I always had a job, so when I had my son I initially didn’t assume I would stop working. I took leave without pay and slowed down, which I was happy to do. I was grateful that I could. Most can’t. However, I had not planned of being a full-time stay-at-home-mom. This is not to say I think being a stay-at-home-mom is not a job or okay. It most certainly is. It’s just not for me. It may be good for you, not for me.
The whole business of working mothers and stay-at-home mothers is so touchy (or tetchy; I spent a rather long conversation with a work-buddy from Scotland the other day). The subject inherently sucks. Not a week goes by without annoying and bullshit articles claiming breast milk makes kids better liars. Many mothers torture themselves and each other, and all of it leads to a lot of women-on-women crime.
Here are some of the highlights I experienced:
I am introduced to someone as “Joel’s mom” rather than my own name, which apparently doesn’t matter.
Me, as a working mom, am at a museum on a Saturday afternoon and friends (who see me alone) ask, “What are you doing out? Where is your son? Who is watching him?”
I sat on the bench at the playground and read my book when a new mother (out of nowhere) told me how she breastfeeds her baby because she “just wants her baby to be healthy.” And if I chose to breastfeed, too. And what kind of organic food I gave and give my child.
A stay-at-home-mom says, “You shouldn’t give your son bananas for breakfast. They are full of sugar. Plus, bananas are not the only fruit. Karl loves strawberries. You should give your son strawberries.”
A stay-at-home-mom acts like she is too busy to return a WhatsApp message. I know you are on your phone most of the day. I just knoooooooow.
A stay-at-home-mom talks about how she doesn’t work because “the kids are only young once” and she doesn’t “want to miss a thing.”
A stay-at-home-mom needs a nanny, can afford one, and refuses to hire one, and in doing so denies herself some much-needed personal time and self-care.
A stay-at-home-mom approaches a working mom and grills her about how many hours she works. She gets really interested in what time the working mother leaves in the morning and comes home at night. Then she comments, “I honestly don’t know how you do it.”
I have gotten the last one a lot, and it got my blood boiling. When I heard those words I didn’t hear “I don’t know HOW you do it.” I just heard “I don’t know how you COULD do it.” I would be feeling overworked and guilty and overwhelmed and suddenly I would be struck over the head by what felt like someone else’s bullshit. It was an emotional drive-by. A random act of woman-on-woman violence. In my fantasy, I would answer, “What do you mean how do I do it? Do you really want to know the most insane story of my nanny’s schedule? Do you want to know how I balance child care, aftercare, kindergarten, and the different ways I manipulate and negotiate work if necessary to help me put my kid first when needed? Also, I need to work because I need an income so my son and I can survive!” Instead of my fantasy answer, I answer, “Ambivalence. Drugs and robots!” The ultimate answer would obviously be, “You don’t know how I do it. Because you don’t do it. You couldn’t. What do you do again?”
See what I did there? CRIME and I deserve punishment. There is an unspoken pact that women are supposed to follow. Some tell me I should feel guilty about being away from my child. But I don’t and I love my job. Mothers who stay at home are supposed to pretend they are bored and wish they were doing more corporate things. They don’t and they love their job. If we all just stick to the plan there will be less hate on the streets. #mothersmatter
But let me try to answer the question for real. Do you want to know how I do it?
Time management. Simple as that. Being a single parent requires a lot of planning, pushing, and pulling. I figured out a way for my son and I that works just fine. Of course, there is the occasional emergency-sick-leave day but so far I have been very lucky.
Now let me tell you about that Karate class I took my kid to once. Or maybe I should stop here. Sometimes I worry not enough people hate me.