions other mom friends make. I hope more moms will start to do the same. It’s really playground bully type behavior – by adults. How sad.

  15. Leigh Jan 04 at 4:38 pm Reply Reply

    To be perfectly honest, I used to be one of those sanctimonious SAHMs who thought My Way was the Best Way and working moms were…not evil, exactly, but Woefully Misinformed. Then one beautiful October day, my husband lost his job and we had to move and long story short I went back to work full time when my younger daughter had just turned four. I cried every morning on my way to work for two weeks until I realized that she was JUST FINE and I needed to shut up already.

    Karma can be cruel, but it taught me a very valuable lesson: you have to do what’s best for YOUR FAMILY, and no one else’s opinion is allowed to matter. Those other moms may be jealous of your career or insecure about their own choices or they may just be immature jerks like I was who can’t see that people are allowed to make their own choices in life, but regardless of what anyone else thinks or says, your children will know that you love them. And that’s absolutely all that matters.

  16. elz Jan 04 at 4:47 pm Reply Reply

    Seriously?!! People said those things to you and you responded to them? UGH.
    My experience has been that my friends who left to be SAHMs and I really don’t hang out together all that much anymore. They have a new group of friends that they see during the hours I’m at work and they are free. Which is fine. (And I have my seaparate friends as well.) Honestly, there are two different sets of interests, ideals, and values. THAT’s OK. I have no idea if they disparage my choices, because honestly, if I had a friend who disparaged my choice, then they wouldn’t be my friend.

    While I agree with Amy that typically comments like that/those come from a place of insecurity, that doesn’t mean you need to entertain their insecurities. Also, simply because you have known a person for a long time or been friends for a long time doesn’t mean that you still SHOULD. People grow. People have different interests, different beliefs. If your friend can’t support your choices, then she is no friend. Further, who wants to hang out with someone who is Bitter McJudgeypants, regardless of whether they work or not?!

  17. Shanna Jan 04 at 6:27 pm Reply Reply

    Here’s my take on SAHM vs WOHM: Happy kids have happy mommies. If work makes you happy, work. If staying at home makes you happy (and it makes sense financially), stay at home.

    Of course it isn’t that straightforward and many of us don’t have that choice and are forced to work or stay at home when we would rather do the other. But the lucky ones who do get the choice should think about themselves first (will I resent my family because I had to give up my career? do I feel good about leaving my kids under the care of others? would I even be a good SAHM?) and the family in the LONG TERM second (can you afford this choice, what would happen if partner dies/divorces you/gets laid off, etc?) Your happiness and security is what is best for your kids.

  18. Jenn Jan 04 at 6:36 pm Reply Reply

    First of all, I love everything in Amy’s response. I myself needed to hear the part about how by the time they’re in preschool, nobody will care anymore. I’m sure it’s true.

    Anyway, just another data point. I had planned to return to work right after maternity leave, but ended up quitting because I had a very high needs baby that I didn’t think would do well in a daycare situation. Fast forward to a year and a half later… I have been trying to find another job for months, and can’t wait to go back. Honestly I am just not cut out to be a SAHM. It’s definitely not for everyone. Here’s the thing… If being a SAHM is not for you, then it would be better to send your kid to daycare and go back to work than for both of you to stay unhappy. And you have to do whatever you think is going to be best for your family. If that is what you are doing, NOBODY can say you are wrong or make you feel guilty for that.

  19. Cathleen Jan 04 at 7:14 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my lord, these kinds of comments stress me out. I work, my husband stays at home. And even though I know in my head that this is the best arrangement for our family for right now, it still kills me a little bit EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. they drop me off for the day. How can any one else presume to know all the factors that go into any one person’s decision? Do SAHMs not think that it is a balance for WOHMs? And vice versa? Ridiculous.

  20. Rebecca Jan 04 at 8:41 pm Reply Reply

    Great answer, Amy! I have also been a working mom and a stay at home mom and they are both really hard and both involve a lot of sacrifice. And the idea that there is one “best choice” for everyone is ludicrous. 

  21. Astrid Jan 04 at 9:13 pm Reply Reply

    My best friend had her son ten days after I had mine. I work full time and she stays at home and I’m so so so glad we don’t seems to have problems with eachother’s choices.

