Every mom needs at least one, and preferably several, of those friends. The non-judgmental, “OMG I’ve done that (insert any less than spectacular parenting moment in here), too” kind of friend. Since you are reading this on a Moms Blog, I can probably skip the “being a mom is the most rewarding and the most difficult job that you will ever undertake” part of the story. And you probably also already know that the worst critics of moms are (drum roll please….) other moms. Critiquing usually starts well before your baby is born (is that really what you are going to name the baby?). You will identify with either the breastfeeding moms or the formula feeding moms, the organic make-your-own-baby food moms or the “for heaven’s sake give the child a cupcake” moms, the mom whose kids take six different kids of lessons and the moms whose kids do one activity, the moms whose kids sit at the table until they eat a green bean and the moms whose kids don’t. You can name pretty much any mundane part of life and find moms who will approach it like you do and moms who approach it differently. But the single most divisive mom issue continues to be whether or not to work outside the home. My children are almost eleven. I heard about this divide long before I was a mom, I’ve experienced it, and I can honestly say that I’m still experiencing it. And yes, there are varying degrees of working and staying home that blur the lines, including moms working part-time, moms working from home, and moms whose volunteering is practically a job, just to name a few.
Although I speak without a degree in psychology (and, in fact, with no training whatsoever), I have nonetheless concluded why this particular issue is so divisive. It’s not so much about judging other moms as it is about justifying our own choices to ourselves. As moms, we are constantly questioning if we are making the right choices for our families. We measure ourselves against our peers, and we worry that we are coming up short in the most important endeavor we will ever undertake – raising our children.
Four years ago, a friend of mine went back to work after her home schooled son started college. She posted what she thought was an innocuous comment on Facebook asking how working parents of young children manage to juggle it all. Another mom responded with this opinion, “The kids suffer from both parents working. Mothers should be home and kids will benefit greatly from the constant presence and love no one else but a mother can give.” I’ve thought about that post for years and wondered if this mom was really so sure of her choice or was trying to justify her choice by smugly acting so sure.
Life is complicated and moms don’t always have the choice to stay home. It may be that one income won’t pay the bills, or that one parent’s work provides health insurance, or that one parent’s job is not secure, or that both parents are happier when they are working. Nothing works for every family. I know many wonderful stay-at-home-moms who do an amazing job in that full-time job. I know other stay-at-home moms who are burned out and checked out. I know stay-at-home moms who do virtually all the parenting because their husbands believe that since mom is home, they don’t need to be involved. The same goes for working moms – some are happy to be away from their children, but I find that most are trying very hard to be the best parent that they can be while balancing work and home.
Full disclaimer, I am a working mom. I went back to work when my daughters were sixteen weeks old. When they were almost three, I was able to switch to a part-time schedule working 24 hours a week. In many ways that was ideal, but surprisingly, it wasn’t a perfect solution. When my daughters were six, we made the decision for me to return to a full-time position.
Many mornings after I drop my daughters off at school on my way to work, I drive past a group of moms who meet at the neighboring school in their exercise clothes to walk together before starting their day. Some days I wish that was my life. I’m also smart enough to know that any one of those moms may be looking at me driving to work and wishing for my life. I’ve learned that you never know looking in from the outside what a person’s life is like despite the rosy picture that they may paint.
I wish that moms could quit judging other moms and instead be supportive of each other, recognizing that no one way works for all families all of the time. I think Moms Blogs serve as a great tool to open our minds. I’d like to say that I’m above the judging and jealously, but I’m not. However, I find that without exception, when I get to know another mom whose choices I may have questioned from afar, I find that judgment is replaced with understanding and empathy. The more we get to know one another, even if the “knowing” is through an on-line community, the more judgment will be replaced with support.