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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.

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  1. lifeineden #
    April 2, 2012

    oh man. this always gives me angst. I’ve only been SAHM. Working was tough enough in my field without kids. I have a lot of feelings on this one, but might wait to think a little harder. Obviously they are BOTH hard, for all the reasons you said. I don’t believe either are easy. Nor is one RIGHT for everyone. What is better for some isn’t always better for others. Hell, sometimes I even think I made the wrong choice (usually around 4:30pm when all hell is breaking loose). sigh.

    • Jill #
      April 2, 2012

      You always have to do what’s best for your family, and 4:30 PM is never the time to figure out if you made the right choice or not (but you knew that). Around 4:30, that was usually when I was at my wit’s end and decided that I just didn’t have it in me to explain why pasta should have tomato sauce on it and gave in to what became “naked noodles” . . . and you know what? No one died! They survived! They thrived! And . . . here’s the pisser . . . they came to love tomato sauce 🙂

      • lifeineden #
        April 2, 2012

        so funny you used food as an example — it is a bone of contention in this house. each one wants something different. I try to balance between letting go and drawing some sort of line for my sanity. you’re right, no one will die (at least not from the menu 🙂

      • Jill #
        April 3, 2012

        Haven’t lost a kid yet . . . and now that they are cooking for themselves, I consider it a success (minor).

  2. Kate #
    April 2, 2012

    I’m home with my 2 year old…it’s the most fun I’ve ever had, and sometimes frustrating beyond belief with no break in sight but I am so lucky to be able to do this. I don’t think it’s any harder or easier than when I worked before baby. I’ve not done the work and mom gig, so can’t speak to that. As I’m hitting the two year mark I’m starting to feel a sense of panic about not working – what if I can’t get a job again in my field, what if something happens to my partner and it’s all on me to support the family and I can’t do it (and we lose the house, the car, the college fund, and end up in a hovel…and on and on)….are these “what ifs” enough to justify going back to work when frankly I want to be home with her until she starts school (and we decided to make some ridiculous financial sacrifices to do this because we believed in it). In my field, if you’re out for 4 years, you lose your license to practice…I’m halfway there. All good fodder for middle-of-the-night-can’t-shut-the-brain-off panics.

    So while I help put mr potato head’s arm’s in or clean up the world’s largest pee puddle right next to (but not in) the toilet, my brain is simmering with these panicky thoughts. It’s not a good headspace to be in. Like much of motherhood, there likely is no right answer; you really cannot have it all.

    • lifeineden #
      April 2, 2012

      Oh Kate. I know that panicky place. I’ve been out for going on 9 years, and have let my license to practice lapse ages ago. Returning to work for any type of significant salary (enough to be a primary breadwinner) would mean major reinvention for me. And there are nights the “what ifs” get me too. But even though I have one in school, and only one more year to go with my little ones til they are in school — I don’t think my family will be ready for me to return to a 9-5 job even then. My husband’s job make his schedule incredibly erratic, and so having me consistently at home is an important balance. But those what ifs can be scary.

      I hear ya mama.

      • Kate #
        April 2, 2012

        Thanks! I was hoping you’d weigh in – you’re the only woman I’ve seen in blogland who went from a clinical practice situation to SAHM. That decision is terrifying, so it’s good to see someone who’s made it, is thriving and has a foot in the photography world. It took us 6 years to adopt our daughter, and we are approved and waiting to hopefully adopt a 2nd child, so if we’re fortunate enough to be chosen by an expectant mom, I anticipate being out several more years, but can’t see working the large number of hours (part-time) to maintain the license.

    • Jill #
      April 2, 2012

      For the longest time, I was pretty sure that Dave and I were going to wind up living in a car with the Girls. And back then, we had a Honda Civic hatchback, so that prospect looked grimmer than grim. When they were little, not working was the only option since it would have cost more to use day care than any job would have paid, and things worked out just fine. But, man, those panic stricken moments were hard to push down. Then again, getting all dolled up to get the fucking mail just seems silly now (so would changing out of PJs on a Sunday, but that’s another post). I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason . . . including perhaps keeping that license. Because eventually, you might want to use it (you never know).

  3. shutterme365 #
    April 2, 2012

    i’ve done both too. and i can’t LISTEN to Wee Sing, let alone WATCH it. yikes. we’re knee deep in ninjagos and power rangers around here. i worked for 3.5 yrs after my first son. then had twin boys & was home with all 3 for another 2 yrs. now i’m home with the twins until school in 2013 & i’m working very part-time at home at night. i think i’d choose staying home over working. both are tough in their own way, though. i love that we can make our own schedule and can pass on certain things. and i don’t miss the hustle and bustle of drop-offs & pickups & commuting. ugh. what i don’t like: after 4+ years my hubs still has trouble helping out with simple routines w/the kids. i hate reminding him. also, since i’m home most of the time, some jobs are relegated to me without any discussion just because i’m here. hate that. right now i take sunday afternoons for “mommy time-out”–so needed. i feel ready to work more hours, but not just for the paycheck. plus i’m 46, and i don’t know how much longer i can wait to get back to it. i’m hoping to put together some kind of work i can really enjoy. i miss having something just for me.

    • Jill #
      April 2, 2012

      I can still see the exact “step-ball-change” combo that they used in the “John Jacob Jinglehimer Schmidt” routine they did in Wee Sing. It’s like something out of a bad Hollywood movie when the actor “shows” what going through the bends in rehab would look like. I feel dirty just thinking about it. There were some weeknights after I started getting paid for my job that I wouldn’t get home until 8:30 PM from all the running around. I do have to say, my husband is (and always has been) incredibly good about housework. In fact, there are some days I try to figure out exactly what I contribute to the marriage.

