Monday, June 4, 2012

Moms Against Moms

I have blogged before about how moms commiserating can be harmful, but it focused mainly on the negative headspace you can get stuck in by focusing on the bad parts of a situation instead of the positives, and it was mainly in regards to mom bloggers. But a few days back I came across a dialogue online that bothered me.  It happens all too frequently in real life and it kind of disgusts me.

To sum it up, there were two moms commiserating, and not in the healthy, supportive way. The good way sounds something like this:
Mom1: Ugh, last night was horrible! I barely got any sleep, the baby woke to eat 7 times last night, we tried co-sleeping but I couldn't get comfortable, and everyone was miserable!  So now I'm exhausted and hubby is away on business for 4 days so the rest of my week is going to be bad too!
Mom2: I hear you, those early days can be brutal but they'll be over before you know it. -- Or -- Our family co-slept for 5 years, maybe I can help you find a way to do it more comfortably?  --Or-- Would you like some help this week?
Healthy. Supportive. Helpful. Attempting to bring another mom up out of a dark place. However, this is not the dialogue that I was reading. What I saw were 2 women, who were both apparently moms, and were complaining about how difficult their lives were. Piles of laundry, seemingly absent spouses, general exhaustion, etc. But instead of trying to support each other or sympathize, it seemed more like they were trying to one-up each other with how hard their lives were. One would complain that it seemed like there was always a stack of dirty dishes and the other would come back with something like, "And you only have 1 kid! I have 3!!" As though having a bigger mess from 3 kids makes you a better mom or more of a mom somehow. Why the competition for who has it worse? Why would you be proud of the fact that your life is kinda miserable? I thought that the point of life was to enjoy it and to share that happiness with others, not bring them down further into darkness when they are clearly already struggling. Your life being worse or you having to deal with seemingly "more" than someone else does not negate the fact that the other person is also having a hard time. I came across this a lot when I was the mother of one. If I so much as mentioned I was having a difficult time at all, a barrage of people would say to me, "Wait until you have two!" or "You have it easy, you only have 1!". I just don't understand this. How are these comments at all helpful? They're not. They are bragging rights for the miserable. It's basically another way of saying to someone, "Your problems are insignificant. I have to deal with more. Shut-up."

But the part that really got to me, the part that was not only personally insulting to me but harmful to all of us, was at the end of the conversation.  The one mom had seemingly come to the end of her complaint list, and the other mom said something along the lines of, "Well, at least you get to stay home all day!  I do all of this AND have a full-time job!"  To me, this is her way of saying that because she works outside of the home, she does more or was a better mom because of it, hereby "out-mom-ing" her friend, if you will.  While simultaneously insinuating that if you are a stay at home parent you are at home all day, lounging about, taking it easy.  You know, bon bons and such.

The truth is that their situations are not similar enough to be compared like this at all!  If you have children and are working a full-time job, you're not doing exactly same things that a SAHM does.  Your life is different.  Yes, you share some similar responsibilities because you're both mothers, you both have to maintain some kind of living situation, but your day to day is very different.  The working parent's child is with someone else during the time that they are at work.  If it's a full-time job, that's a good portion of the day.  Yes, you might come home from a job and then do some of the things that parents who stay home do, like make dinner or wash dishes and things of that nature.  But it's not the same as being the at home parent.  It's just not.  I am in no way saying that you're any less of a parent or that your life is easier - working comes with its own set of challenges, and I will get to that.  What I'm saying is that it's silly to even try to compare the two situations and we shouldn't be.  One isn't better than the other.  One isn't more  or less of a mom.

But on top of that, the conversation that started this blog post also contributes to the invalidation of stay at home moms/dads.  In this society there is such a huge focus on a person's occupation that it has become synonymous with self & thereby self-worth.  The question 'What do you do?' might as well be 'Who are you & what are you worth?'.  I'm a doctor, I make a three figure salary, I'm really smart, you want to be me.  Or, I work for a non-profit agency, I don't make a lot of money but I'm really dedicated to this selfless cause that I love, I'm a great philanthropist and I do good things, you want to be me.

