They’re Not All Gems, But Sometimes They Are

I write a lot.  Empirically it’s true.  For the past few weeks, I have been writing 1000 words a day for Mommyish (Monday through Friday — and if you’ve missed any, check out the WTTM Facebook page, I post them all there).  I also write a fictional story (1200 words) a month for my beloved writing group.  I scribble my crazy thoughts down in my journal almost every day. I am slowly working back to my novel in my mind (I will get there soon, I just know it!).  And yes, I am still a full-time lawyer (more on that soon I hope).  But the point is, I write a lot.  It keeps me sane.

Most of the time, my writing is just in the ordinary course of my life.  Meaning, I spout my opinion about one thing or another, fill in all the SEO requirements, add an appropriately credited picture, hit publish and submit an invoice at the end of the month.  But sometimes I write something that makes me stop and say, “yes!  This is good stuff!”  Sometimes I look at my finished product and I think, “Wow, I really had something to say here.”  Because when I start writing, I never know how it will turn out.  Some pieces I love more than others.  Some just flow almost like an out-of-body experience.  Others I feel so strongly about, but the passion I feel doesn’t come across on the page.  Some things I care less about and just need content.  But I never really know until it’s done.  In the words of one of my favorite funny bloggers, Wendi Aarons, “they’re not all gems.”  And they’re not.

But sometimes they are.

I wrote a feature for Mommyish that was published yesterday, “7 Non-Negotiable Truths In The Working Mom Vs. SAHM Wars.”  I personally have a lot at stake in that war because I feel like I’m constantly on both sides of it.  I have always wanted to be the one who spends the most time with my children, to be the one personally responsible for their every meal, their every lesson, their every day.  But then I also have this career (careers?) that I feel drawn to, that are part of my identity and I just can’t ignore.  So I yo-yo in and out of office work and being home.  I love my time in each world in so many ways, but there is never enough time for everything.  That’s just a fact.  For those reasons, I am constantly at war with myself, so I wanted to write something to bring it all together.  That inner turmoil inspired this piece.

Of course, now that I’ve put it out there in the world, there has been one point with which not everyone can get on board:

1. All working moms “have” to work.

Anyone, I repeat ANYONE who spends the greater part of their waking hours doing a job that takes them away from their kids HAS to work. This is non-negotiable, even though I admit I am SO guilty of putting up this defense mechanism. But it’s just not true.

Some people work to pay the electric bill, some people work to afford private school, some people work in an effort to break glass ceilings and kill the patriarch, some people work to preserve their sanity. But telling a working mother she doesn’t really “have” to work is the most offensive thing you can possibly say. I’m guilty of it, but since I’ve gotten it thrown in my face — never again. It’s simply not true. If they didn’t feel they had to work they would be spending their time at museums or the mall (with or maybe without their kids). No one gets up each day and goes to work without a sense of duty. Don’t rob them of it.

I knew this one would be most controversial but I feel most strongly about its truth — that’s why I put it first in the list.  “Need” is a subjective word, far more gray than anyone really wants to admit.  The most popular argument is that some working mothers only “need” to work to maintain their lavish lifestyle.  Their big house, their fancy cars, their kids’ expensive snooty schools.  That is very much an outsider’s perspective.  If you think about it from the inside, they’ve got a mortgage to pay, car payments to make and tuition bills in the mail from the schools where their children play every day.  Could they scale down?  Sure.  Probably most people could.  But not without great disruption to their lives, like moving or telling their kids they will have to make new friends.  No one takes those decisions lightly.  And until things become dire (or important) enough to make drastic changes, then they “need” to work.  If you stand in their shoes, it’s evident.  Yet people want to debate it all day long (just look at the comments).

With this piece, I feel I have done my part to bridge the gap between two groups who so often challenge one another’s position and choices in life.  I really did it for me, but I am thrilled that it resonated with so many people.  It reminds me why I work so hard to keep all these balls in the air.  It reminds me: this is why I write.

If you want to read the whole piece, click here.  I’d love to hear your point of view.

8 thoughts on “They’re Not All Gems, But Sometimes They Are

  1. Preach! I think you’re absolutely correct, and not just because I happen to agree with you. Can you imagine anyone telling a father that he doesn’t NEED to work. No, so then why would anyone think it’s okay to tell a mother that?

    Also, I was just at Christie’s trying to figure out how she finds time in the day to do everything she does and now I’m here wondering the same thing of you. You two are marvels!

    • I was just reading your eloquent post about getting paid. I have so much to say on the subject — great topic! As for me, well, certainly I am a little bit crazy. But I am also very transparent, so I’ll tell you anything you want to know. The ugly truth: I sacrifice a lot right now. I have cut ALL the fat out of my schedule. There’s almost no “wasted” time. I also sacrifice time with my family (mostly, husband) more than anything else and it’s not sustainable. But it’s where I am right now. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

  2. I love that you put this notion in black and white. Because you’re right that “need” is subjective, and that people who dare judge one person’s need by their own feelings should be called on it. Needing to work isn’t always about money, though for 90% of women, who often work more than one job to keep the rent paid and the family fed, it *is* about money. First-wave feminists made the mistake of pretending all women were white and existed in what we now know is the top 5% of wage earners. But beyond finances, those who need to work outside the home to feel like a whole person, to continue important intellectual, creative, or professional progress do actually need to work. Those who know darned well that they need to spend doing something they’re good at, genuinely, demonstratively good at, need to do that for part of their day.

    Underemployment isn’t just about educated people doing work they’re overqualified for. It’s also mothers doing less work outside the home than they want to or, often, need to, for other reasons we also can’t judge from the outside.

    Hopefully your article set better parameters for the discussion, which is often not discussion but hyperbolic name-calling lacking in the empathy we’re supposed to be extending toward each other while we’re teaching it to our children.

  3. Agreed! There’s a double standard when, like Kristen said, this question isn’t posed to fathers. We don’t give dads grief for “missing out” on their kids’ childhood. It’s perfectly okay to “want” to work, just as it’s also okay to want to stay at home.

  4. Hi Carrin, I’m a reporter with NBC News. I’m writing a story about women who juggle work/life duties and what inspires women to multitask and drive themselves so hard. I would love to interview you. Can you send me your phone number? My email address is elizabeth.chuck[at]nbcuni.com. Others who are reading this who feel they may also be good interviewees, I would love to talk to you too.

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