  22. danielle Jan 04 at 10:09 pm Reply Reply

    I am a WOHM. How freeing to hear other arrangements aren’t perfect! I tend to think everyone else has it better, but that’s not true. Great advice, Amy!

  23. professormama Jan 05 at 2:36 am Reply Reply

    I have a 7 year old son and 2.5 year old daughter, and couldn’t help but notice the letter noted the baby being born in 2010- IT GETS BETTER!
    Not that people stop judging- but juggling work and parenting does get…dare I say…easier. Or maybe we just get used to it. I stayed home with my son for about a year, and we were just out of grad school and destitute, like living with my father-in-law and scraping by. Then I got a great job, and my husband stayed home for a year, and then when our son was 2, he hit the daycare full-time and we never looked back. He loved it, like didn’t want to come home at 4:30 because he was building something.  With our daughter we we lucky to be able to juggle our schedules to alternate days at work so she was home until she turned two, and now she’s in daycare, and like her brother, also LOVES it.  I worked in Daycare centers and preschools before going back to school, and it’s hardest on the kids and the parents when the kids are youngest, but once they turn 2 or so, they really love all the activities, and all their little friends.
    I have friends who stay home, and friends that work, and the thing everyone seems to agree on is this-
    KIDS GROW UP.
    It doesn’t matter if we work or stay home, those little shits up and grow, and they run off to school and at some point that’s just what it is.  No one should have to feel bad about making the best choice for their family and themselves.  I know I didn’t bust my ass in grad school to quit doing what I love because my kids are so awesome ( and they are entirely awesome) that I’m obligated to sit on them every minute. It would drive me nuts, and so I would be a bad SAHM. But my friends who Love being at home, are great at it, and we can all agree that it’s not worth putting up with anyone judging us for being home or not. The time when kids are little flies by, best to enjoy it as much as possible and remember it gets easier to balance parenting with the rest of life everyday.  Maybe we get used to it, but I think all the growing up our kids do helps a lot.  

  24. andrea Jan 05 at 11:21 am Reply Reply

    Thanks, a great post to the endless debate.  If anyone comes up with the best solution to work/life balance please let me know.  

  25. Kim Jan 05 at 12:24 pm Reply Reply

    Here’s the other thing – we all have good and bad days, triumphs and failures, and tedium exists even with the best of children and the best of jobs. Which is to say there are days I absolutely love being a SAHM, and there are days I really, really miss teaching. Or being outside of the house, away from the kids long enough to think a complete thought. And that first year? I was so terrified of breaking the baby, I positively longed to be back in the classroom, just so that I could do something I knew I was good at for 15 uninterrupted minutes, with concrete positive results. Because I questioned just about every move I made, 24/7, and my life was so interrupt-driven… It is a killer year. Even now, with a 2 and a 5yo, I have to conciously step back and look at my kids to really see that I am doing a good job with them. I think the OP’s friend must be having a very difficult transition, and she probably will even out over time. But, and it’s a big but, she is way out of line right now, and she needs to stop.
    Because we all need to have a little empathy with each other. There are always going to be times when the grass is greener – on one side or the other.

  26. WOHM Jan 05 at 12:25 pm Reply Reply

    This is the best column you have ever written. WELL SAID!

  27. Jess Jan 05 at 12:29 pm Reply Reply

    I wish these judgemental women would realize that they’re most likely in the minority, having an actual CHOICE of whether to stay at home or work. It’s getting harder and harder to afford to stay at home. I know so many women (myself included) who would love to be a SAHM, but there is no way they could afford it (and no, not because of big, fancy houses, or vacations, because of necessities like food and health insurance). And it works both ways. I had a co-worker who loved her job, but then she got pregnant with twins and since daycare for two newborns was more than they could afford (it would have been more than her take-home salary) she had to quit and become a SAHM. I really wish people would take time to learn about other people’s life situations before they choose to judge them.

