“What does Mommy do?” I heard my husband innocently ask my 4-year-old son as dread washed over me awaiting his response. Such a simple question that I’ve been asked countless times before at cocktail parties and social gatherings. Not so long ago, I would confidently answer, “I’m in marketing.” The conversation would easily continue as I detailed elements of my career.
But now, that simple question fills me with self-doubt and guilt. Now, I’m “just” a mom.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say this lightly. I know the hard work that comes with being a stay-at-home mom. I know how fortunate I am to be able to do it. However, I also have countless friends who work outside the home AND are moms. When I answer the question, I feel myself being transported to the 1950s. At times I have an overwhelming sense of guilt that I’m not setting a good example for my sons. That I’m not contributing enough. And that when they are asked the question of what I do, they will say, “Nothing.”
I know a lot of working mothers say that they could never stay home, that they need the time away. The truth is, I tried to be a working mom, and failed. I couldn’t make it all work. I felt like I was always sacrificing something. I couldn’t work late because the daycare was closer to me and I had a baby to pick up. I had to schedule meetings around my pumping times. I was the one crying because I’d only spent an hour of quality time with our son. I stressed about how my husband could possibly survive alone with a 6 month old who was completely dependent on me when my travel schedule picked up.
My husband’s career came first and I don’t fault him for it. He was on a much faster track than I was, and it was clear he would be the main financial provider. In the end, it was best for our family, and my sanity, for me to stay home. While it may sound like I regret it, I don’t. I could not imagine our life any other way. I just wonder about the ramifications; what am I teaching our kids?
I often recall a minor scene in Grey’s Anatomy when Meredith Grey is struggling about leaving her daughter to go to work. Fellow doctor, Callie Torres, tells her it’s good for her daughter to see Mommy work. It sounds so silly, but that one line always stuck with me. Am I doing my kids a disservice by not going to work? Will they believe that all women are meant to stay home and not hold high-level positions? Will they have less respect for their future female colleagues and not see them as equals?
My husband works extremely hard, and I’m confident they will learn his strong work ethic. But I’m often concerned I’m not pulling my weight. The days that are easy probably yield the most guilt. Why should I be able to spend a beautiful day hiking or at the park with kids who aren’t whining or fighting, while so many other parents are stuck behind a desk? The days the kids are a nightmare and I fear I will be banned from Target somehow justify my role as a mother and how hard my job can be.
What I do know with certainty is that like any job, there are days that I love and days that I’m fortunate to put behind me. I know as they get older my kids will need me in different ways. I’ll surely be chauffeuring and tutoring more than acting as a playmate and wiping butts. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to work and I can leave all my worrying and guilt behind (as if it’s possible not to have mom-guilt). Along the way, I will just need to work a little harder to teach them women have the same worth as men. To respect me and what I do just as much as their father and what he does, since we are both providing for them, just in different ways.
For now, I’ll take solace in my son’s answer to that innocent question: “Mommy runs.” It may be a hobby and not a career, but it’s valid in more ways than one. We SAHMs are constantly running, even in our sleep when our minds are taking all the steps.