Mom – the role(s) of a lifetime.

Moms have it bad.  Well, not exactly bad.  We do get appreciation and love.  And, of course, every athlete in the world says, “Hi, Mom!” on camera.  Our sons love us dearly and our daughters turn into versions of us – whether they like it or not.  No daughter-in-law will ever be good enough and we will always be able to see through the motives of the men in our daughters’ lives.  Motherhood is a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing.  At least we know that it will work out that way in the long run – as long as our daughters are off the pole and our sons are not on the terror watch list. 

I was commenting on someone’s post on Facebook yesterday and was reminded of the stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) versus working mom challenge.  Now, first of all, any of you getting all up in arms about the “working mom” phrase, get off your high horse.  I know SAHMs work.  I know they work hard.  I have been one.  So don’t go thinking I’m trying to say one is better than the other.  I am not.  In the process of raising my two children, I have been a married working mother, a married SAHM, a divorced working mom and a single working mom (yes, there is a difference in my humble opinion).

The only thing I have not been is a rich/celebrity mom with hired help like Gwyneth Paltrow, et al. (check out this for the scoop In fact, if you would like a good laugh, check out the job descriptions here It would be nice if they listed the pay scales so I would have an idea of what a personal assistant/household manager/nanny/baby nurse/executive housekeeper/housekeeper/cook makes in a year so I could calculate what I should be paid on top of my work salary. 

I watched Sex and the City 2 a while back.  It was a crappy sequel and made me miss the series – with one exception. One scene really pissed me off.  I suppose they could have left it out, but I guess leaving it in was more honest.  It reminded me that even in the characters of a show I loved in my 20s and 30s, I was certainly not on par with those women – and that TV is first and foremost fiction, regardless of how true it rings sometimes (not that I am touting SATC as being anything close to anyone’s reality, of course). If you saw the movie, you know the scene I am talking about.  Some say the “I don’t know how women without help do it” line redeems the scene.  Not so much.  Charlotte is a fictional independently wealthy SAHM with a full time nanny – I really don’t have an iota of sympathy.  Here is the exchange:

Charlotte: “How do the moms who have no help do it?” 

Miranda: “I have no f***ing idea.” 

Miranda: “Being a mother kicks your ass.” 

Charlotte: “My first thought when I heard Samantha say Harry might cheat on me with Erin was, “Oh my god, I can’t lose the nanny!” 

Granted, as soon as I can afford it, there will be a maid service at my house twice a month, but if I were at home with no other responsibilities outside of the kids and house, having a nanny would be too frivolous for my taste.  One of the main arguments for staying home with your children is so you are the one raising them not someone else, right?  However, I am a girl who could win the $25M interstate jackpot and never own a $400 pair of Jimmy Choos, either.  It is probably a good thing I live in Atlanta.  But I digress.

When Greta was a baby I managed to stay with her until she was 13 months old before putting her in daycare.  This was not because my husband made enough money to support us on one income, however.  It was because I could not get a job at Walmart in Killeen, TX at the time, much less anywhere else.  Greta’s dad came back to Ft. Hood from the Gulf War a few months behind everyone else (since he left in December 1990 when everyone else had left in August).  By the time we made it to Ft. Hood, all the newly re-created post deployment jobs were taken by other soldiers’ wives.  There was a month long waiting list to apply to check groceries at the PX.  I stayed at home and babysat to make $60/wk grocery money.  It was pathetic.  I left Texas (and Greta’s dad) for good when Greta was 11 months old and went back to Alabama and stayed with my parents.  I got a job at SouthTrust Bank a couple of months later and Greta started daycare. 

Greta’s first daycare was run by someone I’d known all my life.  She ran a home daycare for five kids out of her house.  Greta was the oldest and the only girl.  She stayed there until she was 3 when I managed to get her into First Presbyterian Childcare and Preschool – arguably the best one in town.  By then I had my own apartment, had quit the bank and was working at Movie Gallery ¾ time and was in college full time.  I did that from 1995 to 2000, working and going to college.  I was lucky in that I had financial assistance from outside sources, which allowed me to work less and go to school more, but I was still a single mom doing it alone. 

Greta’s dad was practically non-existent during that time (as were his child support payments).  He lived in several different places including Georgia and Tennessee, but never in Dothan.  He did not see Greta on weekends or anything like that. It was not a situation where Greta was spending time with her dad.  They barely saw each other.  This is the difference between being a single mom (with no ex involvement) and a divorced mom (I used the word “divorced” as referring to any situation where the father is still involved with the child after the relationship ended, regardless of whether or not there was a formal marriage).  Having done both, I can attest to the difference.   I will say that sometimes it is easier being a single mom, though.  There is no ex to argue over child raising techniques with, no one to fight with about this or that (as is always the case with divorced parents), but there is also no one to take the kids on the weekends or share in the responsibilities of child rearing.  You are on your own. 

