Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In defense of the frumpy stay-at-home mom


"So, where else do you work?"

I get this question almost daily since I've gone back to work.  I work once per week at a long-term care facility and it feels good to be back in the nursing field.

"I work at home.  I'm a stay-at-home mom."

Ironically it's the women who usually wrinkle their noses, and the men who congratulate me.  Living in an area that is known to be conservative and family-oriented, the reactions of the women in particular always surprise me.

One female co-worker, at hearing my response said, "Why would you go through all the time and money to get a degree in a profession that you barely even use?"  I'm ashamed to say that a snarky and equally judgmental reply came to mind, which I fortunately had the good sense to keep to myself.

It's also painful when judgmental remarks are made about our decision to have another child.  We've only made the announcement of our upcoming arrival to a few people, and part of my hesitation comes from the response we've gotten from some of the people we've already told.

"Seriously, girl?!?  Aren't your hands full enough already?"

Or the remark one co-worker made to another (I assume joking) when I was completing my drug screen for work.  "Make sure you check her extra well.   You've got to be high on something to have gotten pregnant with your fifth child."

Or with bulging eyes, "So will this one finally be your last one?"

I remember a little sadly when I first announced I was pregnant with my first and second children and the joy with which people received the announcements.  With the third, fourth, and now fifth pregnancies, the reactions have become less joyful and more of shock and ominous warning about the wrecking ball that is about to destroy our life.

I'm not sure when being a stay-at-home mom, let alone one with a houseful of children, got such a bad rap.  I'm guessing it happened in the last few decades when more women have entered the work force and the stay-at-home mom has been portrayed by the media as a frumpy, uneducated underachiever, who is left with no other option than to stay home to bear offspring and do the grunt work that a housekeeper should be doing.

But then I think as individuals we've done plenty to propagate the stigma as well.  Take most people's opinion of the mini-van (which includes mine as well).  A mini-van just isn't cool, no matter which way you spin it.  It doesn't matter the year, make, or model, or whether you call it a Mormon Mobile or a Swagger Wagon... it's a friggin' mini-van.  Sizing up to a Suburban, or in our case Excursion, isn't much better.  You're still packing around a boat load of crazy.  You're mommy ride just became bigger, squarer, and harder to park.

Then come the strollers that are wide and long enough to carry the Pope, the diaper bags that are forever spilling out it's contents of Cheerios and stale sippy cups, the sour burp cloths, and don't even get me started on nursing bras.

Then you come home to breaking up fights fit for a bar, cleaning the contents of blown-out diaper, the spills, the sticky fingerprints, the broken blinds.  You're once magazine-esque house is now baby-proofed to the nines in plastic plug-in covers and rounded table edges, with your Christmas tree sporting a bare bottom half.  

And then then there are the embarrassing mommy tantrums and the apologies you give to your husband for acting like a sleep-deprived lunatic.

Yes, it's all there in it's awkward glory of  motherhood.

And yet, I love it.  There's nothing I'd rather be doing with my life.  It is unglamorous, monotonous, cumbersome, back-breaking, and soul-breaking, but raising children is sacred work. I believe that the hardest things that we do in life will be the ones that we look back on with the greatest fondness.  And raising my four little monkeys and growing a fifth, has been without a doubt the most difficult thing I've ever done, and likely ever will do in my life- but this is my life's work.  They are my life's work.

Yesterday afternoon as I sat next to my first grader and helped him through his reading, I felt a surge of gratitude for the grace of God in allowing me to be home at that moment, to listen to him conquer his first four-syllable word.  I felt it last week as I helped my boys scour their room to find odds and ends for their "Wacky Wednesday" costumes for school.  I felt it when I french braided my four-year old's hair and she told me I had made her look as beautiful as a princess.

I've noticed from working at the nursing home that life and the things we hold dearest to our hearts have an interesting way of unraveling themselves in the twilight of a person's life.  I'm amazed at how often the dear, sweet people I care for- many of whom have little to no awareness of their circumstances or surroundings, or even the name of their spouse- often fall asleep calling out for "mother."  The role and influence of a mother is never diminished, even when the faculties of the mind and body are gone.

The frumpy mother is a myth- a creature of unkindly propagated legend, often created in our own minds.  In the eyes and heart of the child who a mother is nurturing, there is no such a thing.  I've started making it a point to tell people who raise their eyebrows at my "under-used degree" or "unemployment" how privileged I feel to be able to do the most honorable work available to women.  I tell them how thankful I am that I married a man who honors women who bear the grunt work of humanity and who thanks me daily for doing so.

