So God Made a Mother Collection ➔

I recently shared a poignant piece written from the perspective of a working mom. She wrote about how downright exhausting life can be, managing a full-time career and trying to be a good mother. I knew her words would touch the hearts of many, and maybe help some other mothers feel less alone in their struggles. Most people responded positively, with solidarity, proverbial fist-bumps and “You got this, Momma!”

But of course, not everyone saw the post that way. Because that would be too easy. I should have assumed that sharing a post in support of hard-working mothers would somehow fan the flame of the most famous mommy war out there—working vs. stay-at-home moms.

Good LORD, girlfriends. Why do we keep fighting about who has it harder? Why do we keep doing this to each other? Why do we keep doing this ourselves? 

I’ve done both gigs. Nine years ago, I dropped my four-month-old off at daycare, tears streaming down my cheeks, after taking the longest maternity leave legally possible. I didn’t want to leave him, but our ability to pay rent and have medical insurance required me to do so. It was gut-wrenching. A month later, I floated into work in a zombie-like trance after having been up with him since 2 a.m. When he finally pushed out that tiny gas bubble at 5:00 in the morning, it was time for me to start the shower and get ready for work. If I’d been a stay-at-home mom at the time, maybe I could have scored an hour of shut-eye. Or at least zoned out in front of The Today Show while he played in the Exersaucer. But I wasn’t. I had to go to work.

I’ve now been a stay-at-home mom for many years. Days after my third child was born, I had a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and my husband hopped on a plane for a work trip that lasted several days. My stitches were barely healed and my milk hadn’t even come in. Maybe if I’d been a working mom whose kids went to daycare, I could have still sent the older two and gotten some rest during the newborn’s sleep. But I wasn’t. They were all home, all day, with just me. 

I’ve heard working moms on the phone with doctor’s offices, desperately trying to get afternoon appointments for their kids so they don’t have to take time off work. 

I’ve heard stay-at-home moms talk of the deep depression they fell into when they didn’t speak to another grownup for three days.

I’ve seen harried moms in heels tear through the grocery store at 5:45 p.m. with exhausted and hungry kids crying in their cart. 

I’ve talked to stay-at-home moms about how they never get a break. A lunch hour. A day off. A raise. Or even a pat on the back. Ever.

Why do we fight with each other?

Why, when one of us says, “Man, this is hard,” is our gut reaction to say, “I’ve got it worse,” when we could just say, “I know. But you got this.” Does it somehow take away from our own struggles to support another mom?

I write about stay-at-home mom life a lot. It was 100 times harder than I thought it would be, and I was drastically unprepared. But never have I thought to myself, “Those working moms sure have it easy.” Working moms who have a mere two or three hours at night to help with homework, prepare dinner, do baths, talk to their kids about their day, clean up the kitchen, throw in a load of laundry, connect with their husbands, and get to bed early enough so they can function the next day? And then stress about the unexpected snow day or who can watch their kids all summer? Like that sounds easy?!

And the stay-at-home mom world can suck the life out of a woman. Trust me, I speak from experience. It can feel suffocatingly lonely and flat-out empty, despite knowing you’re doing the most important job in the world. And you can’t tell the truth—that sometimes it just sucks—because then you’re a big fat failure. So you smile thinly through the void and keep on going, hoping bedtime is sooner than that clock says. And hoping that tomorrow won’t look like today, but knowing it probably will. 

Does that life sound easy either?

So who’s the big winner? Who gets the prize of “Mom with Hardest Life”? Let’s review our contestants, shall we? One this side we have a mom who gets to wear pretty necklaces and eat her lunch with other grownups. However, she will miss this year’s Mothers Day breakfast at preschool and her sick child will have to sit in the school office for 45 minutes, waiting for Mom or Dad to drive from work to pick her up. 

And, on this side, we have a mom who doesn’t have to get up at 5 a.m. every day. She never misses any events at school, and is even room parent! Unfortunately, she has seen every single Thomas the Train episode 87 times and is about to lose her mind. She resents her husband’s freedom to “grab a beer after work” with a buddy and can’t tell the difference between Tuesdays and Saturdays. 

It’s a tough call, folks. But after much deliberation, the judges have come to a decision. Guess what? No one wins when we pit ourselves against each other. 

So here’s what I’d like to say. Thank you to the working moms who are my children’s teachers, and pediatricians. And who ring up our groceries and police our streets. And thank you to the stay-at-home moms who meet up at playdates to befriend one another and are there in a pinch when a friend is stuck in traffic and will be late for school pickup. All of you work so hard, and I know you are doing your best. 

Motherhood is hard. Any way you slice it. Now can we please end this war? 

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Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a freelance writer who is known on social media as The 21st Century SAHM. She is an assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds, staff writer and social media manager for Scary Mommy, and is the author of I Brushed My Hair Today, A Mom Journal for Mostly Together Moms. Follow Karen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturysahm/, Twitter https://twitter.com/21stcenturysahm , and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/the21stcenturysahm/

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