“Are you a stay-at-home mom?” my 11-year-old niece leaned in to ask me. Surprised by her question, I answered with a skeptical, “Why? What difference does it make? Yes.”
“Ahh, that must be nice,” she replied in a voice filled with longing and aspiration for such a life.
Seated to my left was her mother, my sister-in-law. I had driven us to the mall, and she was driving us home after a fun-filled afternoon celebrating my daughter’s birthday. There we were, sitting next to each other, chatting about dinner plans and favorite vacuums over the sound of five unruly children hollering in the back.
The question left us feeling slightly uneasy, like that feeling you get when you realize three moments too late that you shouldn’t have asked when the baby is due.
My darling sister-in-law jumped in before I could respond to my niece’s glamorous idealization of stay-at-home motherhood with, “Well, it’s not easy.” I appreciate her support and acknowledgement of how hard I’ve worked these past nine years, but honestly I wanted to cup my niece’s face in my hands (isn’t that what any good aunt would do?) and say, “Yes! It is amazing!” Now that two of my children are full-time students and the youngest goes to preschool twice a week, I have five glorious hours per week all to myself. Maybe I spend the time meal planning and sorting laundry, but still, it’s time all to myself!
Besides spending time with my children, there are other perks to my job. I sleep through the night, I shower when I want, I practice my music, I read books, I write, I clean if I have to, I sing in a band, I go to the library, I watch movies before school pickup, and I cook new dinners my kids won’t eat. It’s the life I always envisioned an adult to have.
I am beginning to see the light as I slowly make my way through the dark tunnel of interrupted sleep, dirty diapers and toddler tantrums. I don’t want to admit it, though, for fear that my sister-in-law might think less of me.
She has been able to have children and a career simultaneously. I admire her skills and ability to provide for her family. But all the SAHM vs. working mom rhetoric comes to mind, and I cringe at the thought of how much anger women have hurled at each other via internet comments sections—so many passionate fingers typing, “This is the right way to mother!” “No, THIS is the right way to mother.”
I explained to my niece that after college I wanted to have children and then figure out a professional career once they were in school. Now that my youngest is almost a full-time kindergartner, I do have plans for a career, a career I stumbled upon because of my experience as a mother. I wouldn’t have known exactly what professional path I should pursue in life if I hadn’t been a mother first. That’s just the way it worked out for me.
As I said this out loud, I couldn’t help but think of how similar my sister-in-law and I are. Sitting in the car together, we are not ahead or behind each other. We are side by side. We both had the exact same goals for our kids that day: spend unheard of amounts of money outfitting stuffed animals, eat at the food court, ride the merry-go-round, buckle our kids into their seats, drive them home, tuck them into bed, and enjoy some time without them.
In recent years, it hasn’t bothered me, but when my children were younger, I worried over who was right, the SAHM or the working mom. On that drive home from the mall, I learned something I wished I had known all along. We aren’t in a race to see who the better parent is. We are in the biggest carpool of our lives, each of us striving to get our children to their destination, sharing the load when one of us needs a hand, and supporting each other’s decisions no matter how much they differ from our own. I’m not in a race against you, but if you want to pick up on Tuesday and I’ll pick up on Thursday, I would totally be up for that.