Mr. and Mrs. Mom.

Dear Friends,

Image courtesy of Pinterest

I recently pointed you in the direction of a blogger named Glennon Melton of Momastery on my post about funny writers (of which we have well established I am not one).  Glennon has a serious side, too, and her article Friendly Fire was reprinted recently on the Huffington Post. In it, Glennon discusses the ways in which women criticize themselves and each other for their choices related to careers and family life. Her point is that we’re all doing the best we can and, despite our choices, we’re all conflicted about them at any given moment.  Witness:

. . . When you yell about how much peace you have with your decisions, it just doesn’t ring true. The thing is, if you’re yelling, I don’t believe that you’ve got it all figured out. I don’t even believe that you believe you’ve got it all figured out. I think your problem might be that you’re as internally conflicted as the rest of us about your choices. But instead of kicking your own ass, you’ve decided it’d be easier to kick ours.

I’m a working mother who’s worked my butt off and sacrificed more than I care to count over two decades to advance my career and reach executive status. I also am a woman who loves nothing more than to putter around the house, cook and bake, pamper my children and husband, and nest in every way I know how. To say I have been conflicted is to say the sunrise is reliable. But I mostly made my peace with my conflict nearly a decade ago when my husband sold his business and became the stay-at-home Dad I now call Mr. Mom on this blog.

I wrote an essay on our choice (and on our individual demons) that was published in a 2007 anthology of Oklahoma writers. I’ve decided to reprint it here for any new readers who didn’t follow me over from my former blog.

Here’s the point I continue to be struck by, both when I wrote that essay years ago and earlier this week when I read Glennon’s post: Our struggle is a foreign concept to men.  As women, we torment ourselves and others in a way that never occurs to our male counterparts.

When Mr. Mom became a stay-at-home dad, he had his demons to face, all right. Boredom, monotony, lack of adult stimulation, feelings of diminished value due to lack of earning power . . . all of these became personal struggles to confront. But never once did he suffer from what Glennon calls “Mommy Guilt,” that inner voice that criticizes every choice a mother makes — and then projects that guilt, as a coping mechanism no doubt, on every other mother she knows.

When we first made our transition, I used to marvel at how my husband could be so in-the-moment. He did the best he knew how, every day, for our kids and for me, without looking back and without second-guessing. Over time, he got better at juggling the home-keeping side of his job and now I marvel at how he manages to do so much.

Nurturing and loving a family is tough work, folks, and to tackle that while keeping  house is to excel at multi-tasking and to sacrifice your own dreams and desires for a good long time. I am acutely and reverently aware of what Mr. Mom gives up to make our lives easy and comfortable and filled with loving care. Why any human, female or male, would see fit to criticize another for doing this yeoman’s work is beyond me.  And why any soul would criticize themselves or others for choosing to be an earner for their family is also hard to fathom.

I’ve done it, though – beat myself up with the rest of the Mommy Guilt survivors. A few years ago I was bemoaning my failure to spend more time with my children in a lunch conversation with a dear friend. (Read: I was self-flagellating for being a working mom – even as I had a husband who stayed home!) I think I said something like “As a mother, I just don’t know what I’m any good at.”

And my friend put down her fork, looked me square in the eye and said, “I’ll tell you what you are good at, Joan. You are a provider. A damn good one! I know plenty of men who aspire to provide for their family at the level you do. Let go of the guilt and feel good about excelling in your role.”

I cannot repay my friend for her kindness. I took her words to heart and I have mostly released the guilt. It tries to creep in now and again, but I remind myself there’s no point in it.

If the man in my life doesn’t need it, why should I?

With gratitude {for the freedom to choose my path, a partner who signed on for the ride, and the good sense to hear sage advice when it’s offered},

Joan, who honestly digs the whole “happy housewife in an apron” image but is mostly content to wear that persona on weekends

Comments

  1. And for many women, working is not a choice. One of my pet peeves is to hear a “stay at home mom” belittle working mothers. And if anything goes wrong with the children, “oh me, oh my, it must be because they have a working mother.” Well, guess what, sometimes things happen to the children of “stay at home moms as well.” Mostly, there is a reason for working mothers and mostly it is because a second income is needed. Not saying this is the case in your home but working moms need support, not criticism.

