Working Mom vs SAHM — Is It Really A Competition?

Tara and Smriti were best friends with different life choices. Here is how they helped each other with their childhood experiences.

It was a weekday afternoon, and Tara sat down with her cup of tea as her little boy napped. Her older child was in school, and this was one of those rare moments when she was not tending to someone else’s needs. She was a stay-at-home mother who lived abroad with her family.

Her phone rang and it was her best friend Smriti calling. They lived in different countries and often found it challenging to find a convenient time to catch up, especially since there was a time difference.

They had been best friends for the past 18 years and held each other’s hands through good and bad times. Smriti was Tara’s go-to person whenever she need a comforting shoulder, even if virtual.

Smriti spoke about her work and told Tara how it made her feel guilty sometimes for not being able to attend to her 4-year-old as much as she’d have liked to. Since Tara knew Smriti’s efforts to balance her work and always be there for her daughter for her most important needs, she reassured Smriti that she was doing great.

“You know, I sometimes wish I could just drop everything and play with her. But mostly I’m tied up with some important meetings and ask her to play with her grandparents. It breaks my heart, and I wonder if she will remember me as a forever busy mom”, said Smriti.

“Smriti, I understand that. We love to be there for our kids, but as she grows older, she will understand the importance of what you do”, Tara replied.

“Hmmm, I really wonder if all this is worth the trouble sometimes. What if she grows and feels that I should have stayed home and been there for her?” she asked.

“As someone who was raised by a working mother, I can tell you that I have never wished for this. When I was 10, I used to get home half an hour before my mother. She recently opened up to me about how it would break her heart that I’d have to open the door by myself and fix myself a snack after getting home. I was surprised to hear this as I had always seen my mother’s job unquestioningly as a part of herself. It was just something she did, and never once do I remember feeling like she should quit and be home to receive me.” Tara told her and gave a pause.

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“Hmmm, is it so?”, she asked.

“Absolutely. I wish she wouldn’t have to put herself through that guilt. It must have been hard enough for her to balance it all without a support system. I didn’t even have grandparents around. I now understand the mental load she would have had to carry. But even back then, I was happy with her undivided attention once she was back home. I always knew that when she was back home, she’d listen to my school stories with great interest.”, Tara said, recollecting her childhood days.

“I love hearing Laya’s stories. She even brings me little sketches from the daycare. One day she had drawn me and herself, one of her first drawings. I was so proud, and she couldn’t stop beaming when I kept her drawing in my bag to pin near my work desk.”, said Smriti.

“See – she knows she’s valued. And I’m sure you are doing enough to make sure she knows that she’s loved. We often complicate things assuming everyone thinks like us. Our children’s needs are simple, and they adapt well. It is good that she knows you have a career for yourself, it sets a good role model for her,” Tara responded.

“I do feel better, but I don’t like this stereotype of how only working mothers are role models. My mother didn’t have a career, but I look up to her. She is very much a role model to me”. Her tone showed a tinge of annoyance.

“Smriti, I’m sorry – I never meant it this way. This is one of the things I constantly battle with. I’ve taken a 5-year career break already, and with 2 kids I don’t know when I can get back to the workforce. This place has a toxic work culture, and work-life balance is not something I can find here. We really cannot depend on our parents. Apart from visa issues, they also have their careers.” Tara sighed.

“Hmmm, I understand. Your support system is not strong enough. You’ve raised Riya and Rishi all by yourself, with Manav mostly being tied up at work. I don’t know how you do it all.”, Smriti said.

“Smriti, it’s funny you say this. Just this morning I was wondering how no one has anything interesting to tell me or ask me. It’s almost like I exist to serve the family and take care of my kids. Some days, I feel really low not just for myself but also wondering what I’m teaching Riya. I want her to be ambitious and dream big.”

Tara couldn’t continue talking as her voice choked up.

“Hey, hey. Tara. I know. It’s so hard, isn’t it? We are constantly filled with self-doubt. I wish I could give you a big hug right now. Didn’t you just talk to me about how we overcomplicate things? Riya is a smart girl, and I have always admired your parenting. Why do you feel like having a career is the only way to inspire her? Of course, if that’s what YOU want, I will be your biggest cheerleader. I’ll help you in any way I can.”, Smriti said with a reassuring tone.

“I have learned so much from my mother. My love for books comes from her. She dresses up impeccably and always taught me to carry myself with confidence. She has a great circle of friends and has the best time with them even at this age. Although she was always busy at home tending to all of us, she never gave off the vibe that her life was meant to serve us. She had her own hobbies and made time for it.”

“Nisha Aunty is fabulous”, Tara agreed.

“Again, as you say – this is something I have never taken for granted since my childhood. I knew the value of her time and all that hard work that went behind running a home without support. She also taught me financial management, and ways to invest my money.”

“With such a fabulous mother for a role model, I get really frustrated when I’m told that a mother needs a career to be a role model for her kids. It’s a shame we don’t appreciate stay-at-home mothers for what they do, but constantly remind them what they don’t have. We don’t even bother asking them what they want!” Smriti said, sighing.

“Smriti, I’m so thankful you called me today. This has been keeping me up at night, and as always you gave me a perspective that helps me.” Tara genuinely felt much better after talking to her.

As Tara carried on with her day, she realized how much difference it made to have a supportive voice.

She understood how they made each other’s lives better with just a little bit of empathy and understanding.

The next time you encounter a narrative that pits working mothers against stay-at-home mothers – reject it straight away and know that it isn’t a competition. We are all in this together!

Image Credit: AndPan614 from Pixabay

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About the Author

Jayashree Ravi

An engineer turned SAHM of two who wants to be known beyond that. Passionate about words, parenting, making eco-friendly choices, feminism and lifelong learning. read more...

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