If you really want to get a group of women reacting, make a comment regarding mothering. I should know, as what I thought was an innocent Facebook post recently got quite the conversation going.
There was this great image (great at least according to me) of a member of the Italian parliament holding her seven-week-old baby in a sling on her body while raising her hand in vote. I loved this image, since I felt it showed the fragile yet beautiful ability to be involved and impact the world while cradling one’s baby.
If you really want to get a group of women reacting, make a comment regarding motheringAnd thus began the stay at home vs. stay at work debate. Which, of course, gets translated into the good mother vs. bad mother debate. And this is where the claws come out. We can handle a lot, even a lot of criticism, but once you involve our children, watch out. Now you are dealing with Mama Bear.
Clearly, I am a working mother. If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Or TheJewishWoman.org, for that matter. And, for the record, the fact that I work is not necessarily by choice. I work because I need to. Because I have to. Because our family depends on the support I bring. But . . . I love my work. And a part of me is quite grateful that I was never so fortunate to be able to choose if I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. Since it was not an option, it was not something I needed to decide on, which definitely lessened the guilt. I was also blessed throughout the years with a flexible schedule. One that allowed me to nurse all four of my babies throughout my workday, and for the most part to always be home when they arrived back from school. I am aware that so many mothers are not able to do this.
I don’t think there is a mother in this world who doesn’t question if she is doing the best for her children. Every decision we make, we ponder and we worry. And no matter what we decide, we will always wonder if it was the right way to go. This applies to the women who have to leave their children to go to work, and the ones who leave their work to stay home. To me, a physically present mother alone does not a good mother make. A child also needs a loving, supportive, attentive, passionate mother.
A woman is called the akeret habayit, the foundation of the home. But that does not mean that her role is fulfilled exclusively when she is literally inside the home. It means that she is the home. That the home is always her focus, whether she is outside of it or inside of it. The Talmud tells us, “beito zu ishto,” that a man’s home is his wife. No matter where she is, she must create that home environment. A place where she feels at home and where she makes others feel at home.
We always question whether our actions are selfish or selfless. But I think we also need to look beyond the actions, to the motivations behind them. If I leave my baby to go to the gym in the morning, so that I can come home energized and healthy and focused, so that the time with my baby is then positive and loving rather than drained and resentful, I am being selfless. Sure, I am going to the gym, but I am going to the gym for the sake of my child. On the other hand, if I go to the gym when the kids get home because I don’t want to deal with them, and I am looking to escape helping with their homework, or because ultimately I care more about my body image and my workout than other needs, I am being selfish. It is not because I am going to the gym, but it is because I am doing it at the expense of my children rather than for the sake of my children.
We can never settle for what is comfortable, because life is not comfortableWe need to know ourselves; we need to know our strengths and our weaknesses, and then push ourselves and strive to do better. We can never settle for what is comfortable, because life is not comfortable. Life is about moving and growing and stretching. And as women, we have enough challenges. The last thing we need is more infighting. I think we put down others to feel better about our own choices or situations. If I chose to stay at home and give up my career, then it better be the best thing in the world for my child! In order for me to feel good, I need to make what you are doing bad.
But really? Is that what it is all about? Let’s dispel the myth. All mothers are working mothers. Some work in the home, some work outside of the home. But we are all working. Motherhood is work! But more importantly, let’s focus on what really unifies us, which is the “mother” part of the statement.
We need to make sure that our children are our focus. Our passion. Our goal. Does this mean we can’t find fulfillment and satisfaction and inspiration from our work? Not at all! But it should be for the sake of being a better woman and a better mother. Just as we know that our potential to love grows exponentially with each and every child (otherwise the big argument would be whether it is bad mothering to have more than one child, because then your love and time would have to be divided . . .), so too, let’s give women some credit. Our time, our energy, our focus and our ability can also grow exponentially.
We can be productive, involved, impactful women in society, in our careers and in the world at largeWe can be productive, involved, impactful women in society, in our careers and in the world at large. But it shouldn’t be in spite of our children, but for our children. And in the meantime, let’s stop judging other mothers, and instead focus on being the best we can be. We have no idea what another mother is dealing with, the choices she has to make or the circumstances behind her decisions. But you can be sure that, just like you, she is doubting herself and worrying if she is a good mother. And the last thing she needs is our criticism. She needs support, understanding and, when possible, a helping hand.
We may never become that perfect mother. But the more we focus inwardly while striving to raise healthy and happy children, the closer we will become to the perfect mother for our children.
Fair Lawn, NJ
Women have always worked. There was a period of time especially after World War II, lasting through the 1950s and 1960s and part of the 70s when it was fashionable to be a Stay-at-Home; so fashionable that it was even marketed in political and religious contexts as a moral imperative. But really, that period of time was just a blip on the historical radar and while there is some retro affinity these days for Stay-at-Home status, the fact is that working women are the real traditionalists in this story.
Fair Lawn, NJ
Karen is correct: there are mothers who work to support husbands who study Torah all day. I object to this practice as well, and for the same reasons.
Now I have a few questions for those who have posted from the other side: First, would you rather have been raised by a daycare worker or a nanny than by your own mother? Second, do you believe you can hire someone else to replace you as a friend to your friends? Why then do you think you can swap out a mother for a paid employee?
Iowa City, Iowa