I always knew there was an ongoing debate and judgement about whether mums should stay at home or return to paid work. More recently, I’ve realised just how divisive, hurtful and personal this debate has become for some mums.
Fortunately, any judgement of this kind that has come my way, has either not been too harsh, or I’ve been able to ignore it. However, some of the examples I’ve read and that other mums have shared with me have really made me feel sad.
Stay at home mums are being accused of being lazy, high maintenance, indulgent, not contributing or of having no relevant skills to contribute to the workplace. Mums who work in paid jobs have been accused of being absent, selfish, disconnected from their children, materialistic and taking the easy way out. Mums are judged for staying at home too long and returning to work too quickly. And that’s just a sample.
Whether you choose to stay at home with your children or return to paid work in some capacity, judgements abound.
What’s the cost?
Being a mother is challenging. It’s hard work no matter which way you look at it. You worry about whether you’re making the right choices and whether you’re doing a good enough job. Mums in either situation can feel trepidation about answering the question “what do you do?“.
Having to deal with judgements about your choice to stay at home or return to paid work only adds to our worry and guilt.
When this judgement comes from other mums, it divides us into separate camps. It causes us to feel misunderstood and often triggers a cycle of defensiveness and attacking, as we try to protect ourselves.
Stacey: “I’ve decided to stay at home with my daughter this year”
Anna: “Wow, I just couldn’t do that, my children and I need more stimulation. I want to be a good role model for them”
Stacey feels offended that Anna is implying that she doesn’t need stimulation, isn’t a good role model and that her children aren’t as clever as Anna’s children. She calls her friend, Mira, to vent.
Mira: “Don’t worry she’s just jealous. She wishes she could stay at home. At least your child won’t feel neglected and will know that they’re your first priority.”
Anna: “She doesn’t have a right to comment on my choices, because she’s taking the easy way out. She’s outsourcing raising her children to others.”
Have you ever been part of a scenario like this? How did you feel afterwards?
Judging others might feel good and justified in the moment, but ultimately it separates us from others and doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves (though we might ignore this feeling).
As mothers we need to be encouraging each other, and making sure no mother feels alone. When we’re judged we can feel alone and can doubt ourselves.
Why are we so critical of each other? Why do we need to judge each others’ choices?
Making the decision to stay at home with your children or return to paid work is not an easy one. It’s a minefield of pros and cons, conflicting information, differing values, childhood experiences, the desires of your heart AND the reality of your situation.
Where the judgements come from
I think it’s so helpful to know why people judge others.
In the wise words of Brene Brown (in her book Daring Greatly):
“…research tells us that we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency.”
Judgement usually happens because we doubt or dislike ourselves, our own decisions or feel guilty about our own situation. In a way, we’re judging ourselves.
So, if you’re feeling judged, remember it’s more about the judger, than it is about you, lovely mum.
Another thing to consider is that sometimes it feels like someone is judging us, when they’re simply sharing their own story. For example, a stay at home mum who says to you “my family is my number one priority” may not be implying that your family is not your top priority as a mum with a paid job. It might feel that way to you because you do in fact worry whether you’re spending enough time with your family.
Of course, someone saying “my family is my number one priority” can say it in a way that is totally about sharing their own story and another person can say it in a completely condescending and judgemental way. All I’m saying is that it’s not always the latter.
We hear things through the lens of how we feel about ourselves and sometimes we put too much weight on other people’s opinions and expectations when those people aren’t directly affected by our decisions.
We all have a different story
Every mum has a different story. We all have different lives, work situations, financial situations, health, family support, relationships, skill sets, desires, dreams and personalities. Every child is different.
Unless you’re in EXACTLY the same situation with the EXACT same life experience, values and personality, you can’t possibly compare decisions or know what the right decision is for another mum.
Only YOU know the right decision for you and your family.
It’s really not a black and white decision either. Mums make either of those choices for a multitude of reasons including many that have to take into account more than whether they want to be with their children or not. We only get a glimpse of what’s going on in other people’s lives.
It’s also not a decision that has to last forever. Many mums leave and return to paid work multiple times as it best suits their family. For others, it takes a while to figure out the best decision. I’ve written before about how we put our son in daycare for a little while so I could start doing more paid work but that it was a traumatic experience for both him and I and so we decided I would stay home with him.
And yet, we’re all the same in some ways…
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just focus on the things that bring us together?
Both stay at home mums and mums who are in paid jobs are doing the best we can, with what we have and what we know.
We all have good days and bad days. Days when we feel deeply connected to our children and days when we feel we haven’t given them enough attention. We all love our children and what them to be happy. We all make sacrifices to do this. None of us have all the answers. We all have loads to do. We all feel stressed sometimes. We’re all contributing to our households and families.
Either way, we all sometimes doubt whether we’re doing things right.
Either way things are not perfect.
And I’m sure nearly all of us have wished, even just for a second, that we could be doing the opposite of what we’re doing now.
Being a mother is hard enough. We need to build each other up to magnify our strengths and experience the benefits of community.
So, let go of the judgement
People will judge you in life but you don’t have to take it onboard. Shake it off, lovely mum!
- Judgements are more about the judger than about you.
- Only you can make the best decisions for you and your family
- We can feel judged by others (when it wasn’t intended that way) if we’re uncomfortable with our own decisions
- Sometimes we put too much weight on what other people think and expect of us
Let’s just focus on our own decisions, and the people who will be directly affected by them (i.e. you, your family and possibly others depending on your situation).
Don’t worry what others are doing. The grass is not usually greener on the other side, it’s just different grass.
And because we sometimes aren’t aware of the way we communicate, let’s also check the way we’re talking about the choice to stay at home or to return to paid work with other mums. Are you implying the someone else’s choice is wrong (even unintentionally) or are you sharing your story without judgement? We don’t need to shame each other and make each other feel bad.
Let’s support each other, because all mums are amazing really.
Want to put this into action straight away?
- Who do you feel is judging you for your choice to stay at home or return to paid work? How can you change your response and mindset so that you can shake that judgement off? Do you need to ask them to refrain from commenting on your choice in future?
- Have you been judging someone else’s choice? How can you encourage them about their choice next time you talk to them?