  28. MR Jan 05 at 1:06 pm Reply Reply

    It never ceases to amaze me how apt Amy’s columns are to my life. Yesterday, I read my friend’s blog in which she states clearly that she doesn’t think anyone can be an excellent worker AND an excellent mom, and that mom’s need to take more responsibility for their kids. My jaw practically dropped. It isn’t news that it is her opinion that she needs to be home for her kids because that is what she thinks is best. But, I am a working mother who is an excellent employee AND an excellent mother, and I take FULL responsibility for my kids. And for someone who is supposed to be a good friend to say that, is just plain witchy. Yeah, our friendship has suffered over the last 6 months because right when I was dealing with having to return to work early, only 7.5 weeks after my LO was born, because she had a heart defect and I knew I was going to need leave time for her open heart surgery, this same friend told me “we all don’t understand why you can’t be a sahm. We all know your husband makes more than ours.” They know because he used to be their supervisor, not because we are braggarts or anything. But, I told her F that, that she didn’t know anything about my finances or the decisions we had to make and if she was going to judge me for something that wasn’t even an option for me than that was her problem and I didn’t have time for it. She quickly backpedalled and tried to say she wasn’t judging and whatever I chose was right for me blah blah blah. But, I knew she WAS judging and I was too busy trying to get my baby through to surgery while taking care that are 3 year old didn’t not feel slighted, and working full time on top of all the dr appts. So, when I read her blog and saw what she said I told her I found her verbiage insulting. And she said she never said I couldn’t be good at both and she condemned me to a life of “being merely good”. Really. Who says that?? I get it is TOTALLY coming from her own insecurities and unhappiness, but I don’t have room in my life for such toxicity. I am still trying to piece everything together from the emotional aftermath of having your child have such a major surgery. So, thank you Amy and OP for this article. Writing this comment helped me figure out what I need to do.

  29. Ladotyk Jan 05 at 1:38 pm Reply Reply

    I always try to remember that I am my own mother’s daughter, and that she too had great expectations for my success in school and career. It would be disingenuous to us both were I to give all that up. You are at peace with your choice, and that is the key to a happy family. Congratulations!

  30. tasterspoon Jan 05 at 1:44 pm Reply Reply

    First off, I’d say give your friend the benefit of the doubt. Maybe your friend thinks she is helping, maybe she thinks she understands your secret desire to be a SAHM and is trying to encourage you to do what you want. It may come from a good place. She might back off or be more supportive of your choices if you act more confident in them, because then it’s a done deal and she can go back to her job of being friend rather than career counselor.

    And as for truly feeling confident in your choice, if indeed you have a choice, you CANNOT win. Maybe you can have THAT conversation with your friend, about all the self doubt, and maybe she will admit to her own uncertainty and that will clear the air and you can get back to enjoying your friendship? I think it’s really helpful to have friends at all points on the SAHM – full time spectrum, especially when you are ambivalent *and* in a position to continually re-evaluate. But you can also talk it to death. My friends and I occasionally talk about being torn in all directions, but then we get on with our lives and I’m sure we each go home and talk to our husbands about how our baby is definitely better off than everyone else’s baby. It’s all you have, right?
    Right now I work an 80% schedule, and it’s a pretty good compromise but I STILL get pulled in both directions. I secretly want to be a SAHM, especially when my baby bursts into tears when I leave her at day care. But then when I pick her up she is having such a good time and her days seem so much richer than I could ever make them and I think that staying home would be the selfish choice for ME. Bottom line, only you know your situation and your baby, and what combination of factors may be true for another (baby loves daycare, baby is shy, job is satisfying, job is lucrative, job sucks, NEED the job, whatever) simply doesn’t apply to you. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

  31. VG Jan 05 at 1:51 pm Reply Reply

    Why must we women complicate things? Last time I checked, motherhood isn’t a contest. It’s one of the best & worst jobs in the world! There’s no such thing as the perfect parent, mother or father. We all do what we feel is best. Oh, and it is OKAY to change your “status”of SAHM/WAHM/WOHM. You don’t know if something works for you until you give it a go.
    My background – I’m technically a WAHM now, but due to the nature of my job, I can’t have my DD home with me, so she goes to my MILs 2 days/wk and Daycare 3 days/wk. Does it suck to have that Daycare bill? You bet your arse it does, but my DD has learned SO much. My MIL accepts nothing from us (and we’ve offered many many times) and my DD loves to be with her too. She’s truly getting the best of both worlds in my husband & I opinions. She’s getting 1 on 1 time and then the socialization of kids in her age group, also different adults.
    Also, I invested so much of my young adult life into earning 2 degrees that for me, being a SAHM wouldn’t work for me. Just saying that I went to college isn’t good enough for me. I need to be productive in the fields that I have my degrees in. Working & being a mother gives me this feeling of confidence that I can “have it all” and can put my mind to anything and still live to tell about it so to say ;)
    KUDOS to ALL MOMS who are doing right by their kids!

