Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Can A Working Mom Be A Good Mom?"

That was the subject line of an email waiting in my inbox this morning. It was immediately deleted and Landon and I continued our morning routine. The reactions it provoked weren't outrage and anger (although there was some eye-rolling), but instead, a realization that since having Landon, lines like that don't really bother me anymore.

Before I became pregnant, I obsessed over the mommy wars. JP was forced to spend many hours listening to me rant about the fact that working moms are held to such a higher standard than working dads (ever seen the title: "Can A Working Dad Be a Good Dad?" No? Exactly.) and how I feel judged for wanting to work when it's assumed he'll do so. His response was always some variation of, "Why do you care? It's our family, not theirs." And while he was right, it was all the more frustrating because I did care how people viewed me and my mothering- I cared a lot. I've always done things the right way- been the good example- and it drove me insane to think that people I knew and loved could disagree with or look down on my decision. I craved approval and worried that for the first time in my life, I wasn't going to get it.

All of that slowly faded while I was pregnant with Landon. Beginning with my family's less than enthusiastic reaction to my pregnancy, I learned pretty quickly that approval in the world of parenting is hard to come by. More importantly, I found that I didn't really care. JP and I were making the right decisions for our family and opinions from outsiders (even very close outsiders) just weren't the ones that mattered. Reading it now that seems like such an obvious statement, but it was a bumpy road for me to get there. The final step was Landon's birth. At that moment, I was the mom, and I knew that no one else could tell me what was best for me or my baby. And soon I was too busy living the life I had chosen to be concerned about what other people might think of it.

I used to wonder where the working moms were on the message boards- after all there must be some working women who are happy with their life and can stand up to the "shame on you for continuing to pursue your dreams after birthing a child" nonsense. And now I know- they're just busy making it work. I'm sure there will be some sacrifices and trade-offs in my future, and child care options, where we work, and how much we work will all be up for discussion as needed. But taking ownership of my choices, and being happy with them, has been the best therapy for getting over my fear of judgment. I've also found that all the criticism and mommy-warring I used to read about in magazines and message boards are largely products of those enivrons- the people I actually interract with haven't made any indication they think I should be home all day.

So the "can a working mom be a good mom" debate can rage on somewhere else- I spent this evening quacking at Landon, splashing with him in the tub, and rocking his cuddly little self to sleep. He's a happy, secure, and beloved little boy, and I'm a happy, busy, and fulfilled mother- and we're both too busy with the quacking, splashing, and cuddling to read an article about whether or not I can be a good mom.


  1. Oh- this is just the topic I'm struggling with. I'm glad you've found yourself caring more about what's best for you and your family than what other people think of your decisions. It's a hard balance as it is--even without considering everyone else's opinions.
    It's funny--right now Mark is struggling with wanting to be at home more, as I'm struggling with wanting to work. But my problem is that I don't really have any career dreams, I just like feeling productive and being around other people. Sometimes it's hard for me to justify going to work when I would make just enough to pay for day care, and I'm not "career driven."
    Every family is different, and it's a very personal decision. Hooray for ignoring the people who think they know what's best for everyone!!

  2. The best mother is a happy and fulfilled one! My mother went back to work when I was six weeks old, as there were no mat leaves then, and I think she's a wonderful mother.

  3. I talk about this site all the time, and it's a great resource for buoying up us working moms (without being all 'hater' to the ones who choose to stay at home).

    I'm glad you're happy with your decisions. We're called to be moms whether we work outside the home or not -- God chose us, y'know? So there, mommy wars. Ppbbblllllttttt. ;)

  4. Here in N-Europe this discussion has a different tone since all mothers have a right to paid maternity leave for up to a year and fathers get leave from 2 months to 10 months depending on how you split the time between you.

    Usually I feel appalled when mothers and fathers are forced to go back to work within a few weeks/days of the birth of their child- just because that time is so precious, we should all have the right to experience them without worrying about losing our jobs.

