Earlier this week I shared a controversial post on my blog’s Facebook page. Published on XO Jane in the Unpopular Opinion category, the article was titled, “Being a stay-at-home-mother is not a job.” I thought it would make interesting food for thought. Which, um, it did.
I wasn’t trying to incite a riot when I shared it; in hindsight, maybe it was a bit naïve of me. It seems it’s a slippery slope to have conversations about motherhood—particularly when engaging on the working vs non-working mother topic—without unintentionally fueling the fire of the gag-inducing “Mommy Wars.” (Can we all please stop using that expression already? Seriously.)
Opinions on this topic were diverse, to say the least. People mentioned things like:
- Staying home versus working is not necessarily a choice. (Yes! Preach it. Let’s think outside the box a little more, people.)
- Staying home with one’s kids is a gift.
- Motherhood is the hardest job ever.
- It is absolutely a job!
- I stay home and homeschool my kids and I am so busy!
- Shut up, we’re all busy.
- My husband works an incredibly difficult job and says he would never wish to trade places with me and stay home.
- Staying home is a privilege and a blessing, not a job.
It got a bit heated.
Really, the biggest problems with the article, in my opinion, were the author:
a) referring to parenting as a hobby (I appreciate that she was trying to make a point rather than intending this to be interpreted literally, but still. She missed the mark.)
b) comparing the “work” of parenting to camping, throwing a party, and/or having sex with one’s partner. Hmm.
I believe there is one clear answer to the “Is motherhood a job” question:
Who cares? That’s right. Who. Cares. Who the hell cares?!?!
We’re asking the wrong questions here. Instead of “do you consider the type of work you do to be an actual job?” or even “Which is harder: staying home or having a career?” we should be asking, “How are you doing balancing work and family? Can I help you?” or “What can I do to support you as a SAHM? Are you struggling?” We should be paying far more attention to the emotional experiences of mothers, whether or not they made a choice to either work or stay home or their life circumstances dictated a decision for them.
We have got to stop tripping over semantics and other people’s choices. And their not-choices. Their life circumstances. Their preferences. Motherhood is not one-size-fits-all. We bring innumerable cards to the table when we become parents: our family histories, our relationships, our personality types, our skills, our financial situations. We just cannot afford to compare ourselves to each other anymore. It’s pointless. And we’re playing right into the hands of whoever it is that is enjoying watching the collective club of mothers go at each other in a giant, metaphorical boxing ring. Who is that, exactly? Is it the media? Is it people without kids, à la “STFU, Parents”? Or is it us? Are we personally gaining something from loudly asserting our own stances over and over again?
I don’t have any answers as to how to achieve this utopian parental cease-fire. But my friend Julie from Next Life, No Kids has started a petition to end the whole “Thing-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named” (cough, Mommy Wars). She’s asking for moms everywhere to make a “Mommitment” (get it?) to stop fueling this fire. You should totally sign it.
I think we should keep talking about motherhood, because this shit is important. We should keep talking about how to redefine what it means to be a mother, how families everywhere need to be viewed differently in our country and by the government (ahem, maternity leave? Affordable child care?) But what we don’t need to talk about anymore is who has it worse. Which is harder: wiping butts and kitchen surfaces or closing deals? Entertaining whiny toddlers or attempting to revive someone in the back of an ambulance before they crash? Raising your kids with a crappy partner or doing it on your own? Who. Cares. Let’s stop arguing about it!
Oh, and how about we also add to that list: Which is better—breast or bottle? (Can we admit that there are thousands of variables and layers to that conversation and that no one answer is going to apply to every single family?) Or how about whether or not home-schooled kids are overprotected and undereducated or whether people who send their kids out into the scary world of public school are being irresponsible and lazy? Come on, people. Let’s keep our eye on the ball, here.
Let’s start asking different, more supportive, respectful, and empathetic questions. Of course, the more important questions need to be addressed on a much larger scale, “How can we, as a country, as a government, support families to make their lives easier, to give them real choices that set them up for success and happiness?”
Sign the petition. I did. And if I played into the hands of the angry Internet people by sharing that article, I’m sorry. It’s just so easy for us all—me included—to jump on the stone-throwing bandwagon. But it’s sort of like the advice we give our older, wiser children when their younger siblings try to taunt them with ridiculous accusations or goad them into fighting about something stupid. “Just ignore her,” we remind our children patiently. “You don’t have to respond. Just walk away.”
