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?