It’s all in the implication (isn’t it?)

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of messages on Twitter, around the blogosphere and on my moms group message boards about how being a SAHM is the “hardest job” and also the “most important” and that if you’re not a SAHM “you just can’t understand.”

And I have to admit, it starting to make me mad. You know, when I wrote my SAHM post  – the one that pissed a lot of people off – I wasn’t sure quite where all of it was coming from, but now I know. It was in response to what feels like an underlying assertion about the ever-important work that SAHMs do, a message that their work is the most challenging, and important, work any mother can accomplish.

I’ve read so much about how hard being a SAHM is. How they work 24/7, 365. How they get no sick time and no lunch break. How they don’t even get to go to the bathroom by themselves. How their boss is a tiny tyrant who won’t take no for an answer. I’ve read it all, some of it cleverly presented, some of it less so. It doesn’t anger me that SAHMs are venting about their situation. It doesn’t upset me that they say their work is difficult, I’m sure it is. What frustrates me is that by declaring it the “hardest” and the “most important” they are implying that those who aren’t SAHM are somehow less. If I’m not doing the “most important” work than what work am I doing? Why does anyone’s work have to be declared “most important”?

WOHMs are moms too. They don’t get sick leave or paid vacation days from motherhood. They work all day, all night, and all weekend. WOHMs are also subject to the whims of their tyrannical, two feet tall bosses (along with those of their similarly unpredictably and demanding five foot plus tall bosses). WOHMs have it hard too.

And you might say that declaring one has it hard doesn’t imply that the other doesn’t, but that’s not always the case. There are certainly ways you can say it inclusively – SAHMs have it hard just like all mothers have it hard – it’s when we start throwing in superlatives that things get sticky and implication abounds. At least I feel that is true and I’m curious what you all think.

Let me present a different example. I cloth diaper. I can give all sorts of reasons for why I cloth diaper: I want to reduce waste, I feel cloth is better for my daughter’s skin, I can save money, it just makes sense economically and environmentally. Presenting my case in that way is relatively judgement free; I’m just stating why I choose to cloth diaper without reprimanding those who don’t.

But what if I said it differently? What if I said that I cloth diaper because I couldn’t abide my guilty conscious if I didn’t. What if I admitted that the idea of throwing away thousands of disposable diapers made me literally sick to my stomach and that every time I use a disposable at night I see the cup of crude oil required to produce it. What if I shared that I felt it would be morally wrong not to cloth diaper when there are so many easy options to do so and the alternatives are so destructive to the environment. What if I argued that if I can make it work with a coin fed laundry machine I think the majority of other people can, and should, make it work too.

The truth is, I believe what I wrote above; I really feel that way about cloth diapering. I don’t understand why more people don’t do it. (And while you might argue that it’s none of my business if other people cloth diaper or not, I might counter that until those diapers end up somewhere other than landfill on the planet where I reside, it’s not irrelevant to my life.) Of course, I never say these things because doing so feels the same as judging people who use disposables. Simply saying that using disposables makes me feel incredibly guilty implies that others should feel guilty for using them too. And so I don’t say it that way. I present our reasons for cloth diapers as our reasons. I never criticize those that don’t. I choose my words carefully – I feel like I have to.

My point is it’s all in how you say it. And when SAHMs declare that their lot is “more/most challenging” and “more/most important” they are automatically implying that what others do is not. At least that is what I believe. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I’m just jealous and resentful. Maybe my guilty conscious is the only one doing the implying. I’m honestly not sure.

So I leave the question with all of you. When someone declares their job the “most important,” is the implication that the work others do is less than? If someone says they would feel horrible for using disposables, should others assume that they should feel horrible for doing the same? If these implications are really being made, should we avoid making them to spare the feelings of others? Or is life too short to walk around on egg shells? Should we just express how we feel honestly, implications be damned?

14 responses

  1. We always feel as though what we are doing isn’t fully appreciated by others, and that’s because it isn’t. Women are super judgemental and it sucks. We’re always comparing ourselves to other women and finding ourselves lacking. In turn, we try and find things to criticize in other women so we can feel better about ourselves.

