Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Random, Rambling Thoughts on Motherhood

The SAHM vs. Working Mom Debate...where do you stand?

When I was a little girl, my mom stayed home with us. Her mother had stayed at home with her & her sister. My dad's mother stayed home with he & his brother for at least part of their childhood. Most of my little girlfriends' mothers stayed at home as well. It didn't enter my radar that some moms worked. I had no idea that some kids went to day care instead of staying home to color pictures & watch Sesame Street & learn how to bake cookies.

It wasn't until I was in 1st grade that my mom went back to work. She had been a dental assistant before she had us so she went back to that. Even then, she must've only worked part time during the hours I was at school because I really don't remember her ever NOT being at home. She was still the room mom for my class at school, still there when I was at home. It wasn't until several years later that she began working 8-5. I think I was in 5th or 6th grade maybe, an age where I could get off the school bus & come into the house & stay there safely until she got home on the days when my dad was at work. My dad was a fireman & worked a rotating schedule, so some afternoons he was home when I got there. Anyway, it just never entered my scope that there was any other way to do it. I guess as kids, we assume that everyone else's family looks & functions just like our own until we see/hear differently. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that stay at home moms (SAHMs) were better than working moms. I mean, obviously they love their kids more if they're willing to give up their career to be at home. Right?

Seeing my older sisters become mothers & become SAHMs before me further confirmed to me that THIS was the way to go. I naively convinced myself that 'good moms' planned their childrens' arrival into the world, budgeted wisely & figured out a way to be at home....otherwise they just didn't get pregnant at all. After all, who wants some day care worker or babysitter to raise your child for you? Surely not a good mom.

Before Larry & I got pregnant the first time, we talked it through & agreed that I would be a SAHM. We firmly believed that it was best for our kids and therefore should be our ultimate goal. Before getting pregnant, we spent about a year getting out of debt (what little we had at the time), switching to 1 car (instead of 2), cutting back here & there and saving like crazy. Once my pregnancy was confirmed, we socked away my paycheck every week and saved for the coming years when I would be at home. We followed lots of advice from Larry Burkett's book Women Leaving the Workplace. After lots of planning and goal-setting and dreaming, the day finally arrived when we became parents & I became a full-fledged SAHM. I was soooo happy & excited to be at home.

Over the course of the next several years as we added more children to our family, I tried my hand at the ultimate SAHM job, homeschooling. I bought preschool curriculum to use with Savannah. Eventually I decided that I'd like to have some hair left by the time she was to start Kindergarten, so we gave up on the curriculum & sent her to public school. A few years later her brother joined her. We have been sooooo very happy with our choice of 'regular' schooling because we're blessed to live in a place where the school system is amazing! The large majority of teachers are 100% in agreeance with our religious & moral standards so it makes it very easy to be comfortable with having them teach our children. If we lived elsewhere it might be a different story, but we are happy where we are.

When Sarah was 4 years old, Samuel started Kindergarten, which left her home without a 'buddy'. Now, remember, the two of them are only 10 1/2 months apart, so neither of them have ever known a time when the other was not at their side. To this day, they are best friends. They both claim other people as best friends, but truthfully, they are pretty tight. When Savannah is gone to someone else's house for a sleepover, Sarah wants to sleep in Samuel's room in the other bed. When he goes outside to play with his friends, she wants to tag along. They play so well together & have been mistaken for twins so many times over the years. It was torture having 2 kids so close together, but if I could go back & do it all over again, I would. I love seeing their sweet relationship grow over the years.

I'm getting off track here....oops!

When Samuel went off to Kindergarten, all of the sudden Sarah's best buddy was gone. We decided it would be beneficial to her to make some new friends & learn to function with other children....plus I really liked the idea of getting a short break once a week.....so we signed her up for a Mother's Day Out program at a local church day care. I was a little leary since I had never stepped foot inside a day care prior to that time, but I knew the church was a stable, sound one where I trusted the doctrine that is taught, so I prayed it would all work out.

