Thursday, April 12, 2012

Memo to Parents: We ALL Work Hard

Time for me to come clean about something. I have a little bit of stay-at-home mom envy. Just a little. It manifests itself at peculiar times. For instance, as a working dad I take great joy in picking up Peanut before the stay-at-homes have. Yes, it's completely irrational especially when you consider those kids get dropped off later than Peanut. Sometimes as much as an hour and a half later.

My Director and I have convinced ourselves that working makes us the best parents we could be. Still I find myself leaving work early, or skipping the gym or my run more often than not, and getting Peanut before my usual 5:45 pickup time. Peanut notices. She sees it's lighter out. She knows we have time to take a nice walk in the park with Luna, or watch a whole movie if she needs down time. And that matters to me.

Call it working parent's guilt. Because as much as I may believe we are providing her the best life we can, there are always doubts. But then I think about the few times I have stayed home with Peanut for a few days at a time, and it makes me shudder with fear. Granted, those were times during the summer when we keep her out of daycare to save money. So under normal circumstances, she'd be in school for a good part of the day. Still, the thought makes me tremble. I don't envy stay-at-home parents. I think they have the toughest job in the world. And this from a guy who is up at four every morning, going non-stop until his show is over at 11 in the very stressful, fast-paced, competitive field of network news. But being a stay-at-home parent is infinitely more difficult.

That's why when I heard what political mouthpiece Hilary Rosen said about Ann Romney, wife of Mitt, who stayed at home and raised five boys, I felt insulted on behalf of stay-at-home parents. Rosen said that Romney has "never worked a day in her life." Wow. Few things if any could be more insulting.

Rosen (left) insulted Romney (right)

Call it a poor choice of words or call it a calculated political attack. No matter what you call it, I'm going to put politics aside and take her comments at face value. First, I don't think anyone can argue that being a stay-at-home parent is hard work. And potentially nerve-racking. If you don't have a routine, or something planned, you find yourself staring at the clock at 11 a.m. wondering what the hell you're going to do for the next seven hours. And that's just me. With just one. For a day

Second, let's stop calling it a luxury when a parent stays at home. This isn't a job just for rich women. Just ask any family that chooses to forego some luxuries - a bigger house, a nicer neighborhood, a newer car, etc. - in order to have a parent stay at home. For the most part, this isn't a privilege. It's a choice. An economic choice. And a parenting choice.

I will concede that for perhaps some, Ann Romney included, staying at home is a privilege. But the Romneys weren't always rich. And yet she stayed at home. Maybe she had a nanny once money wasn't an issue. Maybe she didn't. We don't know. Maybe we'll find out eventually. But to dismiss a woman's role as a stay-at-home mom just because she's rich is also insulting. And wouldn't you welcome a helping hand if it were available? I know I would.

My Director and I often joke that we each don't think we could handle the stress of being a stay-at-home parent. True, on occasion we second guess our decision to both work, and to build a lifestyle based on a two-income household. Yet there's no regret. I fully support her career, and have even put my professional goals on hold the past few years because she had the opportunity to reach some of hers. But all things being equal, deep down if we could we both would jump at the chance to stay at home. I think a lot of us would. And that's even knowing how tough it is. 

For now we've built a life, a family, around two working parents. We both have two jobs, in fact. One of them pays the bills. The other pays great dividends.

16 comments:

  1. Sorry to get all political on your blog, I'll try to keep it brief... or at least apolitical.

    The things that have been bothering me the most about this debate are twofold. First, that the Romneys HAVE always been rich. Mitt Romney has been wealthy his whole life. Not as wealthy as he is now, but right now I believe he's wealthier than Germany. So, there's that.

    Then there's the fact that Rosen's comments weren't intended to be about the choice to stay at home, they were about somebody who is out of touch with economic issues.

    I won't give you the full, long-winded story here, but I *know* that Ann Romney works hard. The thing is though, EVERYONE works hard. Every parent. And every parent has a breaking point.

    I think of my great-grandmother, who was RICH. Not Romney-level rich, but she had a bowling alley in her mansion's basement. She had the Chicago Symphony chamber orchestra play at her dinner parties. You know, RICH.

    And her diaries from when her children were small? She was exhausted. But the things she worried about... the night nurses staying up with the sick baby, that she didn't have time to play with her older daughter as much as she wanted because she had to organize another benefit, that she couldn't find housekeepers who would clean up after the children properly...

    She was exhausted and overworked, just like every stay at home parent I've ever met. But that said- I would have considered her equally unqualified to evaluate the state of the economy.

    ...mind you, all of this was during the Depression. She was constantly complaining about her exhaustion and worry and fear while breadlines stretched across the country.

    I have no doubt that Ann Romney worked her butt off as a stay at home parent. I have no doubt that she felt just as overworked and tired as I feel on a daily basis.

    I still think that she has no idea what the realities of most stay at home parents are like. And I still think that she has no idea whatsoever what the life of a working mom, or a single mom, must be like.

    So do I begrudge her staying at home? No. Do I begrudge her wealth? Honestly, no. But I think that she really doesn't have any idea what my life is like as a barely-middle-class mostly-stay-at-home mom. I think a day in my life would make her exhausted on an entirely different level. I think a day in her life would exhaust ME on an entirely different level. I think she really doesn't have any idea what the vast majority of mothers in this country experience on a daily basis.

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    1. It sounds like you're jealous of their wealth a bit. They've donated more to charity than she would've made had she been working at a good salaried job. The rich have struggles, I believe that, even tough I'm not rich.
      One hopeful upside to this discussion is that more people may come to the political arena. It's important to get educated about the candidates and not just vote because of basic characterizations, beliefs or what you're parents did.

