Is Being a Stay-at-Home-Mom Fair to your Husband?
Furthermore, is it fair to your children? The following is a comment from a former stay at home mom who disagrees with points I raise in Why your Wife’s Excuses for Not Working are Lame and The Real Reason your Wife Doesn’t Want to Work. Is being a mom “the toughest job there is?” Or, is it spin for women who could return to work, but have chosen not to do so?
Sacred cows make the best hamburger. - Mark Twain
I’m a woman who enjoys reading your blogs, but have to disagree with you on this point. In my case, I was working when I became pregnant and fully intended on returning to work after the baby came. I couldn’t understand why some women gave up such high paying jobs to stay home. However, when my daughter was born I changed completely. I soon realized that my time with her was fleeting and wanted to relish every minute of it. . .
. . . I began to dread returning to work. Not because I didn’t like my job. I loved my job. I’m a teacher. I had good childcare planned for when I returned to work. My mother-in-law was going watch her. I was just consumed with guilt at the time. I couldn’t imagine someone else telling me about her first word, her first step. When she was upset, I wanted her to run to me for comfort. I wanted to be the main influence in her life.
We weren’t well off and I knew quitting my job would put us in a bind financially, but at the time I felt that if I failed at being a mother I would’ve failed at everything. You can’t imagine how much I enjoyed each day with my daughter. When she was two I had another daughter. It was very stressful and my husband didn’t always understand that stress. He assumed I was playing all day. We did go to the park, the pool, have picnics, but when you have two toddlers every moment is filled with stress. I was exhausted when my husband would return home.
My daughters are now 15 and 13. I went back to teaching full time when my youngest started kindergarten. . . I’ve never regretted the decision to stay home when they were young, and am very thankful that I was able to do so. . . I understand the point you’re trying to get across in your blog, however there are many women who choose to stay home even after their children are in school and it’s not because they’re avoiding work or because they just want someone to take care of them.
My husband did not understand my desire to stay home with our daughter. He expressed his legitimate concern over finances and, although he didn’t verbalize it, I got the feeling he thought I was just “taking it easy.” I knew it would hurt us financially, but felt that we could cut back in many areas, and that the benefits of staying home with our daughter would be worth any sacrifices we made. . . He is no longer my husband. We divorced the year before my youngest was in kindergarten, so that was the main reason I went back to work. . .
. . . After I returned to work I tried to help out in their classrooms as much as possible and, fortunately, have many wonderful stay-at-home friends whom I relied heavily on to help take care of my daughters. It was very difficult for me as I have no family in town and, as a teacher, it’s not easy to take days off to drive children to dentists, dr. appointments, etc. . .
. . . I can’t imagine anyone enjoying their job as much as I enjoy mine. However, if I hadn’t divorced I’m not sure if I’d have returned to work. I felt very needed at home. . . (Let me also express the gratitude that even though my ex-husband did not fully understand the desire I had to stay home, he supported my decision.)
I do understand the point you’re trying to make, Dr. T, but please be careful lumping all stay at home moms in the same category. It presents a stereotype that many women do not fit. And let me also state before I sign off that I find you insights and advice valuable! Thank you!
Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It appears that you’ve truly found your calling in teaching and caring for young children, which makes the vocation of kindergarten teacher a perfect fit for you.
I’m not lumping all stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) in the same category. As a mother, wanting to stay at home and bond with your kids is one of the most natural things in the world and an absolutely legitimate choice IF it was mutually agreed upon by a woman and her partner BEFORE having children. Many families can’t afford to have a child on just one income and only feel able to start a family because they’re a two-income household.
Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s fair to the husband to say after you’ve already given birth, “Oh, I changed my mind. I’m not going back to work now.” I’m sure there are many men who would love to stay at home with their kids and nurture their bond as fathers, too, but don’t because they’re honoring their responsibilities. In fact, I’m sure a lot of the men who find themselves in this situation feel duped, betrayed and excluded from the full parental bond.