Thanks be to God for the women who labor in the workforce who make this world a better and kinder place.  But thanks also be to God for the women who work on the home front, often who carry out their life's work behind a veil of anonymity.

37 comments:

Amelia Murdock said...

love love love this post Rita!! Tear tears tears! So sweet! I too feel it odd that men around me seem to appreciate what I am doing much more then the women in some ways. I think it's because the women who chose to be away from their kids or only have once child to not "ruin" their life feel a certain amount of guilt and they are just trying to compensate for that. I have come to learn it is their problem not mine! Men don't have the guilt I think, so they are able to be genuinely happy for you at being a stay at home mom.

www.mygrandestadventure.com

The Rummler Family said...

Thanks for this, Rita. I love it. We women make such sport of tearing each other and our choices down. In the span of my life, I've been judged for being part of a DINK couple (dual income, no kids) and "waiting so long" to have children, when people didn't know we were having major fertility problems. I've been judged for not finishing college and "just" completing trade school, when the people judging had no idea what circumstances led to that (not that it's their business). Now I'm judged like you for being "crazy" for having 5 kids, and I feel the inferiority the world puts on me for being "just a mom". It's sad that I seem to get more credibility when I'm doing some kind of work outside of mothering. As if mothering is not enough. I even beat myself with that stick sometimes.

But you're right, it is sacred work. The number of children we have and how we choose to support them is between us and God. After all, those are the only people who fully know our hearts and what we're up against when we make these decisions. No one else has the information or right to weigh in, but boy, do they.

I'm thrilled for you and your beautiful family to be adding another! I hope you feel the joy of anticipation for this little one, even if people let stupid things come out of their mouths. We love having 5. I loved growing up as one of 9.

Have a wonderful pregnancy!

-Jennifer

Cher said...

Congrats! I admire so much about you!

Liz Johnson said...

HUGE HUGE HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!! That is so exciting!!!!! I am so, so, so excited for you.

I agree - people make such snide remarks, usually out of their own insecurities. So much disparaging comes from our own need to validate our own choices - like if a working mom chooses to be a working mom, she feels threatened by those who choose to stay-at-home (and vice versa). I really wish we could just join hands and sing a little kum-ba-ya and realize what a blessing it is to even have these choices available to us, and that no one path is perfect for everybody. I wish we would embrace our sisterhood a little more and do our best to cheer each other on, regardless of what we do from 9-5. Sigh.

Anyways. I am SO thrilled for you!!! When are you due??

Rex Family said...

As a full time mom who had to recently return to work a year ago, I would definitely trade in my job to be a full time mom. I love having my little bit of alone time as well. I love being home with my kids and love to watch them grow, learn, and change. I have definitely gotten all those looks and comments as well especially when people find out that I have 3 under 4 years old. I wouldn't trade having 4 for anything. Congrats on baby number 5! That's amazing! Sometimes I think I would like to have one more too.

Matthew Parks said...

Enjoyed this post very much. Perhaps you've already seen this, but I can't help but mention it here as well. A similarly awesome post about the honor of being a stay-at-home Mom, this one from a snarky man's perspective who perhaps doesn't hold in his snark as much as you. ;) http://themattwalshblog.com/2013/10/09/youre-a-stay-at-home-mom-what-do-you-do-all-day/

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a wonderful post! I don't think it could be said any better. My admiration for my wife has grown more seeing her at home with our daughter than when she was preparing to go to med school.

Katie said...

Rita, you need to write a book. I love the way you express yourself , and share your life with us. I am thrilled for you ! I know I told you this before, but the most beautiful thing I have seen is when my Grandma was dying, and seeing all of her children kneeled around her bed. It made me sad that I only had 2 children. We love you guys, Congrats.

AllisonK said...

Bravo!
Excellent post! Loved everything about it. With 9 you can only imagine the looks and comments we get. Thank you for expressing things so wonderfully.

More importantly:
CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!
What a marvelous addition to your family. You make such beautiful children. This new little one is lucky to be coming to your home.

emeterias said...

Wow! Amazing! I was a stay at home mom with my first three kids and then went back to work while I was pregnant with my fourth! Oh, how I would love to be a stay at home mom again! We are also considering having babies 5 & 6, but every time it is mentioned, we get the same crazy reactions. Glad to read your story and it has greatly encouraged me! Congrats on a soon to be new addition to the family! May God continue to bless you all!