    Plus, I think that having a long maternity leave like this helped me enjoy the time I had at home- it never became claustrophobic because I knew the time was finite. Now I'm back at work and my husband is taking his leave. And the boys- they love being together all day long. Soon he'll have to go back to work and the boy to playschool, but at this point he's almost a year and a half old. Big enough for me to be able to feel (somewhat) comfortable with putting him in someone else's care.

  5. Emblita: that's a really interesting perspective. In the U.S. you aren't guaranteed any paid leave, just 12 weeks unpaid. So you have moms forced to go back to work after a few weeks, who already feel terrible about it, and are especially sensitive to the kinds of articles I described. If all the debate actually did some good, I wouldn't mind it, but it seems to pretty much just make women feel bad, mad, or guilty about a choice that often isn't the one they'd like to make.

  6. I deleted the same e-mail from my inbox this morning without reading it. A few choice words crossed my mind before I hit that button. To be fair, the site that sent the e-mail is generally very supportive of any choice a woman makes, so I doubt the article was bashing working women. But with that title, I didn't need to find out.

    There is a group in the U.S. that is fighting for better maternity benefits. I can't find the name of the organization right now, but when I do I'll pass it along. It is truly ridiculous that we have such crappy benefits here. Almost every single other industrialized country in the world gives at least a year. If I remember correctly, Australia is the "worst" of them because they give a year but no pay. Canada gives a year with, I think, 55 or 60% pay. German recently overhauled their system to make it quite generous.

    I was "lucky" that I gave birth in New York--I was guaranteed six weeks paid with short-term disability benefits. Alas, the other six weeks I did have to take unpaid and it was really a struggle. I have to work, because I live in a very expensive city and have a mortgage. My husband and I make decent money--nothing outrageous--but neither of us can afford to quit our jobs without losing the condo.

    Even if I had a choice, I would probably choose to work anyway. At the end of my twelve weeks I was lonely and stir crazy. Sam has a terrific sitter whom I consider her "other mom," and I devote almost all of my non-working time to my daughter.

    In the end, you do what you have to do and to an extent what you want to do. Our children are going to grow up just fine and I dare anyone to criticize my choices to my face.

  7. I think if I had a job I loved and I was passionate about then I would have no issue with working. It just happens that I prefer cooking and playing with a baby during the day to sitting in an office. I don't think there is a right or wrong decision. Its just a case by case basis. I don't think either situation is ideal but everyone has their preference on what works best for them. I agree that we should be held to a higher standard or feel guilty for choosing one or the other.

  8. Ok. I'm a little punchy this morning. I meant I agree we should NOT be held to a higher standard or made to feel guilty.

  9. I get mad about it too. I no longer have time for message boards and honestly I am SO glad I don't. I cannot stand the holier than thou attitudes of some mothers and their suggestions that women like me let others raise their children. My kids know who Mommy is - they prefer me above all others. I also know that I am a good Mom. I see the kids of moms who stay home and they are no less loved than my kids, no better behaved (many are worse behaved) than my kids, no less intelligent, no less stimulated - they have no advantages over my kids.

    I think I would have liked to stay home with the kids for a year or so like Moms can do in Canada or Europe, but ultimately I need the intellectual stimulation of a job and a happier Mommy is a better Mommy. Furthermore, I have daughters and I do not want to teach my daughters that once they have babies they have to give up everything they have worked for outside of the home. If they want to do that, that is great, but I don't want them to feel that my career goals and life goals are worthless. I know that the stay at home mothers would beg to differ, but I know in my heart that I am not choosing my career over my kids - I like being a lawyer, I adore my kids and I have my own way of making my life work. One only needs to step into my house and see my beautiful well adjusted children to know this.

  10. Well, I was a "stay at home" mom until my youngest was in her teens, then got a dream job, learned to drive in Detroit, and when she was 16, started to college.

    Now I have another 'dream job" but when was a stay at home mom, I sold homemade bread door to door, started a natural soap business, went out of the country multiple times to live and work as missionary. (Yes the kids went with us.) I learned to sew my own clothes, crochet and make dipped candles, learned two foreign languages, gave talks, retreats, counseling etc etc. While raising 4 active boys and one perfect daughter. (Citations)

    When I asked her (not very sincerely) if I should quit college and return to making bread, she replied: "Nah. It's more fun to run trying to keep up with you." Somehow, I never got bored.