I respectfully disagree with you about a woman’s “need” to stay home after the child/children are enrolled in school. Yes, kids need rides to appointments and emergencies come up, but it doesn’t require a 24-hour on-call mom taxi service. Non-emergency medical appointments can be scheduled for Saturdays. Some doctors have very early weekday or later evening hours. Or, you take an hour or two from work with advance notice for regular check-ups.
Staying at home after the children are enrolled in school, is a choice, not a necessity. Many women struggle with feelings of guilt at the thought of returning to work. That’s normal and shows what a loving mother you are. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, discuss them with your partner, and remember that feelings aren’t facts. Mothers who struggle with feelings of guilt and the “need to be needed” need to work through these feelings—especially if it’s damaging their marriage.
I know many men, personally and professionally, who feel mighty resentful and angry about their partner’s refusal to return to work. These men don’t think their wives/partners are “staying at home and taking it easy.” However, they do feel, and rightly so, that they’re having to shoulder the entire financial burden and then have to hear complaints that they don’t do enough around the house or spend enough time with the children.
I wonder how most women would react if the roles were reversed and their husbands unilaterally decided that they were quitting their jobs to stay home with the kids because it’s the most fulfilling choice for them and told their wives that they expected them to carry the entire financial burden? It would be heaven on earth if we only had to the things we find most fulfilling in life. Unfortunately, most people don’t have that luxury. So you compromise and do what you need to do to survive and pay the bills for part of the time and do what’s most fulfilling to you the other part of the time. Being a mother doesn’t exempt you from this reality.
“Being a mom is the toughest job there is” is a popular and sacred cow statement that’s almost reached dogmatic proportions. At the risk of unleashing the hounds of hell, I disagree. What about being a dad? You never hear anyone say, “being a dad the toughest job there is.” In some ways, I think it’s more difficult to be a father in our society.
Fathers don’t get to spend much time with their kids because they’re the ones who are often the main breadwinners while the wives get the glory for spending the money on the kids and physically buying them clothes, toys, etc. Moms get to be seen as the “givers” and “nurturers,” when it’s the dads who are providing them with the funds that enable them to do so.
When some marriages end in divorce, most dads don’t get full custody and get to spend even less time with their kids. And, in many situations, because their exes are angry with them about the demise of the relationship, moms trash the dads to their kids, which further strains the father-child relationship.
On talk shows and “news” programs, there’s a lot of focus on “the importance of being a father.” However, what society really means when they talk about “the importance of being a father” is paying child support on time and not being a deadbeat dad. Thanks for the sperm and the support checks. Now go away. It’s rare that media sources talk about the importance of a father in a child’s life. All in all, I think a lot of fathers get the short end of the stick.
Furthermore, being a parent isn’t a job; it’s a relationship. You put work and effort into relationships whether their platonic, familial, parental, romantic or collegial, but they’re not jobs. That’s spin for women who have made the choice not to return to work. You get to quit a job, change a job, get paid for a job, be promoted on a job and punch out at the end of a day.
I’ve always found women who view being a mother as a “job” to be defensive and over-identified with the role to the exclusion and detriment of everything else, including their grown-up relationships. Anyway, this is just my perspective. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it. In fact, I imagine some people will want to clobber me for it.
For the record, my mom worked part-time after I was born and returned to work full-time when I was in pre-school. I don’t remember feeling resentful or angry about this. Like you, we also didn’t have family locally to help. She relied on a network of friends, school programs, and neighbors for transportation, sitting, etc. Ideally, that’s how a community is supposed to work. It also teaches your children the importance of relationships and support networks instead of fostering the expectation that people should be at their beck and call and drop everything to cater to their needs.
I respect my mother and admire her for her choices. She was a great role model who has independently and successfully run her own business for the last 30 years. My point is, my mother behaved as if working was normal and nothing to be upset about and, as a child, I adopted her attitude. If kids sense that you feel bad or guilty about something, they’ll pick up on it and amplify those feelings back to you.
Thank you again for your comments, Mary. I enjoy the discourse, especially when it’s of differing viewpoints!
Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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