  4. Laura Yurs #
    April 2, 2012

    “I was a better mother before I had kids.”
    That’s my motto…..

    Coming from the self-employed arena, it’s been a wild ride and I decided years ago that there’s just no good solution/balance. You nailed it Jill….the grass is always greener. When the kids aren’t at school, they’re usually with me at the office and/or meetings. They’ve watched more television than I ever thought I’d allow (guilt). I have more flexibility, which is huge, but I also feel like my schedule is completely chaotic from week to week. Then I talk to my friends who travel for work (sometimes out of the country), who are in the nursing industry, who teach, who have kids of various ages in numerous sports….and I think I’m lucky to be where I am. I believe wholeheartedly that we’re all just doing our best to survive and thrive. And I believe wholeheartedly that motherhood often just beats the shit out of you.

    • Jill #
      April 2, 2012

      I might have to have that motto emblazened on a t-shirt, Laura. The grass is always greener (I chalk that up to all the shit people use on their respective lawns), but it’s the guilt and the beating each other down bullshit that goes along with it. That last sentence should be the last page of EVERY “So, You Got Yourself Knocked Up, Little Lady . . . Now What?” book out there. Because no one tells you how hard it is going to be. No one tells you that you might despise your kid for a few months. No one tells you that “unconditional love” is just as rare as a unicorn dispensing ice cream from its horn.

      No one.

      • Laura Yurs #
        April 2, 2012

        Amen. No one.

      • lifeineden #
        April 2, 2012

        agreed. especially about the ice cream from a unicorn horn (snort). oh and that thing about despising your kid for a few months — totally true, totally happens. love you ladies. xo

    • Becky #
      April 3, 2012

      my mottos is that i’d be an awesome stay at home mom, if I had a nanny. But who has time to plan all the shit for entertaining/educating them when you’re there with them ALL THE TIME? Blogland is the worst because who are these moms who are crafting spectacular activities and cooking full meals, and putting pants on their kids daily? We shoot low around here. If I can feed them AND pick dirty diapers off the floor at the end of the day, I’m calling it a success.

      • Jill #
        April 3, 2012

        I’m convinced that the blogland supermommies are probably drinking a box of wine a day. And if they aren’t, their children are drugging them. My motto: I’m a Good Enough Mom. A friend posted that last night, and I’m thinking that every one deserves a t-shirt that says, “I’m a GEM,” but you know me, I’d like to add something like, “What’s your fucking deal?” and that wouldn’t be very nice, right?

  5. April 3, 2012

    What a great post. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Want to hear about guilt? I have two children in school full-time, and I’m still not working a “real” job. I homeschooled my girls until last year, when the younger was 11. I really defined myself by my role as their teacher, so when that ended I felt lost. I figured I’d get a job, soon, but it turned out my girls’ special needs have made that pretty much impossible (doctors’ appointments, school meetings, frequent “emergencies,” and just needing to be home for them when they get home…). So my kids are in school, we’re broke, I am just working odd jobs, and I have time on my hands. And instead of our all accepting this as what we need to do right now, I feel incredible guilt. Add to that that while I am happy cooking and running errands and think I am a pretty good mother, I am a horrendous housekeeper (and yardkeeper). So my husband works out of the house full time and comes home and has to do most of that. And also add to that that I could use this time to set up a photography business, but I’m about as good at running a business as I am at housekeeping. More guilt.

    I don’t know who has it harder, but I feel guilt for not working a “real” job. Your reminders of how busy and tiring work outside the home can be are a good reminder to me of why my family can’t handle that right now. Thank you.

    • Jill #
      April 3, 2012

      See? I was hoping that if at least one person’s guilt was assuaged, I would have done my job. I say we banish guilt and get on with getting on. Some friends were posting on a Facebook thread about this post that they may not be SuperMoms, but they are Good Enough Moms. So, I’m hereby declaring you a GEM, dammit! And not more guilt.

  6. April 3, 2012

    I am a working mother but I completely agree. We all have “it” the same. Just in sometimes very different contexts. I work from home one day a week and sometimes feel like I cannot wait to go to work. Then there are some days when I am at work and wish I could be home with the kids. It’s a balance! We all do our best! Home, at work, part-time, full-time…we all struggle with the proper balance. Hopefully, as parents, we find some time for ourselves to regroup. I wrote a post last month that sums up some of my days. Check it out, you might appreciate! Thanks for sharing! http://turnaroundandswim.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/life-in-my-fast-lane/

    • Jill #
      April 3, 2012

      And even as I type this, I’m looking at the time because I have to be back at school to pick up some co-workers for a drive to a dinner . . . it never ends! I really think you hit it on the head with balance. Such an easy concept . . . so hard to master.

  7. April 3, 2012

    Instead of arguing over whether working moms or stay at home moms have it harder, can’t we all just agree that dads have it easier? I’m kidding… well, I’m like 63% kidding.

    Oh, and I’m a little bit of both. I’m home with my kids but have a few extra kids dropped off at my house every morning. So I’m working, but I still have to listen to Sesame Street 90 bazillion times. Everything’s got it upsides and its downsides. 🙂

    • Jill #
      April 3, 2012

      When the girls were really little, we’re talking three (and they’ll be 21 in a week and a few days), I truly credited NPR’s All Things Considered for saving my sanity. Because if I had to share what happened between Telly and Elmo (and then that rabble rouser Zoe joined the group), I thought I might lose my shit.

      And my husband is great with helping (truly, I have it easy there), but I do agree with you that women do more. Plain and simple. We do more.

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