Let me just get this off my chest. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and I have been for the past two years. In my former working life, I was a marriage and family therapist. But for the past 24 months, I have traded in my therapy skills (i.e., helping couples manage their conflicts) for helping my four sons manage their sibling rivalry — leading me to need some therapy (of the retail nature) myself.
And to spare you the gushy details of my love for managing the crazy chaos that comes with staying at home with my four sons, I will leave you with this: I’m just crazy enough to love it. (Except the pee on the floor…no one loves that.) But last week, I had a conversation that made me wonder at myself.
An older man at a baseball game, after striking up a conversation with me regarding my son’s chatter about a baseball card, asked me a question:
“So what do you do?” And I didn’t know what to say.
Instead of answering, “I stay at home with my kids.” I found myself standing there consciously considering whether to lead in with “I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist” — the degree and job I worked so hard to get — or to just start with “I’m a stay-at-home mom” — the job that I fully want right now.
I paused as if this older man would judge me as if his judgment of me would have mattered. And I paused as if this older man’s opinion of me had any stake in my life. I don’t even know him, for goodness’ sake. But regardless, I paused. And I didn’t know why. But it felt a lot like it was because I felt ashamed.
But his reaction is what made the whole situation stand out to me. As soon as I told him, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” He smiled as big as could be and said, “Wonderful. My wife has never worked because she was too busy taking care of our boys. But mostly me. And I needed it.” When he said this, I felt relief. Then I felt guilty for feeling relieved.
The Internal Battle of Mom Shame
Right then, it hit me that the battle that people allude to between working moms and stay-at-home moms is more of a sensationalized suggestion than an accurate reality. I’ve yet to really experience it from friends. In fact, when I talk with my working mom friends, I feel like they highlight the stresses and the benefits of both choices. And ironically, they are the ones that seem to tell me how hard they feel it is to stay at home full-time.
However, I do think there is a real battle that is going on with mothers. But it’s not among us. It’s within us. It’s a battle within ourselves. Because I have seen that same hesitation among my friends when asked that same question from both sides of the fence.
A stranger asks a stay-at-home mom, “So what do you do?” And she hesitates.
A stranger asks a working mom, “So what do you do?” And she hesitates.
As stay-at-home moms or working moms — are we bold enough to own the decisions we make with pride, whether we are with a friend or a stranger? Am I scared to say that I like helping a child learn to potty-train while another mother says she feels it’s mind-numbing and depressing? Maybe. Maybe not.
Am I okay when a person asks me, “Do you feel you wasted your degree?” And instead of feeling like I should agree with that assessment, can I let them know I feel good about my brain being used in other ways at the time? Like navigating how to make a toddler think they want to wear a certain pair of shorts without really letting them know I’m brainwashing them to choose the pair I want them to wear. (Don’t try and tell me that doesn’t deserve some sort of degree in itself.)
But seriously. I wonder to myself. Is it okay to be satisfied with that as a mom? Is it okay to not be satisfied with that as a mom?
The answer is YES. We just have to believe it.
And that’s how we win that battle. That’s how we stop hesitating and start answering, “So what do you do?” without a pause. We just answer.
“I work in my home.”
“I work out of my home.”
“And yep. I love it.”
Because I know one day, all too soon, I will be sitting across from clients listening to their problems and helping them navigate through them while my boys are off living life. But for today, I am home with four crazies that are my job. My life. My passion. And today, I’m here to say I’ve got no shame in the stay-at-home-mom game.