I'm not saying that this is right by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I think it's a big problem because if you tell the wrong person you're a might as well tell them that you're intentionally unemployed and homeless.  Useless.  Some people equate this with being uneducated or unrefined, or even as setting back the entire feminist movement 30+ years.  I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I have seen it with my own eyes and experienced some of these reactions first-hand. And the thing that these people aren't realizing is that deciding to be a stay at home parent, making that decision to leave a job and change your entire lifestyle is a HUGE decision!  And often times it's a tough adjustment that you didn't see coming.  And I'm not talking about the caring for a child stuff like changing diapers and learning how to function with a baby in the mix - ALL new parents go through that adjustment no matter what.  I'm talking about going from having a set daily routine where you had to wake-up & be somewhere at a specific time every day, seeing a group of your peers, having adult conversations and having some sort of purpose in a company somewhere every day, getting to be just YOU every day -- to functioning solely to provide for your child, identifying mainly as the parent of your child, having your biggest success of the day be eating more than just a bagel instead of landing some huge account or fixing some great customer service debacle.  When you make that change, it feels like you lose your identity for a little while.  You don't get the water cooler conversation anymore, you don't make employee of the month anymore, you don't get any raises or go on any cool business trips or undertake new projects.  This, coupled with the often-times underwhelming & slightly disappointed reaction from others to this new identity can make you feel completely irrelevant and lost.  It is quite belittling.  I mean, how would this conversation make you feel?  (And I've had it!):
Employed:  So, what do you do?
Mom:  I'm a mom.
Employed:  Yeah, but what do you DO?  You know, for work?
Mom:  I'm a stay at home mom.
Employed:  So you don't work?
Mom:  Not outside of the home for money, no.
Employed:  Oh. <pause> So what do you do all day?
*Sigh*  Staying at home with children IS a job.  It IS work.  It IS a skill.  It has its own set of challenges and on many days can be very hard.  I am not complaining about being a stay at home parent, nor am I saying that stay at home parents have it "worse" than those that work outside of the home.  What I am saying is that they are two completely different experiences and almost impossible to compare.  Again, we should not be comparing anything like this anyway, I don't think it's healthy to define anything as better or worse when it comes to life skills or lifestyles.  Both sides come with benefits as well as challenges and they suit different people differently.  Laura & I are both moms.  She has a fairly elevated position in the financial industry, I am primary caregiver at home to our children. Both of us have complaints about our roles & both of us have things we absolutely love about them.  Neither of us is a better mom or more of a parent.  Neither of us has it worse.  Our daily lives are just very different.

But because she is the working parent, Laura is seen as intelligent; There is a certain amount of prestige that comes with her job title.  People think she is capable, educated, hard-working.  Based solely on her job title.  But she is also a caring and nurturing mother.  She is playful and silly and fun.  Not what comes to mind when you hear she is a working parent.  People hear that I am a stay at home mom and they don't really think much beyond that.  They think I love children, am nurturing, and don't care too much about how intelligent I am or anything beyond that.  They don't see that I also have a college degree.  I like to write, to read books and learn.  They don't think of me as hard-working or prestigious.  They just see "MOM".

I'm sure that many parents that work full-time have had some backlash on the other side as well.  Plenty of my friends have gotten, "Well, who's raising this baby if you're BOTH at work all the time?  Spending nights and weekends with the kid isn't real parenting".  And I know that those who do work outside of the home are made to feel like less of a parent because of this and often times feel guilty because of their desire or financial necessity to maintain a full-time job.  Society gives none of us a break.  You're expected to stay at home, not work & raise your children, but when you do it's assumed that you are either uneducated or lazy.

But I am getting away from my point of posting this now.  I don't like when people try to claim that their life is harder and therefore they are entitled to something more.  Or to the opposite, they claim that because someone else's life seems more appealing it is somehow easier and that other person doesn't live up to whatever ridiculous expectation being set.  Specifically when it comes to parents.

If you are a parent with a full-time job, you get to be an adult amongst other adults for a good portion of the day.  You have some form of commute to work where you get to be in your own head for a while and can drink your coffee and listen to your music or radio show or sit in silence if you want.  You are guaranteed to get a state-mandated break at some point.  You get recognition for your achievements and incentives to strive for better.  But you miss a lot of milestones and dance recitals and cuddles.  You work a full day and then have to come home and help keep up with the house and take care of kids for a while.  You feel like you never get a break and the work never ends.  If you're a stay at home mom/dad, you are your own boss & you get to make the rules.  There is no dress code, no rule about when your lunch should be.  You can go to the beach on a weekday if you want and you don't have to call out.  But the scenery never changes, really.  You rarely get a moment inside your own head or have adult conversation.  There are no sick days or vacation days.  You feel like you never get a break and the work never ends.

Now did I miss something, or don't we all have something in common here?  Having a full-time job does not make you supermom any more than being a stay at home mom makes you insignificant. Trying to make women feel bad for either decision is damaging.  We need to stop trying to out-mom each other and support each other instead.  We all need to assume that we are all doing the best that we can every day.  We need to make the best out of whatever situation we are in and celebrate all of the good that we have.  Sometimes we really have to search for the light at the end of the tunnel, but I assure you, it's there.  And it's a lot easier to find when you have people around you who support you and who help you to find the good instead of tearing you down because you're not exactly like they are or juggling as much as them.

And so I ask you, are you "Mom Enough" to avoid these silly competitions for misery badges?  Are you "Mom Enough" to enjoy how wonderful your children are, no matter how much time you get the privilege of spending with them?  Are you "Mom Enough" to know that motherhood is not a competition and cannot be graded?  Are you "Mom Enough" to accept that not all moms are like you and that's OK, because we're all on our own paths? Are you "Mom Enough" to know that there's no way to know if you're "Mom Enough"?

Love your kids.  Love your life.  Stop comparing it to anything else because nothing is better than the life you already have.

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