The adoration of the SAHM: reflections of a dual-star parent

I attended a baby shower over the weekend with some women I used to work with. As usual, I was late.

My departure was delayed by Noah stretching himself in front of the door yelling “No, you can’t go! Don’t you want to spend more time with me?”

Um, no. I want to go spend time with other adults for the first time this week.

I guess I was a little overexcited at my opportunity to see other adults, because when someone asked me “How’s it going?” instead of responding with appropriate party small talk, I verbally vomited a tale of woe. How hard it was to be home. How I missed work. How close to the edge of sanity I teetered every day.

It had been a long week.

Thank God there were pink frosted donuts there to plug my pie hole.

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I worked for the first 4 1/2 years of Noah’s life. I’ve been home full-time with both kids for the last seven months. Hands down, staying home has been the tougher challenge for me. Yes, there have been benefits and happy moments. But it can also be exhausting and lonely and frustrating and boring and sometimes so painfully ridiculous that I have to turn away from my children and do this crazy person laugh, eyes turned up to the sky, and mutter “You’ve GOT be kidding me here!”

So you think I would have been thrilled by this article circulating on Facebook recently: “A Husband’s Amazing Response to ‘She’s a Stay-at-Home Mom? What does she DO all Day?”

I read it. At first glance, I was like, yeah, that’s great, a husband nobly defending his wife, a stay-at-home mom. Who doesn’t love a guy who appreciates what his wife does for the family? I do.

Early on in the article he states that he doesn’t “cast aspersions on women who work outside of the home,” even “those who choose to work because that’s what they want to do.”

Okay, cool. Same here.

But the rest of the article makes me wonder if he didn’t just pluck that line out of the Writing About Moms 101 manual. After all, everyone knows that you have to include a version of that line – “Stay at home! Work! It’s all fine, really!” – if you want to declare yourself a neutral party in the “Mommy Wars” (my least favorite of the imaginary wars). But, contrary to his statement, he doesn’t really seem to think that’s “fine.”

For starters, the author asserts that a job – for a man or a woman –  is “necessary for some…but it isn’t liberating or empowering.”

I’m going to skip the point that a job can literally be liberating for, say, a woman in a bad marriage. Because that’s too narrow: I believe that a job can be liberating and empowering for anyone. I’m not saying every person is liberated and empowered by his or her job. But I do think it’s possible. I did not get this idea, as the author suggests, from “the Communist Manifesto.” I say this from personal experience.

Because, you know, until very recently, I worked outside the home. By choice. There is a good chance that I will work outside the home again in the (distant or not-so-distant) future.

This may sound selfish, but creating an identity for myself outside the home was liberating and empowering. Building relationships with colleagues and clients, finding ways to make other people’s jobs easier, accomplishing good work, bringing home a paycheck to help support my family – those things were liberating and empowering.

The hand that rocks the cradle may rule the world, but there’s something to be said about the satisfaction of using the other hand to create something of your own. This doesn’t have to come from working outside the home, but it can.

And I believe that sense of satisfaction makes me a happier person. The kind of person I want my boys to be. And maybe even a better mom.

The author goes on to say that if a person quits his or her job, they can easily be replaced, but if a mother quit her job (as mother), “the ripples of that tragedy would be felt for generations.” I actually agree with this. (I think about it every time I want to run screaming from the house.) Then he says

Yes, my wife is JUST a mother. JUST. She JUST brings forth life into the universe, and she JUST shapes and molds and raises those lives. She JUST manages, directs and maintains the workings of the household, while caring for children who JUST rely on her for everything. She JUST teaches our twins how to be human beings, and, as they grow, she will JUST train them in all things, from morals, to manners, to the ABC’s, to hygiene, etc. She is JUST my spiritual foundation and the rock on which our family is built. She is JUST everything to everyone. And society would JUST fall apart at the seams if she, and her fellow moms, failed in any of the tasks I outlined.

Yes, she is just a mother. Which is sort of like looking at the sky and saying, “hey, it’s just the sun.”

So…no pressure or anything. JUST society falling apart at the seams if my fellow moms and I fail at any of these tasks.

But must we do it on our own? Where do fathers fit into this scenario? I’ve probably mentioned this before, but one of the benefits of working outside the home was that it forced Pat and me to work as a team. Yes, I was nursing and pumping and getting up more in the middle of the night. But Pat was a full partner in getting the kids ready in the morning, bath time and bedtime, book reading, discipline and school drop-offs.

This might be stretching the solar system analogy, but I personally would rather be a “dual-star” parent than have the survival of our familial universe resting solely on my shoulders. (For the record, I think this is possible whether or not both parents are working outside the home.)

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate author’s sentiment. I really do. Every mother wants to be (and should be) made to feel important, appreciated and adored. And it’s true that we are the heart of the family in many ways.

But my kids don’t rely on me “for everything,” as the author asserts his do on his wife. It wasn’t possible when I was working. And they don’t even now that I’m home. I’m fortunate – and relieved – that Pat still plays a big role in all of the things the author mentioned above.

Finally, the author gets around to clarifying his previous statement (you know, “Stay at home! Work! It’s all fine, really!”) and says what he actually thinks about the matter.

Of course not all women can be at home full time. It’s one thing to acknowledge that; it’s quite another to paint it as the ideal. To call it the ideal, is to claim that children IDEALLY would spend LESS time around their mothers. This is madness. Pure madness. It isn’t ideal, and it isn’t neutral. The more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better. The better for them, the better for their souls, the better for the community, the better for humanity. Period.

Okay, so he thinks that mothers should spend as much time as possible raising their kids. That’s fair. But as you might imagine, this paragraph makes someone like me, who really misses working – and is considering going back in some capacity just because I want to, resulting in fewer hours with my kids – chafe a bit.

Because here’s the thing: I might want to go back to work, but I would never try to “paint it as the ideal.” Because I don’t think there is one single ideal for all women and all families. What I do think is that working outside the home can be the right choice at the right time for some women and their families, just like staying home is the right choice for others.

All of the mothers at the baby shower on Sunday also work outside the home. Most of the friends I hang out with during the week are stay-at-home moms.

And based on the conversations I have with all of them, I’d guess that 80% of us wish our situations were slightly different. That we could work a little more, or a little less. That we could have a little extra childcare help, or that we didn’t need to rely on it quite so much. That we could spend more time with our kids, or more time by ourselves (or both).

If the author thinks moms should stay home with their kids, he should just say it. I mean, he basically did, so he shouldn’t bother opening with how he thinks it’s “fine” that women “choose to work because that’s what they want to do.” He has a right to his opinion. I know a lot of people agree with him on that, including some of you.

But the concept of one “ideal” situation for all families is hard for me to swallow. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since becoming a mother (other than how much I love pants with elastic waistbands) it’s that there are countless variations of “good parents.”

What is best for my family might not be best for yours. And it’s a waste of our precious (and in my case, sorely lacking) energy to spend time worrying about what anyone else is doing or berating ourselves for not living up to some imaginary “ideal.”

So I will appreciate this article as a husband’s love letter to his hard-working wife, the sun in his sky. But I’m going to spend more of my time reading things like this. Because God knows that a perpetually guilty mom is not able to provide as much light and warmth as she might otherwise.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. One thing I’m particularly curious about, especially from stay-at-home moms, is if you (or your spouse) ever been asked “What do you (or does she) do all day?” Maybe it’s because I still have a little one at home, but I’ve never been asked this. To the contrary, I get a lot of sympathy.