On my nightstand lies a book, Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. I bought this book seven years ago (one from my “must read” list). Back then I would go to a café and read a book cover to cover in an afternoon. I would create the characters in my head and relate the situations to my life. I lived the book, throwing my whole being into the story, trying to understand the deeper purpose the author had for writing it. And when I finished, I would indulge in a cigarette and a last cup of coffee, contemplating the story with a feeling of ease and fulfillment. Those afternoons felt so good, and I felt so good…
Back to my book on the nightstand; Our Lady of the Flowers was taken off my bookshelf over two years ago while I was pregnant with my second child. I am not even close to finishing it yet. I see it while folding laundry. I see it while cleaning the bathroom. I see it when playing hide and seek. And when dusting it off, I see a time when my self was an important, nurtured, cared for, being. A person whose body, soul and creativity was attentively looked after and was flourishing.
Now I want to be clear, raising my children has been the most enlightening experience I have ever been through. To have a child blossom into a little person before my eyes has been absolutely amazing. And to have the satisfaction that I have instilled in that little person a set of morals that are going to enhance and guide them for the rest of their lives is empowering. But, for the last four years it has truly been all about them; for me there was not a lot of self-nurturing in child rearing. And if I did get the occasional block of time where I could try to finish my book, I was just too tired…Sorry Mr. Genet, maybe another time.
The sisterhood of women has hit a wall. How did it happen that by making the choice to stay home or to continue working after having children would pit us against each other? Mother verses mother. The family is a necessary part of life, with all its joy and exhaustedness, a hard job that can break your spirit at times. Then to have fellow sisters slinging insults at you because you choose differently is unsettling.
Here are a few I have gotten, “It must be nice to sit at home all day. Don’t you want to do more with your life? We don’t all have time like you. Doesn’t it bother you to be dependant on your husband?” And here are a few insults from stay at home Mothers to working mothers, “How can you let someone else raise your child? Don’t you miss your kids? You have so much going on, how can you give 100% to any one thing?” “In today’s society if you walk up to a woman and ask what is her career, if the answer is ‘I’m a stay at home mom, people tend to look down on her. But if she is a working Mom, they might ask, ‘how do you do it all?’” (Stay-At-Home Mothers Vs. Mothers Who Return to Work, Developmental Psychology News Letter) Guilt verses shame, uncertainty verses embarrassment, are we not all mothers? We are on the same team!
The stay-at-home mothers do give up a big part of their autonomy, their children are the focus and their own needs get put on the back burner. But, the working Mother does all that the stay at home mother does and she “works for her own psychological well-being” (Stay-At-Home Mothers Vs. Mothers Who Return to Work, Developmental Psychology News Letter) and economic stability, which will trickle down to make a happier home. Of course there is not always a choice involved. Both parents may need to work to make ends meet. Or single parents need to have a quality option for daycare while they work. Parenting is full of unique challenges for all involved, whether you stay at home or return to work. We need to work together to change the way corporate America treat Mothers in the workforce, we need to have quality daycare available to everyone and we need to respect each women’s choice.
For me, child rearing was never my first choice, but a layoff two months before my first child was born made up my mind for me. I always expected either my husband or I would be the ones caring for our children so we never considered daycare. We just happened to slip into these roles for a while, stay at home Mom and working Dad; it works and the family is flourishing as a whole. There have been many sacrifices made, but it is not forever. I am a stoic workaholic that takes her job very seriously. And I have brought that home with me.
So, if you come to my house, it will be clean; my children will excitedly show you all their favorite toys; there will be a fresh pot of coffee, and I will most likely have lipstick on. But don’t ask me what books I have read lately, because the books I read nowadays are not of the likes of Our Lady Of The Flower, but instead Where The Wild Things Are and The Giving Tree, equally important and truly “must reads”.