Years and years and years ago, if you were a little girl, your options for a career were limited to these choices: nurse, secretary, or teacher. If you lucked into something that wasn’t one of those three, you were looked at as odd or different. I grew up in the whole Free To Be, You and Me generation and knew I was destined for something better . . . like hell I was going to be a nurse doing what a doctor told me or a secretary who willingly grabbed the coffee or, god forbid, a teacher . . . what fun was that*?! Then, reality slapped me in my face, and I took on a job that no one warned me was even a possibility: motherhood. Because, you know, motherhood isn’t a job; it’s just the end result of a birth.
Here’s where moms get it wrong (and ladies, we do get it wrong, so hang with me for a second, OK?). We try to justify why the work that we do outside the home is better or more fulfilling or harder than the work that we do inside the home and vice versa**. If you’re a working mom, you spend half your time “convincing” your stay-at-home-mom (SAHM . . . I truly didn’t know there was an acronym until a few years ago) friends that you have it sooooo much harder than they do. You take your kids to day care. You work all day answering calls (possibly some from the day care), taking meetings, locating your kiddo’s beloved toy in your brief case and shoving the guilt of being at work deep down, scarfing down lunch so you can do whatever the hell it is that you do for your paycheck more efficiently, and then you pick up your little poppette and head home only to begin the same process for a slightly smaller client base. You go to bed tired as shit, only to get up and repeat the whole shebang the next day. But wait: before you repeat that process, you realize that you don’t have a clean shirt (do the damn laundry) or coffee (better set that alarm clock for 30 minutes earlier or pack the kids into the car and go through the drive-thru right now and microwave the coffee in the morning) or breakfast (yup, it’s the alarm clock – joy). So, working moms clearly have it harder than the SAHMs, so quit your bitching if you aren’t picking Cheerios out of your purse prior to your first morning meeting.
However, being a SAHM has its own special blend of hardships. Enjoy Dora the Explorer? Ummm . . . you better because if your little lovely does, you’ll be watching that crap for hours on end. If you ascribe to the “Oh, television rots their brains” theory of parenting, you won’t have the boob-tube on 24/7, but you’ll come to treasure a blessed 30 minutes of respite, you know the ones where you give in, from the mind-numbing questions that come from a 2-year-old learning how to talk. “What that truck do?” will seem like a good interrogation tactic that Homeland Security doesn’t know about, and you’ll offer up your pride-and-joy for some hands-on training after a day with The Big Book of Trucks. And when you finally get the playroom cleaned up and begin a carefully thought-out, wholesome, nutritionally balanced meal, you hear the tell-tale sound of the Barbie bin (insert LEGOs or whatever gender non-specific toy your kids play with because by God, they will not grow up with specific gender labels, dammit) thundering to the ground. Dinner or a clean playroom? Maybe you can bribe the kids to clean – it worked so well in the past – so you head down that garden path. Over dinner, which goes over about as well as a fart at a funeral, you regale your partner with tales from Sesame Street that day and how Elmo really pulled one over on Bob. God, how you wish you worked outside the home because it is so easy.
See where I’m going here? Neither side has it easy. I know because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I stayed home with my daughters until they were in school, and there were days that I thought I would lose my fucking mind. I ascribed to the “only 30 minutes of television” a day philosophy and only upped it to a full hour when they could handle Sesame Street. And even then, I thought the Street would be my undoing since Elmo and Telly were my main source of entertainment (this post brought to you by the letter C for Crazy). My kids – really, only my oldest – would taste my food and tell me that it didn’t taste good and couldn’t I go to school to learn how to cook good food. I envied my friends who actually got to leave the house every once and a while for a J.O.B. because clearly I didn’t have one. Being a SAHM wasn’t a job . . . it just wasn’t.
When I finally went back to work (ahhh . . . went back to work . . . clearly being “just a mom” wasn’t a job), things didn’t get any easier. Oh, my daughter has an ear infection? Lemme finish here, and I’ll be right over to get her. Time out? You need a dozen cupcakes for school tomorrow?! Guess I’ll stop at the bakery on the way home from work and pick some up. The Girl Scout leader quit . . . hmmm, I’ll step in and do that now. For the love of god, if Boston Market and Subway would have closed down in my town, my girls never would have eaten. By the time I got back from my job and then from running them around, I was beaten and battered and ready to sleep for days on end. One catch: this was Monday, and Friday seemed like light-years away.
So, ladies (and gentlemen), here’s my plea: knock it off. Your job is hard enough – they all are – without trying to figure out who has it harder, working moms or SAHMs. “But you don’t have the guilt of not being with your child,” says the working moms. “Time out . . . what about the guilt about not being true to yourself,” counter the SAHMs. You both work hard, trust me, I know. And both roles are thankless. It doesn’t make any sense to start tallying up the amount of time that a woman puts in at home and at work; when there are children involved, there never is enough time to do it 100% even when you think you are.
Truly, who has it harder? Are you a former SAHM who returned to a paying gig and figured out the grass wasn’t greener? Or did you trade in that two-hour commute for early morning snuggles only to find out that they really just wanted to throw shit at you before the coffee was ready? Thoughts and views . . . I can handle them. If I can watch a Wee Sing video while cooking lentil meatloaf with spaghetti squash and grapefruit meringue pie and only one glass of wine, I can handle this. Share them with me.
* Ironically, I’m a teacher, and it is a ton of fun. I can’t even dream of having a different career. And I am well aware that nurse and secretaries don’t get nearly the respect that they deserve . . . some of my best friends are!
** Clearly, I’m talking about women who have children. I’m only speaking of what I know, and considering I’ve been a mom my entire adult life, it’s all I know, but seeing as how my kids are juniors in college, it’s even more interesting to just be a working woman.