17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Mommy Wars Mama Says Get Yourself A Job

I recently caught an interview on a local news channel with Mommy Wars author, Leslie Morgan Steiner. In the interview, she claimed to know many SAHMs who are not happy, but feel pressure to be at home with their kids. Steiner advised these women to go back to their career, arguing that their kids are better off with a happy mom who works outside the home than an unhappy one at home. I agree with her…but I don’t think the decision is that simple.

My initial…and very bipolar….reactions to the interview:

-She’s right. Life is too short to stay at home if you’re not happy.

-Why are we so kid-centric? Why are some moms willing to endure depression and lack of fulfillment in the name of “social pressure” to stay home, when it probably won’t matter significantly to our children’s development that we were with them 24/7.

-Just because a mom is home all day with her children does not guarantee that she is going to spend quality time with them. I recently read that, on the whole, working moms actually spend slightly more one-on-one intensive time with their children than SAHMs.

On the other hand:

-Kids are all different. Personally, I think some kids are more suited to daycare situations and thrive in highly social settings. Other kids don’t. If my older son had the personality and adaptation skills of my younger son, I’d probably be working full time right now.

-Not all day care is created equal. Meaning, a really bad day care situation would probably do more harm to a child than being home all day with an unhappy mother.

-No one is happy all of the time at home or at work. At what point of unhappiness do you go back to work and trust it will be better?

What do YOU think about this statement from Steiner, a self-proclaimed working mother of 3?


  • What is considered going back to "work"?

    Office? Research? Teaching? Part-time? Full-time?

    I teach 15 piano students in my home. Is that considered work? What about my mom who teaches 2nd grade? Is that more work than mine?

    I would just be curious to see what Ms. Steiner considers work "outside the home". I LOVE staying at home with my kids, but teaching piano helps alleviate stress and is a conduit for my creativity. However, I only work 2 hours a day for 4 days a week --inside my home.

    I'm also wondering what "unhappy" mom means. I mean, come on! Every mom is unhappy at one point or another. We feel guilt ALL THE TIME --working moms or SAHM's. It doesn't matter at what stage we are, there is guilt and worry and sometimes unhappiness. What constitutes an unhappy mom? Unhappy enough that she feels she has to get away from her kids all day? (I'm not talking about moms already working --just SAHM's that are questioning their choice)

    It's an interesting question, though.

    P.S. As a family research major (okay, it was MFHD) it has been somewhat "proven" (as the prophets have said) that QUALITY time directly comes from QUANTITY time. Quality time can't be forced --it just happens --as a result of Quantity time.
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 4/01/2006 07:48:00 AM  

  • Having not seen the interview, I can't respond directly to it, but I do have some thoughts about being home and being happy or unhappy.

    I think every woman needs time to herself. This can be blogging, taking a class, going for a walk or working out, practicing a musical instrument, reading, taking extra time in the shower to shave her legs, having a nap, watching Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, sitting down with a good cup of cocoa... I just wrote down some things I like to do, but that's not an exhaustive list by any means.

    I think every woman needs a social context for interacting with other women. For me, it's through my violin teaching. I have 5 students who come to my home each week and I also teach group lessons with 8 other teachers, who all happen to be women. I love that interaction! I love the challenge and the opportunity to use and develop one of my talents. It's great to be known as myself rather than through my relationship to my children or husband.

    There are a lot of things a SAHM can do beyond get a job that can help her to be happy. It depends on the cause of the unhappiness. Is she tired? Is she sick? Is she not getting exercise? Is she drinking enough? Is it hormones? Is her wave crashing? Does she need friends who relate to her? Does she need to get involved in a cause? Is she feeling a connection to God through prayer and personal worship? Is she displeased with her own mothering skills? Is she clinically depressed? Is she lonely? Is she pregnant?

    When I'm unhappy at home, it's usually because of one of those things, not because I'm wishing for an office job. I think, though, if Steiner is happy with her situation, of course she will say to a SAHM who is unhappy, "Get a job." We all tend to think, "My way is so good." At least, I do. :)
    posted by Blogger Mrs. M at 4/01/2006 08:42:00 AM  

  • I thought about this last week when I was almost at the end of my rope with my three and one year olds. I was frustrated and indulging myself in my discontent. Would my kids really suffer so much if someone else were caring for them during the days? Because I really think that they could grow up into fine, well adjusted adults without my constant care.

    But it seems to me that we really are going for so much more than not doing things that "won't matter significantly to our children's development." We are trying to build an eternal family, with a strong family identity and deep and abiding testimonies of the gospel. I would not presume to tell another family how to best go about that, but it is a lot more than giving our children the minimum that they need to properly develop, even at the price of what we think would be most fulfilling for us. It is, for me, part of my consecrated sacrifice to build the kingdom in this small way.
    posted by Blogger Gina at 4/01/2006 09:01:00 AM  

  • "watching P&P with Colin Firth" Ahh....one of my favorite pasttimes. Yummy.

    Every woman does need something for herself, but she also needs to "surrender to motherhood" a tad. Your life is different once you have kids. There is no avoiding it. Whether you are working or not, your life is totally different. And the sooner you accept and deal with the differences, the happier you will be, whether you are home or not.

