Yesterday I received a call from someone at Sun News Network asking if I would give a short interview on why being a stay-at-home mom is hard work. It was to be in response to some comment made by someone about Ann Romney, the wife of Republican leadership hopeful Mitt Romney. Ann Romney stayed home to raise her five sons and all she got was this lousy t-shirt saying “I haven’t worked a day in my life”… or at least, that’s what the Democrat woman who should not be thought, perceived or otherwise considered to be tied to Barack Obama’s reelection campaign said.
In the end, the interview did not happen. The producer decided to go with the “opposite point” which I think means a stay-at-home mom who will give an interview about how she hasn’t worked a day in her life. Or maybe a working mom who thinks she has it harder than Ann Romney. Fair enough.
I found that quite funny because I am, to most people, “the opposite point.” I am on maternity leave which makes me both a working mom and a stay-at-home mom. But even on a more stricter understanding, I have seen both sides of the work-home balance. To most, I am an odd animal. Too stay-at-home for the working crowd, too working mom for the stay-at-home crowd. In the Mommy Wars, I am foe to all (although I prefer to think of myself as friend to everyone).
That whole episode about whether stay-at-home moms do real work made me laugh because when you talk to women who prefer to work outside the home, they will usually say that they need to remain engaged, stimulated, they need the challenge of work to avoid turning to mush. I stayed at home for 10 years while having my first four children. Then I went back to law school to get a Master’s degree and went to work after graduating. Now I am on maternity leave with three little ones under 3. I’m not convinced that work is a challenge compared to raising children at home. As I wrote to a Facebook friend who commented on the issue:
I used to look forward to the end of my mat leave* so I could get (a) more money, and (b) a lunch break. I guess I must have missed something.
(* I’m not looking forward to the end of my mat leave, it was just for effect.)
All mothers work hard, whether they work at home with their little ones or outside the home. What is often missed by the critics of the working mom (aren’t we all?) is that the quantity of housework doesn’t decrease because mom works outside the home. The working mom, while she doesn’t suffer the minute-by-minute aggravation of dealing with young children, has the same mothering/homemaking requirements as the stay-at-home mom. She just has a lot less time to accomplish them. This is a hard-learned lesson from being a working mom and one I will gladly share with you.
When I decided to return to school, I did so because I wanted to hit the workplace. My law degree was dated and I was coming out of a pretty rough time personally. After 10 years at home with my children, a combination of factors and people in my life — most well-meaning, others not so — had led me to believe that I was a rather lousy mother. Not cut out for this. I went back to law school and I excelled. My husband stayed home for the first year of my studies and we found an amazing caregiver for the second year and onward. Including my graduate studies, I have been working outside the home for 6 years.
What I realized was that even with an amazing husband who pulls well above his weight around the house, the job of a mother changes very little despite the time spent out of the house. I still had to cook, and clean and make sure that homework was done and that laundry was cycled. And while my children were mostly fed, clothed and up-to-date in their schoolwork (minus a few close calls), once all the basic stuff was done I had very little energy left to be a good mom. A patient mom. An upbeat mom. A listening mom. An understanding mom.
Who has it worst? Being a good mom is hard work, period. Working mom or stay-at-home mom, we all have 24h in our days. Now that I am home full-time, I can do housework, cooking and cleaning while the children are at school, between the demands of my three little ones. Now that I am no longer trying to clean-up our act during the weekends when the children are coming and going, I have more flexibility to do unimaginable things with my kids, like taking nature walks or just chatting. Moreover, I’m not nearly as grouchy when they drag dirt in. So who has it harder? It depends how you fill your 24h. Being a good mom takes time, but I know people who can do in a day what I can hardly do in a week. Work obligations compresses the time available to raise raise children and generally running the home show. In that sense, working moms have a greater challenge than stay-at-home moms. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for stay-at-home moms, how many school activities would never happen? Working moms owe a debt of gratitude to their stay-at-home colleagues who make the school/neighborhood/community world go round.
It’s not how many hours we have, it’s how we fill them.