Unless you aren’t involved in the world of parenting, you know that this term refers to the heated and continuous debate over which is better for children, having a full-time stay home mother (SAHM) or a full-time working mother (WOHM) and being stuck in daycare for 40+ hours a week. Many people take one side or the other, draw their line in the sand, and start slinging.
I confess, after my first child was born I couldn’t imagine how any mother in their right mind would want to be apart from their child. While I understood that not every woman felt able to choose between the two options, I also felt strongly that many women who WOH didn’t really have to. What kept me from being a judgemental bigot about it is that I understand we’re all individuals with a life history framing the context in which we do things and make choices. I am no more qualified to tell someone else what is best for their family than they are to tell me what my family needs.
My feeling that SAHM-dom was the optimal choice for children, as with all my parenting philosophies, stemmed from the belief that mammalian mothers are designed to raise their offspring, to be in almost constant contact with them (those of you familiar enough with this reasoning will note that we are of the “someone else does the hunting” group of mammalian mamas, rather than the ones who leave their offspring regularly to go hunt).
But having given the matter some more thought, and prompted by a very thought-provoking discussion amongst my mama-crowd, I’ve begun to rethink this issue. The first thing I realized is that mothers were not designed to parent in isolation. Historically (and I’m talking over an evolutionary timescale here) we lived in tribes and there were many adults and women and even lactating women around to help with childcare duties. I tried to honour this history by surrounding myself with my own “tribe” of like-minded mothers, who I get together with regularly to recharge myself as a parent and to relieve the social insulation that comes with having children in tow (would that our society was more accepting of children, rather than relegating them to places like Chuck E. Cheese).
But then in this discussion the subject of our “ideal situation” came up (with respect to working and parenting). I found it really fascinating that virtually *everybody* described it as “working/creating/hobbying 2 or 3 days a week, and being with the kids the other days”. Whether they were WOHM, WAHM, or SAHM we all felt the same thing – that sharing childcare duty with our partners 60/40 or so, while having time for ourselves, would be just great. I found this very significant.
One of the mamas posted a wonderful bit about what the natural state of parenting really is/was based on what we know of tribal cultures. When I read the following, it’s like a giant lightbulb went off over my head:
Ideally, at all times the child is cared for by the attachment
figure/caregiver who can best her needs – and that might not mean the
SAHM in isolation 24/7, who after all has limited resources. When the
child is sick, that person might be the mother who can provide special
comfort. When she is ready to wrestle, she might need the father. When
she is needing a lot of patience with a repetitive game, a grandmother
might have the most to offer. When she is at the park, a young, energetic nanny might be more ready to really play than an overextended SAHM or less energetic grandparent…In a tribal setting with many attachment figures, the child can easily gravitate to the person who best meets her needs…In cases where the mother is
mentally/physically ill or stressed or extremely unhappy, she may not be
the best person to meet the child’s needs at all times, and other
attachment figures/caregivers may be able to play an invaluable role in
complementing maternal care and meeting the child’s continuum
How many times have I felt guilty because I just couldn’t stand another boring game of “dinosaur tea party? Or because I didn’t want to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom for the tenth time in a row? And I hate wrestling, yet supposedly it’s very good for children (thank god for Daddy). Here, finally, was some validation that I simply *can’t* be that person all the time for all their needs. And that perhaps there were times when having another caregiver take over was exactly what the children needed (I see them playing with my mother’s helper and am envious of how energetically she gets into the game-playing, no wonder they adore her!).
With this realization has come the sound of a dozen doors opening for me. Suddenly there are possibilities. That, combined with our growing freedom from the sort of constant need that very young children have, has made pressing forward with my life a very attractive notion. So I’ve decided that I don’t, in fact, want another baby (I’m sure by now there’s a betting pool as to the final decision; I’ll forgive you all if you don’t tally up the winnings just yet). Instead, I want to move on with my life and start putting more of myself into growing my business. I’ve finally become convinced that not only can my children survive without me being around for a couple of days a week, but in fact they might even thrive and benefit from the ability to interact with those who can meet needs that I’m not so good at meeting. And the nice part about unschooling is that learning happens 7 days a week, so taking off 2 of those 5 days really isn’t much!