My Own Personal SAHM v WOHM Debate (An Inventory, Part 1)

What started as a simple post ended up being a bigger, two multi-part series. The introduction is a public discussion of the SAHM v WOHM, a look into why we can never seem to put enough fuel on that fire and why we continue participating in the conversation even when it pits us against people we consider friends. (I have, and will be, responding to all comments on these posts.)

In the end, publicly, I think it’s all about recognition and validation. But for some women it can be a really difficult personal conversation. If a woman has the choice between staying home with her children or working outside the home, deciding what to do can be incredibly difficult. I know women who have anguished over the decision and I recognize how hard it must be.

For a long time I felt a lot of jealousy toward women who had the choice, especially when I determined they didn’t adequately acknowledge their own privilege in even having a choice to make. (Wait, you didn’t get the memo declaring my ability to judge others in that way? It must have been an internal memo.) Then I decided to do an honest inventory of my life as a WOHM and to attempt to honestly imagine what it would be like as a SAHM. I had some experience staying at home, during my six month maternity leave and my three two-month summer breaks with my daughter, but I knew that becoming a SAHM entailed a lot more than what I experienced during my limited periods at home. Reading posts from SAHMs helped me identify other struggles I might not have considered, so that I was able to create what I believe is a pretty accurate understanding of what being a SAHM mom would be like for me.

In the end I think being a SAHM would be easier for me, in that it would be logistically simpler. but I absolutely believe that I am happier as a WOHM than I would be as a SAHM.

The following is an inventory of the ways being a WOHM challenges me.

– It’s logistically complicated. It’s hard on our family to have two working parents, with two different schedules to reconcile, two sets of obligations, and two sets of moving parts (sometimes those parts move in completely opposite directions). Making sure the kids “are covered” can take a lot of finagling.

It’s inconvenient. With so little time at home, and absolutely no flexibility at my job, it’s really hard to get things done outside the house. Shopping is a chore, making doctor’s appointments is a challenge, getting the oil changed requires scrutinizing my schedule for weeks in advance, and getting someone to come fix my leaking washing machine is almost impossible (I’ve been attempting this for over two months). Scheduling anything that has to happen during the work day is really, really difficult (and I recognize that this is much harder for me than it is for other working moms because my job offers no flexibility and being away requires a huge amount of additional prep beforehand and afterward).

– It’s hard on my kids and family. It’s harder on everyone that I’m not at home. Mornings are harder for my husband. Evenings are harder for me. My kids are in the care of others for long periods of time, which is emotionally draining for them. My husband has to make choices that might limit his possibilities at work because he has to be home with the kids. It would definitely be easier for our family if I were home, and I don’t doubt my kids would be happier for it.

– It leaves very little wiggle room. A lot of things have to happen, simultaneously, for our household to run smoothly. If one moving piece comes to a halt (either parent, caregivers, or kids) the whole machine can burst into flames. The whole family being sick a couple weeks ago was a prime example of this. First our daughter came home from school sick on Monday so my husband stayed home with her Tuesday. Tuesday night I got sick, and had to stay home as well. My inlaws, it turned out, were also sick. To make matters worse, both my kids ended up being sick too. So not only did I have to take care of my sick kids while I was sick, but I had to manually input 20 of my student’s phone numbers to mass-text them saying I wouldn’t be there for zero period. Then I had to write sub plans (that could be used without me preparing my room) in between visits to the porcelain god. And when my husband came home from work sick Wednesday afternoon, I had to drive back to work at 5am Thursday morning to get my classroom ready for yet another day of sub plans. All this, on top of cleaning up diarrhea diapers and throw-up clothes and sheets, while throwing up myself.

These kinds of situations are much more stressful for me because of my job, but I also recognize that my job is especially inflexible when it comes to being late or not being there at all. I can’t just show up 10 minutes after I’m supposed to; there will be 25-32 students standing outside waiting for me to show up (not to mention the disciplinary actions that would follow). And if I can’t be there at all, I have to write detailed explanations of what all five classes need to do in my absence, and have all the resources required for them to do those things, ready and waiting in my room. Plus, there is the added stress of using sick days, which isn’t a big deal until I run out and start not getting paid for the days I’m not at work, which can affect our ability to pay our bills at the end of the month.

