Pretty much everyone is sick of hearing about the “Mommy Wars”, the real, presumed, and sometimes imagined battle raging between “Working Moms” and “Full-time Moms”. I personally hate both descriptions of mothers. All moms work, and moms don’t stop being mothers just because they have a job apart from mothering. I also dislike how all this animosity—again, both real and imagined—belongs to women alone.
Personally, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about my parenting decisions. Ok, I care what my partner thinks, but that’s about it. Even with this near cavalier approach to motherhood, I understand the Mommy Wars all too well.
Apart from what I’ve witnessed at playgrounds, birthday parties, and Thanksgiving dinners, the battle rages in my mind. I returned to work only six weeks after my oldest daughter was born and the struggle, the crippling indecisiveness to stay in the workforce or stay at home has remained a constant for seven years.
For many families, the choice for a parent to stay home isn’t a choice at all. For some, the price tag for adequate childcare makes returning to work impractical. For others, the loss of income for one parent to remain home cripples the families’ finances.
I fall into neither category.
At each point in my parenting journey, I continue to examine the benefits of staying home and working. When my daughter was six-months old, my husband and I decided that I should either work part time or not at all. I went into my annual review knowing that if my employer didn’t agree to a modified schedule, I’d be going home.
We could have squeaked by financially without my income. However, my partner and I both felt we needed my salary and health benefits to thrive. I also enjoyed my job and the company where I worked. I wanted to stay with them, and luckily they wanted the same.
I’ve worked thirty hours a week ever since. Though technically full-time, my schedule has allowed me to be with my children more and take on the lion’s share of managing the household. I’m grateful that my employer has been so supportive, but while the solution sounds prefect, it isn’t.
My internal Mommy War raged harder and harder as the years passed. I felt as though I was constantly letting someone down. I wasn’t home as much as I wanted to be. My career had also stalled. The “Mommy Track”, while providing tremendous advantages to my home life, created zero growth opportunity. Any positions of advancement required a return to full-time employment, either with my current employer or someone else.
When my youngest was born, I again considered becoming at SAHM. By then, we could have stayed in our starter home comfortably on my partner’s income. However, we really wanted to move to a slightly larger home in the neighboring town with the best school systems. The Mommy War within reached frenetic levels. I was now paying for two children to attend daycare. I wasn’t advancing professionally. I felt overwhelmed. But I wanted my kids to have the best possible education, and I didn’t want to move them once they started school. (Something I had experienced twice in childhood and wanted to avoid for my own kids).
Then, my boss quit. Suddenly, I saw an opportunity for advancement with my current schedule. I took it. We were able to move to our forever home because I stayed in the workforce, and I thought I had mastered the balance. Then my oldest started Kindergarten, and the war took its first causality: My nerves.
I’ve always been an anxious person, but nothing prepared me for the overwhelming anxiety of balancing a child in daycare, a child in school, a husband with a completely inflexible schedule, a house I didn’t have time to clean, and an employer who I continually disappointed every time I ran out the door for 3PM pickup.
We reached a point where it made sense for me to stop working. We didn’t rely on my income. My career had stalled again, with no foreseeable path to advancement. My husband wanted me to stay home. My kids wanted me to stay home. I wanted to stay home. But the war continued.
I’d never been 100% financially dependent on my husband. I’d never NOT worked. I liked having an identity outside of my family. I felt I was setting a positive example for my girls. But I’m overwhelmed. I hate missing every school event and party and field trip and volunteer opportunity. I’m running on caffeine and anxiety. I’m afraid the next casualty will be more than I can bear.
I’m so tired of this war.
It’s the reason I will never judge another parent for deciding to work or stay home. It’s why I’ve made it a personal mission to encourage others to do the same. The choice, if you have one, is hard enough to make without the noise from everyone else.
Part of me fears a cease fire will never come. Perhaps I will always second guess myself because no option—full-time work, staying at home, working part time, working from home—fits just right.
But I will continue to try to find the balance that works best for my family. For now, that means transitioning to freelance assignments. And as much as I continue to not give a damn what anyone else thinks of this decision, the Mommy War within rages on.