Pundits and journalists often bring up the battles between stay-at-home and working mothers. We all know about all the resentment and judgement those different realities bring to the schoolyard (mostly at pick-up time). More and more, we are calling for women to unite regardless of their employment (or lack thereof). Seriously, can’t we all just get along?
About 40 years ago, as more women headed into the workforce full time, we spoke of the challenges of couples in which both partners worked outside the home. There were arguments about who would do the household chores and what happens if – God forbid – the woman outearned the man. Sounds like something out of the dark ages now, doesn’t it? Or maybe not? We have done a lot of navel gazing about this fundamental change in both home and office. We’re still waxing philosophical about it today (especially as we approach the real possibility of having a woman as President), and more people are rightly demanding equal pay for equal work.
But what we speak of more rarely is the divide between stay-at-home moms and their own husbands. Part of this has to do with our sense of decorum. One of my girlfriends once said that we’re always asking our friends how things are going in their relationships when they are dating, but once they are married we act as though the topic is off limits. We’ve placed a certain sanctity on what happens between a husband and wife (or married same-sex partners for that matter). We feel like we’re prying if we ask the same kinds of questions that seemed fine before we said, “I do.” Sure, some things are private. But in this day and age we talk about everything…on social media no less…for all the world to see. So, let’s delve into this subject and fully dissect it (or at least begin to).
I myself am a work-at-home mom, which has me experiencing a little bit of both worlds, the sensations of both working moms and stay-at-home moms. Still, what motivated me to write this is not actually my own story. Recently, I have been observing many of my friends, most of whom have been laid off from the publishing industry, and have become reluctant stay-at-home moms as a result. In many ways, that is even harder on a marriage. Here are the challenges:
- The stay-at-home mom questions her own value. There’s an undeniable loss of self-worth. You feel badly about yourself because there’s this sense that you’re not bringing anything to the table. For too long, society has set this standard that unless you’re bringing home a paycheck, you’re not of value, even if you’re raising children, arguably the most difficult task set before any of us. As a result of this accepted belief on the part of greater society, the partner in the workforce might not value or appreciate you staying at home. Even if this sentiment remains unspoken, your working husband might deflate your self-esteem by rejecting or ignoring your opinions, condescending to you, or putting greater emphasis on the role he plays in the marriage. The way to fix this is for all of society to wake up to the fact that parenting our children – guiding them to the future, educating them about everything from letters and numbers to morality, and making sure they know how much we love them – is the most important work anyone can do. We realize the value of strangers watching our children, and often pay them big bucks to do it, but we take for granted what the child’s mother or father do if they make parenting their full-time job.
- The stay-at-home mom feels like a burden who owes her family. Without a paycheck in hand, you feel like you have to do everything – change diapers, teach your toddler the alphabet, organize the garage, whip up fancy dinners, and look like a million bucks with no money (not to mention sleep). There’s this nagging guilt that makes you feel like you have to be Superwoman. Often, unwittingly, your husband takes advantage of this sensation because who doesn’t want perfectly roasted fingerling potatoes and filet mignon for dinner, kids who say please and thank you, and a house clean enough for eating off the floor? Even if mom can pull this off every so often, she is exhausted and unhappy most of the time. We all need to snap out of it and realize real life isn’t a bunch of pins on Pinterest.
- The working spouse has unfair expectations of the stay-at-home spouse. Many a husband has complained to me about their stay-at-home wife failing to get dinner on the table or pick up toys or do laundry despite being home all day. It makes me want to scream loud enough to crack their face. Why you ask? Well, it’s simple. I know how that all goes down. It’s not like you were lying on the couch eating bonbons all day, a stereotype that was never an accurate depiction of anyone’s life. The children these men helped produce might be cranky or sick and that interrupts you for starters. There are five million other things to which you must tend, including paying bills, letting in the plumber to fix the toilet your husband stopped up, or cleaning up unexpected messes (such as children who decided to paint without permission or someone’s pee pee accident while napping in bed). Men, you know how wrong you are about this and you must stop it now. Or risk the earthquake brought on by my loud Italian voice. Don’t dare me.
- The resentment builds the great wall of China between you. Both parties start to resent each other. Your husband takes you for granted and doesn’t value your work. Instead, he gripes to anyone who’ll listen about all the stuff you don’t do. You start arguing. You don’t have sex because you’re mad at each other. You lose respect for each other. Next thing you know you are both full of resentment, poison to a marriage. The romance, of course, dies when you’re full of venom. You don’t talk to each other. You don’t date each other. That wall between you grows and grows until you’re living separate lives even if you’re under the same roof.
I wish I could give you solutions. But if I could, I’d probably be a billionaire. What I can say is that we as a society have to shift our way of thinking about people who choose to stay home with their kids. This actually goes for stay-at-home moms and dads. Put yourself in their shoes. Make a reality show of it if you must. See just what a day in their life is like to understand what they must be feeling and going through. We must put more value on their work, which raises the next generation and the one after that. It is divine, priceless work. Truly.