Mommy Vs Mommy

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Last night found me taking a bath at 12:30 a.m., trying to relax and ease the shooting pains that were searing through my gut. While this little spa experience was certainly cutting into my sleep time, and I felt as if an alien were about to pop out of my belly at any moment, it was also curiously peaceful.

No Child. No Husband. No one telling me that they had to pee. No one asking me where their “Book, paper, belt, magazine, shoes, or insert your own request here”

I also began to think on what it means to be a “working mother”. The old bumper sticker says “Every mother is a working mother”, and while that is wholly true, it also blurs the lines in what is arguably the knife in the heart of the feminist movement today.

Stay at Home Mom VS Work away from home Mom. Women VS Women.

Prior to becoming a mother, I was a child care provider for other mothers. More specifically, I was an Infant child care provider. I had babies as young as 4 weeks old handed to me while their mothers departed for work. I patted the backs of crying mothers and handed them tissues as they walked out the door in the first days and weeks of their being back to work. I told them to call me every hour if they needed to, that it was not a bother. I smiled when they showed me how their babies liked to be held and how they liked to be fed. I tried to help them move across the chasm that had opened in their hearts and in their lives. I was a plucky Sherpa, leading them up the Everest of motherhood.

Every woman handled this transition differently. I liken it to what it must have been like for my mother, as a Maternity Nurse, watching different women experience labor and birth. There are no absolutes.

Some women walked briskly away from me, after handing me their baby. Some were so overwhelmed that they feared their total breakdown in front of me – a stranger. Others were overjoyed to be returning to work, a place where they felt competent. For yet others, the fear of giving their child to a stranger was the strongest emotion. Would I be another “Nanny from Hell” who would beat and abuse their baby?

There was always a second wave to these new emotions. Was I judging them? Were they measuring up to what I, a child care professional, had seen before? Were they doing it right?

At the time, I was less aware of this second wave. I was not yet a mother, and I assumed that every woman, having given birth, was secure in her knowledge that she was doing fine. I know now that this is not true. The whole “giving birth” thing is the easiest part of the job. The real merconium hits the fan after the baby is there.

In hindsight, the best gift I gave all those mothers was the actual love I felt for their children. I adored my job. I liked these babies and I liked their mothers.

My confession was that I did judge them.
While it shames me to admit this, I had a lot of opinions about who was a good mother and who was not. Did she bring the baby in sick AGAIN? What do you mean she forgot the diapers? If she really loved her baby, she wouldn’t drop her off here when she had a day off, she would keep her with her and enjoy some time with her own child! When I was feeling particularly nasty I would think, “I see this child more hours than the parent does!”

Of course, we all know what happened to uppity child care professionals who think they know everything, right? That’s right ~ they give birth to a high need screamer who pukes all the breast milk up, doesn’t sleep and won’t gain weight. They also go into a crushing depression that lasts for three years. They get judged a bad mother by their own child care provider, even though the mother is the Director of the child care. They cry, a lot. They regret thinking mean thoughts about other mothers.

I also was required to face the essential paradox of the working mother. I am Dammed if I do…anything. Working makes me selfish. Working makes me materialistic. Working makes me a cold, career driven bitch that, if she had a maternal bone in her body, would stay at home and parent her child. I mean, why bother having a baby if you are just going to hand her over to someone else to raise, right?

It isn’t that simple. Yes, for some mothers, they work to provide income. They may be a single parent, or a partner who needs to bring home an income to keep the family going from paycheck to paycheck. I admire them.

Some mothers choose to stay at home because they want to, and have a partner that can afford for them to do so. I also admire them.

Some mothers really like their jobs. They may have chosen career paths that took a while to build, or required a lot of education. They may feel good when they are able to contribute to their profession in a meaningful way. I suspect that these mothers understand that their mental health is tied up in maintaining a part of this non-mommy identity. I know that this applies to me.

I like to work. I am a better mommy because I work. If I had lived in an era that forced me to stay at home, I would most likely be a Valium addicted alcoholic. The best gift I gave my child was exposing her to other adult caregivers who weren’t depressed. I gave her child care professionals like me.

However, my fondest wish is for all women to be able to say what path is right for them, without any other woman doing any eye-rolling, or tsk-tsking at their decision. I recall a very startling conversation I had with another mother in my daughter’s Infant room. We were talking about having more babies, and if we would, if our husbands wanted more. She turned to me and said, “I’d love to have another baby, but I would feel really guilty about having three in child care.”

“Why?” I said.

“You know”, she said “THREE children ~ all in child care? What kind of mother would I be?”

I smiled. “A mother who likes to work”, I said. “A mother who is a better mother because she knows she likes to work and doesn’t feel guilty for it.”

I hope that was a gift for her.

