So, the thing is, I have the blues. 

Not the deep dark blues, just some pale, silly, annoying blues.  It's been gross weather and the holidays are over and I think it might have something to do with my birthday.  I turned 36 this week and although I don't have a problem with AGE, I might be having a problem with AGING.  Maybe it's because I spend all day looking at the perfect, unblemished skin of my children so that when I finally look in the mirror at night, it comes as somewhat of a shock to see my own weary face. 

Maybe it's because this week I also got The Comment.  You know, The Comment that raises blisters on your soul by its very ignorance?  I was checking out of the grocery line with both kids in tow one morning and the checker—this KID who clearly had no children –actually said to me  “So, you stay home with your kids?  Wow, I could never stay home all day.  I'd be so bored.”  There I was, actually nursing my youngest (you do what you have to do when you have to do it) and trying to take my wallet away from my oldest so I could pay for the groceries -- harried, harassed, clearly anything but BORED-- and this TEENAGER condemned my lifestyle with one stupid comment. 

The Comment has several variations depending on your situation in life.  If you are a working mother (like that's not the most redundant phrase in the English language) you have someone offer some snide value judgment because you are leaving your kids.  If you stay home with your children, you clearly have nothing on the ball and must lack self-esteem. 

Actually, I've heard the comments directed at my working friends, and in some ways, those are more cruel, especially when a mother has no choice but to have a job and someone is making her feel guilty about providing for her kids’ very survival!  But because I'm a stay at home mom, I know the variations of the hurtful comments on that situation better than I know the others.  The one I hate the most is “Gosh, it must be nice.”  Like the decision to stay home didn't come with some sacrifice.  Like I am taking advantage of my husband in some way. 

Well, you know, it IS nice.  For me and for my children and for my marriage.  It makes sense, given our particular family, that one of us stays home.  But it doesn't mean we're independently wealthy (I wish) or that I'm laying around all day eating bon-bons and watching the soaps.  I'm working harder than I ever have in my life, thank you very much. 

And, you know, it doesn't make sense for everyone.  I have loads of friends who work “outside the home” (detestable phrase) for various reasons.  Some work because they are the primary breadwinners in their families.  Some work because they feel it makes them better mothers to their children.  Some work because they are physicians and lawyers and veterinarians who have people besides their children who depend on them. 

My choice to stay home is the right choice for MY FAMILY.  It is not the right choice for every mother out there.  And yes, it comes with a hefty price tag.  Not just a financial one but also a certain loss of esteem in the eyes of this society, where so little honor is accorded those of us who care for children full-time.   And there's a certain loss of my own sense of self, too.  I used to spend my days working on behalf of children everywhere—the disabled and the disadvantaged and the hungry.  Now I have two tiny bosses who don’t quite speak English and who almost never give merit raises.  I used to stride about with a clearly defined purpose and a clearly defined method.  I managed a staff.  Now I second-guess every single decision I make with regard to my kids and I feel like it's the highlight of my day if I get to go to the bathroom by myself.  And I can't even manage our SCHEDULE. 

But the thing that really bothers me is that, although this week I had some teenager give me The Comment, I am more likely to hear it from other moms who have made different choices.  And maybe that's the most depressing thing.  It's hard enough to try to find your way as a mother in this world without other mothers slinging arrows at you.  Not to be too “Can't we all just get along?” but we are all just trying to do the best job we can for our families.  I don't understand why we can't support each other better. 

Obviously, I think being home raising my children is more important than my career was –which is a fairly strong thing to say coming from a woman who lived to work. But that's my value judgment for ME –not for everyone.   There is such DIVISIVENESS among mothers.  First we judge each other on whether we work or stay home. Then, we judge each other on whether or not we believe in spanking. Then it's disposable vs. cloth diapers, breast vs. bottle, organic food vs. classic Gerber, public vs. private school. We splinter and splinter until we perpetuate the isolation that is already inherent in motherhood --we can't ever really connect because of all this sitting in judgment.  

I think one reason there's so much of this kind of splintering is that none of our children comes with a manual that tells us exactly what the right choices are, and we moms are so sensitive and so earnestly trying to do the right thing that we feel we constantly have to justify why we do what we do.   

It just seems to me that as long as we focus on the differences among us, we're not doing anything to affect positive change so that our own children don't have to feel condemned for their choices when THEY have children. It's not that I'm not judgmental (I'm sure at some point I'm going to write a column about spanking and half of my mailing list will rise up against me) --it's just that I don't think all this judging is getting us anywhere. We mommies need to stick together.  No one can truly understand motherhood except another mother, and this world gives us so few opportunities to have real allies.  

Plus, you know, ultimately, all our children suffer the consequences of this division. Whether we stay at home or not, in the end we all send our kids out into a world where they will work, live and love among people from all backgrounds.  It would be nice if those disparate backgrounds resulted in a level playing field for the kids and some grand acceptance of all mothers for the choices we make. 

As for the teenager who made The Comment, maybe my now advanced years are resulting in a kinder, gentler Barb. (Yeah, right.) Because I didn't whip out the typical sarcastic rejoinder.  I decided to frame her stupid comment as a question and so I smiled at her and said mildly, “Well, sometimes it's a little boring, like all jobs.  But you might be surprised at how wonderful it is.” 

Well, there.  I feel better.

 

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(c) Barbara Cooper 2001