– It’s incredibly isolating. Most WOHM list daily adult interaction as one thing they appreciate most about not being home, but as a middle school teacher my job is super isolating. With my current set up, seeing other adults just doesn’t happen–I don’t see my colleagues at work (I don’t even eat lunch on campus) and I can’t make play dates with the parents of my daughter’s friends after work (it’s way too late by then). That leaves only the weekends to see other people, and they fill up fast with the boring, monotonous chores that can’t get done during the work week (shopping, laundry, etc.) Sometimes I think I made a horrible mistake becoming a teacher because it has created this incredibly isolating existence that as an extrovert I find tortuous.

– It’s hard to manage the household. It’s really hard to keep the house clean, get the laundry done, make and clean up after dinner and just generally do things around the house when I only have a few hours at home every day. If were a SAHM and my older kid were in preschool (at 4.5yo I’m assuming she would be) and my younger kid were napping (at 15 months old he still naps), I’d have an hour or two to get things done around the house every day. I know when I am home in the summer I always feel way more on top of managing the household than I do when I’m teaching.

Having said that, I absolutely appreciate the lowered expectations placed on me because I am NOT at home. I think a feeling of absolute failure in the cooking/cleaning/home management would really wear on my self-esteem if I were a SAHM.

 – It’s stressful. Having a job means managing a whole separate set of obligations and expectations every day. Not only do I have to consider my husband and my kids, but I have to consider my students, my administration, my colleagues and my students’ parents. At the ends of the night I am frequently grading papers, responding to (indignant) parent emails, preparing lesson plans for the next day or filling out IEP or 504 paperwork. Most of the times my nightmares are related to work stress and sometimes the combination of stress at home and stress at school can be completely overwhelming. Being at work all day I never feel like I’m measuring up as a parent and spending most of the evening with my kids I’m always falling behind as a teacher. I spend most of my life feeling like I’m failing everybody, and that is incredibly stressful. And demoralizing.

– It’s exhausting. I have to wake up at 5am to be at work at 6am so I have some time to prepare for my first class at 7am. My kids usually wake up around 7am, so I’m losing about 2 hours of sleep a night, on average, being a WOHM. My job is also very exhausting–standing in front of a bunch of middle school students for 5+ hours with only one ten minute break to go to the bathroom, does not offer me a chance to recharge. And while I don’t have to deal with the behavioral management of my own children, I do have to deal with the behavioral management of other people’s children. And teach them stuff too. When I am home in the summer I am much better rested and have a lot more energy.

– Managing maternal guilt. This one is closely tied to the stress, but I feel guilt deserves it’s own bullet point because I feel a considerable amount of guilt for not being there for my kids and I wonder constantly if my absence is harming them in some way. There are a lot of messages out there about how important it is for mothers to be home with their children and how we’re damaging them by putting them in someone else’s care. Add that to the regret of missing important milestones and the guilt can be crushing.

These are my biggest reasons challenges with being a WOHM. It’s kind of a daunting list, and yet I stand by my assertion that I’m happier with this arrangement than I would be as a SAHM. I guess tomorrow’s inventory has a lot of explaining to do.

What are the biggest challenges to your current set up?

12 Comments

  1. I love the inside look into your life and the challenges you face, working from home.
    I taught 5th grade for 3 years before I ended up staying home with Aiden. I didn’t actually teach at all while having a baby, so I can’t say I totally understand, but I can say all those feelings you posted above, are all things I too have struggled with as a SAHM. Here are my examples for my life as a SAHM. (FYI: My husband is a band teacher, so I totally get where you are coming from with sub plans, etc. PAIN IN THE BUTT!)

    It’s logistically complicated- I’m constantly trying to juggle picking up Aiden from preschool and dropping him off. If D, my hubby, is out of town, or has a meeting during that time, I have a friend come sit at my house with the other kids and daycare kids so I can do this. Often, I can’t make plans for myself because D has pep band games, or meetings before and after school.

    – It’s inconvenient- We travel 50 minutes one way to Walmart once a month for groceries. Finding a weekend day to do that gets tricky, especially with all the snow we’ve been having and kids who scream in the car. Honestly, so stressful and I dread doing it.

    It’s hard on my kids and family- Having an in-home daycare was certainly a choice I made, but my house is constantly in a state of crazy, and my own kids don’t get my attention 100%. My husband suffers my wrath when I’ve had a bad day. Same thing with me, if he is stressed at work, it’s hard for him to come home and focus and switch gears with us.