There was one time I can remember specifically when I could not take it alone anymore.  Greta was about 5, but plenty old enough to understand me and not pitch fits.  That, however, did not stop her.  I was losing it.  She needed a nap in the worst way and I needed her to take one and be away from me for 2 hours even more than that.  It was the one time I called in the biggest, baddest back-up I could think of.  I called my Daddy.  I told him, probably through sobs, that I could not deal with her. I am pretty sure I told him I was afraid I would hurt her if there was not intervention.  Now, Daddy is the calmest and most patient man on the planet.  He very calmly told me to put her on the phone.  My anger boiled even higher when Greta stopped screaming for the first time in at least 45 minutes immediately upon hearing his voice.  Daddy had my back, though, as I heard Greta repeating the phrase, “Mama is the boss” at Daddy’s prompting.  He told her he would come over there if he had to, but he had better not have to.  That was as specific as he had to get.  Greta was asleep within 10 minutes of the call.  I was sobbing on the couch by then. 

The sobbing was brought on by sheer rage at not being able to do exactly what he did.  He had the Man Voice of Authority.  I was exhausted.  I was alone.  I was afraid of myself – and for myself.  I was furious with Greta’s father for being such a worthless piece of shit that I had to leave him and now had to do this all on my own.  I was embarrassed that I had called Daddy because I was totally incapable of handling a 5 year old.  I was inconsolable.  It would not be the last time.  That is being a single mom.  It sucks.  And I know plenty of single moms who have similar or worse stories.  Even if I didn’t have any help from Greta’s father, I had my Daddy.  That is way more than some single moms have.

Fast forward through nearly ten years of being a single working mom.    

When I was pregnant with Ezra I worked at a Baptist church about 3 miles from my house up until about two weeks before he was born.  I had been a married working mom for a couple of years by then (prior to working at the church I’d been a full time paralegal), dealing with the issues only a mom of a 15 year old in a fairly new marriage understands (which, trust me, presented a whole new and fascinating set of problems).   I only worked four days a week at the church and my then-husband and I decided it would be best if I quit once the baby was born.  He was an engineer and we could live fine on his income alone.  He also carried all healthcare costs.  It was a no-brainer.  Greta was 15 (and a handful) and daycare would have taken up all my income anyway.  It would have been crazy to work. 

I ran my house they way it should be run. I had a daily and weekly schedule.  I even started going once a week to a mother’s class at the Methodist church we attended.  I spent most of my time in yoga pants and shirts dappled with spit-up, but I got to play with Ezra during the day.  I also had to take him everywhere – the grocery store, the church group, Target – and then some times we would seem to go forever without getting out of the house, much less interacting with another adult.  I also managed to stay on top of things with Greta better since I was home and able to be around her a lot more.  No matter what anyone tells you, a one year old and a 16 year old both need a lot of attention, but only the one year old wants it.  This was married SAHM time.  Ezra’s dad was there to help with him, change diapers, do bath time, put him to bed.  It was like real parenting, something I had not had with Greta.  But it was not destined to last. 

Ezra started daycare St. Patrick’s Day 2009 – just over 2 years ago.  He took to it really well.   At first, he only went three days a week because all I could find in Atlanta was a part time position.  Eventually, though, that position went full time and so did Ezra’s daycare days.  He is thriving at daycare now, although he did tell me this morning he “didn’t want to, Mommy.  I wanna go back to Mommy’s new house.”  I told him so did I, but I had to go to work and he had to go to school. Once we got there, though, he was fine.  He will be very happy to see me when I pick him up this afternoon, but he is doing well at daycare overall.  Even if I were to be at home full time, I am pretty sure that I would want him to at least be in part time daycare at 3, anyway.  Kids start learning social skills early and get a head start on being in a more structured environment at daycare.  Over all, I think it is good for him. 

Of course, there is still a part of me that gets angry and frustrated about taking him and handing him over to strangers who spend more time with him than I do.  I have plenty of mommy guilt about that.  I get aggravated by the fact that at my income level it is more cost efficient for me to hand him off to strangers in the morning than it is to take care of him all day myself.  It was especially hard on the rare occasions when he would cry when I left him.  I got a lot of grief from my ex about that.  His point was if I had just taken him back and “made it work” then Ezra would not be suffering like that.  Of course, Ezra’s dad did not think too much about Ezra when he did what he did, either.  But all that is beside the point.  Ezra was with me full time for a year and 4 months.  It was hard to take him to daycare, but it was necessary.  

