Women often tell me that they think I’m nuts to stay at home with my daughter (and sometimes, I do too).
It seems that women are often split between judging each other for either choosing to stay home or choosing to have a “real” job.
Sadly, it was my feminist husband who recently brought this on-going female dilemma to my attention.
He told me that he usually tells other women that his wife is “a writer” or “a yoga teacher” because, otherwise, other women “don’t understand how intelligent” I am. And you know the most unfortunate thing?
Because God forbid that a college-educated woman with a descent I.Q. choose poopy diapers and toilet training over leaving the house everyday for the “real” world and “real” work.
Since I’ve been thinking so much about this stay-at-home mom versus the “working” mom (essentially, women versus women) thing lately, I decided to ask my female friends on Facebook to tell me their thoughts on this subject.
Here was my status update, which shared the question:
“Women: I have often (and sadly) experienced discrimination from my own sex for choosing to stay home with my child and put my career on hold. What types of concerns and/or issues have you faced as either a working mama or a stay-at-home lady?”
I had so many responses and private messages to this that I was honestly quite blown away.
In short, this is a serious issue that affects essentially all women, whether you choose, or are able, to stay home with your children or not.
So, this is the one side of the coin (which an unsettling number of women shared with me): that those of us who choose to temporarily press pause on our careers in order to raise children field a lot of nasty feedback from other—“working”—women.
A few people actually personally messaged me to share recent conversations, where they’ve felt not only completely picked on and judged, but unfairly bombarded with criticism.
One friend (who’s also a yoga practitioner) told me that she had to literally hold her tongue and practice her own non-judgment when she was seriously angered over being verbally critiqued and assaulted by a working “friend.”
Another wonderful lady that I know told me she feels so negatively evaluated for largely staying home with her new baby that she simply says she’s a yoga teacher (and I did the same thing when I taught a lot, but spent most of my time with my newborn).
And, honestly, that’s one of the main perks of teaching yoga—the flexibility (no pun intended).
Many instructors love that they can work their schedules (and their desires to teach) around their kids’ daily routines.
Still, for as many of us out there who feel picked apart for staying home there’s another sector of women that works.
And that’s a huge fallacy and American myth of womanhood and careers: that women all stayed home until some sort of fictitious revolution happened.
Nope, the truth is that there are a lot of ladies out there who had jobs way before we had world wars, and before the flower-power seventies and money-fueled eighties.
These women worked because they were single parents and they worked because, financially, they had no choice—and there are still mothers out there in this same position.
My own mother worked.
She was an elementary school teacher, and she was passionate about her job (and we need passionate teachers).
One of my grandmothers stayed home because, the truth is, my grandfather didn’t want her to work.
My other grandma, though, worked her ass off because she was divorced and had to.
I have dear friends who would love more time with their children, but they have no choice—their kids need their salary or their insurance coverage.
This is the reality of life.
This is the reality of being a woman: some work full-time, some part-time and still others parent as their main job—yet let’s not forget that all of these women are mothers; all of them.
And why is it that those who could be lending the best support to one another are each other’s worst offenders?
How horrible is that?
A new mother/yoga teacher friend of mine told me over lunch that she appreciates having female friends now, after the birth of her baby, more than ever. She wants women in her life to talk to, to share with, to support and to be supported by.
And whether you’re a woman who works outside of your home, inside your home (which is not easier), or who counts child-rearing as your number one role (and it’s absolutely true that there isn’t a more difficult and time-consuming job out there), it’s also still true that you’re a woman—and what’s challenging for all of us is being a woman and a mother too.
I don’t think there’s a more important and difficult equilibrium to reach: figuring out how to be both a mom and a woman at the same time.
Stay-at-home gals feel guilty for taking time for themselves.
Another recent Facebook conversation of mine was with a reader who asked me how I’m able to write so much while being home with my toddler, and my answer isn’t simple or clear-cut.
I fight with myself to put “me” first and “demand” my time to hole up and write, because I definitely want to be spending time with my daughter too, and it’s not easy when my husband needs me to be present with him and our little girl and I’m stuck inside of my head—but I can’t help it.
I’m a writer in the most obsessively consuming way. In short, I don’t know how to not take the time to write.
At the same time, it means that I’m working a little (or a lot) too early in the morning when they’re both still asleep (or too late at night).
It means that I miss out on kitchen/cooking dance parties because I’m on my laptop feeling the vibrations of their music and of their feet while my hands are busy typing a mile a minute.
Because there is no easy solution, to either side—working women also, obviously, have trouble with this balancing act (and with guilt).
Is it even possible? I often wonder.
Is it possible to be a woman who has it all?
Because, call me an optimist (you’d be wrong, but feel free to call me one), but I think it is possible—if women stick together.
Now, is that possible?
There are women out there who find more joy in tearing another woman down than in building her up—and that was a highly discussed aspect of my recent conversations, brought up by many women who were willing to talk about—and tackle—this issue with me.
We discussed how, like it or not, women can be catty and competitive.
Not all women are like this, but some are—let’s be real.