  32. Annie Jan 05 at 2:27 pm Reply Reply

    What horrible, mean-spirited things for those women to say. I hope they felt like jerks. Being a parent is hard enough no matter what else you throw into the mix. The whole stay at home / work outside the home decision was brutal for me. I have a just-4 year old, and a 10 month old, and made the decision (was fortunate enough to HAVE a decision to make, as you point out, Jess) to stop working when I was pregnant with my daughter. I worked in a field that just wasn’t a good fit for being the kind of parent that I wanted to be. My husband has a job that requires a lot of travel, and we just couldn’t make our jobs work together in the same family once we had kids. It was gut-wrenching, and I cried a lot because I was leaving a job that I loved (but that paid a third of what my husband earns). We moved to a less expensive home, we trimmed WAY back on spending (no vacations, no cable, no dining out, no haircuts, no new clothes) and I’m at home with the kids. Some days it’s a blast and I’m thankful that we’re in our pjs till noon making cookies on a whim. Other days I really miss having a profession, dressing in clothing that doesn’t have to be vomit-friendly, doing work that can actually be identified, and the friendships of professional colleagues. I do look forward to going back to work, but I’m going to have to find a different line of work…assuming there is any work to be HAD. In some campaigning interview, someone kind of gave a dig at Michelle Obama for leaving her sucessful career to raise kids and support her husband. She responded that she didn’t measure her success based on where she was at any moment, but on the kind of person she has been over the course of a lifetime. That thought helps me on the days when it’s rough.

  33. Marne Jan 05 at 3:59 pm Reply Reply

    Repeat after me: “I’m making the best decision for my family”. There is no single right answer for how to raise all children, all you (and your husband) can do is to make the best decsion for your family. You have to be at peace with your decision though.

    With respect to the work/life balance, I absolutely think it exists. However, it’s an incredibly personal decsion, there is no simple formula. Also, it changes given life events, ages, anything and etc. It’s all about what works for you and your family.

  34. Jessica Jan 05 at 4:16 pm Reply Reply

    1) amy, you nailed it to the wall. well done.

    2) to the in-no-way-evil-working-mama: maybe you need some more uh, economic diversity in your circle of friends. because honestly? that whole “should i stay home or should i work?” debate seems to be happening almost entirely with middle class white ladies who have too much time on their hands. a lot of people need 2 incomes. a lot of people only have one parent (in fact, about half of all babies born today are born to unmarried mothers), so staying home isn’t even an option. i think it’s pretty lame that a bunch of upper-middle-class ladies are sitting around counting the calories in cupcakes and disparaging the way loving parents provide for their children. there are so. many. people. in the world who have real, legit problems to worry about, things that genuinely deserve getting up in arms over, that it just makes me feel sad/annoyed that there are parents out there who think whether or not suzie’s mommy works outside the home is the face of human evil du jour. real tragedy is the skyrocketing number of people losing their jobs, their homes, their health insurance. evil is that 1in every 5 kids in america goes to bed hungry, or that we incarcerate black men six times more than frequently than the rest of the population, or that public schools are literally crumbling, let alone failing to prepare children to go to be successful in the future. or, or, or. it’s not evil that you work. it’s evil that those women are modeling oblivious elitism and bitterness to their children, and subjecting you to their pathetically myopic view of the world. next time, i hope you don’t try to make them feel better about that.

  35. LB Jan 05 at 5:16 pm Reply Reply

    My husband and I are expecting our first child, and after more than one job loss each in the past 3 years, the idea of going down to one income is terrifying. I have a temp job that coincidentally is scheduled to end right around my due date but may get extended. Honestly we really don’t know what we’re going to do in a few months when the baby arrives. We made some decisions that might make it easier to survive on one income (buying a house with a mortgage that is less every month than our rent was, paying in cash for cars and driving them until they die, not getting smart phones or cable), but I don’t think being a SAHM or a working mom will really end up being a choice for me… at least at first. Right now at least, I’m in the mindset where I’d never judge or make assumptions about any other family’s choice because I feel like I wouldn’t ever really know whether it was an active decision or the result of circumstances.

