Over on XOjane, this article that boils being a stay at home mom issue down to either being a 'job' or a 'hobby' came to my attention. I read the article. I tried to empathize with the author and see things from her perspective. Honestly, I really did. I came away from it, however, disgusted and insulted. I know she says that she's not trying to insult people but that is exactly what she continues on to do.
It's like the people who start off with a disclaimer 'I'm not racist but...' and then proceed to disgorge racist ideology with out even realizing that is exactly what they're doing. I sincerely believe that the author didn't intent to be insulting but I also think she doesn't realize how deeply she has internalized this attitude that runs through our culture that decries being a stay at home parent as something that lazy parents do. (Yes, I just said that. Think about it, what is the sterotype? Stay at home mom is sitting on the couch, watching soap operas and eating candy, is probably one of the first ones that come up. There is a laundry list of more attitudes like this out there. Scratch the surface and you'll find 'em everywhere.)
As a stay at home mom who is on the internet, I find myself facing two different extremes. One extreme is the Pinterest mommy brigade (expression shamelessly stolen from my friend Sarah, she's brilliant like that!) who appear to have everything perfect in their lives. They have pictures of their spotless homes, clean and always happy children, and the piles of wonderful at home crafts they do (which are 99.9% trendy and kitchy at the same time). They look like the over achievers who seem to never have a bad hairday, always have enough money to spend, and just don't seem to ever have anything difficult in their lives. At the other end of the extreme are the martyrs. These are the moms who complained from day one of their pregnancy about how hard it was, regale you with horror stories about how terribly behaved their children are, bewail the drudgery of housework, and frequently verbally eviscerate their significant other for what they describe as inattentiveness and under appreciation.
Let me tell you something I have learned over the last seven and a half years. These two extreme images are lies. If you buy into the Pinterest mommy brigade image, you will always find yourself some how inferior to them because your life is never the spotless, perfect thing that these people present. Hang your hat with the martyrs and your view of your experience as a parent will focus upon all the hard and negative parts. In either case, you are not seeing what is truly there. Unfortunately, the author of the article over at XOjane has been surrounded by the martyrs and is caught in this idea that it is the way all mothers around her view their experience.
I feel bad for the author. I sincerely hope that she finds herself surrounded with more positive and realistic associates. I think the author does point out something important, which is making oneself into a martyr and continually griping about the hard things of parenting makes you insufferable to be around. This is why I tend not to discuss the difficulties of raising my two boys and managing the domestic details of my family's life. I don't want to alienate my readers or make people think that parenting is nothing but misery. I also don't talk much about the good times either, though, because I don't want to paint this false image that things are perfect in my house. At the time I am writing this, I have a living room that looks like a train set exploded in it, dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, and several bags of laundry waiting to be folded and put away. We won't talk about when the last time the bathroom got scrubbed was. Let's just say it was in this year and leave it there. And right now, my eldest is making good progress learning how to do double digit addition and subtraction. He's progressed from drawing very abstract garbage trucks to drawing very abstract tanker trucks as well. And my youngest has been sweet as pie today, except for when he tossed a shovel full of snow on me.
What does this summary tell you? That I am human and that my home is just like yours. We have our good days and our bad days. It a bit different in my house then the houses of other people because I'm disabled and my sons are not neurotypical, but we make it work.
I took umbrage with the author's argument that being a stay at home parent is not a job because it buys into this assumption that the only legitimate job out there is the one you get a paycheck for. It diminishes parenthood (not just being a stay at home parent, but parenthood in general) to something you can do once a week for fun and not really suffer consequences for not doing it. Hobbies are not foundational to the development of lives and society. They grease the proverbial wheels. They serve to make life enjoyable but they are not ultimately the work we engage in on a daily basis.
Parenthood really is a very hard job to do. Sit down and list out all the things you do in one day, with out letting on that you are a stay at home parent, and people will think that you are engaged in something that gets you significant pay because you are doing stuff that other people get paid good money to do. And you're not doing it in just one arena, but in many. Childcare alone is a profession that is very expensive and the people who are worth their salt (and fairly paid) make a goodly deal providing that service. The minute you slap on there the fact that you are a stay at home parent, everything gets diminished to this idea that you're doing this stuff in your spare time and spending more of your time screwing around and playing with your kids.
The argument that parenting is a hobby further serves to entrench this idea to the detriment of all stay at home parents. (Stay at home dads really get the short end of the stick because they are magically emasculated in the eyes of society for doing it. Here's my shout out to my brothers in arms and I salute you with my huge cup of coffee with a splash of Jameson in it.) If you want to resolve the idea that being a stay at home parent isn't pure drudgery, then go out there and present a real picture of what it is like. Make it known what you are grateful for and what you appreciate it. Counter the whiners with questions like "So, how are you proud of your kids today? What worked out really well for you this week?" and deliberately change the focus of the conversation to be a balanced one.
With the Pinterest mommy brigade, use the same wisdom that you should be using on sites like Facebook. Don't compare your daily actions with someone else's highlight reel. The mom with the perfect hair and exceptional manicure has days where she is on the verge of tears looking at a sink full of dishes and feeling like she's failing. We all do. She just doesn't share them because she's chosen to present the best of her experience to the world. Rather the getting consumed with envy for those stay at home parents who seem to have everything running so smoothly, why don't you ask them for ideas? Network with them and learn from them the secret to managing to have perfect hair just about every day and what works to get baby poop out of that white rug in your living room.
The biggest challenge that parents face after the work of parenting is the efforts of society to make us compete with each other. We are not in a race. We are not in competition. When the day is done, we are all on our own paths moving at our own pace and dealing with the unique situation that makes up our family lives. Reject that societal push to divide parents. (And I am including the division in domestic versus working parents within the family too.) We should reach out to each other and be supportive. We should celebrate our victories, support each other in our difficulties, and brainstorm solutions to the challenges that come up before us. We are a community and we should damn well start acting like it.
Being a stay at home mom is my job. I don't get a paycheck but it doesn't make it any less work. If you think it is a mere hobby, then you have the wrong perspective. This isn't something you do a few times a week for fun or something that if it is cut out of your life won't dramatically alter it. Being a parent is your life. It is bigger then a mere job and no less vital then the people who work in lifesaving professions everyday.
Let's stop trying to one-up each other and start being decent to each other. Maybe then we can actually change the way we are viewed.