    I’m a SAHM and I love it, though there are times I find it relentlessly mindnumbing. And there are times I feel bad that I don’t contribute financially to the household (unless you counting spending as a contribution, haha), even though we are quite comfortable with my husband’s income. And there are times I feel like not having my kid in daycare is hurting his development because I’m no good at teaching him everything he could be learning and maybe he’d be using some words and a fork and eating better foods if he were.

    What I’m saying is that it is really hard to feel good about anything we’re doing as mothers and even as women. Try not to let those who feel the need to better themselves by putting your choices down get to you.

  2. Yikes! I don’t have experience with either side yet, and I really WANT to be a SAHM, but I know that probably won’t be possible. But dude, how can anyone suggest that working full time AND being a mother isn’t harder (and yes, I’ll say harder) than simply being a full time mom? Don’t you have to get all those same things accomplished in the few hours at home each evening and weekends, instead of having the whole day Monday to Friday?

  3. Agreed! I wish both sides could just appreciate each other and realize that both have their challenges and difficulties and that neither is better than the other! Great post!!! Oh and I also totally relate to the cloth diapering, I wish more people would see the pros of doing CD’ing not just for their families but for our world.

  4. Excellent post, you are such a fantastic writer Esperanza! I will say this: anyone that feels the need to repeatedly, loudly, and publically point out how hard & important their job/life is compared to someone else’s most certainly is trying to beat down his/her own insecurities and jealousies. Sorry if that offends anyone but it is true.

    Your take on the cloth diaper situation definitely displays your empathy, but I would argue that the two issues are different in that there is no way anyone can dispute that cloth diapering is better for the environment. It just simply is. Whereas SAHM vs WOHM—I don’t know of any evidence to support either one as “better” in any measurable way. As a disposable-diaper-user you DID make me feel guilty, but that is OK. You made me email to ask whether our daycare allows cloth diapers and I put some in my on-line shopping cart. Not sure that I will convert, but if I do, you will have served the planet well!

    Ana (I work full-time outside the home, BTW, and use disposable diapers for my 2 little ones)

  5. Great post!
    Over here in Germany, we’ve had this little culture war thing going on for a while now regarding SAHM vs. WOHM (love the acronyms 😉 ). For some reason, being a WOHM is really frowned upon by certain parts of society. Being a WOHM just doesn’t fit the traditional, conservative, bourgoise picture of the good little wifey at home. However, the people who still think in this way haven’t realized that the times and society at large have changed…. I think you’ve inspired me to write my own post on the subject….
    As for the “honesty” vs “not-judging” part: I think that’s a very difficult question. Basically, it’s like you already said: it all depends on how you say it. I think it’s good to be honest, but we should still try to be non-judgmental and not shove our opinion down other people’s throats.

  6. You are a fantastic writer! I hope it wasn’t my twitter post that irked you — I wrote about how I needed to get back to work instead of twitter — and then reflected on how it wasn’t work (in my mind) so much as a series of menial tasks that I repeat each day — and in that I wasn’t thinking so much about mothering Z so much as the stuff of housework and household management — a job I’m no good at — as opposed to my teaching job — a job I was good at — and how completely my own aspirations of work/career/writing went out the window once I was home full time.

    For me, I try to phrase things in such a way that makes it clear it’s my experience alone — because my god this life is hard enough — and we are hard enough on ourselves without feeling that others are hard on us too — this is such a sticky question and every time it comes up I’m reminded of why the women’s movement never got the ERA passed — and how fractious women’s politics can be when it shouldn’t be that way.

    I get annoyed by the “I’m a perfect SAHM ethos” that exists out there in the blogosphere — it would be so nice to read about the difficulties and heartbreaks and insecurities ad worries rather than the projection of perfection…

    XO

    P

  7. I wonder if some SAHMs go on about this because they don’t have anyone telling them repeatedly that they’re doing a good job. My old boss used to constantly tell me what a great job I was doing, and even the supercritical one before that would sometimes say “this looks good.” When someone is a SAHM, nobody is telling them that. In fact, depending on the ages of their kids, the kids might be doing just the opposite. So maybe that’s why they feel the need to talk about their job in that way.