    It leaves very little wiggle room- I often feel like my days are so structured, that if I wanted to leave the house and run to our local grocery store, or coffee shop, it’s impossible due to not having enough car seats, or just the plain pain in the ass, hauling toddlers around a store is. (I’ve done it a few times, and it’s gone smoothly, but I hate the weird looks people give me)

    It’s incredibly isolating- This probably more than anything…I have a few mommy friends, but coordinating schedules, especially in winter, is so hard. My house is chaotic, I’m always distracted with daycare kids needing or wanting something, and I feel like I play referee all day. I don’t know of many of my friends who want to hang out in that environment. They’ve tried, but we don’t always get much conversation, which leaves me feeling like I’m just an inconvience.
    Any friends I do have, I often have to try to meet up with on Friday afternoon for a drink/early dinner, but if D is gone for work (usually 2/4 weekends), then I don’t get that break at all. It can be so lonely, and often I just long for someone to come visit with me! I also sometimes feel I don’t have much to offer my friends, because my life revolves around kids. I kind of don’t have much of an identity anymore, I can’t talk about things in the news b/c I don’t watch TV (too tired), and I don’t know the latest gossip b/c I rarely leave the house. LOL

    It’s hard to manage the household- Um, yes. 100%. Like I mentioned before, I’m always cleaning and picking up behind everyone. It’s exhausting. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I am always throwing things away, weeding out, sweeping, mopping etc. Meal planning is difficult, so I’ve resorted to eating like shit and so does my family. Working on that with my Whole 30. I’ve also found having a whiteboard calendar helps SO much with me trying to stay organized on what kids are gone when, hubby’s schedule, bills, etc.

    It’s stressful.- AMEN! I often feel like I’ll have a heart attack from having to multi-task so much.

    It’s exhausting.- I hear you 100%. Totally exhausted. I honestly don’t have much energy to give my own family after everyone leaves at 4:30. I go into cleaning/dinner mode, then just want to veg. out. I’ve been working hard on trying to spend meaningful time with my own 2 boys throughout the day and in the evenings, instead of rushing around cleaning/picking up all day.

    Managing maternal guilt- ALL THE TIME. I’m always feeling bad about something. My most recent mommy guilt is feeling bad that I rush Callen’s nursing sessions b/c I know the toddlers are probably fighting over toys or making a mess while I’m putting him down for naps. Then, I feel bad b/c Callen loves to nurse, but I hear meltdowns happening in the basement. KILLS ME, that I can’t be in two places at once.

    All of this is to say that I UNDERSTAND what you do and go through daily! Our lives/circumstances as SAHM’s and WAHM’s may be different, but we still have the same challenges and same feelings. I wish the Mom War’s could stop if people could realize we are actually SO much the same. It’s not about whose the better parents at all, it’s about that we are mothers who are trying to do the best we can. Such an awesome post!

    1. Heather, it was really interesting to read this perpsective, as both of my kids have gone through in-home daycares. It always seems like such a nice balance of being home with your kids but still having a job and income (plus, no commute!). But I can see how it would bring you the worst of both worlds, too.

    2. Heather, thank you so much for writing this out, this way, so I can see how my challenges line up with your own. I have to agree with Deborah, that it seems like you have the hard parts of both situations. You are stuck at home every day, but you also have to manage other people’s schedules and expectations. It’a also interesting that you self-identify as a SAHM (at least that is how I understand that you self-identify), when I would consider you a WFHM (work from home mom) because of the constraints put on you by the families who contract your services. It is true that you are at home with your kids, but you are also at home with other people’s kids, and you make money doing that, so it feels different to me. I’d be curious to hear more about how you self-identify as a SAHM as opposed to a WFHM. This is really interesting to me.

  2. As I think seriously about re-entering the workplace, I am really worried about all of the factors that you discuss in this post. Having someone at home takes a significant amount of stress of the entire unit. I keep wondering how our mornings would look, how dinner would get made, how sick days and holidays would work and how on earth would we have managed to get few the past few weeks??

    There is an important personal aspect to the SAHM/WOHM discussion but there is also the way that a SAH parent positively impacts the other members of the family, especially, I believe, the other parent who works. There are many days when I feel that I am “taking one for the team”.

    1. The two times I’ve been on maternity leave, I could see how having me home made my husband less stressed, and that reflected back on me. It was much more pleasant having a less-stressed husband around. I guess I’m struggling with this question myself lately.

    2. I agree 100% that having someone at home relieves a lot of stress on the household in general and that a mother who stays home is essentially “taking one for the team,” even if she really wants to be home with her kids. By being home everyone else’s life is easier, but it doesn’t seem like SAHMs feel like their lives are easier, which is why I think it seems like they are sacrificing for the greater good of their family.

