I went to dinner at an old friend’s house not long ago. She’s the kind of friend I don’t get to see every day or even every month, but I’ve known for years and years. She’s the friend who remembers who I was before I was “mom” or before I had any idea who I was. She knows the causes I take up, the political views I hold, and the dreams I’ve always had. It’s an easy relationship, made even easier because our children are close in age.
But at this dinner, surrounded by husbands and close mutual friends, children scurrying here and there, things were different and awkward. I was the only stay-at-home mom in the room, something I was acutely aware of. I struggled to slip myself into conversations about colleagues and bosses. I hesitated to relate until, eventually, I went unnoticed. And I don’t know if it was me or everyone else. The chicken or the egg?
See, I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I’ve worked as a mother, always longing to be home with my children, side-eyeing those women confidently and casually strolling with their toddlers down sidewalks midday. I’ve been at home with my children, envious of the mothers who have been pursuing careers and dreams, dreaming of reaching out to touch the lofty goals of my younger self. I know no grass is greener, but I also understand that no one knows that until they’ve been on both sides (even then, it’s easy to forget).
That evening, as everyone talked about work, changing jobs, and bumping into people in a shared network, I realized my contributions were becoming limited. There I was, not knowing how to participate anymore. Feeling like I was trying to play catch up in a race, I was no longer running.
I felt every pause as others considered how to ask me how “things” were going, unsure of how to include me and if I even wanted that inclusion. Would asking me to make me feel bad about my choice to leave my career? Would not asking me to make me feel like I no longer belonged? No one wanted to leave me out, but I felt out. And, to tell you the truth, it may have just been me who pulled myself out.
But there was so much I wanted to say.
If I could have said anything to those working moms, I would first say not to feel uncomfortable asking a SAHM questions. We still read about current events, maybe even the best practices in our former fields. We likely won’t respond with reports of diaper changes and eating habits. It won’t just be about having tantrums and being tired. You might hear about how uninspired we’ve felt at the computer lately. Or how we’re puzzling how to get involved in a local election. The thing is, even without our career, we’re still there. So don’t be afraid to ask. Even if it seems awkward, the result is a gain.
In this world where mothers are so often pitted against one another, we’re only moving forward when doing it together. So, let’s get some things off our chests, communicate, and relate. Let’s start the forward momentum by airing what we’d like to say to those mothers on the other side of the work/home fence.
Dear Working Mom (from a Stay-at-Home Mom):
- Thank you. Thank you for giving my daughter an example of a woman thriving in the workplace and caring for her children. She believes she can do it all and have it all because of women like you. Even though it’s taxing, thank you for being this example for little girls and boys like mine. – Jen
- Work It! I mean, seriously, smash those goals at work. Be an amazing role model to your littles by loving what you do. (I haven’t worked in nearly three years and miss it daily). P.S. Dress to impress. I’m jelly of suits, skirts, and jewelry some days. – Elyse
- How do you do it all? I’m so impressed. I admire you and your great organizational skills. You are a pro at managing a job AND family. I’m a little jealous as you can be with big people, use your brain and speak about something other than tantrums, diapers, sick kids, and play dates. A bit jealous that you can dress up (without getting throw up on your clothes (at least not all the time) and go in the world free for a part of your day or week. – Emilie
- I’m going to keep inviting you. I know you can’t come, and I don’t want to be the person who makes you feel bad for not getting to play dates or coffee. But I want you to feel invited and welcome. (But also try to come when you can.) – Angela
- Your kids are always welcome at my house on early dismissal days or in any situation. I couldn’t imagine dealing with some things we do [as mothers] and having a boss. – Kelly
Dear Stay-At-Home Mom (From a Working Mom):
- I’m a working mom, which makes it harder for me to have the time to get to know you, but I’d still like to hang out when possible so we can be a community. Please don’t forget about me. – Patty
- I’ve done both. There was never enough time to feel like I was doing a good job by my kids or my “paid” job. That being said, being a SAHM was a much more challenging “job” for me. Your day never truly ends. You rarely get a break or feel the accomplishment of a job well done, at least not tangibly. My words for the SAHM: You’re doing a good job. – Tracy
- When I was asked, “What would you say to a SAHM,” my initial reaction was, “I envy you.” However, after spending a full week / 24 hours with my six-year-old and 2-year-old, I have a different message. SAHM, I praise you. The strength, patience, tolerance, acceptance, happiness, and mindfulness (the list goes on) you must have 24 hours a day/seven days a week with no “off” time is admirable. As a mom, every sense/emotion can be triggered by your wee one, sometimes all at once. As a working mom, I can give my inner being a break. Walk away for a moment and just be “me.” While I miss my babies all day, I treasure that time when I can take “a break.” I’ll end with this, and it’s not said often, but SAHM, I salute you. No one can do what MOMS do (SAHM or WM). – Michelle
- Please don’t assume I want to be a working mom, that I love my career more than my children, or that I’m materialistic because I work. Most of us don’t have the option to be a SAHM, and we hate missing all the milestones, class parties, and quality time you post about on social media. No, I don’t think you’re less valuable because you’re a SAHM. I’m beyond thankful for the neighborhood moms who kept an eye out on my children while they waited for the morning bus because I had to get to work on time. Please cherish every moment and know you’re blessed. When you feel you’ve sacrificed your dreams for your children, know you’re living mine. – Tina
- All moms have the most challenging job in the world, and we are all juggling a million things. I appreciate it when you include my kids and go out of your way to make it work by picking them up or letting them have a super long play date because I’m still working, whether it’s a snow day or winter break. I see your effort and appreciate your friendship beyond my child’s friendship with yours. – Nicole