I am well past the years of being a stay at home mom. I am well past the years of having children living in my house. I am free from the trenches of the mommy wars. So, why does this topic stir up such strong emotions in me? Why does this topic send me from zero to raging bitch in 2.5 seconds?
I was raised in a very strong Mormon family. The boys were encouraged to grow up, go to college, find a job that would support a family. The girls were encouraged to grow up, find a nice returned missionary, settle down and have children, and then stay home and raise them. It was a very traditional Mormon family. I was a good kid. Tried to do the things that would make my parents happy. Graduated highschool with good grades. Went to BYU just like my parents did. After two years there, met and married a nice young returned missionary, dropped out of school and began popping out babies. It’s what was expected. It’s what we did. And I was a stay at home mom. Most of the women in my neighborhood were stay at home moms. We had play dates. We went to church together. We sent our husbands off to school and/or work every morning. We were all these perfect little Mormon families doing the perfect little Mormon thing. And I was miserable.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love me kids, because I did. Very much. But I didn’t get that feeling of satisfaction that I’d heard all my life that I would have by being a mother. It was a challenge for me. A chore. We did arts and crafts. I taught my children to read. I taught them their colors. I taught them how to play. I taught them how to be independent. From the outside looking in, I had a pretty charmed life. We had the perfect little family. Because we were doing the right thing.
After eleven years, my husband finally graduated college with his bachelor’s degree. We moved when he got a job. And when we moved, my circle of friendly stay at home moms were gone, and were replaced by a regime of hoity toity holier than thou stay at home moms. There was no support system like there was before. And I was miserable. So I went back to work. Got a job. Sent the baby to preschool for a year before she started Kindergarten. Dealt with her clinging to my leg screaming for three weeks before she finally decided day care was OK. Felt like the most horrible mother in the world by putting her “into the system.” Wondered on a daily basis if I was doing the right thing. But for once, I could breathe. I could go to work and talk to adults. For once I didn’t feel like I was trapped in this life that I was beginning to hate.
Shortly after I started working, my husband at the time grew tired of his job. We moved again. Third time in three years. But he thought if he could get me closer to my family that we could save our marriage. It was going to be a second chance for us. Or a third. Or a fourth. I don’t really remember how many times we talked about ending our marriage, but this was going to be our last chance. My sister, who thoroughly enjoys being a stay at home mom swears to this day that had my marriage situation been different, I would have enjoyed life as a SAHM much more. Perhaps. But I don’t think so. I was never much of a homebody, so I don’t know that having the “perfect marriage” would have changed my need to work outside the home.
With each move, my experiences in the church disintegrated. With each move, I had a harder time reconciling in my brain the things that I had been taught growing up. But I was moving back closer to home. Closer to my family and I was ecstatic. Maybe I could find the support system that had been missing since I left my little close-knit group of stay at home moms years before.
This move that was supposed to be so good for us landed us in a ward with a set of stay at home moms like I had never met before. They didn’t care for me. I didn’t care for them. They judged me because I worked outside the home. They snubbed me because I was different. I was a self confident woman, capable of doing anything that I wanted to. I was not the typical Mormon wife that everyone expected me to be. One day in a relief society meeting (this is a meeting where the women in the church meet to discuss important issues facing women….blah, blah, blah…It was a place to prove that you were better mother than anyone else and throw that in the ‘lesser’ mothers’ faces) the “lesson” (and I use that term loosely) was on working outside the home. The person teaching the lesson was asking for examples of why mothers would leave their children to work outside the home. There were the pat Mormon answers: Financial need, spouse unable to find work, need for insurance. Good, valid reasons for women to work outside the home. I should have kept my mouth shut, but said, “Sometimes women just need more in their life than staying home with the kids.” You could have heard a pin drop. Please tell me that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Nobody looked my way. There was an awkward silence for a moment, but was broken by our relief society president who said, “You know that statistics show that teenage girls tend to get pregnant between the hours of 3 and 5pm…between when they get out of school and parents get home from work.” I was stunned. I looked her direction and held her gaze until she had to look away. Her youngest son was my youngest daughter’s age and they both went to the same daycare. No, you didn’t misread that. Her son was in daycare with my daughter, but she was a stay at home mom. (And….there it is…my blood is officially boiling again, even though it’s been years!)
After the meeting she came up to me and said, “I hope you didn’t feel like I was singling you out.” Well, how on earth could I possibly have thought that!? I had all girls. I had dared make a comment that women might feel more fulfilled from having a job outside the home. The conversation had stopped abruptly after my comment and her remark. Where could I possibly get the idea that she was singling me out. I did not respond. I stood there, holding her gaze. Willing her to apologize to me through my stare. I don’t know how long we stood there staring at each other before she finally broke the silence and discomfort. She said, “Look. You and I are very similar. We are both independent women who like to be challenged.” I said, “It would seem that the only difference between you and I, then, is that I’m mercenary and I get paid for leaving my child in daycare all day!” I gave her no chance to respond. I turned and walked away and never looked back.
Why, after all these years, all this distance, all the water under the bridge would I bring this topic up?
Wednesday when I was sitting in the hospital waiting to be rolled into surgery the Anderson Cooper show came on TV. The topic? Mommy Wars. They put out statistics that “proved” that working moms were more satisfied with their lives than stay at home moms. And the working moms they had on the panel were hateful! They called stay at home moms lazy. I was stunned. The whole show was so sensationalized and not what I would consider to be a good balance of the SAHM vs the WM. The working moms had their babies, stayed home for the minimum amount of time they could for maternity leave and then went right back to work. How can you really get a good idea of what it’s like to be a stay at home mom in 4-6 weeks? You can’t. And they were so condescending. Much like the relief society president’s condescending attitude towards working mothers all those years ago. I sat watching this show getting more and more agitated. They needed someone on the panel like me. Someone who had spent ten years as a stay at home mom and another more than ten years as a working mom. Someone who had been on both sides of the fence for longer than six weeks. The show just made me angry. The accusation that stay at home moms were lazy about sent me through the roof.
I’m a member of a wonderful on-line community full of intelligent, warm, loving women. Some stay home with their kids. Some work outside the home. All are fabulous women! We had a discussion yesterday about the show. One of the girls, @ElegantGoose, responded to the discussion by saying this:
“Are SAHMs lazy? Are working moms selfish?
Are breastfeeding moms gross? Are bottle feeding moms selfish and uncaring about health?
Is cosleeping stupid and dangerous? Is separate sleeping ignoring the needs of a baby?
Is it selfish to stay childless? Is it selfish to have children?
Are women who are made up and fashionable shallow? Are women who don’t wear make up frumpy and sexless?
Are women who take their husband’s last name oppressed, with no identity of their own? Are women who keep their maiden names men-hating feminazis?
As long as we keep pitting ourselves against each other based on every marriage, child-raising, and lifestyle choice, we will never be united in addressing all the issues that face all women.”
Her last paragraph is what hit home most to me. There are so many issues that face us all, why are we playing these Mommy War Games? We need to be kind to each other. We need to support each other. We need to empathize and sympathize with each other. We do not need to bash each other. I hope that when/if my kids decide to start families of their own that they do not have to fight these wars. I hope that if they decide to be working moms that they can do so without judgment. I hope that if they decide to be stay at home moms that they can do so without judgment. I hope that they can be whatever type mom makes them happy. Is that too much for me to hope for… that they have better experiences in the motherhood realm than I did? Seriously, people. The Mommy War needs to end!