With all the hype over Anderson Coopers’ WM v. SAHM debate, there has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about who does more, the parents who work outside or inside the home. Though I really disdain this debate, I appreciated the thoughtful post by Kludgy Mom that raised the related question whether Motherhood=Martyrhood because it got me thinking.
As I started replying in her comment section, I realized I had a lot more to say on the topic and decided to respond in a post of my own…so here goes.
This is the distillation of Kludgy Mom’s question: Do stay- at- home moms complain too much?
Why aren’t we also asking the question do employees complain too much? In my mind, it’s the same concept. Work is work, whether it takes place in an office building or in a residence. This is the same issue I take with the stay-at-home vs. working parent debate.
These very questions are problematic. Who does more? Who complains more? Who is justified? Who is defensive? Who is superior?
Every job is different. Every kid has different needs. Some workplaces and children demand more effort than others. Jobs change over time; supervisors come and go and expectations evolve. Children grow and change; sometimes the effort expended is more emotional than physical and vice versa. Trying to compare the work done outside the office vs. at home is like trying to compare the work done between lawyers and construction workers. Both involve work; the jobs are just different.
The most obvious primary difference is the pay is absent in the at home role. In our society, money follows what we value. We value celebrities; they get paid disproportionally to the actual “work” they do. We undervalue teachers relative to athletes. We overvalue some doctors and lawyers. The lack of monetary compensation for parents raising kids at home contributes to the devaluation of the role. It is easy to measure the importance of an income contribution to a family; we know the amount of our bills. How do we measure the value of clean laundry, a dust free living room, a changed diaper, a trip to the park, a story read at bedtime? There is no equivalency. Thus the debate arises as to how much is the work at home worth?
Historically, the stay-at-home role has been undervalued due to misogyny and patriarchy. But the times are changing. With more stay-at-home dads (I hang out with three of them); more involved fathers; more working mothers; more economic strain on families; roles are changing and flexing. Men and women are taking on each other’s traditional roles in increasing numbers and new understanding is growing. It may feel slow, but change is happening.
Even still, these questions persist. They persist within families as spouses/partners hash out who has the right to the scarce alone time available, as parents feel overwhelmed and exhausted juggling multiple roles and expectations, as the laundry and bill piles rise higher. Envy and resentment set in. The grass is greener in the other role. But the reality is that if either partner had the other role, they would find that there are struggles and advantages to each situation. Short of a Freaky Friday parent swap, such as one that takes place in my daughter’s book “Goofy Minds the House,” (incidentally, I am aware that Goofy isn’t portrayed very well in that story as the bumbling househusband) we just have to take the other person’s word for it when they say, “My job was hard today.” Maybe instead of faulting them for “complaining,” we could pour a cup of tea and say, “tell me about it.” Maybe we could pick the errant sock off of the floor without resentment. Maybe we can send our at-home partner out for a kid-free night or give a working parent a night free from housework so they can just focus on enjoying time with their children.
That does not remove the responsibility from either party for focusing on the advantages in their situation. Or if the balance doesn’t feel right, talk with the other party about how to change things up a bit. Those who are “martyrs” probably have a tendency to complain about other areas of their lives. There is a limit to how much people want to hear about any job being difficult. I think the fact of the matter is that our culture has been so silent for so long about the challenges of the at home world, that at-home parents are starting to be honest about it. There were no blog forums for our mothers. There were chats with the neighbors and diaries, and frankly, a lot of unhappy parents and strained marriages. We all need a place to check our insights about our jobs, to talk with coworkers about questions and perceptions, to discuss the highlights and disasters of our days, whether we are in the home or out. The folks that are stuck at work, away from their kids, just have a hard time hearing it sometimes; as do the parents who miss aspects of their former working selves have a hard time listening to the pressures of the office when they’ve dealt with the umpteenth fight with their kids or a poop explosion that day.
There are slackers and perfectionists in both workplaces and parenthood. There are divisive folks who want to judge or climb over their fellow coworker or parent to make themselves feel superior. There are some working folks who desperately miss their children (my husband) and some at-home folks desperately missing connection in the workplace and a position where their intellectual and creative energies are valued (sometimes, me). There are aspects we wouldn’t trade about our work lives (my husband gets out of the twentieth tantrum and third diaper change of the day and I get the random kiss on my cheek during lunchtime with my daughter). I can personally say, though I have days when I miss parts of my former life, I would not want to give up my at home role with my daughter.
Today, as a SAHM, I changed 5 diapers, made and cleaned up three meals, washed the floors in the hallway, kitchen and two bathrooms, cleaned the bathroom, updated my blog, engaged in three reading sessions with my daughter, built a puzzle, built a block castle, made Valentine cards with my daughter, did four loads of laundry, ran and emptied the dishwasher, organized and wiped down the counters, bathed my daughter, nursed her for three hours, tidied the playroom, made two beds, vacuumed three rooms, took out the trash and recycling, called the plumber, scheduled a playdate, handled three tantrums, danced with my daughter in the living room. I am happy with my job, with my daughter, and the work I did today. I think it’s enough. Do you?