Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mommy Wars

There is this girl. I met her on craigstlist, after hastily deciding not to send my first born to the daycare I'd been planning on for months. She and I had many similarities. We lived in the same town, we got married and had kids at close to the same age, we both had one son. But that's exactly where the similarities ended, because everything else amplified my personal, daily conflict. The one where I chose to work.

I knew, almost instantly, that she would be the perfect person to watch after my newborn three days a week. He would get personal attention there. She was skilled at looking after young children, and she seemed to genuinely care not just for, but about him. I really couldn't ask for more. And he did do very well in her care.

I still consider her to be my friend, but I doubt she realizes just how much knowing her has put my own life's trajectory in question. Of two differences I don't question. She is devoutly religious, while I am anything but. I believe in God, but I'm just not sure what kind of God, and I'm pretty sure I'll never know. That's just fine by me. She is also very conservative, and I am quite liberal. This, too, is just fine by me.

But it's the final difference that I grapple with everyday. She is a stay at home Mom (SAHM). She is there for her kids every single day. No matter what the day holds, rain, shine, happy kids, sad kids, trips to the library, or snuggles on the couch, she is just simply there. Soaking in every detail of their upbringing, not missing a second. To be clear, she is not the bane of my existence. She is more the metaphor for the struggle that so many Moms like me have. The struggle that has inspired a fervor of emotion on both sides of the debate. But, I'm here to tell you that my emotion is as much directed at those who resent my decision to work as it is at those who applaud it.

I've reminded myself a hundred times over, being a working mother is as much for my benefit as it is for my family's. I've told myself that I'm not cut out to be a SAHM. Staying at home during two different layoffs had all but driven me to the brink. I considered my career ambitions to be a strong part of my identity. And I've always firmly believed that I really can "have it all."

But I also backpedal on my convictions, almost daily. How on earth do I manage convince myself that I'm not cut out to stay at home with my kids? I maintain a warm, loving, and mostly even demeanor when my preschooler is begging me not to leave in the morning. Only to climb into my car and let the tears fall freely on the way to work. I study my infant's sleeping face when I lay him in his crib at night, knowing that he'll still be sleeping when I leave in the morning and I won't get to see him until the following evening.

It's gut wrenching, this struggle. The hard facts are that, at the moment, I couldn't afford to stay at home if I wanted to. But, I'm not so sure that I would if I could, and does that make me a ground breaking American woman, or does it make me a bad mother? I'd be proud to raise boys who understand that the woman's place is not necessarily in the home, but I have to constantly convince myself that I'm not doing long term damage in the process.

I realize now that this term 'Mommy Wars' is not so much about two groups of women tongue lashing each other for their personal decisions, most of us are far too civilized for such banter. Rather, it's about a personal war that so many mommy's have. I know I'm not alone when I say that.

Walking around any office, it's easy to see which co-workers have kids at home. They're the ones whispering into the phone to the caregiver, grasping for minute details of the day that would otherwise be lost. They're the ones spending too much time uploading and arranging pictures for their computer screensaver. They're the ones found occasionally gazing into space, yearning to be home. They're the ones with that look of guilt that just can't be cleanly wiped away. And, occasionally, they're the ones sneaking off to their car just to cry a little bit.

I don't need a working mother to tell me I'm doing the right thing, nor do I need a SAHM to tell me I should be home with my kids. Because this war? It's far more nasty when it's fought with yourself.


mom24boys said...

Wow. Just wow. Well-written and articulate. This from someone waging the same war with herself as she wrote her intent to return to work letter after a year's leave. Sigh...