This Just In: From deep inside enemy lines, proof that the Dumb Mommy Wars rage on in the hearts and homes of women in spite of our best efforts to move on. Today, a stay-at-home mother speaking from an unknown location forcefully advises other SAHMs to, and I quote, "Shut up and love your life." The charge: Unchecked privilege.
Over at YourTango.com, Susannah B. Lewis launches her attack: She is sick of stay-at-home mothers in their yoga pants, droning on and on about how hard they've got it. They'd rather be backpacking in Europe without their ornery children, unhelpful husbands and burned chicken, unaware that they are in fact among the most privileged species on earth.
Don't shoot the messenger: Lewis is a stay-at-home mom too! She gets it! However, the difference between her and all the other no-good loafers holding court 'round her kitchen table every day complaining is that she, simply put, isn't a whiner.
I know what it's like to have a horrible day. I know what it's like to run a fever of 103, with the intense desire to sleep, and still have to burp people and try to block out the shrieking sound of screaming toddlers. I completely, utterly, wholly and thoroughly understand that being a SAHM is a stressful, selfless and never-ending job. I believe it is easier to solve calculus problems whilst under the influence of mind-altering drugs than it is to devote all of your time and energy to short people who rely on you for everything.
I am beyond sick and tired of hearing SAHMs complain about their long resume of "chef, maid, chauffeur and bookkeeper all rolled into one!" I, too, command all of those roles, and yet, I manage not to constantly sigh in disgust at my choice to care for my children or vent to anyone who will listen in the grocery store line about my unfulfilled life.
To be fair, no one should be "bookkeeping." Try spreadsheets!
Moving on, Lewis's solution is breathtakingly simple: When stay-at-home moms are feeling "indignant," they should simply "take a heaping helping of Shut Your Friggin' Piehole." (Should the piehole be made from scratch: without complaining?) Everyone should be more grateful, like she is grateful.
In no particular order, here are some things that are True:
Some mothers who stay home probably are, in fact, privileged. But many others of them are working women whose income didn't make sense after the cost of childcare and work-related expenses. Pew Research shows that, while the number of stay-at-home mothers is rising, that demographic isn't comprised of rich white ladies in yoga pants:
Stay-at-home mothers are younger, poorer and less educated than their working counterparts. For example, 34% of stay-at-home mothers are poor, compared with 12% of working mothers. They are also less likely to be white and more likely to be immigrants.
Another thing: Generally speaking, we should all be more grateful. Probably everyone on earth at this moment could be more grateful than they are, if for no other reason then that we exist, and are not dead. And yet we complain, and I'd venture: we have to. Life is not conducive to nonstop smell-the-child-roses gratitude. Life can be terribly exciting and wonder-filled and full of gratitude; it can also be incredibly mundane and tedious. Both things can be true simultaneously, and often are. It's a balance we find for ourselves.
Furthermore, many of us deal with the tedium by griping a little here and there, usually to people we think are our friends. Likely no one suspects that anyone else in the circle has rounded up every word from our coffee chats—often the rare moment when a stay-at-home mom has a hot minute to do anything aside from tend to someone else—and decided this is who we are at our deepest core: Grade-A, no-good whiners with no gratitude who need to zip it.
I'm not a stay-at-home mom. I Love My Child More Than Life Itself™ but I believe I'm a better parent if I'm a working person, and I feel privileged that my husband and I can swing the exorbitant costs of good childcare right now so that we can both pursue careers that please us, and both be well-fed intellectually so that the tedium of Some Aspects of Child-Rearing But Not All™ does not take over our entire existence.
But I've been there, at home with my daughter for the first few months of her life. My husband took the next year with her as a stay-at-home dad. I'm so glad we could vent about how soul-numbing it could be to someone who understood, so that afterwards we could go back and be present for the child. It's really hard to tend to a growing, vulnerable baby all day and then try to behave like a happy and whole person off the clock. For us this was a temporary period, thank goodness, but I remember how easy it was to lose sight of the awesome for the sleeplessness.
Another true thing: There's no way to know how motherhood will affect you. Not only will it be different at different periods of the experience, it will be influenced by factors you can't predict. You could choose to be a stay-at-homer and then realize it's not a good fit for you. And that's fine too. You could love it but need to vent. You could hate it but not want to stop. And so on.
We should none of us be constant bitches. But the answer is sure as fuck not to fall on your sword and pretend to be grateful for diarrhea, as Lewis claims:
I am thankful that I have the option of wearing my pajamas until noon. I am thankful that I don't have to answer to some sleazy boss who tries to look down my blouse. I am thankful that I dont have to rush home after a long day at work to thaw Stouffer's lasagna. I am thankful that I was the one to clean the baby diarrhea from the shag rug, to bandage the boo-boo, to console colicky cries. Many of those things weren't easy, and they sure weren't fun, but I'm thankful that I experienced them.
Every parent I know is grateful for whatever precious stuff they get, no matter the circumstances. Venting—even as a daily ritual—does not contradict that. Friends commiserate. But Lewis isn't having it:
If you despise constantly being in the company of humans who drool, if you are completely unsatisfied and miserable and longing for a way out, then, pretty please with a cherry on top, get a job, volunteer, find a hobby, go out with the girls. Do SOMETHING.
Just stop knocking on my door with your greasy hair and your caffeine withdrawals and sit at my kitchen table and try to convince me that your children are Satan's spawn and gripe that you had to clean all three toilets today.
Yes, do something. Stop going to Susannah B. Lewis' house thinking you have a friend who understands. Find someone else! Like this lady. She gets it.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.