Please note: I wrote this short essay as part of my now defunct column, Thoroughly Modern Mollie, which was a slice-of-life parenting column. Now it’s been compiled into an e-book: HONEY, I’M SORRY I KILLED YOUR AQUASAURS (and other short essays of the parenting life). There’s another focus in the media these days about stay-at-home mothering verses “working” mothering. I’d like to say it’s completely bogus, but that has not been my experience as a woman who stopped working outside of the home when I had children. There’s a lot of tension around this issue. And there should be. Parenting should be under the microscope; we need to be vigilant in our parenting, with the acknowledgement that there is no blanket answer for everybody. With all of the recent media attention on the issue, I was reminded of this particular column. Enjoy.
If you look, you can find inspiration anywhere—nature, literature, the arts. Sometimes the least likely place to find inspiration is in a church. But one of my most recent “light-bulb” moments came at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waynesboro and from one of its most active and incredible members—Carolyn Menk.
My parenting column came up in a conversation we had. I said how excited I am to be writing about such a rich topic and how different it is to be a stay-at home mom now than say, when my mom stayed at home. There was so much more support then.
Carolyn, who is a recently retired nurse, smiled and said. “Yes you’re right. When I was raising my children, I had just the opposite lack of support. I felt I had a profession and wanted to continue working. And boy, even my mother, could not understand.”
We discussed the guilt, the lack of support, and the courage it takes to follow you own heart. Because that is what I am doing now and that is what Carolyn did all those years ago.
Later it occurred to me how strange and almost absurd our conversation was. I mean, first of all, what is it about mothering and our choices that make it okay for folks to feel they can pass judgment? Nobody would make the same judgments about our husbands, would they?
As is usually the case, my own mother has had problems with the choices I have made it my life—though she does support my decision to stay at home. But her ideas about it are different than mine. For example. I mentioned to her how difficult it can be when Eric, my husband is working late or on a business trip and after being with Emma all day, I am the one to have to put her down (which is no easy task) at night. I enjoy my daughter, but long for that evening relief.
“What?’ she exclaimed loudly into the phone. “You’re staying at home. That’s your responsibility. Well, your father never helped me with that. He’d play with you in the evening and hand you right back to me.”
In her own way, my mom hit the nail on the head when it comes to the new paradigm in parenting. My husband not only participates in all phases of the care of our child, but does so joyfully. And I could not be more happy about that. I think that we are all winners in this situation. Eric gets to spend time with Emma, I get a much needed break, and most of all, Emma is benefiting from spending time with him.
Eric also participates in the household chores. He does not expect that I should be the 1950s version of a housewife and mother—doing all the cooking, cleaning, raising the babies, and looking good while I am doing it all. I am staying at home to spend time with Emma and that is what we both consider to be important right now.
That is our choice. But there are many choices. When I think of the choice that Carolyn made, and many other women like her, including my own grandmother, I applaud them for following their own bliss. I think that one of the best things we can doing for our children is to be happy people and if that means working outside the home, then so be it, as long as their needs are always central.
I have a good friend who recently decided to go back to work part-time because staying at home with her two girls was just “too difficult.” She went through the usual self-evaluation and emotional ups and downs before she came to that decision. I think that if she was unhappy and stressed out as a stay-at-home mom, she did what was best by going back to work. She is much happier now and her girls are none worse for the wear.
Too many times stay-at-home moms and working moms seem to be at odds, judging each others choices, and becoming overly defensive about their own. I don’t think we need judge one another, but to support each other. Each of our decisions is wrought with the challenges and the joys that go hand in hand with parenting.
You might think that my conversation with Carolyn could have been somewhat tense because of our different perspectives. But we found a common bond in our mothering and in our choices, no matter how different the situations. And that truly is inspiring.