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    2. We can debate Ann Romney's economic credentials all we want. But like I said we just don't know the whole story. What I do know is that they lived in a basement apartment when they were first married and had their first child. So I don't know the accuracy of them "always" being rich. I know his family had money. But it is also my understanding that he donated all of his inheritance to charity.

      Regardless, I appreciate your personally detailed comment and your obvious passion. And I agree with you in regards to her probably not knowing about the life of a working mom or a 'typical' stay at home mom. But why should she? Just let the woman be. This whole thing was a cheap shot and a ploy by a political hack.

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    3. I assure you, I'm not jealous of their wealth. I've *been* rich. I know from first hand experience that it does nothing to increase my happiness. Of course, I've also been genuiney, eating-only-thanks-to-charity-and-manipulation poor. And that did nothing to increase my happiness either.

      What I'm trying to say is that Ann Romney is exactly as harried and stressed as any mother anywhere, not because being a SAHM is so much harder than working, or otherwise, but because human beings only seem to have a capacity for so much frustration and exhaustion, and all of us seem to be able to reach it on any given day. Regardless of our lifes' circumstances.

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    4. I think to say that someone, whatever their economic situation, is out of touch with economic issues because of their SAHM status is as insulting and short sighted as saying someone who chooses to work primarily outside the home is out of touch with parenting issues. It speaks ignorance.

      We must make a concerted effort to not be sucked in by the inane political garbage put forth in the interest of those who believe the end justifies any means. It does not. It never does.

      Of late in our country the word "wealth" has come to be an insult applied to anyone who has more than we do. Perhaps it would be wiser to measure the value of people by their actions than by their capacity to earn money. I will no more judge a poor person than a rich person by the content of his/her wallet. Show me their character, demonstrated by actions, not rhetoric. Words are empty and easily falsified. Action speaks volumes.

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    5. Thank you, @Gina. I agree with your points. And @becoming: I also agree with your second point above. When you put it that way, politics aside (which was hope with this post but I understand that some can't help themselves), I think we agree more than we disagree.

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    6. The comment made by Ms Rosen, while I think that it was rather ignorant, was made in response to Mitt Romney's decision to hold up his wife as his political adviser on all things "women" He was the one who dragged Ann Romney into the spotlight by ascribing to her the status of expert on just what it is that women voters care about, which he claims is the economy. Perhaps it is, in my personal case that is but one issue of concern. I agree that candidate's family members should be off limits to political pundits, but only insofar as they choose to keep themselves out of it- Mrs, Romney and Mrs. Obama are both actively campaigning for their husbands and putting themselves out there in the process. That's a little different than the Bristol Palin or Chelsea Clinton situation.

      Having rocked the Mom job from both sides of this debate, it is my opinion that there shouldn't even be a debate. Whether to work or stay home are both choices that all parents make based on a variety of factors unique to their own personal situations. Children really aren't better off one way or the other depending on their mother's employment status, they are better off when their parents are committed to being the best parent they can be.

      How hard a mother (or father) works also has very little to do with whether they are parenting full time in the home or full time with part of that time spent earning a paycheck. It depends solely on the amount of effort they are putting into all the tasks that they set out to accomplish.

      I've read up on the Romney's "life story" For me, there really just isn't any part of it that I can truly relate to. Pretty much the only thing that I have in common with Ann Romney is that we've both given birth. I have that much in common with Michelle Obama too. It doesn't matter to me what I have in common with the candidate's wives, since I'll be voting based on the candidate's likely performance in the job that they are running for.

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  2. I don't think I need to be poor to understand the plight of the poor. I agree that Ann Romney may not be able to comprehend the true situation of many working class families, but most politicians at this level are pretty darn comfortable. And memories are short.

    I think this started with a poor choice of words, yes. But I think underneath it was a contempt - subconscious thought it may have been - of women who choose to stay home and care for their children. And I do think there is more contempt for women who choose that than for men - mainly because women are so much harder on each other. We could get into men who make that choice, but that would be a true digression into an entirely new pot of boiling water.

    The comment was a gift to the Romney campaign, anyway. Sad, but true.

    Thanks for the post!

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    1. I totally agree as far as contempt for SAHMs. Someone on my FB made an excellent point about women being their own worst enemy because they have no problem criticizing each other. This nonsense does't help.

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  3. I think it was just a spur of the moment, stupid thing to say. I couldn't care less if Ann Romney never worked. My mom never worked when I was growing up, either - not outside the home, that is. But she did a damn good job raising us.

    I work out of necessity, because we are building my husband's business, which will be our legacy. In the meantime, this working parent's guilt you speak of is always there for me. I struggle to find time to work out or time for me because I feel that when I'm not working, I need to be with my son. And I love being with my son... I'd give almost anything to be the woman working from home and not bringing home the bacon.

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    1. The guilt has become more prevalent the older she gets because she's aware of it. After I fire off this comment, I'm going to run to the gym real quick so I can go pick her up early and start our weekend!

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  4. Great way to sum it up. Fantastic way! Both my wife and I work and I have felt the same way. Great post.

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  5. I must be honest, I am torn. I am a SAHM, and wouldn't change it for the world. I respect those who work while having children, but for myself I couldn't imagine not being with Poppet, neither can I imaging working a full day outside of the house and then still working a full day after picking her up! Kids are a lot of work! Kudos to you both for staying sane!

    Warmest regards,
    Joy
    http://www.PardonMyPoppet.com

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