Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Controversy & Guilt

Hard at work as a stay-at-home mom?

Or hard at work as a stay-at-home mom?

Yesterday I spent the entire day in workout clothes. I'd like to say that's the first time it's ever happened to me in my nearly eight years of stay-at-home mom-hood, but, while I can't specifically recall another instance, I know they exist. They must. Those early days? When even pulling on a pair of jeans seemed ambitious? I'm not saying I was wearing workout clothes because I was working out all day back then, but let's just say that stretchy yoga pants and tanks feel an awful lot like pajamas. Which, when you're anything under, say, two years postpartum, is a big selling point.

Anyway. Yesterday I actually DID work out all day. Well, not all day exactly, but Genevieve had a drop-off playdate for a couple of hours in the morning, during which I decided to get my run in--and why get dressed in real clothes at seven if you're going to be changing into workout clothes at nine? And then my weekly Moms' Walk was scheduled for 12:45 in the afternoon after our kindergartners left on the bus, so why change out of running clothes at ten if I'm going to go walking at one? And then after the walk, the only place I was going was to take my daughters to our friends' after school to play outside with their new puppy, and why wear nice clothes for that?

So I didn't. I stayed in workout clothes all day. But truth be told, I felt a little guilty about it. Because it meant that for two different parts of the day, I was doing something "recreational," just for myself. Keep in mind that those two parts of the day totaled 80 minutes, out of a day that began at five a.m. And also that I've written a whole book about the need for stay-at-home moms to value and prioritize their health and well-being, including finding time to exercise and see friends. But I still felt a little bit guilty. Because aren't stay-at-home moms supposed to be working our rears off every waking minute for the good of our households and families? Aren't we supposed to be proving to all the working-outside-the-home-for-pay adults in the world that stay-at-home moms don't just sit around doing what they please? (Or, go for walks and runs in the middle of the day?)

In my heart and in the logical part of my brain, I know full well that I work harder as a stay-at-home mom than many a working professional, and that any brief and occasional break to get some fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and adult contact scheduled into my eight years at home full-time with children is deeply deserved. I know this because I've been both a stay-at-home mom and a working professional, and while my profession was not easy or without stress and exhaustion, it was nothing compared to my work as a stay-at-home mom. And I don't say that to lord it over any working-for-pay people out there. I say it because it's flat-out true.

Sure, it's nice to not have a commute, to be able to wear workout clothes all day if I really want to, and even to take a walk or go for a run once in awhile once my babes are finally old enough to go somewhere without me for a bit during the day. But believe me, the around-the-clock duties and lack of sleep and wear and tear on your body, mind, and emotions more than make up for the occasional day when you can steal away for a walk or spend the afternoon doing something fun rather than something anyone would call "work." The patience and wherewithal required to parent small children all day every day with nary a break is beyond description.

There are days--many of them--when the job of stay-at-home motherhood itself is absolutely blissful--think hanging out at the city pool in the summer with your gaggle of mom friends and their children--but that doesn't mean that even on those blissful days the work you're doing at the same time isn't incredibly challenging. Hanging out at the city pool in the summer with a gaggle of friends while monitoring toddlers and changing swim diapers and feeding snacks and applying sunblock to squirming kids and handling public tantrums and never sitting down or sitting still is a not at all what many non-stay-at-home moms probably think hanging out at the pool in the middle of a weekday must really be like.

And, of course, most days involve a heck of a lot more I'm stuck at home with a teething baby and a stubborn two-year-old and they're both still in diapers and one of them has the stomach flu and I haven't combed my hair yet or talked to another adult in nine hours nor did I ever get to eat my lunch--or, at the very least, I've got two free hours this entire week and I'm choosing to spend them volunteering in my children's classrooms because it's important to me even though I always leave with a headache--than they do hanging out at the city pool with friends. The days at the city pool, like the days during which you can go for a run or a walk, are the job rewards for all those other days.

Hilary Rosen may have meant "hasn't worked a day outside the home for a paycheck" when referring to Ann Romney rather than what she really said, but the truth is, "hasn't worked a day in her life" are fighting words to stay-at-home moms. Because it's downright rude to suggest that what we're doing all day, all night, all weekend, and every holiday isn't a ton of work. If you go to work outside the home for pay, and have someone else do all the things we do, you pay them, don't you? And don't you call that work?

I realize what she probably meant. My point is that even if that's what she meant, the words she actually said are inexcusable. They make anyone who utters them sound like a class-A jerk. Those are the kinds of words that make some of the hardest-working women you'll ever meet feel, for a moment, guilty about going for a walk in the middle of the day. Because heaven forbid we give anyone else a reason to say we don't work hard enough--or don't work at all.

In the end, I believe that, if you're a stay-at-home mom, it doesn't truly matter in your day to day life what Hilary Rosen thinks about your chosen work. The only thing that matters in that regard is if the other adult in your household who financially supports the family thinks you're working hard. If he or she thinks your job is a cop-out from hard work because it doesn't draw a paycheck, you're going to have problems. But if he or she believes, as my husband does, that you work harder than he or she likely ever could--and that the work you do, while unpaid, contributes an unimaginable amount to the good of the family, even if you occasionally go for a run or a walk or read a magazine or meet a friend for lunch (likely because he or she does that during his or her work day occasionally, too), you're good.

But Hilary Rosen still sounded like a real jerk.


tricia*kushman*anderson said...

I was in workout clothes all day yesterday and unfortunately, too many times during the week. But as my friend Ashley says, "You are exempt because you are REALLY working out." Those precious 2.5 hours that Evan is at preschool are too golden for me to use it to shower and put cute clothes on! Errands without a kid are just Heaven! So today I'm gonna shower and put makeup on and wear something cute! And if anyone wants to try on this SAHM thing and call it "not working" they can take a flying, well, you know. There are days I dream of going to an office. : )

Heidi Mann said...

You should link to the Hillary Rosen quote. I hadn't heard that. That's so antiquated -- esp. for a woman to say.

Shannon said...

I honestly assumed EVERYONE had heard the Hilary Rosen story by now--it's been all over the news for days! I can't escape it!

Rita said...

Preach it sista!!