  36. Catherine S Jan 05 at 7:49 pm Reply Reply

    Here’s the deal, there is nothing wrong with working or not working as a parent as long as everyone’s needs are being met. I have to say that I sorta see where your friend might also get the idea where you subtly and subconsciously may be not onboard with her choice too though. 

    I thought the way you phrased this was a bit telling.

     ”–and this was a woman who used to be very successful in her career until the day she gave birth and decided to quit.”

    The way this is phrased sounds a bit negative… Not horribly so, but enough that it would certainly have me on the defensive. A more neutral description was that had a successful career and decided to stop working to stay home. Just an observation that maybe the animosity is flowing both ways? Something to consider anyway. 

  37. Allie Jan 05 at 10:37 pm Reply Reply

    I’m always amused that the anti-daycare slogan is “but they’re being raised by strangers!” like I leave my kid in the park every morning and hope someone will come along to take care of him. 

  38. ras Jan 06 at 9:50 am Reply Reply

    I think one of the things that’s so hard about this debate is that it is difficult for anyone to talk about their own choices without a shred of implied judgment of someone else’s choices. Any time you have two people with certain things in common but who have made different choices, you’re going to have this problem. Even the best-intentioned comments can come off sounding like a criticism

    The comments to this thread are a perfect case in point — as I’ve read, I’ve found myself bristling at a few commenters who’ve said they work because they have degrees that they want to use. The implied conclusion is that SAHMs with degrees are wasting their educations. As a SAHM with a JD, I find those kinds of statements difficult to swallow.

    Now, I don’t think the PPs meant to insult me or anybody else with their comments, but it still comes across as a judgment. I’d imagine it’s the same when a SAHM makes a comment about not wanting to send her kids to daycare — She probably doesn’t mean anything by it, but the working parent hearing the statement hears an implied judgment behind the words.

    Honestly, I think the only solution is for all of us (me included!) to grow thicker skins and work on the assumption that very few people mean to offend others when talking about these issues. (except when the word “evil” is thrown around. Then feel free to give the offender the blank stare and “Really?” treatment).

  39. MR Jan 06 at 10:38 am Reply Reply

    Allie, you are absolutely right! I also love how daycare is this awful place where the kids are raised by “strangers”, but SCHOOL is this wonderful place where you can send your kids to get a break during the day (as in “I can’t WAIT for the kids to be back in school!”). Yeah, because the teachers and other school officials are people I know REALLY well. Our daycare provider has been with our family for 3 years and is my girls’ second mom. She is like family now. And I feel way better about entrusting my children into her care than I ever will about sending them to school. I got to PICK her. I won’t get to pick their teachers, just the school. 

  40. Michelle Jan 06 at 3:39 pm Reply Reply

    It really bothers me that people would judge another parent for choosing to either work or stay home — both sides can be judgy.  I wrote a blog post on my opinion on this.  I work because it makes me a better mom! http://25hoursblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/working-mom-vs-stay-at-home-mom/

  41. Anne Jan 06 at 5:41 pm Reply Reply

    Interesting and timely conversation… I am 36 weeks pregnant with my first, and after a 13 week maternity leave, I intend to come back to my job full-time. And I’ve already had friends with kids give me the whole “you’re going to have that baby and change your mind” schpiel. To the point that I find it a bit offensive – as if I won’t have that “mommy gene” if I don’t change my mind. I know that having a baby changes your perspective, but I also know myself. I have a flexible job that I enjoy with lots of time off and a great salary that allows for my family’s life to be a little more comfortable. Do I think it will be hard to leave my daughter each day? Absolutely. Is it going to be hard to drag my butt to work after sleepless nights with the baby? Certainly. And I know if my child had special needs that required my full-time care, I would do it. But I also know me and am comfortable in who I am – and I think I’ll be a better working mom than I would be a better stay at home mom. And that’s what I want for my daughter…

  42. Jen Jan 07 at 10:24 pm Reply Reply

    I hate these Mommy Wars! Amy, this advice was wonderful (btw, I’m the original poster from the Breastfeeding PSTD question and I’ve been meaning to respond to it because the responses touched me so much but I just don’t have the words.)