Larry & I had always talked about me going back to work when all the kids were in school. That summer before Samuel started Kindergarten & Sarah would start MDO, it hit me that my going back to work was only 1 year away. I needed to begin thinking about what I wanted to do. I never finished college so I knew it wouldn't be a real high-paying job, however, I knew that it would benefit our family if I did SOMETHING. And honestly, after all the years of being a SAHM (nearly a decade by this time!), I had very little identity beyond Larry's wife and SSS's mom. While I adored that role and felt best suited for *that* above anything else, it doesn't pay very well (as far as the bank account is concerned....but the benefits are eternal!!!). After registering Sarah for MDO, it occured to me that the hours she went to that program would be ideal for me the NEXT Fall when she started Kindergarten. After all, I didn't really want to work five days a week if I didn't have to, and I wanted a job that still allowed me to be home with my kids as much as possible. I called the director at the day care & asked if she knew whether she'd have an opening the NEXT year in the MDO room. I was shocked when she told me that there was actually an opening NOW and that she was searching for another MDO teacher. If I was willing, Sarah could come 2 days/week for FREE while I worked down the hall from her. Wow. I was a little surprised, but Larry & I couldn't come up with any good reason why I couldn't do it. It would mean that we saved money (no tuition for Sarah) & I would be bringing home a little paycheck, plus it fit all the things I'd hoped for in a job. Voila...perfect! And so, in the Fall of 2005, I began working.

Now I know that a working mother is certainly not out of the scope of normal these days. Plenty of women work. But for me, it was still a big stretch. It still kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies there at first, too. I mean, after all, for years & years, I had been strongly opposed to day care centers. They were the enemy...the ones that took moms out of their homes & allowed them to work....the one that allowed moms to drop their kids off in their pajamas & not pick them up until after dark. Good heavens, I was going to work for the enemy! I almost felt dirty, like I should pray for forgiveness.

(ok, by now maybe you can see how naive I really was....but it took me a while longer to figure it out!)

By the end of the first year, I was in love with teaching and I was in love with the 'family' I had at Pleasant Hill Child Development Center. I watched the families who came there. I saw the interaction with the teachers. I saw how much the teachers LOVED the kids in their classes. I know that not all day care centers are the same and I am lucky to have worked in a high-quality one, but seeing the relationships formed not only between the parents & teachers but between the teachers & the children was amazing. These were not just babysitters. They were there for the kids' soccer games. They went to the hospital when the kids had surgery (tonsils out, tubes in, etc). They made trips to out of town hospitals when there were bigger surgeries. They went to dance recitals & were invited to birthday parties. The way they nurtured these kids was so sweet. They sobbed on the last day with their class before they promoted up. They were a part of the families' lives, a part of those kids' lives....and it struck me --- I wanted to be a part of that!

I had always thought that working was ok for single moms or moms in a family where the dad was disabled or something really forced them into the workplace, but my very close-minded view was snapped to attention when I realized that I worked with a bunch of women, most of whom were MOMS. They did work for the paycheck, but they also worked because they LOVED their job. Could it be that other moms who work also LOVED their jobs? Could it be that sometimes a family's finances force a mom to work whether she wants to or not? Could it be that it broke the hearts of many moms to drop their infant off at day care? Could it be that maybe I was a little too hard on working moms in general? As I watched mothers arrive at the day care center to pick up their children after work, I saw tears. I saw hugs. I heard squeals of delight from both the kids and the mothers. I saw moms who loved their kids just as much as I love my own and I realized that yes...I had been much too hard on moms who made different choices than me.

That same year, Larry went into ministry full time & was hired to be the singles pastor at the church. I know, it sounds ironic that a happily married man would be hired to minister to single people, but really, he has a heart for people who don't "fit", the ones who slip through the proverbial cracks at church, the ones who are divorced or widowed or never married. They don't fit the pretty little picture of a church family & are therefore, often left out in the cold. That year I learned so many things. I watched single parents (by choice, by divorce, by death of a spouse) love their children. I saw the children thrive. I saw them being taught Scripture, being prayed over, being led to live a life that pleases God. I saw them go to school or day care while mom went to work and I saw them doing just FINE, again confirming to me all the things that I was learning in working at the day care center....that some families operate differently than my own & their kids turn out JUST FINE.

Before I had kids, I was bound & determined to breastfeed from birth to at least 1 year. I planned to never allow my children to have a pacifier or a bottle. And then it didn't work out. My body doesn't cooperate with breastfeeding no matter how passionately I wanted it to.

Before I had kids, I said my kids would never sleep in my bed. By the time my eldest was a week old, she was in my bed nearly full-time.

Before I had kids, I said that people who had kids 2 or fewer years apart were crazy! After all, who wants two kids in diapers at the same time? And then I had Sarah. Ten and 1/2 months after her brother. Yeah, that plan didn't work out either.

