Lately it’s hard to miss that media and society have given stay at home parents a stigma, while at the same time spouting off that each family should have the right to do what’s right for them.
Both mothers and fathers face the consistently inconsistent society criticisms and pressures from fellow parent. Women should compete for degrees and high-ranking positions in their careers. Women should bake, clean, grill, be handy around the house, decorate, and shop for the house. You know, be Wonder Woman and Betty Crocker. Bake cookies, but don’t eat them. Be thin and fit, but be comfortable no matter how you look. Shop, but don’t spend money. Speak your mind, but don’t be loud. Work hard and break the glass ceiling, but stay at home and take care of your family. Men should have jobs that they can be proud of and make big salaries that provide the things that their families need and want. Men should work hard, show little emotion, be disciplinarians, and be skilled with repairs. Don’t be emotional, but be sensitive. Be a present father-figure, but spend long hours in your career. Love and cherish your wife, but look at that girl over there! It’s no wonder why people are confused about what a mother and father’s role should be; no matter what you do, you get criticized.
I have experienced this first hand. I left my full-time job after going back to work when my son was born and maternity leave ended. The stress of having to taking him to a daycare, which we were lucky to find an amazing daycare, and rush to get to work on time seemed meaningless. Everyone in the house started the day off stressed and worried about time. Then, I would rush to pick him up at the end of the day so that I could stop at the store and get home to cook dinner, maybe do a little cleaning before it was bedtime. The constant rushing caused a lot of pressure in our household. There was a little animosity between my husband and myself too. I was jealous that he didn’t have to rush and do the daycare things. He was annoyed because I was always stressed and focused on bedtime and alarm clocks. I started to take it out on myself. How was every other family doing it and we were falling apart? There are plenty of moms out there that go back to work after having a child and they seem to be functioning just fine. Was it out of necessity? Are they just putting on a happy face and actually miserable at home? Or was I just bad at being a working mom?
It took a couple of years like this for me to see that it was not worth it. Something had to change. It was easy for me to leave my job – low pay for high stress position in a thankless job. After I resigned, it took a little time for me to adjust to not having to rush so much, but once I did the tension in our house dropped significantly. Our son cried less in the morning, my husband and I could actually talk with each other in the evenings and without bickering, our weekends opened up so we could do more activities, we got sick less often, and our house became more organized.
This new lifestyle did not come without a social cost. Even though my husband is now seen as being able to provide enough for his family that his wife doesn’t have to work, people I know and on social media, like Facebook, have called me an assortment of name. A misogynist, a leech, and unmotivated. “Why don’t you go back to work?”, “You can always get a job when your son starts school.”, “When are you going to have more kids?”, “Don’t you want another salary coming into the house?”, “What do you do all day?”, “Women like you set the work of working women back decades”. These are all actual things that have been either said to my face or to me on social media. One guy who works with my husband actually said to me, “It’s a good thing that [your husband] got his promotion …. So you can spend more while your home all day.” I didn’t even know how to respond!
The truth is, since I left the full-time workforce, I feel that my days have become busier and more fulfilled. I became the chauffeur, the accountant, the chef, the maid, the laundress, the stock girl, the gardener, the decorator, the pool girl, and the event coordinator. We are fortunate enough that financially our family could function without my salary from a fulltime job, not that it was a lot. I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to do this and I count my blessings each day for just how lucky we happen to be. Now my son has a parent who can devote time, patience, and attention to him. Bedtime has become much more relaxed, as opposed to hurry up and get to bed or else you’ll be tired in the morning. Mornings are tear-free. More importantly, dinners are now eaten as a family. It is a time for us to talk about our day, plan for the next day, joke around, have a place for important conversations, and make eye contact with each other. While my husband is at work and my son is at school, I can take and hour each morning to workout and take care of myself. Then, its time to edit the book I’m working on (Kyra), and work on launching a new career as a Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant. In between those things, I can take care of anything that my family needs to make their days run smoothly – clean house, stocked inventory, food menus, confidence, and day-to-day routines set help our house run like clockwork most of the time.
So why is it that people see a stay at home parent, in our case a stay at home mom, as a negative thing? One reason that I can tell is that Americans place a person’s value on a position they hold or a salary they make. More money/higher position determines success, success gives you value and status. Stay at home parents do not generate a monetary income, most of the time, so they are viewed as not contributing to the family. They may even be seen as a burden or a weight on the family. A stay at home mom is not breaking a corporate glass ceiling or pulling in a six-figure income. Why does this have to be important for everyone? Just so you know, I am a firm believer that if a woman can do the same job as a man, truly the same job and not modified because she is woman, and she wants that job, then go for it girl! If you have earned it, then take it! However, do not think that your success is the same as mine. A success for me is for my guys to have what they need for a great day, for me to self publish a book (eventually Kyra will get out there), and earn a Red Jacket in Mary Kay (you hear that Melissa Olsheski???).
Perhaps another reason we see stay at home parents as a negative thing is the abuse in welfare, unemployment, and other social service systems. There are going to be abuses in any governmental system put in place, but that does not excuse them. I was in our local ShopRite grocery store during a weekday in the late morning. A woman was ahead of me in the checkout aisle with two young kids. They had things like Oreos, soda, bread, ice cream, chips, cold cuts, formula, dog food, etc. She pays with some kind of food stamp system (I’m not really sure which) and they leave the store. I didn’t think much of it as nothing seemed out of the ordinary to me. When I walked out of the store only moments later, I see the woman and two kids getting into an Escalade, which was waiting in a handicap spot, and a guy loading a case of liquor into the back of the car. I had no ill will toward the woman in the store. If you need the assistance and there is a system in place to help you, you are entitled to it. However, when I saw the case of booze, expensive car, and two unemployed adults (I suppose both could have had a day off that day), using a government assistance program to purchase junky food, I got a little upset. It seemed unfair. What about the single parent with a full-time job trying to make ends meet with help from food stamps or unemployment? I suppose if the general public perception of adults staying at home is that they are abusing a system or taking advantage of someone who is working for their income, it’s no wonder stay at home parents are viewed as undesirable and a drain.
What bothers me the most is the disapproving comments and looks from people I know. Why do moms feel the need to compete with each other? Why is there a constant need to better off than another person or to make yourself feel better by making another feel worse? Who says that higher household incomes are happier households than others? Why is it that if you have more kids and a full-time job, you must be a better parent than I? What is that about … is it jealousy, resentment, insecurity? Well, here’s my answer to all of you stay at home critics: Mind your business! I don’t ask you questions like “when are you going to leave your job so you can be a better parent?”, or “why do you have so many kids?”. I would never do that because each family has the right to function as they see fit. It doesn’t matter to me if you want to work full time or own a business and have four kids. It doesn’t matter to me if you have one child and want to stay at home. If you don’t want kids at all and are working to break some female milestone, I support you. Whatever works for you and your family is fine with me, and what works for my family should be fine with you.