    Anyway, I’m a SAHM who gave up a great fun amazing career to stay home with my now 8-month old. I find myself defending working moms all the time from people who think they’ve found a kindred spirit in me..people who say, “Good for you for actually RAISING your child. ” Ugh. You know what? My baby is bored. I’m an introvert who doesn’t like packing her up and going out all the time. She sees me and only me all day and she is fussy unless we’re out and about. She loves socializing with other children and other adults. Daycare would have been GOOD for her, and part of me feels guilty for staying at home and not giving her that opportunity! The point is, there’s no one size fits all right answer for everyone. I chose to stay at home because I KNEW I would come home from work exhausted all day and not want to spend time with my own baby. On the other hand, my mom was a doctor who’d come home and immediately become supermom, and being a professional worker she was a great influence on me and showed me the heights women can reach.

    The first major lesson I learned as a parent is you really can’t judge. Everything you know gets turned on its head. The things you disparaged (oh, formula feeding in my case) become reality! I can’t believe the assumptions I made in the FF vs BF debate before I even had children and encountered the difficulties I did in BFing! It amazes me that there are people who HAVE children and who have had to eat their words over and over again STILL believe there’s one right way to parent a child.

    • Sarah Apr 09 at 6:50 pm Reply Reply

      For me I agree with you Jenn. I have played both sides of the fence. Recently I got into an argument on youtube with a woman who thought that working moms were not like true mothers. Many people had commented to tell me to leave it alone and I refuse to leave it alone because that type of education is wrong. For Christ sakes, women need to stop belittling each other. I find that if I stay home all the time, my daughter is insanely bored because she to is a major extravert and I to am an introvert. I have found a really good job that I am going back to soon, but as I told one person, our bills are so high (Just living expenses for we don’t have cable so that would be our phone bill internet bill and such that we need because I am going to school) that we cannot be financially successful. People need to learn to stay out of each others businesses and stop criticizing everyone because stay at home moms are just as important as working moms and vice versa.

  43. JennyMooMeow Jan 09 at 5:45 pm Reply Reply

    I have felt the sting of being the “working mom” and the bottom line is we all do what we have to do to survive. Survive can mean different things to different people. For us, it meant providing health insurance for the kids and being able to afford our house and nice cars and toys and good food. A very wise woman (the director at our daycare center) once told me me that everyone has to do it their own way, and we all do the best we can in our own situations.

  44. Candace Jan 16 at 9:22 pm Reply Reply

    This is SUCH a divisive issue.  I am a SAHM and I NEVER feel like I am better or something odd like that, but I do feel judged all the time by working moms because I was a lawyer. People ask me how I could have left the money, and will I ever go back, or how will you keep your brain active (love that one, really freaking rude…) I get a lot of pressure to go back and now I just say, sure one day, to get people off my back.  I don’t know if I will ever work again, and I am not lazy or losing my mind slowly because of it. I LOVE being a mom, at home all day, and even on the days I wish I was back in court at trial I feel like I made the best choice for me and my kids.   So what ever makes mommy happy. Right? Happy mommy = happy family! :)

  45. OP Jan 17 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    OP here. Thank you for your perfect reply, Amy, and to you all for these comments. 

    There are obviously judgmental people on both sides of this debate. I am completely supportive of the men and women who make the choice to stay at home with their kids and not work, especially when it makes them (and their families) happy. Good for them! They are lucky, as more than one commenter pointed out, and I am very fortunate that I get to choose between an awesome career and a comfortable life at home. I have many friends who have no choice at all in the matter. I really have no idea what is “best” for us, so I have never presumed to know what is best for anyone else. I guess I just assumed that everyone else has it figured out while I struggle every day. And now I see I was wrong about that. 

    I thought my question was about whether people who disapprove of your most important decisions can really be your friends. I see now that it was really about my own lack of confidence. I’m going to work on that. After all, if I am not okay with my choices, it’s hard to expect others to be. I am finally seeing that I really have little to complain about or apologize for. Thank you again!

  46. Steph Jan 17 at 11:55 pm Reply Reply

    so glad to know about this site and your column. ’tis refreshing. i actually just wrote a post about these kinds of mommy disagreements, and how i think our close friendships, in particular, could benefit from us being honest about the fact that we’re totally judgmental. i stay home part time and work part time, so i tend to think that’s the right choice, since i really like it. and i’ve found that its easier when i’m close with someone to just come out with the judgment that i know is there even though i do feel that everyone needs to do what’s best for them. i’m basically sick of using the to-each-their-own response b/c i feel like it shuts some conversations down that would be really helpful or interesting.