Ezra stays with his dad every other weekend and a couple of nights a week.  Jay and I are part-to-three-quarter-time parents.  To the extent that Greta’s father was not involved, Ezra’s dad is.  This is mostly good, but can be a pain in the ass when Ezra’s dad and I disagree about child rearing philosophies.  Luckily, Jay and I are more on the same page, Jay has more patience than Ezra’s dad and me combined, and he has that cool Man Voice that will stop Ezra in his tracks instantly.  I suppose at this point, I cannot consider myself a traditional divorced mom anymore as Jay has stepped in and completely fills the dad role at our house.  There was a period of time when this was not the case, however, and I had do everything at my house alone and also deal with an ex who was argumentative, angry, blaming, guilt tripping and just generally a pain in the ass. 

The situation will be totally different when this baby is born, though.  I work full time.  We have a two income household.  Jay makes a good living, but at the same time he is trying to get a new business (that he started up again full time in November) off the ground.  There is not a biweekly or bimonthly paycheck for him.  He sends out invoices every month and he goes to the mailbox everyday.  Some of those days there is a check in the mailbox.  It could be a week or a month after the invoice was sent out.  He never knows.  There is enough money, but you never know when it is coming. 

I get paid every other week.  That is 26 paychecks a year.  And, although they pale in comparison to Jay’s, they are consistent.  I know when they are coming and how much they will be when they get here.  Most importantly, my job comes with medical benefits.  As a small business owner, though, Jay’s healthcare costs would be astronomical (which explains why, as I write this, he has no coverage – he will be added to mine after the wedding).  So for the first time, I will be taking maternity leave with this baby and then going back to work when he/she is a month or two old, rather than 13 months or 16 months old.  While intellectually I know it has to be done, I am not sure how I am going to feel about it emotionally when it happens. 

I know mothers who do it. I work with them right now.  Some of them make more than me and some of them make less, but all of them have known the feeling of dropping a newborn off at daycare and leaving.  Even as I write this now, before I am even showing pregnant, I am dreading the day I have to do it.  In fact, it may be something Jay has to do.  He and I have had a couple of discussions on the subject of daycare.  He already knows how expensive it is from seeing what it costs for Ezra.  Since he does work from home, we have talked about the possibility of putting the baby in daycare part time.  I am pretty sure this will not work, though.  Jay has never had a baby and we all know how proficient guys are at multitasking.  As his business brings in the majority of the income, I am pretty sure this baby will be in full time daycare by 2 months, even though it may break my heart. 

Having filled each of the mom shoes from time to time, from SAHM to working, single to divorced, I cannot say which one I truly like the most.  Everything has its drawbacks and you have to weigh what you gain against what you lose when you are a mom.  I suppose it would have to be the SAHM if I was forced to choose, but that has it own challenges and pitfalls.  I can remember days where I desperately missed my very own paycheck and getting dressed up, going into an office and interacting with real live adults.  I can remember having my hard work taken for granted and being under valued by everyone in the house.  I can remember feeling less important because I did not contribute financially to the household and always watching every penny because I did not feel like that money was mine to spend since I did not make any of it.  I can remember missing my own little corner of the world at an office and having other adults relying on me.  However, when I am at work every day, I want to be at home in my yoga pants teaching the alphabet to my son and taking him on outings and being his teacher and his mom.  I also suffer from the working mom syndrome right now.  The one where I am jealous of SAHMs and feel horrible that I am in that class of mothers who cannot afford to raise their own kids and have to give them to a basic stranger everyday so I can go earn a paltry paycheck at a job I wish I did not have to have.  I feel like taking sick days for sick kids effects the perception of my being a devoted employee who values her position.  I have literally told my boss before that I was having one of those weeks where I felt like I was falling down on my responsibilities to him and to my family by being overwhelmed by all the hats I have to wear, but if he would give me a bit of time, I would rally and be back in the saddle in no time.  I went home and cried myself into a stupor, got up and put my big girl panties on and got back to it.  It sucked, but I did it. 

My dream situation is to be a mother who works, but has divided her time and her life up between her responsibilities in such a way that she is there for her kids, earns her own money, has a job she enjoys that gets her out into the world on occasion, but allows her to work in yoga pants stained with spit-up when necessary.  Maybe one day I will figure out what that job could possibly be and find out I am really good at it. 

From this blog to God’s ears.

  1. Marni, have you discovered Tori Nelson’s blog ‘The Ramblings”? Though she’s at home wioth her Man Child now, I think you might enjoy it a lot. Love your posts!

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