I have been a mom for more than 28 years. Much has changed in that time and in general, society’s views on parenting have come a long way. In the early ‘90s, leaving a professional job to stay at home with children was seen by many as a betrayal of women and career suicide. Nevertheless, it is the choice I made after my second was born.
I remember social events where I would meet someone who would ask (as people commonly do) what I do. Answering “I am a stay-at-home mom” frequently meant the end of the conversation. Some didn’t even to attempt to be polite about it, but simply walked away. Other times, people would ask what my husband does, assuming that he must be raking in the dough to afford to have a wife who didn’t want to work.
Though this sort of behavior hurt, I knew that being a full-time working mom was not the right path for me. I did it for a couple years. I loved my reporting job, I loved being a mom, but hated the lifestyle that made both possible. Even though I soon discovered that being a full time stay at home mom was much more of a job than I had anticipated, it was the right choice for me.
Back then, the Mommy Wars were frequently covered by parenting magazines. When I had a moment to glance through these publications and maybe read an article or two, I often found stories about how it was better to work or to stay home. The descriptions on both sides were generally skewed to promote controversy, and comments were generally defensive in nature. The Mommy Wars were fierce. As my kids grew more active, these publications started piling up in my living room, waiting for me to find the time to read them, so I ended the subscriptions.
Since I had lost my connection to the front lines, I thought the battle had ended, that common sense had prevailed and that people had finally realized that each family needs to decide what is right for them. I had found my tribe, we agreed on the important things, and I stopped worrying about games pitting parents against each other. We were all in the trenches, together.
Now that my kids are older, I again have time to read and have been surprised that Mommy Wars are still a thing (and even more surprised that the battles can still engage me). I believe the answer to whether one should be a working or stay at home mom needs to come from within. I agree that there are many children of working moms who have done just fine and even thrived. There are legitimate reasons for this. These children learn independence and see firsthand that a woman can have a job and a family. However, the same lessons can be taught by a mom who is home all day, working moms aren’t necessarily better at teaching this lesson. Some women are good at full-time mothering, others are better moms when they have a career as well. Many more simply have no choice and do the best they can. All of these are valid choices and those on the outside really have no right to judge.
I know that in some cases, there is no choice involved. Food needs to go on the table and someone needs to pay for it. I also know that, no matter what choice you make, there are tradeoffs. Because I felt strongly that our family needed me to be home, we made sacrifices. There were no family trips to the Caribbean (instead, for years vacations were spent visiting family and friends) and meals out were infrequent. There were times that this resulted in envy and a bit of whining (from the kids and grown-ups alike), but looking back, I wouldn’t change the decision we made to make it work.
Being home meant that I was the hub of activity in our family. I knew what was going on in everyone’s lives and knew when someone needed a little extra TLC. I didn’t have to stress about how it would affect my job to take time off to be home with a sick child or worry that I was late, yet again, to pick up at daycare. I could clean and run errands during the day, freeing up evenings and weekends for family time, something that was lacking in my working mom life. I was able to help out my friends who worked full time by hosting their kids for a few hours occasionally, to volunteer in the school and with Girl Scouts, and to form a deep friendship with an elderly neighbor who lived alone.
Today I feel, more than ever, that there is no one right way to parent. Each family needs to find their own way. Doing battle with each other is just silly.