Valuing Parenthood: Dissing the At Home Parent Vs Working Parent Debates

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?


13 responses to “Valuing Parenthood: Dissing the At Home Parent Vs Working Parent Debates

  • gigi927

    I love your extension of the discussion that started on my blog. Such great points, all. I think that as with most things, changing my own attitudes and perceptions are easier said than done. But I know I’ve gotten much more understanding and tolerant as my kids have grown up a bit and are less all-consuming of either parent’s time.

    I think the common thread of a lot of the comments as well as your post is: it’s all hard work, it’s just different. Amen.

    • Pamela

      We have our moments of this struggle in our house; we all have bad days and hot buttons. Overall though, it’s good to check our perceptions, which is why I liked the discussion your post generated. I think when you throw yourself into any job with your heart and passion, there are those challenging moments. Glad you stopped by for a read and comment:)

  • Megan

    Great post. I often think that part of the reason why people judge other people so harshly is because they are trying to make themselves feel better about their own choices. But everyone’s circumstances are different and everyone is making the best decisions they can for their (ever changing and evolving) family, so they are not really comparable. And the SAHM vs. WOHM is another one where women frequently turn against each other instead of supporting each other in their decisions for their families just because of their own insecurities. I really like the tone of your blog post and it addresses both “sides” in an honest way. Both have their challenges and their rewards and on bad days it may seem “easier” to be on the other side. Thanks for writing this. I can’t identify fully as either a stay at home mom or a work outside the home mom with my situation of watching kids at my house, so maybe that’s why I tend to really identify with both “sides” of this debate.

  • thaliamara

    Beautifully written post. I am a lawyer by training and stay at home mom by choice. I sometimes struggle with my choice to stay home, but I feel I am building something eternal in my children; can’t put a price on it even if it isn’t readily valued by our society. I am new to blogging and look forward to following your blog!

  • Jessica@Team Rasler

    I agreed with every word of this post, and my day looked pretty similar to yours – slightly different details, the same types of work and play. I sometimes think that it sounds like SAHMs complain more because they are overwhelmingly the ones writing the parenting blogs and commenting on them, at least from what I’ve observed. I think if the WOHMs kept more blogs, they’d have plenty to complain about in their jobs and in their parenting roles as well. And that is where I find it hard for myself to reconcile the “it’s just different work” idea – because I had a lot more time to blog before I went back to work part-time and now am back in school part-time. So for me, it really does feel like my stay-at-home life was much easier. Then again, I’m a teacher, which may explain why my part-time job is a huge time suck! The bottom line is what you say: everyone’s parenting job is different just as everyone’s career is different, and we can’t judge from the outside. Just as my mom says that “you can’t judge a relationship between two people unless you sleep between them,” you similarly can’t judge someone’s reality unless you’re living it. The best we can all try to do is understand and be supportive.

    • Pamela

      Hi Jessica; thanks for reading and commenting. I see many WOHM’s who blog also with similar issues, except a with a mix of the out of home stuff as well, so I think the bottom line is; people can’t fit everything in. Some people choose to blog, some choose to run, some choose to watch tv in the few moments of spare time we parents have. You are one busy lady, and with adding additional roles to your schedule (including homework on top of housework!), something has to give. Being the kind of mom and I also suspect awesome teacher that you are, it’s easy to see why blogging has taken a back seat. I often struggle to find time to blog without the additional demands on my time and wonder how other folks are able to fit more blogging time into their days. Then I remember, I might have made different choices throughout my day (to read with V; to hang with my hubby for a few minutes; to take care of the dishes; to sleep.) You know?

  • "M" is for Marriage and Motherhood... And for Me

    Great post! I love it! You are totally right! As I once said, “both positions have their ups and downs and both have their own fulfillments.” We cannot really compare the two positions; because, in my opinion, even two SAHPs can have different challenges within their similarity of being at home with their kids.

    • Pamela

      That is so true; I know my life with my daughter as a stay-at-home mom is very different from some of my friends and acquaintances. We each choose to live out our days differently. Thanks for stopping by and for following:)

  • Kate Fineske (@katefineske)

    I really enjoyed reading this post Pamela! Many great points, and very well discussed from both perspectives.

    It’s funny, but you pointed out a fact to me that seemed so true but it was something that I had never thought of before: “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 also enjoyed reading through all the comments and loved what you said in response to Jessica: “… the bottom line is; people can’t fit everything in.”

    I do see the job of motherhood as just that: A job. You have good days, you have bad days, you have busy days, you have slow days, you have predicable days and you have unexpected days. You just don’t have any paid days (monetarily speaking) and that is a bummer :(

    Great Post!

    • Pamela

      Thanks Kate for stopping by and commenting! I agree, if only I got paid…but I do, in hugs and kisses, in seeing moments I’d otherwise be missing. So I’m rich in spirit if poor in pocket!

  • Mother’s Center Staff Pick! « therippleeffect2009

    [...] wanted to share some excitement with you!  My post on Valuing Parenthood:  Dissing the At Home Parent vs. Working Parent Debates was chosen as a staff pick for the National Association of Mothers Center Parenting Blog:  Mothers [...]

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