      Next year my husband will have to get both kids to school/daycare without me (and without a car?!) and I am totally stressed out by the prospect. The deadline just passed for me to request part-time so I could be home for at least a portion of the morning and help out because I’m not sure how my husband will manage them both alone every morning before school. I think we’ll have to hire a mother’s (or in this case I guess a father’s) helper, or it’s just going to be too hard on everyone. These are the situations where I REALLY wish I were home, because getting everyone ready in the morning is not my husband’s strong suit and he is going to be a wreck at the end of every day because of it. Ugh. I wish there were easier answers. I wish it weren’t all or nothing, because most of the time it feels that way.

  3. Noemi–agree agree agree! Wanted to reply yesterday but knew I’d pisd people off. It’s all hard for everyone but harder for us since we still have the same responsibilities just lots less time to take care of them–it’s not like my salary is paying for housekeepers personal chefs personal shoppers etc.–and then we get to feel guilty on top of that. And yes I also feel sahms don’t acknowledge their privilege. And I hate comments like “well we made the choice that this was more important than…we decided we could go without…” Implying I choose to work for my high roller lifestyle with a huge mansion and extravagant vacations and eating out all the time when in reality we have a modest house rarely go on vacation and never eat out etc.

    1. I do think managing home/work as a WOHM is more complicated, which is one way to say it’s “harder,” but I also think I would be a lot less happy if I were a SAHM, and I think it would be really hard to be that unhappy all the time, especially when I was with my kids, which I’m supposed to love to do. Both SAHM and WOHM face very real challenges, seen and unseen, and every situation is so unique (what their job entails, what their kids are like, how many kids they have, etc), I’ve stopped trying to determine which is “harder.”

      I also bristle at the “well we make the choice that this was more important than…we decided to go without…” as well, because I do feel there is an implication that that person is making sacrifices that I am unwilling to make, and that I am living a life of luxury, which is absolutely not the case. We’ve NEVER been on a vacation, except to visit extended family in St. Louis and I once took just my daughter to Disneyland for two days, but my mom paid for the tickets which was the bulk of the expense (we drove). I doubt we’ll be able to afford any kind of vacation in the next 10 years! Our choices are so much more complicated that “we decided to go without…” because our choices are linked to where we are from, where are parents live, where my husband can find a job that is meaningful to him, etc. Could I be a SAHM if we moved to some part of the state, or country, where it was a lot less expensive, maybe. I don’t know what my husband would do to make money there, because his job is very much tied to where we live (he actually works for the city), and I know we wouldn’t see our parents much and they are currently HUGE presences in our kids lives. So yeah, we didn’t want to go without those things, which I recognize are choices we made, but we also don’t have cable, we only have one car, we don’t go on vacations and we don’t eat out much (only cheap pizza and In-n-Out).

  4. interesting topic.
    You are stepping clear of the sidetracking issue of ‘which life is harder’ which is very commendable and important to do, because, as you state each person’s situation is very different and the children involved are different, as well as the work position inside or outside the home re flexibility, and choices for jobs and their compensation vary hugely too.
    You and your commentators all seem to be parenting with a partner.
    What would happen, what would your partner do, if you all at once were not in the picture. Would there be enough insurance to cover the changed needs? Would your partner be able to ‘step up’ the way so many singleton (by choice or not) parents or grandparents are doing today? What would happen if your partner, not you, had the unexpected fatal accident? When you look at the factors in choices about working does that factor into your decision? I HOPE THAT NEVER HAPPENS TO ANY OF YOU!!!!!
    I single parented via divorce with 2 children I had to work. One child parents single due to unexpected death of partner but in a job with some flexibility and some choice re hours. The second child has a partner and one child ~ but both parents are in high pressure jobs with required travel, long hours including weekends and evenings, and very little flexibility. So far as I can see, it was hard parenting when I was in that age group, and even harder today.
    All of you should take a bow. No easy answer exists, at home, from home or from an ‘office’ it is hard to parent ~~ all parents work.

    1. Neither of us has life insurance. Yet. That is something I am remedying now. If my husband had life insurance I think I could manage without him, only because my parents are close and AMAZING and we could live with them or near them without me getting a different job. But that is a really important thing to think about.

  5. I’m going to be honest, I took my sick kid to spend the day at a bar today becaaaause I was cleaning it. I appreciate contributing to my family’s income but I’d give it up in a heartbeat. I hate this shit.

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