I'm afraid I am going to have to go there.
When I started this blog, this was a topic I always thought would be off limits here. It is just too volatile a subject, and I have friends on both sides of the equation I love dearly. But as I am sitting here watching a Dr. Phil episode on this very topic, I feel compelled to exhale some thoughts somewhere. As I don't have the good Doc on speed dial, I am breaking one of my own blog rules and addressing the topic here.
In case anyone wonders, I am a stay at home mom. I always imagined I would be and to be honest, I don't even remember Mark and I having any lengthy discussions about it before it happened. I'm not even 100% sure how I landed at this decision. I was raised by a stay at home mom, and so I imagine that plays a large part in my expectations of motherhood. Mark and I lived on his one income even when I was working, so finances were a non factor. I thoroughly enjoyed my job pre-kids, and I have remained involved in the arena of children's ministry on some level since quitting work almost 8 years ago, but there was never any doubt in my mind what would happen once I had children.
Now none of this is to say that I am living the perfect life as a stay at home mom. If I am honest, there have been more days than I anticipated when I felt overwhelmed, untrained, and just plain worn out by staying home with the boys. I have struggled with loneliness, isolation, and a feeling of general insecurity while I stayed home with the boys and perceived the rest of the world going by - or more accurately moving forward - while I sat by and watched enviously as the kids overflowed the toilets and Barney played in the background.
On the other hand, I am WITH my kids, and I value that, even if they don't always appreciate my continued presence. For me and for my personality, I feel the most focused and successful when I have a singular purpose. I don't know that they will one day have this overwhelming sense of gratitude when it comes to the sacrifices I made to stay at home with them through these years. This is a choice that I made, and so it isn't on them to reassure me that my decision was the right one for all of us. But most days I am sure that this is where I belong and that this is what brings me an interesting balance of joy and challenge.
Here is my frustration today though. To make for good television, Dr. Phil pitted working moms against stay at home moms and then tried to play the hero to create middle ground where he had secretly weaved division. And the very stereotypical conversations we all know - no matter what side you're from, you know the arguments - started flying. In an effort to bridge the great chasm between stay at home moms and working moms (next he tackles Israel and Palestine), Dr. Phil brought on stage several of his employees who were, obviously, working moms. And this is where the vibe of the show began rubbing me the wrong way. They began, rather aggressively might I add, showing photos and citing all the accomplishments of their kids and how great they were and how amazing the women were at their jobs too. They even brought out a producer who was the product of a working mom so she could testify to how wonderful her mom was and how terrific their relationship is now. And all of this felt like a plea - no, a DEMAND, for kudos from the stay at home moms in the audience.
I can't pinpoint a specific comment, but at some point I noticed that the stay at home moms were being primarily represented by a rather chaffing, outspoken woman, and the working moms were being portrayed as the victims of all the harsh judgement of self righteous stay at home moms everywhere. It seemed like suddenly the two camps arrived at this moment in time (conveniently on air for Dr. Phil's ratings) when all the work at home moms wanted not only the freedom to choose what was right for themselves, but they wanted everyone else to pat them on the back for the choice they made. And after awhile it all became just too much. Because now I feel like not only do I as a stay at home mom have the burden of...staying home...but I just feel like I got assigned the job of ooohhhing and aaahhhhhing over everyone else's children and choices as well. "Oh, that's terrific your child has great manners." "Oh, I'm so glad you won't be working September 4th because it's your child's first day of school." And in return could you please not make fun of the fact that I am wearing a stained velour sweatsuit with last year's hair style while I tell you how well you are balancing your home and work life?
Look, I stay at home with my kids. Some of my best friends with some of the nicest kids I know work outside the home. Whatever. Do I think I am doing the right thing for my family by staying home? Yes, I do. Clearly I don't presume to know what is best for every other woman in the world and her family, but I just don't have the free time to always add that at the end of the "I'm doing what is best for my family" sentence. I have my hands full building up my own kids and reassuring myself that each day I am making the best choices I can for my family. I'm just not sure I can take on the job of reassuring everyone else that my choice does not equal any judgement on theirs.