Thursday, March 19, 2015

Owning IT--our choices with how we work

Did you read this piece yet today? It's another defense of stay-at-home-motherhood that plays nice about both sides, for the most part, and urges us to reconsider this rising notion of a one-income family as a luxury.  It fired me up. The comments really fired me up.  And I'm excited to dig in.

For the 10% of my audience who isn't actually family or friends, I want to start by saying that I've been both a working woman and a SAHM.  For the purpose of making this short and to the point, I'll skip the whole argument that we all work and that the terms themselves are far too simplistic.  They are what they are though.  I dropped my kid off at day care for three years. And now I've been home for almost two years marking off the days as my own boss and changing a lot of outfits that were soiled by snot and pb&js.

This is all to say, I now have strong opinions when I read these blog pieces with impassioned women and men who want us all to know, to understand what it really is like, "working" or not.  The ones that make me cringe are the ones that are defensive. One retorting back an eloquent response to the offensive comment made in the grocery store.  One spouting back the real life schedule that displays how draining it is to be at home.  That angle in today's piece (really, if you haven't read it, go read that first) wherein the writer wants us to truly see that she sees essentials and values where someone else might quickly label those things as luxuries.

Man, we all sound a bit whiny don't we? In an effort to make ourselves be known, to be seen, I think a lot of us come off sounding a lot like a little kid: "You guys. It's so hard. It's so hard!!!"

I've done both for enough time to know. They are both difficult in very different ways. They also both have perks in very different ways.  And I am not the woman to read if you are looking for someone 100% convinced that one way is better than the other. In fact, I think that's a bunch of malarky.  I really do. Here's what I hope I am here for: Encouragement. And I'm going to try my best to give you some today. You up for that?

YOU, my friend or sister or previous co-worker or far away Internet friend, YOU do whatever you do.  You stay at home. You work part time. You work full-time. You stayed at home but now you work.  You worked but now you stay at home.  Whatever it is, you are here. HERE is where we start.

And here, you have difficulties and perks.  We already agreed on that above. (Okay, I said that & you probably agreed).  You have days that are long because you balance so many needs in your life. Your need to love on your family. Your need to provide financially (and not just in a paycheck sense). Your need to thrive as YOU. Your need to feel security, to find peace, to be free!

Some days really are hard.  I've been there, girl, more times than I can count. I have literally hung my head and cried. I have asked myself what in the world I was doing and where I was going and if I was ever going to make it there.  Not only have a hung my head and cried. I've woken up just to cry too. More than once. Mothers hardly get sleep anyway. Sometimes I don't cry. I call on Jesus. And it looks like this:

Two nights ago my 5 year old was angrily reading at the table, furious my attention was not 100% directed on him. I offered affirmations that I could hear him as one of my twins flung dinner, beans and rice, and the other was sobbing about something I couldn't begin to figure out.  My husband is traveling this week, so in the absence of our one-glance camaradarie I just stood up from my chair, leaned onto the table where kid chaos was bubbling up to a crescendo and I said, Jesus, I know you see this.

I did the same kind of thing when I was working though too. When I forgot to bring shoes to day care for Thomas.  When I got yet another call that I needed to leave work for my sick kid.  When I was so tired that I embarked on a game of testing my body's limits to digest coffee.

But things being difficult is actually not at all what I want you to know today. We already know there are difficult things about life.  Let's put on our big girl pants and deal. And then also laugh about it with a friend from time to time. (Tears are fine too.)

So what am I getting at? It's this.

There's one thing you should know about your choice, decision, or commitment to either work or be at home and it's just two words. I was just trying to be helpful. We already have enough to remember.  Here it is.

Own it.

Own it, girl.

I know the writer of the article I linked to wanted to argue that we are calling the wrong things luxuries, and to that point I want to laugh. Heck yes, SAHMs have luxuries. Are you kidding me? Imagine this hypothetical scenario. No one is allowed the option to stay home with their kids. We are on literal lock-down. All the peoples work. No choice. It's automatic. Then, bam. You can.  You can nap if you need to. You can walk over to your coffee pot and make more coffee. You can be your own boss. You can snuggle your kids ALL DAY if you want. You can read for hours to your kids. You can, and I've done this, shaved parmesan cheese onto your lunch. (Okay, yes, you can do that at work too, but it's just so darn convenient at home.)

