I’ve never been want to participate in the “mommy wars.” I’ve just never seen any point in trying to justify my parenting choices by attacking the decisions of other women. At least not to your face anyway. 🙂
But then, something funny happened the other day. Not funny, haha. But funny in that a random comment from another mom actually got my dander up. It’s not what she said that truly bothered me. It was my reaction, the more than a minute I’ve spent pondering this woman’s words and my temptation to respond in a way that I’m glad I didn’t.
The interaction went something like this–I was playing tennis. A doubles match against two women I’d never met before. Part of my tennis strategy is always to chat up my opponents, ask about their kids, smile and joke around between points. I’m not a particularly strong player, so my kill ‘em with kindness tactic is always in the hopes that it’ll be distracting enough to smooth out any killer instinct edges on the other side of the net. Plus, getting all pissy over a ladies league tennis match seems almost as ridiculous as the privilege of spending an afternoon playing in a ladies league tennis match.
So, I was playing tennis. Conversation ensued. The other women talked about their kids. I talked about mine. My partner and I win the match. Who won isn’t relevant to this story. But I feel you should know. We won. 🙂
Okay so, during all the youth sports and summer programming jibber jabber, I also mentioned my job as editor of a local lifestyle magazine and freelance writer. I said how I mostly work from home, have a flexible work schedule that accommodates my kid’s school and activities schedule and also allows me to play some daytime tennis. A great gig. Truly. I love my job.
Anyway, one of the women said something that stuck with me like a barnacle I can’t quite scrap off. She said, “Well, I guess if you have to work, it’s good you like your job.” Or something like that. Only the first eight words stuck in my brain. “Well, I guess if you have to work…”
I didn’t respond. I think I nodded or blinked five or six times. I may have had a small stroke. Maybe it was the summer heat or the adrenaline fueled joy of winning. (Did I mention I won?) Anyway, it wasn’t until I said a pleasant “goodbye” and “nice to meet you”, changed my shoes, paid my court fee and walked to the parking lot that I noticed the crusty barnacle of her words stuck to my psyche and how I wondered if I should have said, “I don’t have to work.” Oh good Lord in heaven, I’m so glad I didn’t say that. I would have hated myself for saying that even if it is true.
It’s true that the hubs earns more than me. His income pays the life sustaining bills. If he bailed, my income would likely qualify for food stamps. True enough. But our arrangement is something we’d planned long ago. When I once said–before we had children–that I wanted to hire a nanny and travel the country as some high-powered exec, he said, “then I’ll stay home with the kids.” Wait. What? No. No. No. For me, letting the hubs have the joys of full-time parenting triggered some serious jealousy in my slowly softening maternal heart. If (I say if because this was yet to be a fully formed option in my mind) one of us was going to do the full-time parent thing, it was going to be me.
After I burned through all of my disability income while on bed-rest pregnant for our first-born and thus, lacking much maternity leave, I was summoned by my employer to a meeting in Boston. This was shortly after our premature, neo-natal intensive care unit baby was beginning to sleep without his heart rate dropping through the floor and setting off hospital alarm bells. That’s when I officially quit my job.
I felt no compulsion to defend my decision. Even when my boss offered me more responsibility and a larger territory as enticement to stay. (Duh, think about it dude. Maybe offer parents a little less responsibility and you’re tracking with a new mom who wants to be with her kid.)
Anyway, when carrots didn’t work, he tried a stick. He said to me, “What are you going to do? Hang out at a country club all day playing tennis?” I rolled my eyes at his comment and skipped off into a land of sleepless nights and tear-filled days with my precious newborn.
Despite the serious irony of my old boss’s comment, I didn’t step onto any tennis court for 12 years. (An actual country club membership never was and still isn’t part of our one income family financial plan. I pay to play once a week and that’s that.) But around the time I started playing a little tennis, I also started easing back into paid employment. And I love my job. It’s no corporate ladder climbing affair. But I love what I do, the people I work with, and that the gig offers the flexibility to still parent my kids in the way our family has become accustomed.
I don’t have to work. But, for the first time, I felt a pang of what working moms the world over must feel when another woman passive aggressively lobs a mommy war salvo into her lap. Maybe this woman didn’t intend to be malevolent. Maybe she simply spoke an altruism, that if anyone has to work, it’s nice to love your job.
I’m just really glad I didn’t respond. That I just got in my car and drove away. Hopefully, by better appreciating the challenges of working women, this sticky bad vibe barnacle will eventually fall off all on its own.