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?