Monday Musings… The Plight of the Working Mother
“Oh... You’re Charlene!”
Now, normally when someone you’ve never met before, greets you for the first time, it’s with a pleasant and engaging tone. Not this time. She apparently had given me the quick once over, and with a look of revulsion, oozed out the above words. Not being entirely sure why I was so off-putting in her books, and not having a witty comeback, I simply replied that yes, I was she.
“How can you possibly be a good mother to your five children and go to work!” was her next statement. Note I said statement, not question.
I clearly did not measure up to her expectations of who she thought I should be.
The first statement, I get. People often don't look like what we assume they might, even when described by another person. I am quite short after all, and I've never worn make-up. Maybe that's what was so initially astonishing and unacceptable. Nonetheless, I think we would all agree that this person must have been absent the day social etiquette was taught.
But it’s the second statement that really got me and has stuck with me ever since. Who was she to make a sweeping statement challenging my capability as a mother and my choice to work?
This happened to me about 18 years ago, but you know what? This kind of judgment is still going on today. Many women who work and have a family are being placed on the hot seat that’s meant to sear the female psyche with guilt and shame. I guess the end result the parenting prosecutors are looking for is remorse and a return to the home-front, where the accused acknowledges they should renege on their choice ‘for the good of the family’.
What do people actually know about your family, let alone what's good for it? Just as I discussed last week, the shame game is a popular pastime, and yet, most who revel in trying to instruct or correct you, do not have the whole story of your life. Their cynicism is most likely a projection of their own personal choices that they feel are far superior to yours. But being a working parent is not a moral or ethical issue. Nor does this person likely know your skill set, your education or vocational training, or your income. And quite frankly it's none of their business.
So, how do you respond to such a caustic comment discrediting you as a parent?
Your first inclination is to justify yourself, to offer reasons why you work. Don’t fall into that trap. They're not really interested in being told or rather taught the legitimacy of why some women enter the workplace. In fact, you've actually played into the interrogator's hand by explaining yourself with multiple reasons you think will placate them; meanwhile it comes across as a doubt on your part and an admission of your guilt. Instead, focus on the part of the statement that really was the stab to your heart – your parenting.
Here’s the reality. There are a ton of mothers who don’t work and are terrible parents. Maybe you were raised by one. It’s not whether you work outside the home or not that makes you a good mother.
This is what you need to remember: A good mother is wise, kind, trustworthy, and compassionate. She is never idle for she uses her talents and resources to bless her household and those less fortunate. A good mother embodies strength and dignity in her awareness of her God-given capabilities. And the best evidence of a good mother is when her children ‘rise up and call her blessed’ and her husband praises her.
Good mothers work. Whether her industry is in the home or in the marketplace. What work a woman does and where she does it - both are to be valued. It’s time for the shamers to get off their hobby horses and recognize that a woman can work and still be a great mother. They don’t need to know the motivations for your employment, they just need to hear from you that you have no doubt you're a good parent!
18 years ago when I was challenged by that person, I responded without missing a beat by saying “I am the best mom to the five kids God has given me. Maybe you should ask them, the next time you see them.”
The greatest confirmation of my parenting has in fact come from that most important source, the words of my own children. Even as I write this, my heart swells remembering what they each said to me publicly on their wedding days. You hope and you pray that you are giving them the best of you, but to hear it from their lips is a priceless reward! I still have one son to go, so we'll see if I can bat a thousand! But truly, that is the only testimony I need to hear. The naysayers can jeer me, but the best evidence comes from those whose lives I was designed to impact the most. I've no means been perfect, and I've had those conversations with each of them, but in the end, being a good mother doesn't boil down to whether you work or not. It's how you live and how you love. (On an interesting side note, the person who made the earlier statement was actually present at the weddings to hear the testimony.) 😄
“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Proverbs 31:30-31.