Let’s be real that women aren’t always kind or even civil with others of their sex.
I’ve heard it said that it’s in our “nature” to be this way, and maybe it is, but as a yoga practitioner and as an individual who seeks to improve myself through the trials and errors of my life and of my mistakes, I definitely believe that it’s possible to fight our “nature” in order to do what’s better or what’s right.
If we used a trait being “natural” as an excuse for everything then we wouldn’t even live in an evolved society.
Much of socialization, beginning as early as my toddler daughter, teaches us that we, at times, need to use our brains and our reasonable minds to override selfish, more primitive, aspects of the self. It’s part of growing up—learning when to listen to our inner, instinctual animal and when to listen to the thoughtful, altruistic part of our consciousness instead.
And, more importantly, what does “having it all” even mean anyways?
What is a woman who has it all?
Well, to me, she’s this: family, love, health and work are all a part of her life.
Sure, not all of us have these things in balance, or even present, at various times in our lives.
When I was a girl, my family was a group of people that consisted of my parents and my twin sister. Now, my family is my husband and my child.
Someday, not that I want to think about this yet, my family might not even include them.
Maybe, at one point on your journey, your family was a boyfriend and then it became a cherished pet. So the definition of family, to me, at least, is variable (thank goodness).
Love, is another thing that’s fluid, but let me tell you this: if you love yourself—truly and deeply love who you are—then you will always have love in your life—always—regardless of who else is around you.
Health, unfortunately, as important as it is, is not something that we all have all of the time—and I think that’s okay. Sometimes the best that we can do is acknowledge what we do have.
When I was ill with interstitial cystitis (a painful bladder condition), it hurt immensely to move even the tiniest bit—but I had my breath.
It was then in my life that I learned to connect with my breath and to embrace the practice of breath control, and when I was well again, it stuck with me. So, there are occasions when we must find gratitude for what we are capable of (because all of us are always capable of something special and important).
And work: we all work—all of us—whether we raise children or work in cubicles.
And maybe we need to be more open to interchangeable definitions for work too.
Because who am I to say that what I enjoy (working part-time while mostly caring for my little lady) is best, or even possible, for another woman? That’s absurd.
It’s just as absurd as expecting your romantic partner to be exactly the same as mine (you can’t have him).
And I would wager that nearly all of us, at least from time to time, think that the grass in other pastures might be greener than our own.
No one’s grass is always perfectly green (this analogy is getting awkward, I’m aware).
We need to try to remember that when our lives are being bombarded with lemons, that they won’t stay sour forever. (This analogy isn’t much better, is it?)
You work and you feel guilty about being away from your children.
Keep in mind that they’re learning the value of hard work and of responsibility from you—and they are being cared for by your efforts.
You’re a stay-at-home mama and you feel guilty for taking time out for yourself to exercise or, let’s say, write.
Guilt and juggling the priorities of ourselves and our kids inhabit a space within all of us, and within our lives, but how well you deal with it and move away from it are what matter.
Your kids will learn that taking care of their bodies is important if you take the time to care for yours, and no one in a family benefits from a woman who ignores her own needs, which is an unexpected challenge in itself—and one that I’d like to have some girlfriends around for.
I remember my first real experience with confronting my aversion to asking for help.
I desperately needed someone to watch my daughter so that I could go to a doctor appointment, and with my family two and a half hours away and my husband in a new and busy job, I felt stuck and stranded on a very lonely island—and then my best friend found out about my problem.
She was mad at me that I hadn’t asked her for help. She said that she would always help me out—and she did.
She helped me with more than child care that day—she helped me remember how to ask for what I want and how to lean on other people, because neither is as easy as it should be.
So can women have it all?
Yes. Without a doubt, but my all might be vastly different from yours—and that’s okay.
It’s okay because I don’t need a world filled with people shaped just like me; I like diversity. (As it turns out, it really is the spice of life.)
Why don’t we try celebrating our differences—and remembering our similarities—rather than merely finding fault in them?
Here’s one similarity, if you’re a mom, that is:
You’re a woman who has another life that depends upon you for support, nurturing and care, and I don’t know about you, but I would like to teach my daughter how to work in a world with other people, especially with other women, and I’d like her to also know that I want her to follow her own heart and dreams, even if they lead her into a lifestyle that’s nothing like mine.
We are the guardians of our children, not their owners—they’re on loan—and we’re also the guardians of this world and of the people in it, so let’s try to show each other a little more respect and sympathy.
While I might not have it all, even in my own eyes on every day of the week, I’m happy. I really am happy, and I sincerely hope that you are too, and that, if you’re not, you’ll recognize that nothing in life is permanent, not even the things that we want to be.
We move and shift through life and if we fight this—and one another—every step of the way, then we’re doing ourselves and those around us, including our children, a huge disservice.
Basically, there’s never been a real Vagina Revolution—but there could be.
We could do it now: unify and stand together, no matter what our “job role” is because we share the most important roles of all: mother and woman.
(And, sorry, guys, but women are pretty great—aren’t they, ladies?)
“You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
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Ed: Bryonie Wise