    P.S. "Surrendering to Motherhood" is a great book. It's not a phrase I made up.
    posted by Blogger The Wiz at 4/01/2006 10:57:00 AM  

  • Ooh! Nothing to do with the post (and since I've already said my 2 cents) but Pride and Prejudice is, in my opinion, the best book ever written; Jane Austen is a genius; Colin Firth is the PERFECT Mr. Darcy. ~sigh~
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 4/01/2006 12:00:00 PM  

  • The way I look at this situation is this is the time in my life when I will have kids. We are planning to have 3 kids each two or three years apart. So I give up what? 11 years until they are all in school. Then I can go back to work full time and my kids will only be in day care or afterschool programs for a couple hours a day. And pretty soon the oldest will be able to stay home with them until I get there. So I am a young mother, and giving up 10 or 11 years isn't a big deal. I'll start my career when I'm 33. Not a real big deal since I will be working until I'm 60. That's still 30 years to accomplish all my goals and dreams.
    posted by Blogger Trivial Mom at 4/01/2006 05:03:00 PM  

  • Huh. Where do you start? I sometimes struggle with how to be happier. I don't think it's "not working" that makes my unhappy times unhappy. Like Mrs. Moo says, there are so many contributing factors. I had a fantastic week a little while back and it's the week I tried REALLY hard to get some time for myself. (Use sleeping kids time more wisely and drop ALL my kids off at my friend's for a couple hours.) I got some relaxing in and some exercising. I felt so great--on top of the world! But kids naps and bedtimes and babysitting swapping don't always work out like they did that week.

    I bet a lot of stressed/unhappy moms could do with a couple mornings of hired help--be it 2 mornings of day care or babysitter or whatever. I never thought day care would ever be for me, but sometimes I think I just should!! Not every day or all day but just a little break for me to be me (not for me to do dishes and mop the floor!).

    Also, I think that some kinds of jobs, coupled with raising kids, could lead to a MORE stressed-out mom. So, like Cheryl says, you have to consider what type of work. If I went back to work I'd be teaching elementary school and I KNOW I'd crack!! Especially because it's MORE kids and you have to take work home (grading/planning). I'll save that career for later!

    I once painted a dresser to match my baby's crib bedding. I loved doing it so much. I've often thought how fun it would be to do more of that--maybe even do custom stuff for people (getting paid). That's definitely for a time when I have a garage. But, I think it would be incredibly fun, rewarding, and fulfilling.

    Oh yes, and not all day cares are created equal--I'll have to post about that some time--I've worked at polar opposites. Watch where you send your kids!
    posted by Blogger Katie at 4/01/2006 06:53:00 PM  

  • I've thought about this a lot. I eventually came to the conclusion that what I got out of working in a regular job was daily interaction with adults. I had opportunities to go to lunch with someone other than my husband. I was able to meet more people and be forced to interact with my coworkers. There were great incentives and resources for making friends with my coworkers and clients. I think LDS women have a weird special problem with making friends. Because the church is such a great resource for friendship and socializing we often use it as our *only* resource. When we are SAHM we don't really have many other things that force to make friends the way a job would. The reletive ease of making friends in our wards has crippled us. To me that is the big problem, rather than SAH v. Working mom.
    posted by Blogger Starfoxy at 4/01/2006 08:34:00 PM  

  • My one thought is that, true some women are not happy at home, just as some kids are made for daycare. I just believe that kids will turn out better if a parent... not necessarily a mom... is there to supervise them.
    My decision comes with the fact that I don't trust the American society to raise a morally conscious child. I say American Society, because if you're not there, who is? I stay home not becasue I think they will be smarter or more intelligent if I'm home, but hopefully I can teach them make good moral decisions, and become productive memebers of society.
    I think all the bad things that adolescents get into is due to the fact that there is nearly zero morality in the outside world.That's enough for me to want to be there and monitor, yes monitor, my children and what they are doing. Not that I will do this 24/7, but I'd like to have the home that the kids come to hang outat because they can be themselves and not have all the junk that happens in the world hindering their minds. I don't want my adolescent children at friends homes if there isn't a parent. I don't want them hanging out for hours on end with nothing to do until they find something to do...which involves sex, drugs. or whatever. I also like being home. True some days I spend more time than others depending on my assignments that are due for my classes. (I'm a full time student... and I plan on continuing to stay home with my children once I finish this fall. )
    I think as they are young it's a question of daycare, but when they get older it's a question of supervision and being there for them within this turbulent, and sex crazed world.

    -A mother of two beautiful girls..ages 2 3/4 years and 8 months
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 4/02/2006 12:20:00 AM  

  • First of all I am a SAHM who works occasionally. I am in the entertainment industry, so I audition several times a week-95% of the time having 1 or both children with me. When I work, it is rare that it is more than 1 day a week. This YEAR I have worked a total of 9 days (out of 90) and already made over a third of my income goal for the year. I am lucky because I do not depend on my income to pay the bills. It is for our house fund or extraneous expenses. I am also lucky because I can take a break if there is a problem in the home (eg. my daughter got mono last october so I took the whole month off). I feel that my working situation is ideal for raising children. Now you know where I am coming from and here are my thoughts:

    1. The Mommy wars definition of happiness is way too general: happy mom=working mom & unhappy mom=SAHM. Mrs. Moo is right...Happiness is so much more than your station in life...it is chemicals, challenges, moods, health, profession, marriage and the list goes on. I feel that happiness can be achieved in any circumstance if you listen to yourself and solve what is making you unhappy.

