My Own Personal SAHM v WOHM Debate (A Conclusion)

I feel like I should wrap this series* up in sparkly paper and curly ribbons, but honestly, I don’t know how (and I’ve always been more of a Dollar Store gift bag wrapper anyway). The SAHM/WOHM debate is so complicated. And so glaringly simple.

The simple of it: We all work hard. We all make choices that we believe are best for our family. We all struggle. We all triumph. We all are doing are best, trying to make it work, and hoping that (we, and) our kids  are okay at the end of it all.

The complicated of it: Each mother’s choice to stay at home, work from home or manage some combination of the two is uniquely intricate and arduous. Even for those of us who don’t have a choice, we agonize over whether we’re doing the right thing for ourselves and our families. When a path that is best for us in some ways is also more challenging for us in others, it becomes impossible to make the “right choice.” We are constantly wondering if there might be some other, better, way to make it work. The reality is, there probably isn’t.

Despite the simple, and complicated, nature of this dialogue, I think it’s an important one to have. When we talk about the challenges and benefits of working from home, or staying at home, validate each other’s experiences and open each other’s eyes to new and different possibilities. A SAHM who is fearful about rejoining the workforce might realize there are ways to manage the difficulties of working outside the home, and the mom who wants to be with her kids might discover new ways to make it financially (and emotionally) feasible. The mom who finds staying at home a grueling, even onerous, experience might feel better knowing that moms who aren’t at home feel just as frustrated with their kids (and life) at the end of a long, exhausting day. And the mom who fears she’s failing both at work and at home might feel a little better about herself knowing moms at home worry they’re messing things up as well.

Parenting is hard work. I have struggled a lot with the maternal ambivalence** that seems to define my own experience. It’s not that I don’t love my kids–I absolutely adore them–it’s the mundane, repetitive tasks required to raise them that send me oscillating wildly between elation and disdain. I cherish the moments of laughter and silliness when wrasslin’ with my daughter and revere the quiet, tender snuggles shared with my son, but I loathe all things related to feeding them and cringe before, during and after every transition. I spend so many parenting minutes looking forward to that glorious moment when I can finally be alone, and then fill the alone minutes thinking about my children, gazing wistfully at their pictures.

Sharing our experiences as stay-at-home and work-from-home moms, expressing how our maternal ambivalence might color those experiences, these are vital endeavors. We need to be having these conversations. We need to be speaking our own unique truths.

Because no matter how unique each of our experiences is, every single one is relevant and every single one is an important addition. The more stories we hear, the more we are able to understand and normalize our own experience, while hopefully putting it in perspective.

So thank you for participating in this little discussion. I know I learned a lot, my complicated feelings were normalized and I gained perspectives I didn’t realize I lacked. I am more accepting of my own “choices,” while maintaining the utmost respect for women who make very different choices for themselves. If anything, this conversation has reminded me that there is no ideal answer, there is no “easier” or “harder,” there is just shifting shades of every color imaginable, coming together in the brilliant and muddled cacophony we call motherhood. I hope others have similarly benefitted from this conversation, and that you’ll continue it with other parents you know.

What do you want to add to the this discussion? Do you think this is an important conversation to have?

*For the first three installments see the introduction and inventories one and two.

**For some really interesting thoughts (and lots of great links) on maternal ambivalence, see Stephanie Sprenger’s recent post. I am so appreciate of the conversation she is starting.

8 Comments

  1. It’s been interesting reading these posts. I actually like how you made it a series, it made you able to go really in-depth. I think we all knew the conclusion was going to be that there are pluses & minuses to both sides. But I related to so much of what you wrote.

    1. I’m glad you found these posts useful. I know it helped me to actually write down my train of thought on all this. Maybe now I can just go back and re-read these, instead of rehashing it all in my head every few months.

  2. I’ve loved reading this series (awesome posts). Very informative. I kept nodding my head at a lot of what you wrote. I listen to a podcast called, “One Bad Mother”. It takes on the hardships of the SAHM and WOHM and well, parenting. And when they polled these two categories of women…well, they found the all had 3 things in common. 1. We’re all tired from working so damn hard 2. We don’t make nearly enough time for ourselves and 3. When we do make the time, we have this enormous amount of guilt washed over us.

    Don’t you just love, Motherhood. I know I do. Thanks for your brilliant writing.

    1. Those three things in common seem spot on. Right now I am working really hard to make time for myself to cultivate friendships, but I’m realizing that it’s really hard on my daughter (and then my extension me, when I get home) for me to be gone a couple days a week, so I’ve had to scale back my attempts to see other people, and it’s hard not to feel resentment about that. Yeah, motherhood is just so awesome… 😉

  3. This has been a great series, and it’s been so interesting to get an in depth look at your struggles as well as the positives of you being a working mom. In general, I don’t have much angst about my choice to be a SAHM. Sure, there are days where I get bored, really frustrated with our limited financial resources, and miss adult interaction without toddler interruptions, but overall, I’m happy. Being a SAHM is what I always wanted, and I believe this role fits my personality as well as our family’s situation right now. And maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t worry too much about re-entering the workforce some day- I figure I’ll probably go back to teaching or do something that doesn’t require much ladder climbing. I think it is important for all of us to acknowledge that we all work really hard, and parenting is just hard- and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Thank you for writing these posts!

    1. I think re-entering the workforce as a teacher is probably easier than a lot of other professions. I don’t know if (in my area) they honor previous years worked so you may have to start at the low end of the pay scale again, which could be rough, but I don’t think it would be terribly hard to get back into teaching. I could be wrong though, I honestly don’t know anyone who’s done it.

      I think you’re right that we all need to acknowledge how hard it is. Parenting young kids is really hard, whether you’re at home or outside the home during the day. We all deal with so many of the same things and it can all feel very overwhelming.

  4. Super interesting series of posts! Thanks for the careful consideration of all of the issues.

    I think it’s interesting when people say “I don’t have a choice” or “But I have to keep paying for this house/apartment/thing I have, so I can’t ____.” I don’t believe it. There’s still almost always a choice available beyond the one you are currently making. Often those choices are very undesirable and you’d like not to make them but they still exist. Example: my spouse makes very little and could look for a job that pays a livable wage. We choose not to pursue that because the upsides of the current job make it worth keeping. Some day our priorities may change and then we’d need to choose a different path. We have chosen to both work for now but if we wind up living somewhere with no quality childcare, we will choose differently so my spouse is home with Little Monster. Just because we aren’t choosing the other options now doesn’t mean they have ceased to exist. It’s useful for us as a couple to reevaluate the choices that exist and then choose what we want again when it’s still the best for us.

    1. I’m sure there are possibilities for me to stay home, like bringing kids into my home in a kind of day care scenario, but you’re right, I REALLY don’t want to do that. And, as I mentioned in my post, we could probably move somewhere else and make it work, but we’d lose so many amazing things, the most important being proximity to the kids’ grandparents, who see them and take care of them all the time. I don’t think I’d be happier at home if home were far away from my parents and my inlaws. In fact, I’m absolutely sure of it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *