She Works Hard For The Money

I am a working mom. I LOVE working. I LOVE being a mom. I have found a way to be successful at both in ways that allign with my own personal definitions of success.

There are many forums in which mothers from all over have the great Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) versus Work Out of Home Mom (WOHM) debate. SAHMs argue that WOHMs should not have had kids if they did not want to be around them and raise them full-time. WOHMs argue that they should not have to sacrifice having careers to be mothers or vice versa.  Some SAHMs can afford to stay home, as their partners earn enough income to cover all of their expense and luxuries. Some SAHMs are struggling to make ends meet, some even relying on government assistance. Some WOHMs work because they can’t afford not to, while others do it for the love of having a career and doing something stimulating and engaging. Then there are the minority WAHMs (Work at Home Moms), women who have managed to have both careers/jobs and be able to stay at home with their children full-time. They chime in, but those numbers are so much smaller than the other two groups.

I realized when my son was 5 months old that I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home mother, at least not in the capacity I was one.  His father and I discussed the idea of me staying home for the first year of his life and I said I’d try it. I don’t know if the Post Partum Depression had anything to do with it, our financial struggles going from two paychecks to one, or something else, but after about 3 months, I’d reached the “This shit is for the birds” point. By 5 months, I was so eager to get out of the house that when he came home, I’d be dressed and ready to rush out to do something, ANYTHING. I craved adult interaction, time away from my infant, and something else to do that made me feel like I was important and not just a waste of good air.

Because being a mom wasn’t important enough, right?

I loved my son, but I felt like my life was being wasted just sitting at home feeding, burping, and changing him. I didn’t go to school just to stay home and be someone’s mama, right? God, that sounds so horrible. What’s wrong with me?  My mother even, as she was sick and frail, said to me, “Are you going to waste all of that education sitting at home? If I had known you were going to end up like this, I would have saved my money”  (You see where I get it from lol)

It made me feel like I had more to do with my intelligence, skills, and capabilities. So I went back to work, finished my Master’s Degree, and have since been strongly building upon the career foundation I set pre-motherhood. I couldn’t be happier with that decision because: 1)I love what I do; 2) I love feeling useful; 3) I love feeling like I’m contributing to the overall improvement of society; 4) I love feeling influential and managerial; 5) I love the adult interaction; 6)I love having the time and space to be “Benee”, not simply “Mommy”.

How is it that some of us are perfectly content staying home with kids, taking care of the home, relying on our significant others for material resources, and some of us prefer to work hard at our educations, careers, networking, climbing ladders, etc?  What about the women who get the education, have great careers, and just walk away from it all to become SAHMs? How does a woman come to prefer one or the other? It is reliant upon how she was socialized and/or nurtured? Is it the influence of the examples set by the females in her life? Is it racial/ethnic/cultural? Socioeconomically-based? What is it?  I’d love for people to weigh in on this.

For me, every woman who has ever had any influence on my life and the decisions therein has been a working woman. Not necessarily a highly educated working woman, but a worker nonetheless. Also, I did not grow up with many positive examples of loving, enduring couples or have much exposure to families headed by a man.  Most families I knew were headed by women, with men in and out of the picture sparsely. The only long-married people I knew were in my grandparents’ generation and their happiness is always debatable. That’s another blog though…

So, here I am and I work. I’m not independently wealthy. I’m not interested in being dependent upon government assistance. I want to be a positive role model for my son and in my opinion, a strong work ethic is one of the most admirable qualities a person can have.  So, I go to work, earn my living, and strive to grow and climb higher in my field. I rely on myself financially, make my own financial decisions, and feel empowered by the ability to do so.

This is not to say that under the right circumstances, I would not redirect my focus towards caring for my home, my partner, and my children. I was willing to do it once, so I know I would be willing to do it again. I do feel, deep inside, the desire, need, and even obligation to take care of my family and home. What a paradox lol  But there is something in me that fears being 100% financially dependent upon a significant other. I’ve borne witness to TOO many horrible outcomes from these situations where the women are left destitute, alone, suffering/struggling with the children with barely the clothes on their backs because one day, their husbands decided they were done. I’d have too many stipulations and the man would probably be like “Nevermind. Go work!”

Some argue that means I do not trust my partner 100% and I would disagree; it is not so much about how I feel about my partner so much as how great my desire to always be able to care for and protect myself and my kids overshadows any emotions for or attachments to someone else. Then there is the need to have something just for me. I will not apologize for wanting something of my own.

So, I continue to work.

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20 thoughts on “She Works Hard For The Money

  1. This is my first comment on your cocomama’s posts, and I just couldn’t resist chiming in.

    In my pro-black-africanist-nationalist education, I had a teacher who said to me: “Afrikan mothers always worked.” In ‘our’ traditions all worked even the children had jobs. I’m not talking slave era, I’m talking back in the Motherland. What was a “Stay at home Mother?” It took all hands to keep the village running.

    In this day and age, the distinction that we make about being a stay at home vs. a working mom seems to stem from a cultural ideal that dictated what was ‘normal’ as far as roles went. What was ‘normal’ was a woman who tended the children, cooked the meals, and made sure the home was in order. June Cleaver had that sh*t down. Carol Brady, didn’t but then she had Alice. Meanwhile, Florida was making sure J.J. and Thelma did it. (Weezy, had Florence, but then they weren’t the ‘typical’ black fam.)

    To me, a woman who has a vocation is a powerful influence on her family. I think that it is important for our children to see us in an occupation that is rewarding not only financially, but spiritually and mentally. That you do a work you love is a better example to set for your son, than for you to sit home resentful. For him to see you employed in ways that better you and by extension him, will have long lasting, and to me a more positive impact.

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  2. Hey, hey, hey everybody! Feels good to be back. I’m in full support of you being HAW (happy at work) and you know I’m right along with you on the desire to demonstrate a hard working, independent role model! I disagree with Kirsten though that your model is necessarily a more “positively impacting” model! My hat really goes off to those SAHMs and SAHDs that give the gift of full-time rearing to their children. I think that the influence they make in leadership roles at home is equal to that which working parents make in professional leadership parents. Also, I do not think that Michelle’s model is a African Centered one, its a feminist one. Africanists never had trouble with black women working, but not at the level of Supervisor/CEO/manager.

    – Love Yall,

    Tanji

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  3. So I ask again, hoping we get more input from others as well, where do the ideas of staying at home or working (in whatever capacity that is defined) come from, especially for Black mothers?

    What is “work” then? I wouldnt say African women traditionally always held income-bearing positions. Not from my understanding and research. But maybe Work and Income are defined differently in those instances? And this idea of “staying home”, what is that? Do SAHMs simply do nothing but be mothers and wives? I find that hard to believe in all cases.

    But I *DO* think there are racial/ethnic/cultural differences in the overall approach to this issue but the lines are not as distinct as they once were. More and more White women are working mothers and more and more Black mothers are staying at home with the kids.

    Kirsten is right in that most of the examples we’ve seen in the media point to the idea that White mothers, who really cared about their families, stayed home while the ever-struggling Black mother worked hard, while trying to raise her kids up right (with or without a man). The Cosby show changed that, with Claire being a lawyer and Cliff being the WAHD, but even towards the end of the show, we pretty much only saw Claire at home. I admit I was disappointed about that, but at the same time, I was trying to figure out realistically if a family like that could exist and function as well as it did (Two high profile and demanding careers requiring significant time away from home while raising FIVE seemingly well-adjusted, pretty successful kids? With no nanny and not a lot of “village” support. I mean… it coooould be done, but well…). People arent exactly having that many kids as frequently anymore, especially not high powered couples. Two, maybe three. But I digress…

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  4. I agree with Tanji. My perspective is more related to my feminism/ womanism than my culture. I throw the cultural questions out there because of the nature of this blog collective, but this is primarily about my female empowerment.

    I do feel entitled to make decisions about motherhood and my career based on what makes ME most happy. If I’m not happy, no one is happy lol. I just get tired of people who accuse working moms of not loving their kids enough or questioning why we bothered to have kids if we didnt want to spend the whole day with them. I get tired of people not grasping why it might be important for a woman/mother to get out of the house, away from the family, and focus on something, like her career, that makes her feel ways that her family does not/cannot. I grow weary of the suggestions that the children of working mothers are somehow doomed to do worse than kids who had their mothers around.

    Why does no one ever question the presence of the fathers?

    Why does no one ever question the effects of a father working out of the home?

    Why are men forced to have their masculinity/manhood questioned when they decide to stay home and let their wives be the breadwinners?

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  5. Benee,

    What about the representation of the “welfare queen” or “gold digger” in the media? We are not always depicted as hard working.

    Also, I think there were a lot of models of two working parents in the Cosby era, particularly bc black older siblings are historically relied on to look after younger ones and their was a large age difference between Sondra and Rudy.

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    1. Tanji,

      I cant think off the top of my head any television shows where the primary Black female was a “welfare queen” or golddigger. I guess I’m referring specifically to family types of shows. I may be missing some, so school me. I do get what you mean about other media portrayals. No, we are not always depicted as or thought to be hard-working.

      In the case of the Cosby show and the older siblings helping, Sondra was hardly ever around; she was away at college, but I do agree that Vanessa and Theo often had to take her with them when they went places. I do agree that historically that is the way of doing it in most families regardless of race.

      I guess I’m trying to think of the prevalence of families with 4 or more children having BOTH parents work outside of the home out of necessity. Where or among what groups of people do we see that happening the most? It almost seems that the majority of those types of families would have the mother at home and/or have significant income from the father or other means. OR the mother is on welfare. Forgive my scattered thoughts, but I’m cooking and trying to stop G from jumping on my bed at the same time lol

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  6. I wanted to respond to questions regarding whether you were wasting an education by staying at home; I think it’s an interesting one. I think there was a time, not too long ago, when privileged white women went off to college, even though it was understood that they would ultimately stay at home with their children full-time (heck, that may still be the understanding). Would we say that their educations were wasted? Would I say that my education, all the way through a professional degree, is wasted if I stay at home? I don’t think so. To parent is to teach your child a particular way of looking at the world. Additional education can refine your perspective, teach you that things are not just black and white, and give you more capital with which to navigate your world, and your child’s world. (It also makes helping with homework a heck of a lot easier!). Moreover, there is value to being educated for the sake of being educated; to expand your mind; to learn about the world around you. It’s not the job you ultimately get that gives the educational experience value; it’s the educational experience that is valuable in itself.

    I’ve been able to be my child’s primary caregiver for the last year; during the summer, her father and I will split it more 50-50%. And in the fall, we will likely bring in someone for 4-5 hours a day; not all that much, and just the way I want it. It’s been such a privilege for me to be able to be the primary witness to every single developmental milestone she’s reached; I will never forget these days, and I suspect that when I leave this world, I will think back to this time. That being said, there were some very low days for me. Days when I was exhausted and isolated. Days when I was bored. And more recently, days when despite having been up with a baby since 6:00AM, I literally ran out of the house when my husband came home at 4:30PM to go teach my class; as exhausted as I was, I was thankful to be doing something other than mothering. Tanji said it right; staying at home is not for the faint of heart. It is so much more than changing, feeding, and burping. And after having had this experience, I believe that it is HARDER to stay at home than to go to work, in terms of the sheer energy you have to put out. If I had to do it again, I would have had someone come in to watch her for just a few hours a day right from the very start, just so I could get out of the house and be, as Benee correctly put it, “something other than a Mommy.”

    Finally, for sake of conversations we have to generalize sometimes, but I don’t think the two groups (SAHMs and Working Mothers) are as opposed as we imagine them to be. I think, however, that insecurities in both groups (“have I made the right decision? Feeling like I’ve made the right decision depends on making it seem like the other side has made the wrong decision…) make the conversation charged. I think we also have to be honest about the costs of working outside the home, especially if you can afford to work inside of it. There are costs. Maybe the benefits outweigh the costs, but there are costs for children, for families, and for marriages. Admitting that shouldn’t be taboo.

    The question of “what is the point of having children if I you don’t want to be with them” is not entirely an invalid one. But it’s an inward question; that’s the question I asked myself, not the question I ask others. And I really had to think about this. Why was I having a child? Was it about me? or was it about the child? or was it about what society dictated I do? And, who is best for this child? Is it us (her parents), or another caregiver? And how much of this child’s life do I want to bear witness to? For me, I had to ask what was the point of having her if I didn’t want to be the primary witness. In the end, I knew that given the flexibility I’ve been afforded, I personally couldn’t justify having someone else take care of her for a significant portion of the day. I had her, in part, for the joy she would bring to my life, and I’ve intended on soaking up as much of that joy as possible.

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    1. Education should be just for education’s sake, right ORJ? I definitely subscribe to that way of thinking. But I think in some families, especially lower, working, or middle class Black families, education is seen as the key to socioeconomic advancement for the next generation. Education serves two purposes then… to enrich the mind and expand one’s world view and to serve as a key to unlock the doors of successful career options, which lead to increased income, on average.

      So for some, the idea might be that if it is just knowledge for knowledge’s sake, there are tons of books at the free library. Why spend tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire and education and degrees that won’t be “used” towards some end that involves financial gain? Why go to the top schools and pay top dollar when you could educate yourself at a lesser-known, less expensive school? For some, it does seem like a waste, especially the parents who are paying for said education lol

      And I agree that historically, that was what the path was for White women. At least those of means. Go to college, get an education in an approved field of study, go home, get married, and have babies. Thank God the times have changed and it is socially acceptable for women to actually pursue careers after obtaining education. Too bad it still not socially acceptable for a woman to toally dismiss the idea of being a wife and mother. I know many women who do this and are regarded as going through a phase, being gay, or simply out of their minds.

      I was one of those women until someone put something in my drink and I woke up pregnant and married. I kid, I kid… kinda….

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      1. First off, your last line (“I kid, I kid…kinda…”) made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that! 🙂

        I absolutely agree with you that if it’s just about learning, you could definitely get that on your own at the library (or, better yet, through the free online posting of lectures that some elite universities have been providing). I’d be lying if I said I spent over 100K on my education just for the joy of learning! LOL!

        My sister calls it getting your MRS degree. She’s an assistant dean at a university in the South, and she says she still sees it all the time: wealthy white girls who are at school with a primary goal being to find a husband. I also agree that it drives me crazy when women are dismissed because they don’t want to be a wife or mother. Family members used to bother me about when I was going to have children, and I wanted to say “what, I’m not worth anything to you until I procreate? How come you never ask me about my career???” I’m already bristling at the thought of mother’s day calls from some family. It’s a lovely sentiment to call me on that day, but I can’t help but feel like it’s kinda whack that I never get called for anything else!

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    2. There are definitely insecurities and other thigns that unite SAHMs and WOHMs. They arent polar opposites and at the end of the day, they love their children and want whats best for them. I know many WOHMs who wish they could stay home; they work because they have to to make ends meet for their families. Then what happens in these debates is that they are attcked for “having kids they can’t afford”. There are those SAHMs who argue that if you HAVE to work outside of the home to provide for your children, then you probably cannot afford to have them.

      Wow.

      My argument then becomes Are we suggesting that only people of exceptional means should be allowed to procreate? Really?

      It becomes a slippery slope. How can anyone suggest that the mother who puts her kid in a nursery at 6 weeks old to go back to work loves her child or wanted her child any less than the mother who takes 5 years away from her career to stay home? One of the major problems, in my opinion, are the laws and regulations regarding maternity leave, family leave, etc. Other countries have broader, far more progressive regulations regarding this. The USA needs to catch up. But thats another topic lol

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      1. I’m feeling like it’s a good thing I’ve stayed out of these online mommy wars; are there really people who say you shouldn’t have children if you can’t afford to stay home with them? You said it Benee: wow.

        The US is so archaic on family issues. And what’s so pathetic is that we love to say how important our children are. But a country that does not guarantee health insurance and a good education for every child, and who does not guarantee adequate leave for mothers (but then insists that the “breast is best” and that you’re a lesser mother if you don’t nurse long-term) does not value children. It ends up that wealthy women, or women with jobs in the private sector that provide adequate leave are the only women who can stay home for more than 6 weeks with their babies, and it’s just not right. We can all debate whether or not our children need us to be stay at home moms long-term, but we can also probably agree that our newborns might need us just a tad bit longer than 6 weeks. Shoot, I wasn’t ready to walk around the block, much less go back to work, after 6 weeks! There’s a strain of sexism running through all of it, and a disciplining effect on women: “Oh, you want a career? Fine then! Get a job; but don’t expect us to work with you if you also want to have children; you should be at home anyway.”

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  7. When my son was born I happily entered into the world of the SAHM. That lasted for all of 6 months. I quickly realized that while I doted on my child, could not bear to be without him, and could not tolerate anyone else caring for him (because clearly they weren’t as good at lol), I was not cut out to be a SAHM. At month 4 I began looking for a job and I was determined to get one… and fast.

    I would not, could not (Dr. Seuss in the house) be a SAHM… not even if my husband were a billionaire. I needed to work because I needed to exercise my mind and skills in a capacity that was separate from parenthood. Was it hard for me to put my son in daycare when he was 6 months? Absolutely. Was I the sterotyical weeping mother. Yes, again. But there was a spark when I went back to work… a void that had been filled. That, combined with the joy derived from being a parent and having a beautiful and healthy child helped me feel more complete and contributed to my overall happiness.

    I don’t think that being a SAHM is harder than being a WOHM. Having experienced both, they each have their own rewards and challenges. People need different things, are stimulated by diffrent things, an are good at different things so being a SAHM is not for everyone (it certainly wasn’t for me). It has to be about what works for the mother and what works for the child.

    Now, about the education part of it. I don’t think education is wasted when one decides to be a SAHM. Education is never wasted, it’s useful everyday, any day, and in all situations. With that being said, I certainly encourage every woman to pursue an education and, at the very least, knowledge (formal or informal). Situations can change and you never know where life will lead you. It’s good to have marketable skills. In my line of work I hear one story after another about women with no degree and no work experience who have been housewives for years and now are on their own with very little ability to support themselves. Knowledge is power *pumps fist in the air* (lol)

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    1. Knowledge definitely is power and I agree that everyone benefits from obtaining higher levels of knowledge. Some people get degrees in things they NEVER apply to their jobs/careers. That’s weird to me too, but hey, it happens.
      But does that have to come at the cost of a J.D.? lol
      Like, can’t you real law journals and books at home? LOL
      I’m so not getting a J.D. just for the love of the knowledge. Nope, sorry!!
      Not going to Med School to not become a doctor, lol That’s what WebMD is for! I kid I kid

      I do agree though abotu the women who end up so out of touch and unprepared when their marriages dissolve because they did nothing to boost their education and skill levels. But I have to wonder how many of those women were groomed to become wives and mothers. I’ve met women who admit that’s how they were raised… to focus on finding a good man, getting married, and becoming mothers. Over time, they came to accept and embrace that idea as what they wanted for themselves and can’t imagine doing anything else.

      That simply isnt me, never was, will never be.

      I love working!

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  8. I agree that something needs to be done about maternity/family leave. It’s really shocking to think that real reform regarding leave for expecting mothers didn’t really happen until the late 70s and that the FMLA is as new as 1993! What is that about??

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    1. What’s interesting to me is how a woman getting a c-section gets twice as much approved/paid time off, but only gets one extra day in the hospital. I think this is one reason why more women are opting to have C-sections, to qualify for more paid time off, time they should be able to get to begin with. The doctors will approve and sign off because they get more money from the c-sections, but the risks to mothers and children are greater.

      We definitely need reform. But it wont come until men are forced to change the way they think about childbirth

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  9. Just to throw some info in about the difference between societal perceptions of black and white women who choose to stay at home – there is a study (unpublished) that suggests that society values white women who stay at home, but black women who work. They study asked people to give a value to a Mother’s Day gift to mothers, and varied the race and working status of the mothers. White mothers who stayed at home got higher valued gifts than white mothers who stayed at home, but black mothers who worked got higher valued gifts than black mothers that stayed at home.

    This summer, I’ll be staying at home with my kids for two months, and I’m looking forward to it. They are a little older than babies; they are fun! But it’s only for two months, and that’s probably all I can take before I’ll go a bit crazy 🙂

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  10. Whew! I got to read all 18 comments and the preceding blog, because my mother-in-law is in from Fl while her “baby-boy” recuperates from MINOR surgery. I’m hiding–I mean cleaning the kids’ room while she cleans every-damned-thing-else.

    So, as I sit on the bottom bunk near a mini mound of clothes, books, shoes, and toys I absorb and reflect on all of the well-thought out and interesting views and ideas. I’d like to comment on them all, but I soon feel she’ll realize I’m dodging her and ask me to sit with them so she can finish being obliviously condescending. The actions individually are minor infractions probably not worth the breath it would take to complain, but they each give just enough kick and smear for me to roll my mental eyes & suck my mental teeth @ the TWO of them!

    Anyway, I L-O-V-E my babies!!! And did breast feed for as long as I could (btwn 8 & 14months respectively). And read to them, watched Sesame Street, Arthur, Dragon Tales, etc. (one of my guilty pleasures), sang to them, wrote poetry for them, you name it and when my maternity leave was over & I couldn’t finagle any more time I pumped milk at work. At one point I worked in a warehouse office, with all men mind you, what a thrill!

    For a bit, my husband worked days and I nights. Then, maybe after baby # two, he started his home business. I was indeed Mama Love Joy while I was home and indeed felt the pangs when I had to return to work full time, but realized after a while, like when I had time off or something, I was nowhere near as good a mother as I thought I was or as good as my husband was a father… So, working away from home was my escape. Helped me to feel less inadequate.

    I wasn’t a cleaner, a washer of dishes, an “oh, what a lovely drawing”-er, a cooker, a braider…I was a constructer, a carpenter, an arts & crafter, a day dreamer, a procrastinater, an ESCAPER.

    I felt miserable for not being the mother I thought I should be and worked. I missed so much. So many milestones. My father “suggested” that my mother get welfare for her & their three children because he “could not afford” to raise two families. She was a SAHM on wealfare until we were old enough. Then she went to work. Now she owns a home, earned a master’s…I’m not that kind of mother either. And, we still need welfare to help connect the ends.

    I’m not working at all now. I’ve been volunteering @ the kids’ school & our four children uncover new annoying traits every year, but those haven’t prompted me to want to go back out there. 

    Side bar: Cecily Tyson was in a movie about a single mom with a bunch of kids. Think she was on welfare. Not a “welfare queen” if I remember correctly. I’ve gotta look for that… Oh, & Women of Bruster Place had a young mom, many children, welfare…”

    Ok, since I lost my train of thought and since the kids are done with their after-school activities I’ll close this collection of my idle chatter.

    What the heck was I talking about anyway? Oh, my mother-in-law is here :o(…

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    1. I need you to go sit somewhere lol
      I tried hard to follow that, but since I know who this is, I just spent the whole time imagining you SAYING all of this and I am just laughing.

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