I have a lot of friends who are wonderful mothers who freely admit that staying home would make them crazy. I never know quite how to respond. They look at me and I know they are thinking. “How the hell does she do it? Why the hell does she do it?”
To this I say: Of course it makes you crazy. That’s the bloody point. It’s boot camp, hazing and hell week combined. All you have to do is make eye contact with another mom who’s going through it and you know you’re looking at a soul mate, a member of the club of warrior women.
Some of us stay-at-homes secretly feel that if you’re not at home questioning your sanity and every life choice you’ve made to date, it’s just not fair. You shouldn’t get to be a mother without feeling crazy, bored, frustrated, overmedicated and like you’ve given up on yourself.
Besides, if you’re not being driven crazy by motherhood, then how can you possibly fulfill its most basic tenet: passing your neuroses onto your children? It’s a mother’s sacred duty. If we don’t have any mental illnesses ourselves, how can our children inherit? It’s the craziness you get from your mom which makes the world go ‘round. Think about it. The world would be lacking most of its great literature if all of the writers had had sane mothers. Not to mention that the entire fields of psychiatry, ice cream manufacturing and pharmacology would collapse as well. So you’re doing the world a favor by staying home with your kids. Think of it that way.
I say it’s no fair that you get to go to work and have a jolly old time all day talking to adults who don’t spit food at you. You have the paid help break up the fights between your kids and negotiate whose turn it is to be Luigi and whose turn it is to be Mario, then you waltz in at 7pm and have the kids actually happy to see you. You do your fifteen-minute quality-time requirement and you’re done. No fucking fair! It’s like the woman who ran the New York City marathon by ducking into a subway in Brooklyn and emerging near the Central Park finish line.
Yeah, I know this is a gross oversimplification. I know that working moms will be outraged at this callous treatment of their busy lives. But hey, I speak for the stay-at-homes who have heard themselves referred to as the “muffia” by working mothers who suppose we do nothing but bake muffins all day. So cry me a river, Ms. Have-It-All.
Hey, calm down. I’m kidding. I suppose this whole working vs. stay-at-home motherhood comparison has grown tiresome. Maybe we should band together and start a revolution. Fight for the respect all mothers deserve! Fight against our culture of materialism that keeps us on the treadmill! Fight against the corporate mentality that crushes any human need in its path! If you get anywhere with this, let me know.
Meanwhile, I’m going to stay the course. Maybe the stay-at-home craziness will lead me to some higher mental place. I’m still hoping. I glimpse nirvana occasionally, like the one time my son opened a granola bar wrapper all by himself and I was there to witness it.
Occasionally the workies will slip here and there. The P.C. guard will be dropped. One of my working friends mentioned a mutual acquaintance that decided to stay home with her kids. The conversation went a little something like this:
“Can you see Ann as a STAY-AT-HOME MOTHER?”
“Well, yes, I can. Why not?”
It’s amusing to see the backpedaling commence.
“Oh, well, I mean, it’s just that she’s so smart…”
“Umm…hey look over there! Nordstrom’s having a shoe sale!”
Ohhhhkay. So how do us stay-at-home freaks deal with this? You still like your friend and want to remain loyal, even if she does have a nice manicure, hair that has been brushed recently and a savings account.
The temptation is to give her a guilt trip. You want to describe all the enriching, bonding experiences you have had with your kids. Play up the fact that you dropped off the forgotten lunchbox at school and how happy your child was that you were there for him. Describe the wonderful hours whiled away at the library reading Go, Dog, Go. Just don’t mention the scolding you gave your kid for forgetting his lunch, thereby blowing the tender moment, or that you had to pull your hysterical child out of the library after you were asked to leave.
But anyway, that guilt-trip induction technique is small minded. Don’t stoop to that level, no matter how tempting. Remember, your friend thinks about things like meetings, metrics and business lunches, so you have to speak her language.
Playgroups can be renamed status meetings. The PTA bake sale can become a business lunch, if you grab an oatmeal muffin and eat it on the spot. Go ahead and schedule your days on Google Calendar if it helps and you don’t mind looking like a supreme dork in front of the other stay-at-homes. One mother I know actually had business cards printed. Her title? “Mother of Susannah and Jordan” (yes, some of us are that desperate for respect). Be creative. Your working friend’s ears will perk up. She will actually listen to you with the respect paid to a functioning member of society instead of regarding you as a curious object of pity.
One technique that really hurts no one, except your own mortal soul, is to shamelessly engage in schadenfreude. Quietly gloat when she complains that her kid is angry and having trouble socially because he resents the time his mother spends at work. Enjoy your feelings of mothering superiority. Never mind that your own kids are just as fucked up and you have no one to blame but yourself. Also, beware the parenting gods. Judge not other mothers lest you too be judged and smited. Or smote. There will be a plague upon your house. You know I’m talking about: Strep Throat striking on a Sunday Morn, six-foot snowdrifts and a broken DVD player.
So gloating is out. Instead, try pretending you are a working woman who occasionally uses her brain for something other than sniffing her toddler’s butt to ascertain if he farted or took a dump. Drop the kids off with a neighbor for a few hours. Go home, shower and shave your legs. And not just your ankles that stick out of your capris. Lose the toothpaste-stained tee shirt and put on grown-up clothes. Ride the train into the city carrying a vat of Starbucks and a New York Times. Look at your phone a lot and excuse yourself frequently to take calls. “No, that won’t work. It’s a crazy week. I’ve got deadlines up the wazoo.” Notice the dead eyes of the beaten commuters around you and ask yourself if this is what you really want after all. When everyone else gets off the train in the city just turn around and ride back home. Maybe you’ll feel better.
If nothing else works, remind yourself that staying at home with your children is just a passing stage. It’s hard to believe now but the rest of your life really does not resemble the classic perspective lesson. You know, the one with the vanishing point on the horizon and nothing but emptiness and hopelessness ahead. There really will be a time when Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” no longer feels so familiar. Try to believe it when old-timers tell you that kids grow up so fast. After all, it’s hard to believe your baby is five years old already. Hasn’t the time just flown by? Doesn’t it seem like, well, five years ago that he was born?
So for what it’s worth we will be able to look back and say we were there for our kids. We saw it all. The first steps, the smiles at school pickup time, the warm cuddliness of their bodies after nap. Even though it made us crazy, we were present, unless we count the hours we spent hiding from them in the john and sobbing.