Before I had kids, I said....so many things....that changed once I had a child of my own. Isn't that how it goes? I love how God gives us a nice healthy dose of reality when it comes to motherhood. A gentle, yet PLENTY STRONG reminder that there is no ONE way to be a good mother. And if we can't take the small hints, He is willing to whack us over the head with a 2-by-4 to get our attention.

I'm not sure where I adopted my opinions & beliefs along the way, but they were pretty screwed up until I lived it, breathed it, observed it & learned from it. While I would still make the same choice (being a SAHM) if I were to have another baby tomorrow, I know that there are plenty of other moms who can't or don't make that choice and I don't think any less of them for it. In fact, I admire them. I am amazed by the dedication & strength of so many mothers.

Matthew 7:2-4 (New International Version)

2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

Thank you, Father, for the grace of my friends. Thank you for opening my eyes & teaching me. Thank you for the forgiveness of those I've hurt along this journey as a mother. Continue to teach & grow me, Lord. Amen.


SandyL said...

I think we as women have to make the right decisions for our families. Some women need to work to stay sane :) Some people like me are so stressed trying to work and be a mom. But now that my kids are getting older and starting to move out I wish I had had something to focus on all these years besides the kids. Because they move on and leave you home with nothing to do. So that is my reason for going back to work. It sure is hard and I don't know that I would have ever handled this when they were little. I have learned in life to NEVER say the word I will Never do....lol

Sandy J said...

I just loved reading about your metamorphis of opinions. Since my 2 angels have come to live with me at my ripe age, I feel that strong tug of wanting to be home and available to them. I feel that tug of my heart, wanting to be able to do school things with them and be able to be home when they get out of school or with them when they are sick without a guilty feeling that I am cheating my place of work. But God willing, I can retire in 4 years, just in time for the oldest becoming a teenager and definately needing someone to be there....So So So looking forward to that time..If God should continue to give me good health and the stamina to keep up....I am blest beyond measure....and you have precious treasures in your children. I know you treasure each day you have with them. Granny Jordan

Amanda said...

Okay, first of all, big big kudos to you for this post. And not only for the post, but for having an open mind and readily admitting that you changed your opinions. Thank you.

This whole topic is a somewhat sore spot for me. I actually already wrote one semi-upset comment on a blog today, because a single mom bloggy friend of mine had a SAHM at her church ask her "what she was doing to her daughter" by sending her to daycare because she keeps getting sick. How mean.

So, let me just explain that my sensitivity to this topic is based on 2 issues. First of all, I am jealous of those who get to stay home. I wanted to do it and I still want to do it, but we just can't. I know you and I and Larry and I discussed all this when I was trying to make a decision last year. I know that you felt that I really did have a choice, but in my reality, I don't. No, I'm not willing to go back and live in an apartment or lose a car and things like that. But there are things that I want for my child, want for my family, things that Dave wants that he didn't have growing up (like a HOUSE with a YARD). So others can think that's my choice if they want. I still don't feel like I had one. I truly am jealous of moms that can still have all of the "stuff" and still be at home. That will never be us.

Secondly, I really have an issue with the self-righteous, superior attitude that SOME, not all, SAHM's give the rest of us. Like those of us who work are less than them, love our kids less, care less, are less dedicated. That makes me sick. Example - yesterday, a childhood friend of mine posted on FB that she was considering a career change. She is pregnant. The number of comments she got that were something to the effect of "Well, you ought to be considering a career change as a MOM" were staggering and it was really upsetting to me. She will be a mom! And I'm a mom! I hate that attitude so much!!! We don't all have the option! And the things that these women say only feed the guilt that "the rest of us" have about what we are doing. Even if I loved my job, I would still feel guilty about being there instead of with my daughter. I think it's inherent. It feels like you're a FT worker and a PT mom. I hate that. But I don't need anyone to make me feel worse than I already do.

I am eternally thankful for my mom who stayed at home with us and even homeschooled us (and now keeps Brooklyn for us!!). But her reality and my parents' income is not ours. And in retrospect, I needed to go back to work because I had no idea what God had in store for us with Brooklyn and her little body, and we needed my income and my insurance to take care of her medical problems (and still do).

You can give me my trophy for longest comment ever now :)

Anonymous said...

Good evening

Awesome blog, great write up, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you