Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Working Girl

Last Saturday evening, I found myself at my sister's kitchen table throwing back strong margaritas and scooping up a to-die-for corn dip whilst my bro-in-law grilled and kept whipping up ever more margaritas.  He delighted my kids by setting off a number of illegal fireworks as my sister smiled on from the kitchen (translation:  threatened to call the cops if he didn't stop, LIKE NOW!)  Hot fudge brownie sundaes (that I couldn't possibly fit, so full was I, but at which I enjoyed gazing) topped off a night where my sister was having me over to say thank you.

She was thanking me for watching her children (my niece and nephew) one day every week because she works full time.  My sister acts like I am doing her a big favor to watch two tweens who are extremely sweet, delightful and well-behaved.  My young children adore their cousins and it is an absolute pleasure to spend time with my sister's kids, knowing that soon, as they inch towards adolescence,  I won't be "the cool aunt" anymore but rather an embarrassing adult whose hugs they will want to avoid in public.  These four kids together make me laugh (they all hold hands, four across, in parking lots) and sometimes make me cry (because they still all hold hands, four across, in parking lots.) 

I am in awe of my sister, (and all working moms, actually) because they are making the amazing yet difficult sacrifice of taking time away from their kids in order to either contribute financially to their household by necessity or they are continuing a career for which they studied and worked hard.  I am always inspired when a mother works full-time in that their children see that they are equal partners to their husbands (or sometimes the main breadwinner) and it sets a good example for their children.

 The job of "stay-at-home mom" has its own difficulties, its own frustrations and its own insanity...and worst still, you're not even getting paid and there's no dental! But to think our sisters in the workforce have it easy is about as realistic an assessment as the notion that stay-at-home moms spend their days watching soaps and popping bonbons. Working moms do get "a break" from their children, I guess, and I admit they can go to the bathroom without an uninvited two year old insisting on accompanying them.  But generally, they still have to do everything stay-at-home moms do like helping with homework, making lunches, dishes, laundry and rushing to attend their children's sports/violin/archery events. 

There's an image (unfair I think) of a woman who is so consumed by her career that she happily shakes off the shackles of her children, relieved to get away from those pests, and struts off to work where she can sneak off at lunch and get a pedicure.  This is laughable.  And yet there's still a perception that working mother can't possibly be as nurturing as a stay-at-home mom.  I find this untrue if not bordering on ridiculous. (Is an unemployed father better than an employed one?  He's certainly more present)

When I had Big A, I owned a marketing company. I worked until the day before I gave birth.  I was a machine.  And then, with the birth of my son, everything changed. I changed.  Post-baby, I hated going into the office to be away from him (and I didn't much like marketing anymore). A job that used to make me feel happy, satisfied and proud was becoming a huge source of resentment. For a year, I waffled and grappled...I was unhappy being away from my child, but the company I built was doing so well. 

Ultimately  I decided I was willing to sacrifice financially because I wanted to be home with my 1 year old son. I had the luxury of quitting even though it meant we'd have to push back moving to a new house and I'd still be driving my PT Cruiser for a while longer (I did love that car even though it was like driving a go cart). Many women either don't have this choice or have come so far in their careers that they are truly committed to staying in a job they love and that's fulfilling.  Why should that even be questioned?  No one expects a man to quit a job when he becomes a parent. He's supposed to work more...make more money...but that's a blog for a different day.

So this image of a working mom as cold and ambitious is laughable.  Every mother is pained to be away from her children all day.  Do I even need to say that?  It seems so obvious.  (Except when said children are fighting over who gets to hold your car keys and incomprehensively slapping each other and shrieking like howler monkeys.)

I was a at soccer game with a fellow mom who works full-time and we overheard a mom we didn't know complaining about her children.  Her beef was that although they were begging not to be enrolled in camp all summer, she was "forcing them" to go because she needed her alone time. Sigh. As a closet introvert and voracious book worm I totally understand the need for "alone time" especially as a way to recharge.  But since her (6 and over) kids are in school all day ten months out of the year I was just wondering how much "alone time" did this woman actually need?  The mom I was sitting with began to tear up.  I know what she was thinking...that she would be grateful for even one afternoon a week to not be at the office and take her kids to the beach.

I think a lot of other mothers who work full-time feel exactly the same way.  The working mom genuinely desperately misses her children all week. I think it crushes her that she can't spend more time with them...but especially during the summer when they're not in school all day.

So this is my plea to the stay-at-home moms who are exhausted and harried.  I'm the jerk adding yet another item to your (well...our) to do list. Give your working mom sisters a hand. Next time the working mom you know can't meet you at the spray grounds on a Thursday afternoon with your collective kids, maybe you can suggest a Sunday afternoon get together at the park.  Maybe if her child has to miss yet another birthday party because he's staying with Meemaw that day and Meemaw has no idea how to get to iPlay America, maybe you could offer to chauffer and supervise her child. 

But please don't think a working mom's love isn't as deep, her caring any less powerful or commitment less certain just because she's away all day.

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