Before you start throwing things at me, don't. I'm NOT picking sides.  I'm just saying this. We have little luxuries, all of us. You want to call them perks, call them perks. Let's not argue semantics. Let's just all agree that there are VERY GOOD and AMAZING things when you work and also when you stay at home.

Working women, I think of you gravely, jealousy when I go to the bathroom and all three of my kids are right outside my door. Usually banging.

This is where I want to lovingly grab you by the shoulders and say OWN IT, to shout it happily with you.

You owe NO ONE an explanation, a defense, a list of reasons, of examples, of excuses. You do what you do because you and your husband decided that it is best for your family. You need to own the good things too.  You can afford a bigger house? That is awesome! You get time with your littles? Yay! You have extreme peace because by you and your husband both contributing financially you have thisstinkingclose to having your house paid off. That is incredible!

You need to OWN the perks, the luxuries, because they really, really are there. Be grateful. Acknowledge blessings. And be proud. Hold your head up high. Choose joy in seeing all the good that is sprinkled throughout your day because of how you are specifically providing.

In all seriousness, you need to own the good for another reason. You need to own it because you will have to own the consequences as well. Sitting down at an interview with no experience for five or fifteen years.  Calculating what you need for retirement and realizing starkly how short you've come up. Saying goodbye to a loved one and wondering if your time really was spent as it should have been.

When we expend our energy in convincing others that they should see that what we do is good, we all too often usurp energy that would be better spent in fully owning the choices we've made. 

We don't get to be all things and dang if that doesn't frustrate me sometimes.  I'm sure as sugar missing out by staying at home right now. I'm not oblivious to that in any way whatsoever. I own it.  I see it. I acknowledge it. But I also am united with Paul in what we need to do for our family right now and I am happy to be doing that, perks and poopy diapers and all.

Can I urge you not to feel shame, ladies? Don't let all this defensive noise about stay-at-home-motherhood or working roles make you question what you do.  You know what you value, you know what you want, and you know how to love on your family. Go after it. Be happy about it!

When someone hints patronizingly that you have the luxury to have a really nice car or to stay at home tickling your kids, you should smile and think to yourself Heck yes, I do! 


  1. Loving this! I completely agree with you in that I can't tell anyone whether it is better to stay home or work. It is such a personal and individual family decision. I have used up lots of brain cells and time thinking what life would be like in the opposite scenario that I was or am in and I am a little tired of it. I am owning my life! Thanks for your post.

    1. Katie, yes! "A personal and individual family decision." This is what it is. Sometimes virtuous. Sometimes merely circumstantial. Whatever the case, we should be respectful and receptive of others' choices and steer our thoughts to our own.

      And this: "I have used up lots of brain cells and time thinking what life would be like..." I get this too. I've done it in both places, in the workplace & at home. I don't do it less now because I'm at home and my choice is "better". I do it less now because I'm getting older and less insecure, more confident in the ability that my husband and I have to change course when we need to and to dig deep where we are. It is exhausting to think of the other side. Often, we misremember or misjudge. Truly, perks and pits for both sides. It's best we say hello to what's at our feet. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Ok, so, bear with me Ashley.

    Here is where I get all riled-up. When people driving a 2014 Denali, working two jobs, with two kids say, OH HOW NICE you GET to stay home. We just couldn't afford that. {chirping crickets} I just wonder what they are really thinking. We don't eat steak every night. In fact, we eat steak about once every three months. I am constantly trying to out smart the food budget, keep playdates at free spots, not leave the house anywhere near mealtimes because eating outside of the house takes away from grocery money. I wear my shirts until they have holes. I have one decent pair of jeans and two dresses. Like, we do without. In an assortment of ways. In very material ways. I understand we are all working, I just get very annoyed when people assume I stay home because our life doesn't need a second income. On the contrary, our life sometimes is very strained (for a second income) and my husband puts in extra hours and side hustles to help us out. I just want people to stop assuming that staying home is some sort of lazy decision. People never acknowledge the sacrifice, ok, like two people have acknowledged it. Does this make any sense? I guess maybe this is a whole different topic? Not sure.

    Maybe some women who stay home do it and it is because a second income is not necessary, where as we choose for me to be here with our children because we think it is more important than my income. And we slash a lot of "essentials" for this sacrifice.