I guess it’s all about choosing our battles. Raising awareness about postpartum depression? Yes. Fighting to establish a more realistic portrayal of what it means to be a mother? You’re damn right. Supporting national changes that make life easier for families? We all should choose that battle. But fighting over the semantics of whether staying home is a privilege, gift, curse, or career? Hell, no.
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Hello, Steph. Anne and I are in DC with grandson Elliott. We are providing the last component of family daytime/workday childcare before Elliott goes to a professional daycare a couple of blocks away. I wish I had my Oxford English Dictionary with me. I am certain that “job” has many, many definitions, perhaps with equal numbers of positive and negative denotations and connotations. And our jobs, whether domestic or professional, have positive and negative aspects. Jobs are a part of life. And by now we have a fairly good idea what life is like. We are extremely happy to be grandparents, and we certainly are pleased to have the opportunity to be with Elliott this month. Although Skyping and daily photos and videos are great aids for grandparenting at a distance, nothing matches holding him in our arms and snuggling his neck and having him giggle in our ears. And even the diapers are delightful. Life is good, and I am pleased and honored to be able to help Elliott, Sarah, and Gabe.
Preach it, amen, what you said. All of it!
Love it. My Mommitment began awhile ago and was reinforced by not even clicking on the XOJane ridiculous article. They got what they wanted – lots of comments and interest and people talking about and clicks – so until the Mommy Wars stop getting interest they won’t stop. There are so many misunderstandings and misconceptions on both sides of the aisle (and as someone who has done both I felt them both). Women just need to hug each other…
Well said and I signed the petition, too!
I read that article the other day and honestly, it has been on my mind ever since. I’m a sahm and I am so sick of hearing from working moms that I don’t contribute to society or that I’m not allowed to feel stressed by my job as a mom because I should be grateful. I sacrifice a lot to be home, and sometimes I like to vent about the stress of being a mom. Honestly I expect working moms would understand because although they work outside the home they still relate to sleepless nights, barf in the car seat, cooking with kids attached to their legs, etc. What would working moms say if I said their job was just their choice and they should stop whining about how tired they are and be grateful they have good jobs that pay for the vacations I don’t take or the manicures I don’t get or the minivan they drive while I stuff 3 kids in a passenger car and mend holes in my worn clothes instead of buying new, gluing the soles of my broken shoes together, etc. I work hard (yes work!) every day to take care of my family, save us money, and I believe there is value for my children in having a mom at home with them. Do I want to insult working moms? No way! Because I know they work hard for their families all day just like I do, whether they are at work or home. And I expect working moms to respect what I do for my family, because I don’t have to be serving outside the home to be working hard. My value is not measured in dollars earned and I am disgusted that the author of that article has so little respect for fellow moms.
We really do need to move on but we also all need to let go or at least be aware of our own steriotypes so I have a request. . .
1. Consider for a moment that perhaps that we as working moms do hear constantly that it is a choice for us to work? We do constantly and we are often judged by our friends and colleagues for making that choice
2. Consider also that women work for reasons other than vacations and manicures or minivans for that matter.
I promise not to judge you! But its really heard when a read posts and experience so much that puts so much judgement on me!
I really do agree with you. One of the points made by a FB reader of mine was that we need to start realizing that it isn’t always a choice. It certainly is NOT a choice of mine that I work outside the home; it’s a necessity. And I believe that, on both/all sides of the motherhood equation, many women feel that they are not being respected. SAHMs want acknowledgement that their work is hard, too, and real. Working moms want validation that they are still good moms even though they work outside the home: choice or no choice. The lack of respect is a big issue here. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
Just saw this Change the Convo and wanted to clarify something. I was commenting on how offended I was as a sahm by the original xoJane article. I was not stating opinions about working moms. I am always impressed by how hard moms in many circumstances work, whether they have outside the home jobs or wrangle little ones all day like me. Just as you feel judged for your time away from kids I too feel judged for lack of income, and the xoJane article calling my job as sahm a hobby cut me deeply. I don’t question the struggle of working moms and when I am not reacting to something like that, I try to be respectful of every fellow mother.
Yes! I completely agree with you, Danelle. Due to circumstances beyond my control I had to quit a job, a REALLY good job, that I had been in for just under a decade to take care of my children. 95% of my friends work. They have since treated me completely different than before. Even the feel of my marriage has shifted and I notice my husband treating me differently as well. I have no scorn or judgement for mothers who work outside the home. I only ask for an equal amount of respect. And, I disagree that staying at home with your children isn’t a job. If you have to pay someone to do something, it’s a job. Considering the cost of daycare, a housekeeper, a chef, a laundry service, a personal assistant, and a chauffeur, the average family probably couldn’t afford to pay for all the services a SAHM provides to her family. Let’s just respect each other and be kind.
