I was a stay-at-home mother for six years, and I loved it.  It was absolutely the right thing for our children and our family.  The children and I had a strong bond, I was there for all of their “events,” and I could teach them to follow our family values and way of life.

And I wasn’t JUST a stay-at-home mom.  I raised chickens with the kids.  I took extra kids sometimes to give other moms a break.  I cooked elaborate locavore food that I bought with my kids at farmer’s market or harvested with them on a farm.  I was really good at it.

I never  though much about the difference between stay-at-home moms and working moms.  I just knew that all families looked a little different from each other.  And I knew I liked where I was.

Then, around a year ago, we got to the point in our lives where I needed to work.  It was absolutely the right thing for our children and our family.  And I love it.

Again, I never thought much about the difference between stay-at-home moms and working moms.  I just knew that all families looked a little different from each other.  I knew this was how my family needed to look. 

However, I do know the community that I am in.  It’s incredibly suburban.  Most families have two parents present (mine does not).  And about half of them have a stay-at-home parent (ours does not).  While there are probably a lot more families that look like mine than I think, it’s the same families I see over and over again, the overachieving PTA members and home room mothers, with their available Watch DOG dad husbands.  People are just heavily involved with the kids.  And the expectations of involvement by parents is high.  And sometimes, I just cannot make it to every performance or every practice.  But my kids are there, usually with a family member.  And it’s not like I miss a lot of things.  I really do try and make it.

But I have become very aware of the fact that I don’t meet the expectations of a lot of parents.  I am not the norm.

I became painfully aware of this a few days ago.  I had signed up to help on the school party committee, run by a stay-at-home dad.  As he was assigning tasks, he publicly announced that he had only given me “small tasks.”  I took this as a bit of a slight, mostly because the only way he would even THINK I was not up for bigger responsibility was if he had been gossiping with the “power crew” of mothers that generally take over during homeroom parties and at school functions.  They would whisper to each other, as if I were inflicted with some insidious disease they couldn’t say aloud, “She just can’t be here that much.  She works.  And her husband doesn’t live with her.  Those poor kids.”

I’ve seen them do it.

Suddenly, I truly did become aware that there was a divide between the parents of the world who stay at home and those who work.  I’ve been on both sides.  And I’d guess I’d like to tell the stay-at-home moms a thing or two about me:

1.  You are not a better parent than I am because you stay home.  Just because I work doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be at every function with my kids.  And it doesn’t mean I support them any less.  Nor do they feel unsupported.  I spend a LOT of time catching up with my kids, their teachers, parents’ friends, and family.  I know what my kids like and dislike.  I know what subjects they excel at.  I know what they want to be when they grow up.  I know their friends and their friends’ parents.  Get the picture?  Just because I am not around all day doesn’t mean I cannot be just as involved in their lives as I used to be.

2.  My kids do not have fewer opportunities than yours do because I work.  Because you stay at home, your kids are not smarter.  They will not do better at sports.  They will not have better friends.  If your kids do these things, it’s because you have good genes, and have instilled values in your kids.  I read all of the notes that come home.  And if there is something that we, as a family, feel is a good opportunity for our kids, we will fight to be able to take it, whether I am there or not.

3.  At least for now, working makes me a better mother.  I was a great stay-at-home mother.  But my psyche began to need more after a few years.  I missed an emotional and intellectual connection with my peers.  I missed wearing pretty clothes and going to business meetings.  I’m not going to lie.  I did.  And now, I am able to get that, then come home to my kids, calmer, more articulate, more patient.

4.  I get plenty of quality time with my kids.  I see my kids every night and all weekend.  Most weekends, we spend the entire time together.  It’s just that, rather than playing catch, we have to grocery shop or clean the house.  Truly, my girls and I have a really strong bond.  And we have a great time together when we are around.  I don’t lament not being there enough.

5.  I’m not anti-social; I’m tired.  If you ask me to go out for a beer on a Friday night, even if I have a sitter, I will likely say, “No.”  It’s not that I don’t think you’re the bees knees.  It’s just that I have probably averaged about four hours of sleep a night all week, between packing lunches, prepping meals, writing letters to teachers and nannies, filling out paperwork, doing housework…add in a run, and I’m spent.  The weekends are chill time.  Mostly, we just want to have fun as a family…and sleep.

6.  My kids are not “latch key” kids, passed around from caretaker to caretaker, without consistent supervision.  I admit, I have hired a nanny for one day a week, but that’s only because I don’t have enough family to go around (my nanny is excellent, by the way).  Every other day that I work really means a day with cousins, grandma, an aunt…And I think this is important.  Honestly, I am not in this game to raise mini-mes.  I want to raise well-rounded individuals who can think for themselves and act independently.  Really, I think that a good way to do this is to have several people who spend time with the kids.  After all, how will they know what they like unless they see a variety of options?

7.  I don’t lack tradition with my kids.  Friday night is movie night. Saturday is family day.  Thanksgiving means we feed our leftovers to the homeless.  And Christmas means we make paper chains and string popcorn.  And on top of this my family’s traditions and my husband’s family’s traditions, there is plenty there.  We have ample of time to create memories, even though I am not around 50 hours during the week.

6.  You don’t need to pity or feel sorry for me or my kids.  I am not brave because I am a mother.  I am not courageous or amazing.  My kids do not suffer.  I do know how I do it.  I work hard.  I work very hard.  I make sure that caring people are with my kids.  I make sure their needs are met.  I make sure my needs are met.  And I wouldn’t change a thing.  I am guessing that, other than my 6 year old, who wishes I was a unicorn, neither would they.

7.  I appreciate parents like you.  Yeah, I know, my kids see my face every day.  But they also see yours.  And that’s important.  It’s important to have other parents and caregivers who are familiar faces, and nurturing and loving in my kids’ lives.  It’s important to have tireless parents who can plan the school party and help with every homeroom event.  It’s important to see the way different families work.  I’ve been that familiar face at times, and now I come to pick up and drop off when I can squeeze it in.  So thank you for being that familiar face right now.

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