    1. Suzette, I thought about your comment so much that I forgot to come back and reply.

      I want you to know I hear you. I do. It's annoying when people assume, when they are condescending, and when they undercut the truth.

      I've made sacrifices to stay at home, but it's nothing too notable except for maybe my trunk lid's hydraulics typically not working and me having to balance the door on my head while I squeeze in a mammoth double stroller. And in a car where we have the kids sitting so tightly together the car seats appear as if they are actually one big connected thing. :)

      This is to say that maybe I'm wrong in that comments from others really can hurt deeper when the commitment to stay home is much more filled with sacrifices and stress than anything else. Stupid comments from people, sweet as they might otherwise be, bounce off of me, but would that be the case if I had to worry a a great deal about making ends meet. I'm not saying that you do. What I am saying is that it's not really my job to tell you to suck it up and ignore those idiots who don't get it. Maybe it is more sensitive or hurtful or annoying in a ton of other situations. I feel nothing but support and understanding from family and friends, so maybe that helps? I don't know.

      When people make comments like "I could never do that" or "we could never afford that" and it comes off more like "wow, you don't realize the mistake you are making", I think we should listen more to what they are saying and what it has to do with them. You and I already know our families are really okay. Really. But we don't actually know what they are dealing with, which could be anything from feeling trapped by debt, marital strain, or wishful thinking. It's not out of bounds to genuinely ask, "is that something you would stay at home if you could?" I don't think their comments need to do with you if you don't want them to. A lot of time silence does a great deal in letting someone sit in what they just said. Silence and a smile. ;)

  3. As I said on Twitter: I'm making judgements about people making judgements. (cue song: Why Can't We Be Friends" by WAR) :D

    1. Maybe we ALL can't be friends....but you and I definitely can! :)

  4. "Jesus, I know you see this."

    That's my favorite part of the whole discussion. Thanks, Ashley.

    1. Abbey, it really does work for me. I truly don't even have the energy or general umpf to utter anything than this one phrase. It almost makes me laugh. But no. Because the messes I sometimes encounter with my boys... ;)

  5. This may be one of the best things I've ever read on that whole SAHM vs. WOHM thing. Seriously! You are so right. Both sides have perks, both sides have luxeries. Both sides have hardships and both sides have sacrifice.

    We all make the choice that is right for our family and we totally need to OWN that choice! SO true!

  6. In our house, roles are flipped. I go to the office all day and travel for work; H goes to daycare for the time we can afford so D can work at home, and then D is a SAHD for the rest of the day (plus all days when I travel). D feels both guilt for working while we pay for daycare AND for parenting when he could be working. The guilt may even be intensified by societal (and explicitly expressed by others) ideas about how men are "supposed" to contribute to the household. I don't tend to send him things tailored to moms, but I certainly wish he would trade the guilt for owning the good.

    1. Emily, your comment has been thinking in all sorts of new directions. Something that I have found as I age is that if you plan on breaking from the herd, you better plan on the herd retaliating. Have you and/or D read The War of Art? I think there's some great thinking in there on this very subject. Often by rising to our own creativity (even found in how, for example, you and D have navigated care needs), people are defensive, hurt, and angry simply because that very difference can make them question what they have chosen. People draw lines to reign themselves back in and feel good and safe in their paradigm. Sometimes it's something else more truthful and more difficult to get past. Namely, that we measure others' experiences by our measure.

      Bottom line, I think opening up dialogue about working roles has spoken one thing to me: I need to listen even more to others. I need to not judge or assume or label. I thought I was already doing those things, but since family (and therefore time with family) is one of our most important values collectively, all of us are finding unique ways to meet those needs, and I want to hear more about them without my own story playing its song as I listen.

    2. Thanks for the recommendation, Ash...I haven't heard of it but will mention it to him. Sometimes people react poorly because they don't understand or the arrangement is foreign to them (which is what I assume to be happening most of the time), and other time because it's what they wish they could do themselves. I tend not to think hard enough, or be sympathetic enough, to the latter. I'm glad you brought it to my attention.

      But at the end of the day, maybe owning the good things that have come with all of the different choices we make for ourselves means not just looking for and grasping the positive but also letting go of others' expectations of you, no matter who you are/what your role. And that's a hard thing to do. We can't control what others think, and it's hard to control how we feel about them. But we can try to control our reactions, and let calmness remind us that our own families, and our choices within them, is a happiness that trumps that.