It is the unavoidable debate of all women with children. Which is better: stay-at-home mom or working-mother? This one question will drive us crazy with worry over whether we are being true to ourselves, really doing right by our families, and how we judge other women. Sometimes life necessitates the choice for us further complicating the debate.
When I was very young I used to imagine being a stay-at-home mom like my mother. I should say that this lasted til my early teen years when my mother did something that changed my whole perception of things, she got a job. Well, actually she went back to school, earned her GED, and then got a job. The death of my father had started her thinking about it until finally she just decided it had to be done. As I grew up she began to stress college and the need for me to be independent.
So that is what I made it my priority to be, independent. Attending an all women’s college also fed into the idea of being an independent woman, so when I met the man I eventually married, I had my priorities straight. I graduated, got a job THEN got married, and didn’t have my first child until we had been married for two years. That’s when the conflict began, not with the world around me, but within me.
I wanted to be with my daughter. I wanted to breastfeed her. I wanted to be the best mom for her. But staying home wasn’t an option. I needed to keep working. I found a daycare situation 15 minutes from my job. I pumped milk while others took smoke breaks, and used my lunch hour to go nurse my daughter. I had to be a working-mother, but I was determined to be the best mother under the circumstances.
From other women I received equal amounts of praise and criticism, which broke down as follows. The women that praised me were envious of my dedication, and what they saw as my good fortune to both find a daycare so close and an understanding boss. The women who criticized were usually perplexed by my decision since it wasn’t one they had made, skeptical of my willingness to keep it up, or just felt the need to be critical.
With the birth of my son the desire to be with him, breastfeed him, and be the best mom for him didn’t diminish. But as before, staying home wasn’t an option. I wasn’t so fortunate the second time around, but I was just as determined. I couldn’t find a daycare more than 30 minutes nearer my job, so I couldn’t visit him to nurse on my lunch break. I was forced to pump throughout the day because I wanted to do the best for him.
I was sure I’d never get the chance to be a stay-at-home mom, but life notoriously throws us into situations we don’t always count on. After 10 years working with the same company I was laid off. I went from being working-mother to stay-at-home mom just like that. Unfortunately, circumstances don’t allow me to simply be a stay-at-home mom. Bills need to be paid, and the burden of maintaining the life to which we are accustomed is a two party deal.
This puts me in a new category that no one ever talked about as I was growing up trying to figure out how to be the best mother and woman I could be. I am now a working-from-home mom. This allows me to contribute to the household finances, and be with my kids. But don’t fool yourself. It still isn’t easy. There are still women who praise and women who criticize, and as long as there are women who criticize there is always the self doubt. Am I doing the best for my family? Am I being true to myself?
*Photo: Mother and children by blmurch, obtained through Flickr.