Kati W. said...

Loved this post Rita. I am a mother of 5 and I work full time as a manager and almost everyday I feel like I miss out on something and wish I could be home more with my kids. Treasure these moments. Congrats!! I think 5 is a wonderful #!

Nicole Marie White said...

Beautifuly said. As a home schooling mother of five with the youngest now 14 I too got those crazy looks and comments. My mother was the most "concerned" for me thinking I'd be depressed and adrift when the kids grew up and I had nothing to call my own. I'd laugh and tell her I'm doing what I need and want to be doing NOW and loving it and not to worry because I had a huge list of things to do when the kids were grown. Ya know- that list has changed and changed and my life is wonderfully full and not at how I expected to be but exactly as it needs to be. I'm glad you find joy in being a mom and homemaker. Thank you for sharing your thought.

Rachel Boyer said...

I loved your post! Never stop writing!!! I'm guessing many of the comments are from working moms trying to find resolve with working themselves. As a working mom I find that inner battle is constantly going through my mind of guilt and doubt. As silly as it sounds I sometimes feel guilty that I enjoy my job. How messed up is that? Why do we do this to ourselves? At the end of the day, I know my kids know without doubt that I love them and cherish them beyond measure. God understands that my family planning takes a significant amount of financial reserve. He understands my struggle with nearly paralyzing anxiety. He understands my needs as an individual and as a part of a family. I find peace with that and know God knows my heart and wants me to know He loves me beyond measure too. I love and admire you and your sweet family. I wish we as women could forget all of the judgement towards each other and just love and support each other, no matter their decisions. Life is hard enough without being hard on each other.

p.s. Congrats on #5! What a blessing!

V Stewart said...

LOL, what a wonderful post. Thank you, I was able to be a stay at home mom for the majority of my boy's growing up and a stay at home Grandma for part of my granddaughters. I am extremely grateful and thankful for that. I wouldn't trade that time for all the money in the world! Congrats on #5 :-D

vanessa said...

Beautiful post. I am so nervous to do #5, I'll watch your updates on the blog first to see if you survive ;) I know you will, but for me at least 4 has been tough!

Jared Farish said...

Thank you for your courage. My wife has given birth to 6 children, and under different circumstances we would have loved to have had more. They fill our lives not only with their time, but also with their love, and the eternal relationships that we enjoy. As for your detractors, I can only feel a certain amount of sorrow for them. They have taken the easy road, and they will have the reward that they seek, but will miss out on the greater reward of children and a large posterity. May God bless you in your efforts.

Janice said...

I totally know how you feel on the comments about more kids. It is frustrating that anyone thinks they have the right to decide how big my family should or should not be (I have 7 kids). And I'm pretty sure we're done. But we can change our mind whenever we want, just because :)

Rita said...

You have 7??? How wonderful! One of the things that I've loved about each addition to our family is the new dynamic that each of them bring. It's like a geometric shape that comes closer and closer to completion with the addition of each child. I can't imagine our family with any of the little personalities missing.

Rita said...

I loved how you said they fill your lives not only with their time but also with their love. Isn't that the truth? What a blessing to have 6 children. Congratulations to you as well!

Rita said...

If there is anything I've learned (which isn't necessarily a lot) is that the Lord will prepare you for whatever it is that He wants you to do. You will be made equal to the task if that's what is in His plan for you. 4 has been tough for me too though! But I love it. Congratulations on the four that you do have!

Rita said...

What a blessing that you were able to stay at home with your children and now with your granddaughters! Grandmothers carry such a powerful influence as well. Thank you for sharing!

Rita said...

Rachel, I always love your insights. You are a wise woman, maybe more than you realize. I've loved seeing your little family grow. Your children are lucky to have you. I am grateful for a God who knows our hearts. What an amazing gift that is. And know that your heart is a very good one. I love you, cousin!

Rita said...

I have to say, mothers who home school their children have superstar status in my mind! That's amazing! I loved how you said your life is not what you expected it to be, but exactly as it needs to be. Not everyone can say that about the life they have created for themselves, so good on you!

Rita said...

Thank you for the well wishes! Being a mother of 5 yourself, I'm sure you would have a lot of wisdom to impart to those of us who are entering unchartered territory!