    Did my kids suffer?

  11. Your post is really encouraging. I love your confidence in your decision to work after having a baby. I'm struggling with the idea of whether or not I will want to/should work after my baby is born and I think I will just *know* when the time comes.

    People on the outside (even close outside) really have no place to judge what is best for any family.

  12. heck yeah a working mom is a good mom! why not?! just because we want both doesnt mean we cant have it all. my parents were the same way they had me and my little brother and their careers. we had a great family life growing up- nothing different from any of my other friends. we would get home from school, my parents would come home around 6-6:30 , have dinner , and then do the stuff every other families do. why do people make such a big deal about it and why are women always the targets?!

  13. I just wish that as women we could devote all that wasted energy arguing about how to be a mother to something worthwhile. Imagine if we women could work together and not bicker and judge. We could move mountains. We could have equal pay to men, longer paid mat leave, good schools for our children, and imagine the changes throughout the world. I think that women could be an unstoppable force, if we all could just get it together and support eachother's differences and choices.

  14. i think alot of it is a generation gap in the mindset that women cant do both.which is totally untrue!

  15. I think you hit the nail on the head with your point that happy, working moms are too busy doing their thing to worry about this sort of stuff. That's me! I am happy with my choice . . I am finishing law school with an infant son and a husband who was sent to Iraq for a year. I'm as happy as can be expected, my son is happy - and I just don't care whether people approve or disapprove at all. I think most of the people into the "mommy wars" are ones who are insecure about their decision. I am comfortable enough in mine not to worry about it!

  16. Good for you for not caring what others think. Me, well, I'm trying, but it's hard to ignore comments from people like, "How can you let someone else raise your children?" I get riled-up everytime a comment like that comes along. I often want to shoot something back that is equally obnoxious, but I don't think poorly of any mother who works or who stays home.
    Unfortunately I don't have the choice of staying home with my kids, and even with maternity leave, was expected back at work 6 weeks after each of them were born. Even if I had the choice of staying home, I probably would still put them in preschool at least a few days a week so that they could make some friends and I could get a few hours to myself for things like doctor appointments and such.

  17. Totally. This is what I study, actually, (the rhetoric of mothering) so those emails are always interesting to me. I could talk ll day about daycare reform (and why can't our political candidates?)

  18. what a beautiful post. Thanks for saying just what I feel.

  19. great post. I am not a mom but I appreciate it nonetheless.

    oh and Hi, I am usually just a lurker but wanted to say hi today. I've been reading since Amalah linked to you way back when and I've been hooked ever since. Landon is such a cutie and you and JP sound like great parents.

    -Janet from

  20. I don't even know why there's a debate on this "issue." I don't see how it's anyone's business how people raise their children so long as they're being taken care of, and their family is happy.

    It still makes me irate when others "express their opinion" to me about how obtaining childcare is "letting someone else raise your child." I've encountered quite a few. Especially those who act like martyrs because they chose to stay home, and how working outside the home is selfish. If it's your choice, be happy with it, and don't bully other people because they didn't make the same choice.

  21. @anonymous #1 - Not all stay-at-home moms would disparage you with the claim that you love your career more than your kids. That's a Mean Mom thing rather than a stay-at-home thing, and that's where I think all this rhetoric comes from: a few Mean Moms dragging us all down. That and Dr. Dobson. But that's another post... :)

    Good on ya for coming to terms with this. I have a feeling that the further down this road you travel, the more comfortable you'll be with your decision. I think that coming to terms with the decisions we've made is just a natural part of growing into ourselves and our lives.

    The biggest thing I've been learning is that who I am as an individual and as a child of God hasn't changed in the numerous roles I've held throughout my life: fifth-grader, new college stuent, grad student, single working girl, expat housewife, stay-at-home mom... I'm still ME, and while my role will certainly change again, my basic Meikaness will not. :)