While watching the Valentine’s Day episode of Grey’s Anatomy (All You Need is Love), there was a side storyline about two preteens. The girl was admitted to the hospital after eating her Valentine’s Day gift from a classmate, who gave her peanuts. She had a severe allergic reaction. While I did take note of this as the mother of a child with a minor peanut allergy, what I noticed the most was the interactions between the mothers. The boy’s mother brought the girl to the hospital and waiting with her son until the girls’ mother arrived. And when she did, the sparks flew. It was something of a Romeo and Juliet scenerio – the mothers didn’t like each other and wanted to kids to stop “seeing” each other (as much as two 10-year-olds can be seeing each other), but the kids were madly in puppy love.
The writers chose to put these two mothers on opposite sides of the working fence. The boy’s mother was a working mom of 3. When the girl’s mother yelled at her for not knowing about the girl’s allergy, she used the “I’m a busy working mom and don’t have time” defense (one I’ve used myself many times). (As an aside here, I find it impossible that the boy did not know the girl was allergic to peanuts because they were in the same class. It’s pretty well known among the students – especially with these two at age 10 who most likely have been in school together for at least 4 years – when it comes to a severe allergy, but I see why they went that way for this storyline.) The girl’s mother, in her velour sweatsuit, presumably called from the gym, attacks the working mom for not making time for her kids. Classic “I’m better than you because of the choices I made” situation.
I also recently watched the Sarah Jessica Parker movie I Don’t Know How She Does It, based on the book of the same name. I read the book years ago and it really spoke to me about the work-life balance working moms juggle. The entire movie shows SJP’s character, a high-powered finance executive in NYC, trying to take care of her family while keeping her work commitments. At her daughter’s school there’s the stay-at-home mommies and the working mommies, and of course, the two groups do not get along. They all play nicely on the outside, but when backs are turned, it’s very judgmental. In this movie, it’s all about the working mom’s side, so the stay-at-home moms make comments like “When I had kids, I made the decision to raise them myself, not to have someone else raise them…” and so on.
Here’s the thing, being a parent is hard. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. Being a working mom is hard. TheAmerican Psychological Association recently released a report showing that part-time working moms are the happiest, over both full-time working moms and stay-at-home moms. This makes total sense to me, because you get the best of both worlds. You get to have a professional, grown-up life, and time to raise and savor your kids when they are young. But regardless of which is “best,” the truth is this: the best choice is the one that is right for you. For me, that is working full-time. Believe me, there was a time when I wanted to stay home, but we couldn’t afford it. Today, I’m glad I made the choices I did, even though at the time I wasn’t so happy about them. But it was a choice. I could have stayed home, saved on day care, lived in a smaller house in a different neighborhood, and have a different lifestyle. But my husband and I decided that I would work. We didn’t know the bottom was going to drop out of the economy, but when it did, we were OK because we were both equally contributing to our household finances.
I have friends who do both. My friends who chose to leave the work force have had to make tough decisions. Many of them left when they had their first baby, a child who is now in school. They always planned to reenter the workforce, never imagining that it would be so difficult when there are 3 other people vying for the same job, all who have been working over the past 5 or 6 years. Many of my stay-at-home mom friends do not have 4 year degrees like I do. So while their earning potential may be lower, they are also not paying off student loans.
I have friends who always worked, who face the same day-to-day challenges that I do. They juggle their jobs, day care, school, homework, and activities. They do it the same way I do – embracing the chaos and doing the best they can. Some are married, some are single, but they all work really hard to make their lives, and their kids’ lives, as best as they can.
Which are happier? I don’t know. The working moms seem to live a faster-paced life. The stay-at-home moms post about what they’re making for dinner and their runs to the store on Facebook during the day, whereas working moms are squeezing these in after work (and generally not posting about them). But one isn’t better than the other. They’re different, that’s certain. Different isn’t bad, but it can be scary. That’s why in this country we have Team SAM point at Team Working and saying what a bad job they’re dong by not raising their kids, and why Team Working points at Team SAM and says they’re not setting a good example for their children. They’re different, and we don’t like different. We think the other team is judging us, thinking we’re doing a bad job, so we judge back. We think the other team has a better life, that they have advantages that our team doesn’t have. But they don’t. They just have a different life, and different advantages. And neither is better. Just different.
It’s time we stop judging each other and support each other, because raising kids is hard. But raising them together is much easier. Let’s all agree to embrace our differences, to learn from one another, and to respect one another for the choices we’ve made to support our families the best way we know how.
I’m for Team Mom. How about you?