Rita said...

I'm sorry to hear that you've gotten the same reactions as well. It can be disheartening, can't it? I can tell just from the little you wrote that you're a loving mom. We need more moms like you.

Rita said...

Oh man... the comments. But anyone who knows you or even just sees you from afar is in awe of you and what you are doing with your life. I can't tell you how much I have loved reading your blog and keeping up with you from a distance. I hope you can see in yourself what the rest of us see in you, Allison. You are one of the most remarkable women I know.

Rita said...

I always love the way you speak about your grandma. What an amazing woman she must have been (and still is). I can only imagine the scene your describing and it brings tears to my eyes just to think of it. Katie, your children and husband adore you. You are a wonderful mother and they are lucky to have you!

Rita said...

I always love hearing men speak of their admiration for their wives. She is lucky to have a man who recognizes the value of what she does, as not all men do.

Rita said...

Yes, I did read this post about a week ago and I LOVED it! I'm amazed that people question what stay-at-home moms do all day. It floors me.

Rita said...

You have such a beautiful family, Maria. I admire the way you've handled having your children so close together in age! If you decide to have a fifth child, he or she would be very lucky to be able to come into your home. I can't imagine our family without each of their distinct little personalities. As a side note, your baby reminds me a lot of Lauren when she was a baby! She's beautiful!

Rita said...

I've noticed that I also have to be careful to ward off the judgmental thoughts that seem to want to creep in. Like you said, what a blessing it is to even have these choices available to us.

As for a due date, I really wasn't planning on letting the cat out of the bag until I was a little further along, but I'm not due until the beginning of May... Oh man, that's a long way away. I was looking at your doula site and was thinking how awesome something like that would be for this delivery. With my past four I had epidurals that worked perfectly well and I almost feel like I missed out a little on the experience. Does that sound weird to you?? I know some people say you wouldn't go to the dentist and pass up the anesthesia so it's crazy to pass it up during delivery, but I think I want the experience.

...And as my sister says, if you deliver without anesthesia, it earns you a front-row seat in Relief Society.

If we can't all sing Kumbaya together as women, maybe I could talk a doula into singing Kumbaya with me. Or not. She might get a heel to the face if she tried that. :)

Rita said...

Thanks, Cher! I admire so much about you too. Even though we haven't seen each other in years, I can tell you're an awesome momma. You have such a beautiful family.

Rita said...

Yes, I don't think men carry the same guilt nor do they judge each other the way women do. My husband is always so confused about why the women act toward each other the way we do! You'd think after several millenia of cattiness, that we'd knock it off by now! :)

Rita said...

I loved what you shared, Jennifer! Why as women do we do that to each other??? It's crazy and infuriating and yet I have to watch myself to be careful with the judgmental thoughts that try to creep in. For as crazy as it drives me when other people do it, you'd think I'd have good enough sense not to do it myself!

I'm sorry to hear that you've had so many unfair judgments placed on you over the years. It's interesting how the judgments have evolved over the years, which go to show that the judgments aren't necessarily targeted towards you personally, but more towards the "ideals" we have for each other. And the crazy thing is, there is no perfect ideal. No matter what we choose to do with our lives, we will be sacrificing something else. My decision to go back to work, even just one day per week, has carried it's own cost.

I find it interesting that someone commented on their issue with my use of the word "sacred." With a lot of the criticism this has received, I can usually, in someway see their point, even if I don't agree with it. But I just don't see how raising God's most precious creations can be anything but sacred. It is sacred to me, in every sense of the word.

Thank you for your thoughts. You are such a wise woman and I always feel uplifted by hearing what you have to say.

Rita said...

Oh man... I'm such a butthead. That last part came out totally wrong. No, Liz... I would definitely not kick you in the face! I was talking about if I were in labor and the doula... oh, never mind. See, that's why I shouldn't even try to be funny! It usually comes out totally wrong!

Fortunes said...

Love it, love it, love it! Staying home with my kids was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I wouldn't trade anything for the time I am able to spend raising my kids. No success can compensate for failure in the home. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to be at home with my kids. They are my life's work as well. And congrats! Another piece of heaven for your family :)

Rita said...

Julia, I also feel so blessed to have been able to stay home with my kids! For many mothers it isn't a choice. I'm so grateful for the amazing opportunity it is, even though at times it might seem like I'm failing miserably. Congrats on your beautiful family as well. :)