The choices we make when parenting our children can sometimes feel intimate and raw.
As someone who takes everything personally, I have had my fair share of hurt feelings, and for no real reason.
When someone suggests to me after a sleepless night with my kids, “why don’t you try the cry-it-out method? It worked wonders for my child,” I feel my body stiffen as I get ready to defend myself.
In my mind, I am being attacked for my personal choices, especially since I have tried every sleep solution under the sun. Despite the good intentions, when suggestions are made, I feel like I’m being told I’m a failure or that my choices aren’t the right ones.
I know this was not their intention and it’s my own issue that makes me come to these conclusions.
Mothers often get engaged in these hot button topics without even realizing it.
The term “the mommy wars” is a fairly new one, but perhaps it’s because with greater freedom for women, there’s also more room for differing opinions and the formation of “camps” and “sides.”
We could stop talking, sharing or encouraging each other.
Or maybe we should try to take the emotion out of these topics and allow others to share what works for them without getting defensive.
I recently wrote a Facebook post about the challenges mothers face when returning to work, something I am only just experiencing in small doses as a very part-time working mother.
The response I received from local Guelph moms was overwhelming. Many wanted to share their thoughts and experiences. It became an open forum for women to discuss challenges, joys and obstacles.
I wanted to speak with a few locals moms about working outside the home, a hot button topic that I wanted to take the “hot” out of.
First, I spoke with Leanne Ferris, an Executive Director with an international healthcare charity. Leanne lives on a farm outside of Guelph with her husband and their two young children. She is six months into her second maternity leave.
When I asked Leanne if she ever considered not returning to work her response was eye-opening.
“As crazy as it sounds, I didn't so much choose to go back to work, but rather I chose to take one year away from my work. I love what I do. I travel internationally and within Canada,” said Leanne. "For a number of years, my husband and I didn't think we wanted to have children. I didn't see how children would ever fit into our lives. Gradually, we felt we needed to be open to the possibility of having children. If we were blessed with children, we had to trust that it would all work.".
It’s interesting that Leanne includes the caveat “as crazy as it sounds,” when her response is so well articulated. It makes complete sense. If a man chose to take paternity leave, we would nod our heads when he reasoned that he chose to take paternity leave. However, a woman who suggests that maternity leave is a choice may be considered “crazy.”
I love Leanne’s response because it’s empowering for mothers. It also shows that not all women want children (or at least at certain points in their lives) and that’s okay. It also shows us that it’s okay for women to prioritize their careers and willingly and even excitedly return to work.
Leanne’s parting words encourage mothers who are considering whether to return to work. “From talking with other women, it seems to me there are two big questions moms need to consider when thinking about working. Do you really enjoy the work you do? And, do you earn enough to make the child care expense worth it? If either answer is no or maybe, I can see how the return to work would be much more difficult.”
Shweta Gangadeen, a mother of two young girls, is a Guelph local who is self-employed and works inside of the home. Gangadeen runs her own childcare business, as well as bakes cakes as a part-time business.
“I chose to go back to work for many reasons. First, being it helped pay the bills," said Shweta. "Secondly, I needed to get Jayd into a social atmosphere for her to develop and explore the world more than I alone could offer her...It's a bitter sweet emotion, that's probably the best way I can describe it.”
Both women added that they didn’t feel too much guilt returning to work and that both of their spouses were equal partners at home.
Perhaps the lack of guilt is a testament to the fact that mothers working outside the home is a fairly common occurrence and having an equal partner at home allows each mother to focus on their children without feeling overwhelmed by household tasks.
As for me, I enjoyed hearing from two other local mothers who made different choices for different reasons.
I would still be considered a mostly stay-at-home mom to my children, ages 2 and 4. My daughters attend daycare once per week, and I spend less then seven hours working each week.
I think both working moms and moms that choose to stay home have unique battles to face. There’s sometimes judgement from mothers who work outside of the home. There are also some people who still have the archaic view that staying home is the better choice.
Then, there are people that think staying at home is old-fashioned and oppressive and that women must work in order to promote equality in the workplace and contribute financially.
I have certainly felt a tension being at home with my children, especially as my oldest is nearly ready for school. People wonder if I will return to work full-time, or try and supplement our income in other ways.
My own reasons for staying home are complex. I personally don’t have the stamina to do both. I crave simplicity and a life that is free from “busy.” Does that mean I judge mothers that do work? No, not even the slightest.
I learned through taking some time to talk to other women, that perhaps I was asking the wrong questions.
When I asked mothers “why did you choose to go back to work?” I may have unintentionally created an atmosphere of guilt. Why do we need to even ask women why they choose to return to work? Isn’t it a right they have? Do they really need to explain themselves?
I admire all mothers. I think when we stop and take a moment to get to know each woman individually, we will see that we all make choices for a reason, that we all are doing what we feel is best, whether it’s working because we love our job, working because we need to pay bills, or staying home because it’s just what feels “right” for the situation.
What about you? Do you have something to add to the conversation, or a story to tell? Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org