I'm okay, your okay. Wait... Am I okay? I think I'm okay. Are you okay?
Yesterday, another report came out about the topic of mothers who work vs. mothers who stay at home and the impact it has on their children’s development. Another report that left me reeling with insecurity and guilt. Another report that made me question the choices I have made. Another report that made me feel like I am failing my daughter. I sat in tears as I watched the news and felt so incredibly trapped by my financial situation.
This is such a touchy subject. I am certain that every mother wants to do what is best for their child. I also believe that every mother worries that they are failing their children in some manner. I think this fear contributes to the judgments we pass on one another as mothers. We want so badly to convince ourselves that we are doing things the right way that sometimes we say things that imply other people are doing things the wrong way. Because it’s not our way.
I have never felt so blessed and so terribly guilty as I have since I became a mother. There are so many choices to make every single day. The options parents have available to them can be limited by financial resources. For some people it’s a choice between paying the mortgage on the house in a good school district, or staying at home. For some people it’s a choice between going on welfare or staying home.
The topic of stay at home moms vs. working moms evokes passionate opinions from women on all sides of the equation. I do know we all want what is best for our children and for our families. There is no one “best” way to do things. Every child is different, every family is different, every family’s financial situation is different.
I am a working mother, and I am fortunate enough to have in-laws who are retired and spend every weekday taking care of Maggie. Every day from 8:00 a.m. to the time her dad picks her up at 1:00, Maggie gets a 2 to one adult to child ratio. She is read to, and she is played with, and she is sung to, and she is hugged about a hundred times in those hours.
I am so incredibly fortunate to have been given this choice by my in-laws.
At 1:00 every day, Jim picks Maggie up and brings her home, and from 1:00 to 5:15 it’s Daddy and Maggie time. I get home at 5:15 and that is when I get to spend time with her.
From 5:15 to 7:30 I play with Maggie, feed her, feed Jim and I, try to clean up the kitchen, and field phone calls and random people knocking on the door. Sometimes I take Maggie with me for a walk or a run. Every other night I give her a bath. I have two and a half hours a day from Monday to Friday to spend with Maggie and to get all of this in. Meanwhile, I go through the typical working mother self-torture.
Here is a sample of my Inner dialogue on any given evening:
“Am I talking to her enough? Am I developing her language skills appropriately? Am I enunciating properly? Do I give her enough hugs? Is it better to use this time playing the piano or reading a story? If I get sucked into watching “the biggest loser” on television between 7:00 and 7:30 and reading to her during the commercials, does that make me “the biggest loser” as a parent? I think the answer is yes. Damn. Failed again. I don’t know if she had a nap today! I don’t even know what she had for lunch! Did she poop? I don’t even know if she pooped today! I am a horrible horrible mother. My mother in law has a bigger influence on her than I do! Do I even know what words she is being taught? Do I even know what games and songs she is being taught every day? No! I am allowing someone else to raise my child. What if the next time she falls down and hurts herself, she reaches for grandma instead of me? What if she does that and it hurts me so much I get insecure and close up? What if that makes me start detaching myself from her? Am I mature enough emotionally to handle that? On a conscious level, yes, but what about my unconscious? What could I do better? Can I even recognize where I am failing”?
And right about NOW my head explodes and brains and skull fragments slide slowly down the walls of the kitchen leaving red dribbles everywhere.
The dialogue above was ONE NIGHT’S WORTH. Yeah, Mothers really need more to question.
Factor in efforts to have a life of my own, work on my marriage, be a good friend, and take care of myself and exercise, and it’s no wonder I feel like I am doing a half assed job in everything. INCLUDING MOTHERHOOD. The guilt in that statement? ENORMOUS. Fucking Enormous. I have no idea how single mothers handle all this on their own. I think every single mother out there deserves a freaking medal for just getting it done, day after day. It’s HARD.
The report I mentioned concluded that children with stay at home mothers had significantly higher developmental skills than children who were in day care.
The report concluded that best scenario for kids goes like this:
1. stay at home with mom
2. stay at home with nanny
4. day care center
My problems with this “study” are numerous. There is so much variation in the quality of child care available, and there was no mention of this in the blurb that I saw. There was no mention of how parenting style factors in. No mention of what working parents can do to minimize the negative impact that day care might have on their kids.
I live in the state of Minnesota. We have the HIGHEST percentage of working mothers in the country. Our children also typically have the HIGHEST test scores in the nation. How does that jibe?
Is anyone talking about how incredibly hard it is to raise a family and own home with one income? How it keeps getting HARDER? Is anyone talking about how we can help families with limited financial means stay home with their kids? Is anyone talking about women who earn more than their husbands? How these women can handle the incredible amount of guilt they carry for not being the one who has the biggest influence on their children’s day to day activities? For not knowing what their kids had for lunch and how many times they have pooped that day?
I know so many dedicated, loving mothers who work. Great mothers. I know these women struggle to come to terms with the choices they make. I know that it hurts to be informed that the choice you made might limit your child’s developmental potential
I also know many dedicated, loving mothers who stay at home. They have sacrificed careers to be at home with their kids every day. It’s hard to stay at home. It’s hard to deal with people who judge you for being a stay at home mom. It’s hard to deal with the lack of adult interaction. It’s hard to work with kids all day long. It’s hard to survive on one income.
I think my point, if I have one, is this: Yes, I want to have access to as much information as possible to help me make the best choices. But not so much information that I live in a constant state of self-torture, angst, regret, resentment and insecurity.
No, I don’t need any more reason to question myself. I do that plenty. Sometimes it does seem like motherhood is an uphill battle. Feeling like a GOOD mother is darn near impossible. Especially if you listen to the opinions of every Tom Dick and Harry out there. And if you are one of the people spouting off statistics and instilling fear, perhaps ask yourself if you are really doing it for the benefit of another mother and their child, or if you are doing it to reassure yourself that you have made better choices than someone else. Do you need to compare yourself to someone else to feel like a good mother?
I need to remind myself that the ultimately, it’s me who needs to be okay with my decisions. I need to feel like I am doing as much as I can with the resources I have. I need to give myself a break once in a while and accept the fact that I won’t always be perfect, but that does not mean I am not a good mother. It does not mean that I can not be a good friend, or wife, or employee. I just means my choices might be more difficult, and that I have to listen to my own heart more than I listen to sensationalized news reports with limited contextual information. I think I can do that. I hope I can.