What Do You Do? For Great Aunt Pat

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What is it about motherhood that makes people bitter and opinionated?

Today I was just sitting around waiting to do some mundane house chore, and thinking about how sad it is that my Great Aunt Pat passed away last night, when I logged onto Facebook and saw more of this ‘Stay At Home Moms are lazy’ nonsense.

It was posted by a friend. She is a working and school-going, single mother, to which I hold an amazing amount of respect for what she does. She wasn’t really directing it at anyone, and she was just reposting it; although, that didn’t make it any less annoying in what it implied about SAHMs. It read:

I hear you. Raising kids and running a house keeps me busy too. I also have this little gig on the side called a full time job.

Indeed.

I really don’t need to dignify this with a response; but I will anyway. Just a week or two ago, I encountered a similar thing at my local Trader Joe’s when the checker told me it “must be nice to sit around all day.” It annoyed me then too, simply because it (like the tone of this eCard) sounded bitter and implied that SAHMs are lazy.

For one, just as whether a mother decides to breastfeed or not, the decision for a mother to either stay at home or go to work is a personal one. It is based on one’s individual decisions and priorities. And it is based on what is best for her particular family unit. No one has any right to judge or “it must be nice” to another mother because she chooses either course.

For my family, me staying at home is the right decision.

Beyond that, SAHMs have just as much – if not more – work than women that go to work do. In fact, a study about three years ago found that Stay At Home Moms do as much as twice the work of a Working Mom. Must be nice to be lazy, you say? SAHMs don’t have someone else helping to take care of their kids – like a family member or daycare lady that working moms have. There are often much higher expectations placed on them – by spouses, children, and society as well. Being a SAHM is not all daytime TV and cosmos. It’s running errands, cleaning house, wiping asses, playing soccer mom, and preparing meal after meal after meal. SAHMs don’t get an eight hour break five days a week to interact with other adults. They don’t get to have extra money for things; or lunch breaks to just sit in the break room and read a good book.

More than anything, when someone says “what do you do?” a SAHM’s only response is (usually) “I’m a Stay at Home Mom.” While there are a lot of things that SAHMs like to do beyond being mothers, it’s people like that checker at Trader Joe’s and things like that stupid eCard that make us (sometimes) feel that we can’t even talk about the things we enjoy beyond cleaning house and wiping up puke. It’s as though to pay society back for our staying at home, we have to cease to exist outside the role of “mommy.”

Onto my Great Aunt Pat. She was a fly lady. There are a lot of people you say after they pass “she was a real nice lady,” when really she was mean or cranky or didn’t even really talk much. But Great Aunt Pat really was a real nice lady. Possibly the nicest. Those of you that have been around for awhile remember that earlier this year I embarked on a massive cross-country train trip to my hometown just outside of the city of Chicago; and while there we got to see Great Aunt Pat. It was one of the most fun days any of us had on that trip.

Great Aunt Pat joined the world of Facebook awhile ago. She emailed me shortly after and asked “what do you do Heather?” and I gave her the usual SAHM response about being a Stay at Home Mom (and, in my case, homeschooling). She didn’t respond. Then on our trip to Chicago, Great Aunt Pat repeated the question “what do you do?” – only this time when I started in with the SAHM jargon again she told me that she knew what I do with my time, but what she really meant was what else do I do? 

It isn’t often that people take the time to ask a SAHM what else she likes to do with her time besides being a mother. They are usually too busy talking about how much more they do at their little side gig called a full time job.

I – for one – have become exceedingly tired of this bitterness that is apparently a part of being a mother. Being a Working Mom is a lot of work. Being a Stay at Home Mom is a lot of work. That’s it; let’s leave it at that. Instead of judging each other for choosing a life different than our own; and foisting our opinions in an effort to justify our own adequacy – why don’t we just all shut the hell up and do like my Great Aunt Pat did: ask what else each other does.

Tomorrow, when I take some time to read my new book about my favorite writer, and work on my first painting in what feels like forever, I’ll be taking some time to do the what else that my Great Aunt Pat took interest in. That won’t make me less of a mother; and the “must be nice”s of the world will just have to keep their opinions to themselves.

But for now, I’ll also ask all of you faithful blog followers: what do you do?

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