    2. Gina has a really great point that I always come back to if I am feeling frustrated at home or that my career could be so much more if it weren't for those rugrats o mine.
    She wrote: "It is, for me, part of my consecrated sacrifice to build the kingdom in this small way." I realize that it is a sacred opportunity and responsibility to raise children, and I take that seriously. And in all honesty, if I had to give up my entire career, I would in a heartbeat. That would be a challenge, but I would find hapipness someway somehow. Plus if you say you are building the kingdom by raising your kids, you don't have to do as much missionary work.

    3. As for the daycare/sitter thing. I try to provide a variety of sitters for my girls, and they are all women in their twenties. I listen to my gut when I invite someone into our home. I have cancelled sitters before if the spirit told me that hiring them was a mistake. I recently had a choice between 2 schools for my pre-K daughter and I could feel the spirit confirming one over the other. The Gift of the Holy Ghost will help us make good choices for our family.

    On daycare/sitters in general. I know that if my kids can push my buttons to the point where I feel like "strangling" them, and I am supposed to love them the most of anyone....it is SCARY to think that someone who doesn't have that same love and bond is dealing with them, because they might just strangle them...yikes. Then again, maybe my kids are "angels" for others...and just push my buttons for the game of it.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 4/02/2006 07:04:00 AM  

  • I wonder about the quality vs quantity tradeoff. When I am home with my kids for long stretches by myself, more often than not, the quantity time reaches a state of quality that is not positive, and not even neutral, but detrimental to my children and to me--our relationship and our mental health. I think that for us, there's a balance we need to attain.

    My kids have had some kind of part time care for a while. And I've been really pleased with how they've thrived. If it got to the point that their preschool/day care wasn't working for them, we would have to change something. I like having additional adults and children in their lives--even with our ward, it's hard to not feel isolated.

    As for me personally, I know that I need something intellectual and stimulating outside of mothering. And that very well could be some kind of job. We're in transition mode right now, so we'll be actively shaping a new life, and I hope to find a part time job where I can keep a foot in a career.
    posted by Blogger Michelle at 4/02/2006 08:19:00 AM  

  • Thanks for your comments...it was interesting to see what other thought. Some comments on your comments:

    I think Ms. Steiner was assuming that the "unhappy mothers" had previously left successful and fulfilling careers for motherhood. I do think that the transition from working mother to SAHM would be much more difficult..thus the chance of being an unhappy SAHM... greater. It's such a different life. I was at the very beginning of my career....and it was still difficult to let go of the validation and stimulation that came with an outside job and deal with crying babies and sore boobs.

    Many of you have been able to find your "balance" at home with part-time work or hobbies. That is really great. But it's important to remember that not all women's talents and desires can be expressed inside the home. I think that it's extremely important not to judge these women for looking outside the home for some pesonal fulfillment (NOT that I think anyone's comments were judgemental at all...just a point that I felt like making).

    I also 3rd...maybe 4th...Gina's comment about "building the kingdom in a small way." Definitely true...and I hope that I never let off the impression that I thought the work that we are doing as mothers is marginally important. However, every mom will have her own set of blueprints to make this happen.

    There is also our husbands' role in all of this....raising children is DEFINITELY a partnership and our husbands have the same responsibility to make sacrifices for our children's well being...but that is a whole new post.

    I wish you all balance in your life and peace with your decisions!
    posted by Blogger Jen at 4/02/2006 02:12:00 PM  

  • Jen,

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said - It's just not that easy. Each woman has different skills and interests that may or may not lend themselves to a family/work balanced life that would bring the "ideal" amount of happiness. And that is only one of the factors that makes the decision not that simple. Mother's also usually have to factor in demands of their spouse's job and the needs of their children.

    I find that I start becoming unhappy when I feel my personal growth becomes stagnant. THis can changed by doing any number of things which means I can usually always find something that works for me and my family at that particular stage of our life.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 4/02/2006 04:34:00 PM  

  • I am a dad (stay at home) who naively ran into this issue while in the observation room at gymnastics.

    One of the stay at home mom's made a comment about attending a gymnastics class in the evenings with the working moms. I didn't think anything of it until I mentioned it to my wife (a working doctor). She immediately berated the commenting mom, posted about it on a web forum and received several replies about how awful a person the commenting mom was.

    I have learned that this is a topic to avoid around most mothers.
    posted by Blogger Jeff at 4/04/2006 10:08:00 PM  

  • jeff, it sounds like the women who bashed your wife are feeling insecure about their personal decisions. That's too bad. If only they knew that your fabulous doctor wife has a fabulous husband doing a fabulous job rearing the fabulous children. their loss.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 4/05/2006 04:42:00 AM  

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