  2. Sandy Shoes says:

    I, too, have an unconventional marriage, in which I am the breadwinner and my husband is more of the stay at home. We don’t have children, but it is such a huge help, because I know everything is taken care of. My husband is an excellent cook, shopper, and likes having a clean home with clean clothes that are put away. I love coming to work and not having to deal with any type of domestic issues. If it’s broke, he fixes it. If it’s dirty, he cleans it. If it’s hungry, he feeds me!

    PS I’m new here, and love your website.

  3. JM (as always) you raise a fascinating point.

    I’m not so sure males are immune to second guessing. From my vantage point in amongst the geezers it appears many males are able to postpone that angst but it can yet rear its ugly head after retirement. I suspect at least some of Mr. Mom’s equanimity is more an individual treasure trait of his character.

    In our empty nest house we have tried, even at this late date, to cultivate a habit of thanking each other for ANY task that gets done, large or small. Honestly, all mothers work. Ideally all fathers work as well. Some of them also leave their homes at intervals for employment purposes.

    If we all, male and female alike, could get past carping at each other for having the audacity to choose different paths towards the same goals (emotionally and economically secure families) we’d all have a lot more energy for the work at hand. Whatever form that work takes, and whoever’s shoulders it falls upon on any particular day. Go with your strength, work as a team towards your shared goal, and use whatever energy is left at the end of any given day to express your gratitude to your partner. The practice offers no guarantee that all will be well, but every hurdle is faced with a supportive partner, and every success can be celebrated in good company.

  4. Such great perspectives all!

    Dee — I’m with you on pet peeves. My mother raised four kids by herself, working long hours and I’m none the worse for wear. My self-reliance may a trait that sprung from my mother’s need to be outside the home so much. And I’ve always thought that was a good thing.
    Sandy — I’m sooooo glad to meet another woman in an unconventional marriage. While there are more of us than there used to be, I still only know one other in my “real” life. Hope to see you around here often.
    Deb — As always, you are so right about teamwork and carping. Mr. Mom and I get better at helping more and carping less as the years go by. But if you are right about his “individual treasure trait” then I’m even luckier than I knew!

  5. Sandy Shoes says:

    Joan and Dee – I would like to think that my husband is so adept at taking care of others is because his mother and father worked outside the home and had 5 kids. I, on the other hand, was raised by a stay-at-home mother and never learned to cook, clean or do laundry until I left home. Needless to say, I didn’t like any of it and decided that I had better get a good job.

    Deb – I think part of the reason that this works for us, is I realiza and am truly appreciative of all the work he does for me and thank him, even if he just feels like ordering a pizza once in awhile. (Although his homemade pizza, is certainly MUCH better than anything I’ve ever had!)

    I don’t mean for this to sound like he is unwilling to work, because he does, when it’s available. We just don’t rely on that to pay the bills and the extra time at home, is invaluable to me.

  6. Sandy, just had to comment again . . . on the ordering of pizza.
    I only cook on weekends, as a hobby, and many times I feel like ordering a pizza rather than cooking. So I think it’s crazy if anyone thinks the person responsible for most of the cooking wouldn’t want to order pizza (or get Chinese take-out, or even hit a fast food drive-thru) on occasion. When Mr. Mom and I were first married (before he was Mr. Mom and we both worked long hours), we used to have take-out picnics on our bed — and those are some of the happiest memories I have. Viva la pizza!

  7. Sandy Shoes says:

    I used to like to try a few things on the weekends, but I’ve had to face the fact that I suck in the kitchen. Now, I am only allowed supervised visits to THE kitchen unless I’m using the microwave! You did a great save on that coconut cake, though!

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