The fabulous women of CT Working Moms have a private Facebook page where we all vent and complain and rejoice and celebrate, sharing the good and the bad. Lately we’ve been ruminating about our work lives. Is it worth it? Why do we come home and have to do all that housework? Why do we work? Does it make sense to spend our whole salary on daycare and commuting expenses?
I’ve been thinking about this for over 30 years. Note first that men (most men anyway) don’t have this conundrum. Men work and that is that. No question about it. No notion that they have any other choice. I know that some of them find this very intense, and feel the breadwinner role is a heavy burden. I get that.
But I don’t believe most of them feel torn in half when they leave their kids to be cared for by other people, like many moms feel. It’s society’s expectations, outdated though they may be, but it’s also the invisible umbilical cord that tethers us to those kids. What kind of mother am I, going off to work when I have little kids? What could possibly be more important than my children? That question reverberates inside our heads all the time.
I have been a full time mom as well as a mom who worked part time and full time, and I can attest to the fact that it never feels right. No matter which way I did it, I always felt torn. I don’t know how the kids felt. They didn’t know any other way. They didn’t complain and I don’t think they felt left out or deprived (I was lucky to have a flexible enough schedule that I could show up for plays and other school events). But who knows?
I’m lucky that I went to college and graduate school and therefore have a GENUINE BONA FIDE career that justifies my decision to work. But there are lots of working mothers who are making minimum wage, who have to put their kids in daycare so they can spend their days putting cereal boxes on supermarket shelves, or hanging up clothes left in the dressing room of a department store. What about my dental hygienist, a lovely person whose kids were in daycare so she could pick gunk out of other people’s teeth? Work is work. All work is important.
What does it do for us, besides pay the bills (not at all an insignificant benefit)? There is adult company and conversation. There is mental stimulation. There is problem solving. There is the sense of accomplishment that comes from making the pile of work get smaller. Let’s be honest: raising children is rewarding and fulfilling, but it is not too mentally stimulating and the job is never done. It makes sense that the orderly world of work would have such appeal.
But I loved the days at home – school vacations and snow days – and when I worked part time, the Thursdays and Fridays. I loved hanging out with my kids, especially when they were of an age to have opinions and be funny and could amuse themselves for periods of time. They were, and still are, my favorite people to spend time with. Maybe that was because I was not oversaturated with them – because I worked outside the home! Maybe the daycare providers made them into such fabulous people so I could enjoy them when I wasn’t at work.
I’ll never know. Sometimes I look back and think I made a big mistake – that I deprived MYSELF of something wonderful by choosing to work. Then I have to admit to myself I was never cut out to be a full-time parent. I don’t have the patience or the stamina or the creativity. My oldest son spent a LOT of time in front of the TV on those days off when I worked part-time. That was because he demanded it, but I didn’t exactly say no. The boys and I did some cooking and baking and made some models and Lego structures. We did read a lot and we watched many classic movies. But I’m not the field trip type of mom. Daycare and school did that for them.
The truth is that most of us don’t have a choice. We work for the money, just like fathers do. We need to give ourselves a pass when it comes to doling out the guilt. It’s not healthy to always feel you are doing the wrong thing.
But that housework problem – well, I guess we all need a “wife” for that. I certainly don’t intend to do it.