Yes. You hit the nail on the head. I was frustrated with the article for a lot of reasons, which I won’t go into here, but the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that she is arguing about semantics. Whether you call it a job or not, it’s the same amount of hard work mixed with happiness and blessings. I think the reason we get hung up on calling it a “job” is mainly that mainstream society has downplayed it so much and made us feel like it’s a lesser calling than having a career, and we just want to be recognized for our hard work rather than be portrayed as sitting around eating bon bons and watching soaps. Maybe that’s what the author does, and that’s why she doesn’t think it’s a job! 😉
I agree with you..
But the whole thing is super-fuelled by the way SAHMs are kinda looked down upon…like we’re permanently on leave, or we’re JUST a mom…I swear to God, if anyone again ever tells me oh so you’re just a mom, I’ll punch them in the face.
And I guess it is what caused lots of anger
Yes and yes. When I saw that article, my first reaction was, YAWN. After I read it, my reaction was GIANT YAWN. I clicked and read, because I thought maybe there would be something NEW to the conversation. I was again disappointed. Thanks Stephanie for changing the conversation to something that really matters and that can implement real change instead of tossing stones around.
YES! Yes, yes, yes. Let’s all please stop the needless judging.
I don’t know how I missed the Jane XO post/story, but I did. And I have no desire to hunt it down, because…I don’t care:)!!!!!! And this may be an oversimplification (and I am not trying to be controversial), but doesn’t it seem that the mommy wars as a hot button issue is directly related to the rise of social media?
Love this post and your angle of the “who cares?” answer to the main question. Amen! Everyone is doing their best, right?
Hallelujah! I am so on board with this. I wrote an article about how I regretted not having breastfed and I got over 6000 likes and a ton if people calling me stupid. Enough of these mommy wars! All of them!
YES. YES YES YES. I love all the things you write Stephanie, but this one is so spot on. I find myself reiterating online or real life arguments between mothers (I am avoiding that most-hated term, too) to my husband and throwing my hands up yelling, “Who the hell cares?!” Why should the way I choose to feed/clothe/punish/reward, etc etc. my child matter to ANYONE else on the planet earth besides my own family? I, too, signed the Mommittment pledge and proudly so. I feel so strongly that, as you suggest, we’re tackling the wrong issues here and ignoring the questions that could help build each other up as mothers: How can I help you? What are you struggling with? Do you need a break? My (maybe naive) hope is that the conversation will start to change sometime soon and we can recognize that motherhood is so freakin hard already and we’re only making it harder. Thanks for a thoughtful and CANIGETANAMEN-worthy piece.
I love your angle as well and love what Kaly defined as “changing the conversation”. As someone who experienced both SAH and working full time as a mother I agree that the question “what’s harder?” is irrelevant (answer: both). I think that we should be looking for what unites us rather than separates us and I love Julie’s initiative. Your post, as usual, is sharp and brilliant.
Parenting is a hobby?! LOL!! I’m just fed up with people who continue to fuel the ‘Thing-that-must-not-be-named’!!
Yes, yes, yes! Love this post!
This is awesome. You’re absolutely right. Why ARE we still talking about any of that. I love how you said that we should be talking instead of self care for all the moms that need help in their various life circumstances. Love love.
who the hell cares indeed! love it 🙂
Agree! I have been both a full time SAHM and now a part time working mom. BOTH had challenges and BOTH were/are hard in different ways. No need for judgment – that solves nothing for anyone.
You make so many good point here…and really when you peel it all back, who the hell cares? I enjoy speaking my mind but when did everything – including motherhood – get so divisive? I am with you on the “mommy wars.” I am really tired of hearing about that term and really…I am just tired of seeing people internet cat claw each other. Onto more important stuff…like how long I have to wait until it’s respectable to have a cocktail today…
I completely agree with you in terms of who the hell cares, and most of everything else you said.
I’ve done both, and both are hard, but I don’t refer to being a mom as a job, because to me that has a negative connotation – it’s something I HAVE to do, but don’t really want to do but I do it because I need to earn an income for my family. I think being a mom is work and it’s hard, and can be harder than a lot of “jobs” but it’s not a job, at least to me.
But I’m not signing a petition that’s not going to change anything or make a #mommitment or whatever other catchy hashtag someone comes up with. Just share information, share support, strive to be the best you and the best mom you can be and it will all fall into place. The. End. No catchy hashtag or petition or viral social media campaign needed.
Great post! We really should focus on being supportive and as you wrote, ask the right questions.