    While I often wish I could spend more time at home with J (and still get everything else done), the reality is I don’t think women were ever intended to stay home in isolation. Stay with their kids, yes, but in environments where they have neighbors or relatives around. I think these people are operating in a very isolated, unnatural situation and probably lonely. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

    Your cloth diaper example is an excellent way of to say the same thing in 2 different ways.

  8. My question anytime I hear the “mommy wars” arguements is, why does it matter? Why do we as women always feel like we have to prove that we work harder and do more than someone in the other “camp”? It’s insulting, and doesn’t make any of us better moms. One of my FB friends wrote the other day, “I never want to hear a SAHM complain again!” I understand that she was frustrated and probably wants to be home with her little girl instead of at work, but that’s not fair to imply that SAHMs have NOTHING to complain about. That’s like me thinking that rich people should just shut the hell up and stop whining (which I’ve been guilty of thinking). Well, rich people can have bad days, and SAHMs can have hard days. We all do.

    I am in no way saying your job isn’t hard. I’ve been a teacher and know how it is to end the day completely drained and have nothing left to offer anyone. I can imagine how difficult it is to fight traffic, run errands, laundry, feeding, bedtime, and try to fit in some loving and fun moments with your daughter. That’s got to be tough. But the fact that your job is hard doesn’t make mine easy.

    And I completely disagree with those who say being s SAHM is the “most important” job. Whether you stay at home or not, being that child’s mom is equally important. And for those who choose not to or can’t have children, what they choose to do with their lives isn’t any less important either.

    I’m afraid this comment sounds arguementative and a little harsh- I don’t mean it to at all. You know I think you are an incredible mom and work so, so hard to create the best situation for your family. Love you!

  9. Now that I’ve done both, SAHM and WOHM, I can say that they are both difficult in different ways. The drain of being a WOHM is more, hm, cerebral?: the guilt from not being with your child (though I know not everyone experiences it), the juggling of everything that has to happen on the weekends. The drain of being a SAHM is perhaps more physical: the day without any down time at all (even to go pee), the exhaustion of saying that same thing for the thousandth time that day in the same patient voice (without having spoken to another adult all day), having a human being attached to you, touching you all day long. They’re both hard. But honestly, now that I’ve done both for a while, I’ll confess that as much as I love my daughter and feel like this is a gift, I also would like to be in a position to get away and be my adult self sometimes, making a different kind of contribution to the world. It’s an intensely personal thing … and we should recognize it for that, and support each other in our decisions.

  10. Deborah’s comment about not getting positive feedback as a SAHM is very interesting. Maybe that’s why some people yell from the top of their rooftops about how hard it is and how important it is. They are looking for positive feedback from someone, anyone.

    I don’t know WHAT is in women’s DNA that causes them to criticize other women. Maybe we were all fighting over the same dufus alpha male 10,000 years ago and undercutting each other was our only defense.

    All I know is it’s still much easier to be a man 😉

  11. I am starting to find this WOHM vs SAHM dust-up awfully exhausting. I’m so over this my-parenting-choices-are-superior-to-yours tripe. “Best” is relative, “best” is unique to a particular family’s circumstances. Broadly speaking, we all do the “best” we can at any given time to lead our families in the “best” direction. Your best is not my best, and vice versa. It’s apples and oranges, all of it.

    Last week I was reading a post on a pro-BFing blog (not a blog I subscribe to, just a post a friend sent my way) about why BFing is “best.” The arguments were the same arguments we’ve all read in posts like these, but they were couched in that tone you’ve described here. Had the author have framed her post in terms of “this is why I feel BFing was the best choice for my family” I would have quietly nodded my head along as I read. Instead, the tone of judgement and superiority gave me such a hot flash that I closed the browser, not before uttering OH, FUCK THAT.

    I wish folks could feel secure in their parenting choices, some of which aren’t necessarily choices at all. I wish we could all afford each other enough respect and understanding by acknowledging that we all do the best we can. I find that the folks who undermind others in this way are usually the least secure, the ones needing the most validation of their own choices. Just like the playground bully.

