Being a stay at home mom is the best and hardest job in the world. There are days when you adore your kids more than anything in the world and the next day you’re imaging where you can hide from them for five minutes of alone time.
I was a stay at home mom for the last seven years. I always imagined myself re-entering the workforce and having a career after I had kids, but it didn’t work out for me. I discovered I wanted to nurse my kids for a year and to do that meant that I needed to stay home.
My body went through motherhood for six straight years: Pregnant, nurse for a year. Wait three months. Pregnant, nurse for a year. Wait four months. Pregnant, nurse for a year. Many of are living this life in the military world — we are having babies, raising families and hoping that our husbands will be home in time to eat dinner with the kids. The reality is that our men are away training for deployments, spending weeks at a time in the field or in another country for most of the year.
More often than not, we are doing it on our own, being the single parent without any support since we have moved away from our longtime friends and families. Not only have we given our bodies over to our children for several years at a time, but with that comes every responsibility of feeding and bathing them, daily caretaking, problem-solving, repairing anything and everything, grocery shopping and cleaning the house — Alone. Every. Day.
Six years of raising children has been a long road for me, albeit gratifying and worthwhile. There were times when I met working moms who looked down at stay at home moms. Some gave the impression that stay at home moms weren’t smart enough to work, lacking in intellectual conversation, or are incapable of discussing anything other than their children.
I’d like to set a few things straight for the stay at home mom. Being a stay at home mom is the most demanding job in the world, especially when married to an active duty service-member. There are few “off times” and when we get them, it’s usually due to the grace of another military wife to run an important errand, not to take a much deserved break. We are smart, tough, and endure through crisis after crisis.
That being said, being a stay at home mom doesn’t make us better moms than working moms. Plopping a child in front of the TV to be raised, or ignoring them to tend to one’s own needs is problematic. Many of us have experienced children wandering the neighborhood at all hours, some too young to be out alone, yearning for attention to be played with and doted on by anyone.
I re-entered the workforce when my children started school this fall, believing it to be the opportune time to transition back into the workplace. Preschool was necessary because my daughter and my relationship needed separation to be successful. She was one of those kids who needed instruction and direction from another authority figure as well as regular interaction with kids her own age. I was lucky to find a job, but now have fully discovered the challenges of being a working mother.
Once I started working, I had this delusional idea that there I would have less to do at home, but the reality is that everything still rested on my shoulders. My daily grind would begin with a grouchy preschooler who wasn’t interested in eating breakfast, getting out of her jammies, fixing her hair, brushing her teeth or getting into the car — it was exhausting. [Insert successful work day here filled with adult conversations and the ability to think my own thoughts]. Time to rush off to pick up my kids in time to avoid $1 per minute late fee, please oh please, don’t let there be traffic.
Once we made it home, time was spent in the kitchen making dinner while trying to gauge and measure my children’s day and happiness, followed by homework and nighttime routines. Generally my night would be over once the kids were in bed, but as a working mom, it was time to move onto chores of laundry and house cleaning which stretched into the late evening and often through the weekends. Some of you may be thinking, why doesn’t your husband step up and help? The fact of the matter is being married to the military comes with a very long workday which often starts at 6:30am and ends at 7:00pm if we’re lucky. It’s not that they don’t want to help, but their career is demanding and our family’s needs are met secondarily.
Some may be thinking that working moms are rolling in the dough, but childcare costs are astronomical. Most of my paycheck goes to cover childcare, but I find it worthwhile since I finally have time to focus on myself without having to answer my child’s beck and call. Not only is it uber-expensive but finding quality programs which provide dynamic stimulation and physical activity in a safe environment, is quite challenging. Many mothers also struggle with the ability to enroll their children in sports which often holds practice after school has been let out for the day.
I’ve also experienced the eye roll or criticism from stay at home moms who feel that working moms aren’t serving our family as we should; that we’re outsourcing our children to be raised by others. The simple fact is that some moms who work would be terrible stay at home moms for a number of reasons, be it enduring patience, setting up one’s child’s personality for success, or needing to financially bring in money so the family stays afloat. Working moms don’t have the luxury of taking a nap after our child has interrupted our sleep in the middle of the night. Sick days are challenging; requiring us leaving at a moment’s notice since we know our service-member can’t come home to tend to them.
We’ve chosen to work knowing that our children are getting quality instruction which provides active stimulation including arts, crafts, science and nature, learning trust and love from another adult, learning to give and share on a regular basis with someone other than a sibling. That being said, working moms need to know to request time off. My heart breaks for the child at a regularly scheduled school function where they are left on stage without a loved one in the audience to cheer them on or congratulate them on their performance.
Summer is upon us and now I am faced with my final challenge as a working mother. School will be out in two weeks and I need to find somewhere for my seven year old to thrive for three months. I just couldn’t justify sending my kids to daycare and day-camps when it would take my paycheck and beyond to continue working through the summer. I have decided to let my part-time job go so I can take care of my kids for the summer. It’s a difficult choice to make to let go of the individuality and peace that has been discovered over the past school year, but doing this I know that I can give my kids the full attention they deserve and provide them the opportunity to travel and visit our family in another state.
Let’s throw the judgment aside and call a truce, because being a mom is hard, period. Quit measuring yourself against other moms and follow your heart. We all have to step up to the challenge of being the best wife and mom we can be and stop discriminating against other groups of moms. Next time you discover yourself judging another, I challenge you to ask her some questions about successes she’s experienced and you may just discover something you’d like to incorporate into your own life.