Working moms vs. stay-at-home moms
For as long as there have been women working for a paycheck, I'm sure there has been some form of mommy war going on. It's our intra-species conflict for superiority. Who's better, the woman who stays at home with her children all day, or the woman who goes to work to break the glass ceiling and blaze trails for feminism?
I unwittingly strayed into this battle when I naievely posted this on my personal website:
One day, there will be a real job. Right now, it’s a nice time to connect with my kid.
A friend, S, wrote back, "Don't you think being a mom is a 'real job?' I think a lot of stay-at-home moms would agree you are doing them a disservice by saying that!?? Everyone says it's the hardest 'job' in the world but people still don't respect it since we don't get a 'paycheck.' It's so much easier to go to work and have other people raise your child."
Firstly, this mom-war thing isn't interesting to me and has never been something I felt like debating. One choice isn't better than another. There are so many variables to consider regarding personal preference and financial situation. I would never tell another woman what I think she should do.
Hence, to answer S's question, I'm not trying to belittle stay-at-home moms - which now includes myself! Perhaps it's a question of semantics.
I used the phrase "real job" to mean working for a company and collecting a paycheck, a 401k, and medical benefits. Per Dictionary.com, I meant "a piece of work, esp. a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed price." Maybe I should call it a paid job?
That's not to imply that I think motherhood is a fake job, or a lesser job. That's actually to imply that I think of a corporate job as far less than the labor of love and personal reward that parenting is. One would have to see it that way, since there is no paycheck for parenting, and my kid can annoy or exhaust me at regular intervals.
I was a full-time employee for 15 years before going to part time. I had a career I chose to pursue while still in high school. I was determined to be a journalist, and when I narrowed it down, I was determined to get on air, even if it meant I had to work in random cities, far from home, doing weird hours.
I understand professional passion. I know it very well. I don't know too many other people who would do what I did to get a job. I loved, loved, loved being a reporter. I loved finding and telling stories. I jumped through a lot of hoops to make (or try to make) certain stories or trips happen, and I am proud and grateful of the work that came out of it.
So, I understand the love a meaningful career can give you. I also know the energy it takes to maintain a career, and the emotional highs and lows that come with it.
To me, it's nothing like parenting. Nothing. Parenting is so much harder, but also so much more rewarding. Again, that's my take on it.
I chose to drop down to part-time after I got pregnant, and it had been my plan to quit this April and stay at home for at least a year. Let me first tell you about being a part time weekend anchor, which meant I worked Saturdays and Sundays and had the rest of the week off. (That was a great setup, by the way.)
There were a few weekends where I had to do a 10 am - 6 pm shift because I'd have to fill in for a reporter on vacation. I'd go out, shoot two or three stories with the photographer, write it all up, format it for the website, get on my makeup and anchor clothes, check the scripts, and get on air. (Paul Drewes would do the 9 and 10 solo.)
I would miss seeing Olivia all day. I distinctly remember coming home at 7 the first night I had to do this, and still being totally energetic, and happy to see her. She was showered and fed, and ready for bed, and I was so happy to finish up the bedtime ritual of storytime and tucking in. I was sad I didn't have a little more time with her.
It was then that I experienced firsthand how much easier it is to go to work. As S said, it's so much easier to go to work and have other people raise your child.
In 2009, I moved to the weekday morning anchor shift. Because I got up at 3 am, I'd be zapped by noon. That was hard five days a week. Harder that she was so young; just two. I'd barely catch up on my sleep and the weekend would be over. Another person might be fine with it, but I couldn't handle.
Aside from the tremendous difficulty I had with being on the morning shift, the real reason I wanted to quit was to spend the entire week with Olivia. I see this as a venture I want to fully experience. I don't want to look back and wish I could have been there more. I have come to absolutely hate this phrase, because I've now heard it so much, but it's pretty accurate here: They grow up so fast.
Now I'm a stay-at-home mother. I'm still a little tired. I'm very happy, but I'm wilted at the end of most days because of the tremendous energy it takes to care for a toddler.
For instance, if Olivia is sick, then she will be whiny all day. That really grates me. I can deal with it at first, but after a few hours, I'm frazzled. Every month, I hand her off to my husband on his Sunday off, and I hide. I need to recharge and re-boot. I can't take being with a kid day in and day out, non-stop. I need some time off. Once every four weeks seems acceptable to me.
Still, this is my choice, and I'm happy with it.
I came across a good article by Leslie Morgan Steiner. "Finding one's balance between work and family can be a torturous task for any mom. Complicating every mom's personal dilemma is the societal tension between working mothers and stay-at-home ones. Motherhood in America is fraught with defensiveness, infighting, ignorance and judgment about what's best for kids, families and women.
"Wouldn't we be far better off if we accepted and supported all good, if disparate, mothering choices? Aren't moms ultimately united in our quest to stay sane, raise good kids, provide each other with succor and support, and protect humankind from the overly aggressive, overly logical male half of the species?"
Steiner sums up the angst wonderfully, but I still don't get why there has to be an issue here. The only moms I judge are the ones doing drugs, committing crimes, and being irresponsible citizens while neglecting their children. Frankly, I stand by my right to judge losers like that. Cyrus Belt comes to mind.
Let's take the financial need out of the picture for a moment. If a woman wants to work full-time to feel satisfied, why isn't that OK? It doesn't mean she's less nurturing. I think that means she will be a happier person, thus a better mom. By contrast, if she wants to stay home with her kid all day, that doesn't mean she's setting back the feminist movement.
What's the right balance for each mother? Only she can decide. I respect that.
HAVING IT ALL
I think Steiner hits the nail on the head when she attributes the heart of the conflict to insecurity over making the right choices. "How can some moms stay home? Why is it that others, like me, so clearly cannot? Do we all fight our private battles about which to choose? Does that explain why we're so catty and envious of women who've made different choices?"
Aah, yes. We can't have it all. We can't be Domestic Diva + Career Mom, and therein lies the rub. Even if working weekends was a nice compromise for my mom-ness, it certainly ensured I would not be top dog at the station. In local news, that would be the weekday evening anchor. Would I really want to do a 2-11 p.m. shift five nights a week and totally miss afternoons in the park and the bedtime ritual?
The move to mornings is regarded as a promotion because that means the anchor is on air more days a week, and management considers weekdays more important than weekends. I could not handle a morning shift and maintain my personal life. I loved the job so much- more than any other anchor shift I've done, actually- but what a major sacrifice to my family life.
So I thought about what one thing meant the most to me, and it was pretty easy: Olivia. Realizing I had to give up a career that meant so much to me was the hard part, but it's something I was willing to do. I took a "been there, done that" attitude. In that sense, maybe I'm lucky that I already felt I had proven myself.
That doesn't mean there aren't moments where the old newshound in me gets excited by some news event and wishes I could be part of it. When President Obama came to Hawaii last Christmas, there was a little part of me that wanted to be in the press pool. When KITV's Paul Drewes told me about his crazy behind-the-scenes logistics of covering the February tsunami scare, a warped piece of me missed some of that organized chaos. Sometimes, I see new talent on air and I think, "That could be me." And then I let go.
There are no easy answers, and I think a little part of me will always miss the news career I left behind. However, I'm aware that I made a choice, and when I look at Olivia, I'm reminded that I made the choice that's right... for me.
You can also email me at Diane@DianeAko.com