  12. I’m glad I don’t see more of the attitude that you’re talking about from SAHMs…I’m a SAHM and all of the SAHMs I know feel very lucky to be able to stay at home and don’t throw around any of this omigod my job is SOOOOO hard stuff. I know I certainly don’t feel that way…I know I would be much, much more stressed if I had to work as well as be a mom 24/7. Juggling both would be incredibly stressful for me.

    I do agree with what Jjiraffe said, I do feel that I need some sort of recognition for my work at home from my husband. It’s as if he’s my boss and I need him to say I’m doing a good job, keeping the house clean, making good meals, taking care of our son well. I need my annual review or something…it’s weird to not have someone else reviewing my work as I’ve had for, well, the rest of my life whether in school or at work. But I don’t feel the need to proclaim that the work I do is the hardest thing evaaaaa! because it isn’t. I feel it’s the best job in the world and I’m thrilled to be able to do it, even if I only get to stay home for the first year of my son’s life.

    (PS: feel the same way about cloth diapering too!)

  13. I wish I could leave a response for everyone here. You all had such insightful comments on this. Unfortunately, with grades being due and everything else that is going on I don’t have the time (or frankly the energy) to respond to everyone, so I’m going to do one big response comment to you all.

    It is very sad that women sometimes (many times?) feel the need to tear each other down. Maybe it is based on an old evolutionary needs to “get the male” so we could reproduce and keep our family fed. Maybe it’s just subtle signals we receive from our culture. Maybe both, but it’s certainly seems to be true that we do more to undermine each other than we do to support each other. I wish that weren’t the case.

    I also think it makes sense that SAHMs need recognition for their efforts since they don’t get much from the people they are with all day. And if their spouse is also failing to acknowledge how much they do, they must feel very frustrated that they do so much and no one seems to notice or care. I know that would drive me crazy.

    I wonder if it also has something to do with the assumption (by men and WOHMs?) that being a SAHM is easier. Maybe they feel the need to defend what they do and how hard they work because as a society we don’t recognize it as such. It may be easy to believe that someone who doesn’t have to commute to work and can stay at home all day isn’t actually doing very much, or to believe that others think that. Of course that couldn’t be further from the truth, but if you get subtle (or less than subtle) hints that that is the case you’re bound to push back.

    Maybe that is why some SAHMs declare they are doing the hardest and most important work, because they feel devalued. And that doesn’t bother me much, in and of itself, if that is their reason for doing it. What does bother me is when there is an undercurrent of, “if you were a good mom you’d do this too.” Recently on a mom message board one woman said that she had kids to raise them, not outsource their development on someone else. Another women agreed that this time before preschool was so important she just couldn’t imagine letting someone else determine what her child were learning. A third woman said that only a mother can really assure her child will be exposed to all the beliefs and developmental opportunities that are most important to their family. Reading all of that just made me feel so guilty and sad that I can’t give that to my daughter, that I can’t be the one shaping her into the person she will become. It also made me feel a lot of contempt for the women who are lucky enough to do that but don’t see their situation as fortunate choice but as a right that all moms have to make correctly, if they really want to.

    I think Trinity is right, if we just expressed our opinions based on what is best for our family, everything would be okay. It’s when we allow an undercurrent of “our way is the best way for everyone” and “your way is harmful to your child” to permeate the discussion that things get out of hand.

    That is why in the future I’m going to keep the implications of what I say to a bare minimum.

  14. I cloth diapered for precisely the reasons you give.
    I prefer not to talk too much to people about why, because I’m concerned with coming across too judgemental.

    If you use the turn of phrase ‘most important’, than that implies something about people who make other choices.

    If someone says their pain is worst, because they’ve been trough X, Y and Z, then that implies that another’s pain is less.

    The SAHM as we know it is a recent development in human history, at least that is what I think.
    Think back to a few generations ago, when many people were still farmers. A farmers wife may not have gone to work outside the farm, but she sure didn’t spend all her time with her children. Older siblings looked after the younger, while mom toiled.
    Same for the poor women of the industrial age, and think of all the young children that had to work alongside them in the factories.
    And the rich had nannies …

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