I have been meaning to blog about this topic for a really long time. Part of my delay was being able to write it in the right fram of mind that would not only allow words to flow off my fingers, but with words that capture the full range of emotions of this topic. I will admit that this topic is very controversial to some, and probably has been covered and discussed many times over. I wanted to post this topic around Mother’s Day, but emotionally I wasn’t in the right place to talk about this.
The topic deals with Stay At Home Moms (or SAHMs) and Moms who work outside the home (or WOHMs). I am not only going to refer to each set of moms using their acronyms, but also throw in a new monkey wrench into the debate, single moms.
Not to toot my own horn, but I think I am fully versed in the debate topic of SAHMs vs WOHMs. I have been both. Before I continue this is where I need to put in a disclaimer. These opinions are mine. I have done no research, made no polls, interviewed no one. I have lived the life of a WOHM and a SAHM. I know the ups and downs, pros and cons, challenges and triumphs of both mother roles. In this article I do not call nor consider being a Mother to my kids a JOB. Its not a job, its a life event. Being a parent is a role we take on when we either give birth to or adopt children into our lives. A job is a career, a means of providing an income, a service to society. In this article I will refer to being a SAHM or WOHM as a role, not a job.
Now that we have the small details out of the way, let’s begin…
Both the SAHM and WOHM mother roles are hard, each with its own set of challenges. I will start off first with how fucking fed up I am hearing who has the “harder” “job”. To be honest the WOHMs don’t complain about how hard their mother role is. They do envy the SAHMs who spend more time with their kids, but they value the freedom of adult interaction and an income their outside employment gives them. SAHMs think the world hates them, discriminates them, and is jealous of the luxury of not needing a second income to survive.
I lived in both of these roles, both were hard on me emotionally. I started out my mother role as a WOHM. Emotionally I was torn between the second income our family needed, and nurturing my baby full time. As my maternity leave ended I was an emotional mess. Part of me wanted more time with the baby, while the other was going stir crazy with being couped up in the house with no adult interaction. I found myself counting down the days until I could have a conversation with someone, and I hated myself for feeling this way. On the first day I dropped “D” off at daycare, I cried. I felt like a failure as a mom for not being able to afford to stay home and nurture her. I felt an invisible wall of SAHMs shaming me for “choosing” to work out of necessity. I felt I was alone feeling this way until I chatted with other WOHMs who wrestled with the same emotional guilt. We found solitude and distraction in our jobs, and were grateful that our incomes allowed us to provide a standard of living where our kids would thrive in. WOHMs made a distinction between their career/job and their role as a mother. The two were separate, not synonymous. WOHMs also felt that SAHMs were judging them, looking down on them for choosing a mother role that limited their time with their kids. WOHMs also felt their role was belittled by society and touted as “easy way out of motherhood”. Believe me its not an easy mother role, emotionally and physically. As a WOHM I never had any free time to myself, unless it was at work. Weekends were spent cleaning, running errands, family functions, and sleeping. Weeks were long. Even though I had paid vacation time, when the kids got sick, that vacation time was eaten up by staying come to care for the sick kids, eventually vacations were a luxury, and usually spent at home, cleaning the house (since when else was it going to get done).
