Friday, April 1, 2011

Mothers working outside the home...

My last post got me to thinking about this. I won't dwell on it, but since this does not come up all that often in more traditional Catholic circles, I think it bears mentioning since there may be others out there like me. :) I am a Catholic mother who works full-time outside the home.

I would call myself a very devout Catholic, and very orthodox in terms of following Church teaching. Therefore, I know many stay-at-home-moms (heretofore SAHM). The Church does not teach that mothers are obliged to refrain from working outside the home when they have young children, I think that's an important caveat. But all parents are certainly called to sacrifice for their families, and to be the primary educators of their children, so you do see a lot of women who choose to enact this in their lives by being a SAHM.

As we all should, I very much admire women who choose this route. If you are a SAHM, you still work, you just don't get paid for it. And it's a HARD JOB. I didn't really fully realize that until my maternity leave with Hank. I was used to working outside the home, and to be honest, I thrive there. I love being a librarian, and it's fulfilling to me. So suddenly, I don't have my happy job everyday, and I'm home with a baby feeling overwhelmed, underprepared and unappreciated. It was tough. I never realized how difficult it is to not have adult interaction for a large part of your day, how emotionally taxing it is to be taking care of someone else all day who can't talk to you and tell you what they need when they cry.

While incredibly worthwhile, taking care of young children all day is draining in a way I never knew until I tried it myself. This has led me to the conclusion, to be honest, that no job outside the home is as difficult as being a SAHM. Neurosurgeon? Not as hard. I mean it.

There are all sorts of reasons why some women choose not to be a SAHM, me being one of them. Financial reasons are certainly high on the list, if not the top entry. And I always just hope that no one judges me poorly for this. It does not mean that I don't love my children or that I don't sacrifice for them. It's so, so hard to be away from them during the day. That in and of itself is a sacrifice. It does help me at home to be emotionally fulfilled in my job as a librarian, I won't lie about that. However, the main reason I work is because I have (somewhat astronomical) student loans from law school and we need my income. As well, my husband has gone back to school full-time to pursue a field more meaningful to him, which I support 100%, so my income has been imperative the past 3 years.

The thing is, no matter what you choose to do on this issue, there will always be some people that judge you negatively for it. Work outside the home?

"Oh, you have a new baby, how cute. Do you work? Oh, you do. I see. Where does the baby go during the day? Oh. Daycare." *pronounced silence that the recipient can't help but feel conveys disapproval and a heavy, 'you must be an uncaring and bad mother' vibe.

The kick in the stomach comment for this work outside the home mother?

"I don't know why women who work full-time even have children. I mean, someone else is raising them."

OUCH. Anyone is free to disagree with my opinion in this post, but please, never, EVER tell me that someone else is raising my children. I actually find that downright offensive. I work hard to get home as early as I can and spend quality time with my son in the time that I do have with him. Part of the reason I pursued my current position is because I am a state employee with excellent benefits, including tons of paid holidays and vacation/sick time. I never work more than 40 hours per week. My husband and I work together to raise him with the values that we want to instill; no daycare can ever do that for you.

That's the most serious and emotionally-charged paragraph you'll ever read on this blog. Back to the lighter side of the Catholic Librarian...

But are you a SAHM? Right, then your conversation goes as follows:

"Oh, you have a new baby, how cute. Do you work? You don't? Well, what do you do all day? I see. Did you go to college? Ah ha. Oh look, there's a new tray of stuffed mushrooms in that corner of the room, would you excuse me?" *in this instance, the recipient can't help but feel a vibe of, 'you're wasting your life, not to mention your degree, and you must not be capable of having an interesting adult conversation any longer.'* There may also be a comment about the number of children that you have thrown in there for good measure.

It can often feel like you can't win. If you work, you're a neglectful, selfish mother, and if you don't, you're unintelligent, uninteresting, and quite possibly anti-feminist. Do men have it this tough? It seems like women bear the brunt on this one. :)

I think that every husband and wife has to discern privately, in prayer, what will meet the needs of their family on this issue. Contrary to popular belief (I've lost count of how many times I've heard the comment, "I don't know how anybody stays at home anymore; children are so expensive!") it *is* possible to live on one income. We're actually doing it right now. :) And to be frank, it's quite nearly free to add additional children to your family if one parent can stay at home. Even though I have 2 children (for now, at least), I always come to the defense of those that have larger families. That is their choice, and a beautiful thing for those that God calls to it. If you breastfeed and cloth diaper, adding another child is cake. Two working parents will have a tougher time because of the cost of childcare, it's just a fact. So, I always take the Zero Population Growth people head on.

On the other side, families that choose to have both parents work should not be judged as being materialistic and selfish, pursing another salary so that they can have a larger house and dualing SUV's. That's not the case in most instances. It's between them and God.

And for those that do work outside the home, childcare decisions are equally difficult. Sometimes family members can watch the baby, and other times they cannot. Daycare is not the devil. I was never in daycare, so I fretted about it just like everyone else. But we found one filled with kind caregivers that we trust. They are out there. I do tend to be hurt by offhand, "Oh, I'd never put my child in daycare!" comments, but I try to let it go. I know that I'm doing what is best for my family, and oftentimes people are saying things based on a third hand impression, and have never really been inside a single daycare.

In the end, we're all trying to act out our vocation as wives and mothers as best we can. I know that's what I'm trying to do. I'm wondering if I'm going to get comments on this post. :)


  1. You are such an awesome mom! And I can hardly believe you're already so far along! I feel like I was just reading the announcement yesterday! Time flies when little ones are around!

    The "mommy wars" are crazy sometimes and I definitely agree with you that it seems like there's no winning. Lately since having the etsy business excuse I manage to escape it slightly, but then it's usually followed by a "how many kids are you going to have?... Oh..." which almost makes you feel like people are just looking for things to disagree with!

    A somewhat off topic question: What law school did you go to? We're in the "we think we know where we're headed next, but still trying to learn all we can about everything" phase... It's so stressful!

    Thanks for a great post from a perspective that you really don't see much in the Catholic-Mommy-Blogging world!

  2. I know! It's like being female is equal to having a sign saying "please criticize my life choices" on your forehead. Aren't married? "When are you going to settle down? You aren't getting any younger." Getting married? "But you're so young! Are you sure?" (Yes, I got this!) Have no kids? "Why don't you have any children?" (with the assumption that you're contracepting, even if you're not) Have lots of kids? "Don't you know what causes that?"

    Whereas men are assumed to be defined by their job, and no one cares much if they are married or have kids. I guess if I were a man, I'd be kind of annoyed to be put in a box based on my job ... and I can only imagine how stay-at-home dads must feel.

    I stay home AND work, so I don't get much criticism there, but I do get a lot of "What! Not sleeping through the night yet?!" and "Where are his shoes?" and "You'll spoil him if you never leave him with a sitter."

    My kid is happy and well-adjusted, I love my work and my home time, and we have enough money to scrape by. What in the world does anyone have to complain about?

  3. I love this post and I totally agree with you! It is definitely a critical world out there no matter what you do as a woman, and I don't think men have it nearly as hard. I have even been criticized for man being too skinny since I "must not feed him right". Rudeness!! I've also seen men complain that SAHMs have it so easy and I'm just like "Tough" because the curse for Adam to toil wasn't our curse. Our curse was giving birth and that's work enough...throw some much-harder-than-you-get-credit-for parenting in the mix and it's a lot to do!


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