You guys, I am gonna call out yet another Judgy McJudgerson behavior in this post. And I am sure, like the post I wrote about people who judge formula feeding moms, there will be readers who will think I am shitting on them and their life choices, when in reality I am doing nothing of the kind. But whatever, I can’t control whether people hear my message, or the message they want to hear. So here we go.
Lately I have heard a few moms I know talk with…is it disdain? Feigned pity? Sadness? I’m not sure exactly how to describe the sentiment, but it appears in sentences like “I feel so sad that my mom friend was so excited for winter break to end. Doesn’t she enjoy spending time with her kids? I mean, how sad she just wants them to be away from her.” It also comes in different flavors–sometimes it’s “I can’t believe she works when she could afford to stay home. I can’t imagine missing all my kids’ special moments, they’re only small once.” They stop short of accusing their mom friends of being heartless bitches who don’t love their children, but it’s definitely implied that something is wrong with the mom who chooses to be away from her children.
I work outside the home. I do it for the money primarily, but also because if I spent every day with my children, if child rearing was my job, I would be miserable. I would burn out spectacularly. I would be frazzled and stressed and probably do a pretty shitty job of parenting. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my children. It means I have a temperament that doesn’t fit with 24/7 child rearing. And luckily for me, I live in an era when it’s possible for women to work outside the home. In addition, I take non-work time away from my kids–for example, a weekend away with my girlfriends, a night out with my husband, or quiet time away from my ridiculously messy house so I can write more effectively. I benefit from relaxation and recharging my batteries, because when I get over stressed, I am not my best self.
Am I missing some magic moments with them? Sure. But I also appreciate the time I do spend with them, which I would not be able to do if I was with them all the time. I would be too frazzled and stressed to think it was funny when The Boy told a penis joke instead of putting on his shoes like I asked him to, let alone have the bandwidth to take that opportunity to explain to him that although Mom thinks penis jokes are funny, the nice woman who runs his sister’s daycare might be offended by them, so we need to think of a different joke to tell her when we see her. If I was Stressed Out Mom, I’d be snapping at The Boy for not following directions and missing the opportunity to explain to him about his penis jokes potentially being offensive. I am a better mom when I don’t feel overwhelmed by stress, and being with the kids all the time would make me very stressed out. That is to say, I wouldn’t have any magic moments at all with them if I tried to hold onto every one of their magic moments.
So, think of it this way: when you say stuff like “How can she not want to be with her kids every minute of everyday” you’re talking about me. You’re talking about every mom who is actually in a financial position to choose a career, and does so. You’re talking about moms whose personalities are different than yours. And you’re phrasing it in a way that sounds like you believe people who need a break from their kids are not loving parents. In short, you’re judging me for not being like you.
The thing is, what frustrates me about the “you like time away from your kids, you are a bad mom” meme is not just that I am personally insulted by it. It’s that it reflects a mindset that says that anyone parenting different, feeling different, or having different values must be a bad parent. That’s The Cult of Perfect Motherhood talking right there. That’s the part that says we have to be constantly vigilant in our parenting choices, because the slightest slip up will ruin our child’s life. So, we say “That parent doing it differently than me? They’re the one who is wrong. They’re the bad parent, not me.” We say that because the Cult tells us that the only other possibility is that they’re right and we’re ruining our children’s lives. And that is too terrifying of an idea to face.
We have to take that chip off our shoulders. We have to remember that every child is different, and every parent is different, and that’s OK, and other people’s choices have nothing to do with the validity of our choices. And we have to believe that our friends are good parents who love their children, not horrible people who are parenting wrong just because they are parenting differently. It’s the only way we can move forward as a community of mothers together–to respect each other enough to trust that other moms are making the right choices for them. Even if they would be the wrong choices for us.