12 Baleful Regards:

TB said...

"However, my fondest wish is for all women to be able to say what path is right for them, without any other woman doing any eye-rolling, or tsk-tsking at their decision."

Oh how I agree with this statement. And this goes for any decision a woman must make for herself, in my mind.

Beautifully written.

Diana said...

I also believe I'm a better Mommy because I work. My time away from him adds to the greatness in the time we spend after I get out of work.
Besides I think if I were home all day one of us would have some permanent damage...

Nancy said...

That was a great post. I also believe strongly that women should not judge one another for the choices we make as mothers. I don't understand why some moms that otherwise have so many interests in common will decide not to interact or become friends because they have made different choices with respect to working out of the home.

I bet that woman was comforted by your statement. You're nice for reminding her of that.

roo said...

Dawn, you're a real mensch. By which I mean, I think you've got a lot of shit figured out. You pay attention.

That's a gift for everyone.

Sugarmama said...

This is an excellent post, and I think you are right on. I'm a SAHM myself, but sometimes feel guilty that I love it so much and DIDN'T feel all that fulfilled at my paying job. That said, I know that there are women out there who feel personally fulfilled at whatever work they're at and would be miserable at home with the kids. More power to them, too! I have an older friend who says that the Women's Movement was originally all about allowing women to make choices. We lose sight of that these days, I think.

madge said...

Well said, Dawn. I frequently self-flagellate about all the judging I did about mothers before I had a child myself.

I miss working in an office. I was so ecstatic to see her at the end of the day. Now, I somtimes trudge through her bath and bedtime routine like a sullen teenager.

Oy. Now I'm going to go self-flagellate about that. Ahh, motherhood.

Lisa said...

I think you are right on everything here. And actually, I don't think any mom doesn't feel alittle guilty about her decision. I'm a stay-at-home mom. And I feel guilty often. I wonder if he'd be better off in childcare -- more kids to play with and people to interact with -- especially when I've been with him for five days straight and I lose my temper and yell at him!

I don't think there's anything wrong with being the stay-at-home mom or the working mom. Everyone is different and you've got to do what's best for you. I don't understand why women judge so much?

But what does drive me crazy is when a woman will say to me: "You stay home? I could NEVER do THAT!" As if I'm being lazy and don't want a challenge.

I just wish we as women could work together and not judge. Offer support to everyone.

V said...

This is such a great post Dawn! I loved it and I hope that it spreads and more women feel and think like this because what we mother's always need...more than anything...is support. Regardless of our choices, we'll always need it.
Now I'm in the first group...working because I have to, but there was a time when I wasn't, and after a year and a half at home, I was just about bonkers enough to spend the rest of my life in a corner singing Old MacDonald under my breath. Even if I didn't have to, I'd STILL have to work. It absolutley gives me the space and other sense of self that I need.
Awesome post. Really awesome!

Cindy said...

I work because I want to. There are niceties we have because of it (one of those being health insurance, or is that a need?) Yet I did fall into a job that lets me be there a lot for Owen. I work for the school system so we are home together on school vacations. I feel every mother is doing the best that she can, and we need to respect that in each other. I tooo judged mothers befroe I was one, but now I judge only myself, and I try to kind.

Erica said...

Wow, this has been on my mind a lot lately. I pretty much have to go back to work-financially we require it. I am fortunate to have a hubby who works at home instead of at his office--this way he can stay with our baby when I have to go back to work, and I won't feel like I'm just handing her off to a stranger. I don't think psychologically I could do that.

I know myself--I would fall apart if I stayed in the house all day with both hubby and baby. It's not that I don't love them, but I DO need to be out in the world. I've tried my hand at working at home by freelance writing while pregnant, and as a result I've become nothing short of insane. I feel trapped most days. I hate to leave my baby but I know it's best all around.

I wanted to be one of those moms who could stay at home with her baby all day-I thought I would want to be. I have nothing but the highest respect for stay-at-home moms. But if I did this, not only would we financially suffer, but my daughter would suffer from a very depressed mommy too. So soon I'll be off to find a good writing job!

Pegomh said...

Thanks for sharing and being so honest. It is a gift.

mothergoosemouse said...

Dawn, I'm sorry I haven't read/commented until now. I'm sure you know I have entirely too much to say on this topic. But what you said is exactly what my mother and I have both said - I am a better mommy when I work. Even in the past two days of work, I feel so much better about everything.

But it's been a real eye-opening experience, being a SAHM for the last eight months. Ironically enough, I had the opposite experience as a substitute day-case provider. I felt as if the mothers were judging ME for merely being a caregiver.

But that is another post for another day. In the meantime, please know that I agree wholeheartedly with your post, and I wish more people had such a balance view of the WOHM/SAHM question.

 
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