I started my SAHM role the day I was laid off from my job. In the beginning I really enjoyed it. I spent lots of time with “D”, I felt so rested and relaxed, I got to go on fun outings with “D” that never ran on weekends. It really felt like a never ending vacation. I also felt like I lived a life of spoiled luxury. However, the one thing this new mother role did afford was a loss of self. I loved my job, I enjoyed my career, but after being laid off I lost a piece of myself. Yes I got to spend countless hours with my daughter. Yes, I was relaxed and rested. Yes, my house was spotless. Yes, I was a social bug on playdates with “D”. What I missed the most was how my job defined my personality and character. Being a SAHM was not me, and I hated myself for not liking that mother role as much as I was “supposed” to “love” it. Once “S” came along I was utterly exhausted all the time. I felt even more alone, more loss of self, and I felt trapped. It was also at this time that my ex-husband was having his affair, and I felt even more alone and isolated. After he left being a SAHM, who was now a single mom, felt like a death sentence was placed on me. I had no income and no means to care for my babies. As I tried to gain income to care for my kids, I found that the working society truly discriminates against SAHMs. I never really figured it out, but in my emotionally depressed mind I wondered if it was from a small fraction of SAHMs whom gloated their mother roles as important, or placed a high value on their mother role, one above the role of a WOHM role. This was not true, but I quickly found that being a SAHM was career suicide for any mother who wanted or needed to be a WOHM. I tried everything I could. I applied for any opening I could, I lowered my salary requirements, even contemplated working 2nd/3rd shifts. In the end I found temp work, and at a salary $10,000 below my peers, esp the WOHMs who stayed in the career world. I suddenly regretted having the SAHM life, it was a gamble that ended up hurting my family. Now three years later, and I am no better off. I am still paying for it.
Here is where my monkey wrench comes in. As a WOHM the pros were: making my own income, adult interaction, creative thinking and exploration. The cons were: not spending a lot of time with my kids, never having spare time to take care of errands/chores, missing all the fun family events that always seemed to be scheduled during the 8-5 work schedule. As a SAHM the pros were: spending lots of time with the kids, sleeping in and/or taking naps, clean house during the week and weekends free to relax and have fun, and hitting up all the fun family events that only occur during the 8-5. The cons were: little to no income/personal spending money, feeling lonely, and loss of self worth/confidence.
The mother role as a single mom has a whole new layer of challenges and pros/cons. Being single I have no one to help me with the kids while I take care of everything around the house. Yes, SHAMs do this too, but once their husbands get home, there are now two adults to share the responsibilities, again a luxury I don’t have any more. As a non-working single mom, I don’t have an income. Worrying about how to keep a roof over my family’s head and keep food in their stomachs is constantly reeling in my mind. When I was a working single mom I juggled getting the kids up, dressed, fed, and out the door in time for us all to make the big commute to daycare/work, and then shuffle back home at the end of the day. I was constantly moving from 5am to 10pm. I was literally dead tired and not having the luxury of a spouse, I started to feel like a robot on auto pilot, a lonely robot as that. I had no one to talk to at the end of the night, no one to hug when I felt sad, and no one to cry to when the stress made me fee like I was going to explode. I play the mother role and the father role, the dual role is heavy on my shoulders.
Out of all the mother roles I played, the WOHM, the SAHM, the non-working single mom, and the working single mom. Being a single mom has been the toughest thing I have ever been through. I truly feel like I am on survival mode 24/7. I feel like I run on empty physically and emotionally. I hate being a single mom on these days and I would do anything to go back to my old life, any of them.
So when I hear SAHMs complain about their “job” being discriminated against, I cringe. Yes, I know it was a hard mother role, but this Mom has been around the block and the grass is greener on their lawn. In fact they have the greenest grass in town. All mother roles are hard and challenging, but what makes the roles “easy” or “harder” is based on our circumstances that placed us in those roles, and our adaption to the stresses of our daily lives. In short, life is only hard if the challenges it presents are too much for you to carry. When I was a WOHM mom, my stresses were missing my kids and not having free time to take care of my family and myself. As a SAHM my stresses were not having personal identity and sense of self. As a working single mom my stresses were not having a spouse to help me physically, emotionally, and financially. As a non-working single mom, well I have all those burdens and more. My stress is not only financial, but physical and emotional.
In the role as single mom, I truly think its a role that is worthy of being a true “job”. The next time you come across a single mom, don’t give her pity, give her praise. Don’t just pat her back or shake her hand, give her a hug (trust me she needs it). And when you ask how she is doing and she says “ok” or “I’m good”, tell her she’s a hero, a role model of strength, a goddess. She needs to be reminded of these, and when you live alone, the walls really don’t talk back.