  47. nennie Jan 25 at 1:00 pm Reply Reply

    People really just need to shut their mouths and let people raise their kids the way they want.

    Hours after the birth (c section) of my son (my only child), I had an emergency hysterectomy and hemorrhaged every drop of blood and then also the blood that was IV’d in. A week later, I was readmitted back into the hospital for an infection, etc.

    My body completely crapped out. I could not produce breast milk. I also was on so many meds (pain killers, antibiotics, had the chemical needed for a CT scan …). I was offered to be prescribed Reglan (sp?) but I was not comfortable since I was on so many meds and also my body was just so sore from three incisions. I got so much crap from “friends” saying I wasn’t trying hard enough for my baby. Eff you too. I only almost died several times the night I gave birth and still took care of my child like it was nothing even with a machine attached to me and a gaping wound in my stomach. I really don’t think it sunk in how much it hurt to be given “advice”.

    Sorry for the rant. But when I hear others telling people how to raise their family, I see red.

  48. Kind of Shy Mom Feb 07 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    wow… thank you.  Thank you SO much.  I was a SAHM and HAD to return to work when my ex husband kicked me out of the house for his new love interest… a 19 year old blonde, after 14 years of marriage.  o.O   There I was, at LEAST 8 years out of the workforce desperately looking for a new job and a house so that I could support my two small children, aged 5 years and 1 year.  I got SO much flack from the SAHM’s that I’d known prior, good, religious women who believed it was a woman’s duty to stay home and care for the children and husband.  I got flack from the mothers at my son’s Montessori school because I worked.  The ONLY person who didn’t give me flack was my daughters Day Care provider, a wonderful warm hearted woman who babysat little ones as her retirement gig.  She’d been a fully working member of society prior to that.  She ‘got’ it.   To this day, I have two close friends who are also mothers, both live in different states.  One is a SAHM who will be returning to her career field once her youngest is in school.  The other is a WAHM/former military wife who also ‘gets it’.   I’d love to be able to be home more, but I can’t.  I HAVE to work to support my children and I’d gotten to the point recently where I really felt like everyone was looking down their noses at me (the current political war on women is no help since we are being told that single working mom’s are the ruination of our country).  

    THANK YOU.  

    I’m a good mom.  I work hard, I love my children and put their welfare and happiness at the fore in my own private little world.  Your writing helps reaffirm that in my own heart and I feel a whole lot better about the place I’m in.  <3

  49. Sarah Apr 09 at 7:03 pm Reply Reply

    I am a stay at home who have at many times been working and out of work as well. The thing is, I do not know anyone, especially in the town that I live in, that makes enough money in order to be able to sustain staying at home without relying on other support systems. I had left my ex baby’s father and left my drug addiction and abusive relationship behind me. The father has refused to pay child support or even remotely better his life to the point where he just returned to prison till 2019. If it was not for my boyfriend, even sustaining on a regular paycheck or school loans, I could not be without work. Many stories are just like mine.

    What irks me more is that woman are battling each other to prove that one is better than the other constantly. For instance, my family found me disapproval because I refused to marry my ex and for good reason. I laughed at my family and refused to talk to them for years. The only one who supported me was my father saying good for you for getting your stuff together and going back to work. I know a lot of sahm and wahm. We all support each other in the event that if one door closes one opens for all of us. I give kudos to my sahm friends because my daughter and I clash. We have a personality that are both similar and are temperaments flair constantly, but we still love each other. She is always excited in telling people when I will go back to work. She loves the idea that I am going to work to help support her and help provide her clothing, toys and that type of thing. Unfortunately because I don’t live near a big family, we don’t get donations like other moms so everything I buy usually comes from the thrift store while we donate to other families who are struggling.

    Recently I got into a fight about this on many blogs and channels claiming belittling both sides of the fence because that is not the correct way how we should behave with each other. What irks me more is that while yes many people make great points, you don’t know our stories from either side of the fence. You can’t judge that someone is being a bad mom by going back to work and you can’t judge someone who is a sahm because maybe they could afford it more than you. Every mommy is important and their is no reason to insult each other over it. I think a lot of people say things out of pure boredom. I find that when I am not working, if I have the time, I will post more to these comments and blogs and what not than if I am working. If I am working I am to busy doing school and working in order to reply to one person over the other. This is where mommies need to ban together and not fight each other.

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