My cousin Miriam, a fabulous scholar from Minnesota, posted an article about Stay-at-home moms and the dangers they face by staying home. The article focused on the financial pitfalls, no retirement, no employment history or up to date skills in case they need a job, etc., but to me the dangers of staying at home are different, but equally as daunting.
As Mother’s Day approaches I want to explore the idea of the life of the Stay-at-home mom and why I was never temped to try that.
I never, ever, considered being a stay-at-home mom, and could never, even to this day fathom why anyone would consider it. To begin with there is no time off, not even for good behavior. Oh, I know, some upscale moms might arrange for a few days at a spa somewhere, but compared with the vacation days I have always had that is chump change. When I was teaching I worked 186 days a year out of 365. And please, fellow educators, spare me the histrionics about all of your late nights and weekends spent grading and doing lesson plans. If you have to stay up late at night doing lesson plans or grading you are doing something very wrong.I used to tell my principal when I was still teaching high school, ” I do not run the sweeper here and I do not take schoolwork home.” When I was on the college faculty I taught nine classes a week–which was considered a heavy load and I actually got overage pay when I developed and taught an online class. That meant my face time with students was about 10 hours a week, not counting office hours which were not that onerous either. Now that I am a college administrator I get 24 vacation days a year, not counting the holidays observed by the university, which would add at least 10 more. That means, if my work week is 5 days, I get 7 weeks plus of vacation per year.
Compare that to doing breakfast, lunch, dinner, laundry, cleaning, volunteering ( you are the stay at home mom which means you are tapped for every field trip, bake sale, book sale, and holiday celebration) and plain old mothering. That includes changing diapers, toilet training, taking the kids for well baby visits to the doctor, sick visits to the doctor, inoculation visits to the doctor, dentist check-ups, soccer practice, piano lesson practice, football, baseball, basketball practice, play practice, being a Girl Scout leader, you name it, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Now, I admit, particularly in my high school teaching days I was involved with a lot of the things mentioned in the above paragraph, but the difference is that I usually had about 8 hours a day that belonged to me. My students were always old enough for me to tell them to leave me alone for a period of time if I needed some “me” time. They had seat work, there were films to be shown that supported the curriculum, add in group work and the fact that lecture is one of the worst ways to teach and the students were not really going to bother me much. Of course, I liked my students and enjoyed teaching, that did not hurt either. But, being in control of your interaction with them was definitely a plus. Try achieving that with a toddler, even the bathroom is not considered private space to them.
When I taught in secondary school we were required to arrive 45 minutes before school started, I had that time to visit with my friends and co-workers, get ready for the day, have a cup of coffee, or just sit there. I also always had a prep period, so 1 of the 7 periods of the day, or around 50 minutes, was mine, all mine to do whatever I wanted to do, or to do nothing. Like most of my colleagues I had either hall duty–read, do nothing and sit in the hall, or study hall, read give glowering looks over the top of your glasses to students who tried to talk and do nothing. Or, you could grade papers during hall duty or study hall and/or your prep period. Generally speaking I taught 5 classes a day, and since I did not teach English I rarely had to grade essays.(English and Literature teachers and profs my get some sympathy about grading.)
In my career the jobs have gotten easier each time I transitioned. It is easier being a college professor than a secondary school teacher and it is easier being a college administrator than being a college professor, although the challenges are different, more politics, less instruction , knowledge or skill level.
Stay-at-home moms cannot make any such claim. It may be easier completing toilet training than changing diapers, but having to maker certain the training holds and having to learn the location of every bathroom in every Target, Walmart, Kohl’s , Macy’s and JCPenny’s in your area is not easy either. It may be easier to be homeroom mom to a second grader than to have the toddler at home, but the toddler does not usually expose you to the censure of other moms, at least not for any longer than it takes you to slam your hand over his mouth in Panera when he announced he has just pooped his pants.
It may be easier to have a teenager than….. never mind, forget that. There is nothing easy about teaching someone to drive, worrying about them driving, talking to them about sex, warning them about drugs, and praying they know how to use a seat belt/condom/cell phone properly. And let’s not even go there about what they might post on Facebook for the world to see.
Stay-at-home moms are probably on the endangered list for a good reason. The jobs is hard, dirty, exhausting, unappreciated, poorly paid and means nothing on a resume.
Children no doubt would benefit from having their moms at home more–provided she had a good attitude about it and was not cranky about being there–but our society has not gone in that direction. Moms who “do not work”, ( I love that one) are considered throw backs to June Cleaver, an anachronism. And, they are not exempt from the other things moms are supposed to do.
The perfect mother in our current society holds down a lucrative job, supervises a crack staff of nannies, cooks, gardeners and maids at home, makes her own holiday ornaments from scratch, bakes her own bread, wins prizes for her roses, wears a size 6 ( she let herself go a bit, and the 4s got too small), has perfect hair and make-up, volunteers enough to be publicly honored for her civic work, writes a blog about “Having it all”, has children who are always dressed in coordinating, expensive clothes, has a husband who adores her, and who she always dresses in expensive, coordinating clothes, and with whom she is always, always ready to have steamy and imaginative sex whenever he likes, goes to church at least twice a week and has a gaggle of accomplished women friends to prove she has not lost her sense of self by immersing herself too fully into the family dynamic.
In reality being a stay-at-home mom is like trying to push an elephant up a hill with a rope. The wonder woman mother does not exist, nor should she. I applaud all stay-at-home moms and hope they get paroled soon.