Eight months ago, a job offer materialized for me that I had never planned or imagined. If I chose to take the position, I’d be leaving behind my life as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of three boys and joining the segment of mothers who work outside the home full time. I agonized over the decision, but in the end my family and I decided this was a calling and opportunity from God that I could not ignore.
So within a few short weeks of the job offer, my life took a 180-degree turn as my kids walked into their respective public schools for the first time, and I started each weekday morning taking showers, putting on makeup, and actually caring about my clothing—things I’d never done on a daily basis in my 12-plus previous years of motherhood.
What Drives Mommy Wars?
Along with these shifts came a number of unexpected and surprising consequences. I was overwhelmed by a newfound and deeper appreciation both for my previous life as a stay-at-home mom and for my fellow work-outside-the-home moms. I’ve come to realize and recognize that whichever path you and your family choose, your life as a mother is complex and fraught with tension, challenges, and sacrifices, just as much as it reflects moments of joy, beauty, and fulfillment. Whether you work outside the home, stay home with your children, or some combination of both, your path is both difficult and worth affirming and celebrating. None of us mothers are leading an easy, un-conflicted life.
And it’s due to those continuing feelings of internal conflict that we often want validation for our particular life choices. We gravitate to articles and studies that validate our lifestyle as the best option (for example, “Making Time for Kids: Study Says Quality Trumps Quantity” or “Yes, Your Time as a Parent Does Make a Difference”). We want evidence to reassure us that the sacrifices we’ve made as mothers are the right ones. But often having that perspective assumes that any choice that’s not our own must be the wrong one.
Whether we are willing to say so or not, I think many of us carry a bias that being a good mother means making the same choices we have made. I can recall numerous interactions with a church friend of mine a few years ago when I was a stay-at-home mom of three and she was a work-outside-the-home mom of three. Our conversations were always pleasant on the topic of motherhood, and we would say things to each other like, “I think it’s amazing how you do what you do!” But I think what each one of us meant deep down was, “I can’t believe you leave your kids all day, every day!” or “I can’t believe you stay home with your kids all day, every day!”
This is the reason that the “Mommy Wars” persist. To reduce any of our own internal conflict about our decision to either stay at home or work outside the home, we naturally gravitate toward positions and opinions that support our choice, and we resist those that do the opposite.
Moms, it’s time for a change. Let’s start from the perspective of acknowledging that all mothers have challenging lives, and that we are called to support and love one another as sisters in Christ regardless of our particular choices. How can we better understand the lives of those mothers who have chosen different paths from us and support those fellow moms without judgment? I asked a number of my mom friends about what they wish other moms knew about being in their shoes, and they offered the following suggestions.
How to Support Work-Outside-the-Home Moms
1. Find ways to help them with tasks that happen during the workday. Those moms often feel exhausted by the juggling act of trying to be on top of everything, both in their workplaces and in their family lives. Be willing to be flexible around them since they may not have as many options schedule-wise. “I’m grateful that the at-home moms can help with school activities and volunteer; we want to do all that too,” Tracey Bianchi, a worship and teaching pastor says. “But sometimes we are adamant about certain volunteer times or parent-teacher conference times because those dates and times are the only times we can make work.”
2. Be understanding if your friends don’t have as much margin or flexibility to connect. Schedule time on the weekends and evenings to spend with them. Advocate for these moms in your church by suggesting to move meetings to times more 9 to 5 work-schedule friendly. “I can’t come to mom Bible studies on Thursdays at 10 a.m., but I’d love the opportunity to learn and build relationships with moms,” Jenna Susanke, a senior talent management director at PepsiCo says. “How about Saturdays instead?”
3. Don’t assume moms care less about their children if they can’t stay home with them. If you’re a mom, it’s never “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to your children. “I want both sides not to judge the other. Working moms love, value, and are committed to their children as much as others,” Suanne Camfield, development officer at Caris, says. “Judgment only devalues the other side or makes a woman devalue herself for not being the other—and neither of those are helpful.”
4. Express your appreciation for the opportunity that moms have to use their gifts and passions in the workplace. After I began working full time, the most affirming comments I heard were from other stay-at-home moms who expressed excitement for my new role and validated the choice I made. For those moms to express that they could see how my gifts and abilities fit my new role was, and is still, deeply life-giving to me.
How to Encourage Stay-at-Home Moms
1. Find tangible ways to affirm them for the valuable work they are doing at home and in their churches, schools, and communities. Vicki Tsui, a former pastor, says that she was “unprepared for . . . the huge shift in my ‘career’ orientation” after becoming a mom. “It’s been an intense and ongoing mental and emotional struggle,” she says. Whereas those who work outside of the home often experience empowerment and affirmation on the job, those whose main job is tending to their children in the home often don’t. That same type of recognition could encourage stay-at-home moms when they’re struggling with a loss of vocational identity and purpose.
2. Recognize that stay-at-home moms can be lonely. You might believe that stay-at-home moms could never be lonely because they have their kids around them or have opportunities to engage with other mothers throughout the course of a day. But it isn’t always easy to create those opportunities. “After two decades of at-home mothering, it has become just as lonely in many respects as it was in some of my earliest motherhood days when I was just forming my network of others in similar situations,” Holly Ramsey, a mom of five kids from the ages of 5 to 19 says. All moms need relationships, but stay-at-home moms may not have as many opportunities for relational connection as other moms assume.
3. Acknowledge that all moms have made sacrifices. Many stay-at-home moms have had to put aside or delay their own vocational dreams, which can be a source of loss, tension, and struggle. Marlene Molewyk, a homeschooling mom with five children (two of whom are autistic), says, “At one point in my former career outside the home, I worked 80 hours a week, and that was a breeze compared to all of the work that I do as a stay-at-home mom! I have made excruciatingly painful sacrifices to be here.”
4. Understand that being a stay-at-home mom is not just a life of playdates and ease. “I didn’t realize how much time would be involved in taking care of a baby, which was very naive of me to think,” Carol Kwak says. “I now know being a mom is a full-time blessing and job.” Being at home with the kids can be just as draining and stressful as working outside the home.
Ending the War
Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or you work outside the home, motherhood is challenging for us all. Camfield suggests that the key word for mothers to offer one another is not judgment, but empathy. There’s no such thing as an easy motherhood journey! And for this reason we need one another all the more, to support and tangibly help rather than judging or making incorrect assumptions about other’s lives.
Take intentional steps toward affirming and encouraging other mothers who are in a range of lifestyle contexts. In my own life, I’m surviving my transition to the workplace in large part due to the support of two mothers—one who stays at home with her kids and one who’s retired—who help care for my boys so that I can do what I’ve been called to do for this season.
So let’s seek to share our respective loads more intentionally with one another, in the spirit of Christian love. That seems a much better strategy for unity and peace, and a way to end the “Mommy Wars” once and for all.