“I don’t know how you can stay at home full-time with your kids. I could never do it! I need to work.”
This is the statement I’ve heard repeated by all my work colleagues and many of my friends since I told them I was quitting the job I loved in order to be at home with my kids. It’s never said with malice, and often, there are even undertones of admiration in their voice, so I don’t let it offend me. Yet still, something about this comment has always bothered me, and until recently, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I realized the problem is my response.
I never know what to say, because this statement automatically creates two categories of women: one into which they fit, and one into which I now fit. You see, I don’t actually identify with either category, but rather, I feel as if both groups are my people. But upon my decision to quit my job, I am immediately grouped into one and ousted from the other. And this is not an anti-at-home-moms campaign led by workforce moms – I felt the same shift when I re-entered the workforce 18 months ago after being at home exclusively. Suddenly, these women who were my peers a moment ago are now implying that we are inherently different.
I don’t actually believe that there are two camps of moms – those who are at home full-time and those who work outside the home. I don’t personally thrive in the atmosphere of being at home with my kids all day, every day. I really enjoy working a job that gets me out of the house and interacting with adults for longer than it takes my kids to interrupt me (which is exactly 2.5 seconds at any given time). I get frustrated that I can’t have meaningful conversations with my friends when our kids are around (which they always are if I’m at home full-time), and while I’d like to tell you I have the patience of a saint, I do not, so I usually end up taking it out on my kids in the form of yelling and the occasional threat. Moments I’m not proud of, but that are what they are. I’m not a finger-paint-on-the-kitchen-table kind of mom, nor am I a Martha Stewart wannabe, homemaker extraordinaire ( I always remind my husband that he didn’t marry me for my housekeeping skills). But I love my kids insanely, and only insanity could compel me to quit the job I loved to be at home 24/7 with my brood, when I know that’s what they need from me in this season.
And that’s the crux of it – I know they need me at home. Here’s what I think: working away from home full-time or at home full-time, we’re all moms, all women who love our kids unconditionally, and who would sacrifice anything for them that they needed. In this season, my family needs more from me than I could give when I was working, and so, I quit my job. And I believe every mom would do the same thing, if she had to (and could, financially). Thankfully, many moms don’t have to make that decision – they’re able to be all that their kids need them to be while pursuing a career, and that’s wonderful! It’s equally wonderful that many moms who want to, or need to, are able to stay home with their kids. Both positions are noble, and there is no easy choice. Both require sacrifice, and as good moms, we make the best choices for our families, who are all unique, with unique needs. No choice is superior to the other.
When we divide ourselves into groups, we narrow our community to “us-es” and “thems,” instead of simply moms, together. Our jobs as moms are hard, and no one knows it better than another mom. Is it harder to divide your time and priorities between work and family, feeling constantly guilty for whichever isn’t getting your attention at the moment? Or is it harder to live in the trenches of dirty diapers and tantrumming toddlers 24/7, without a break? I’ve done both, and both are hard. We need each other’s support. Shouldn’t we be rallying together instead of dividing ourselves into camps?
I choose unity instead of division, camaraderie instead of competition, so the next time a well-meaning working mom asks how I could stay home full-time, I’ll reply, “The same way you do it as a mom working outside of home, just one day at a time.”