Nancy and I were introduced through our husbands and went on to have daughters, born six months apart from one another. We were excited and grateful to navigate motherhood together, and while we have remained very close, there is one major difference between our journeys: Nancy stays at home and I go to work.
It seems so insignificant, but despite being similar in so many other aspects of parenting, the SAHM and working mother labels have been the most defining of all. I decided to have a real heart-to-heart with Nancy, and here’s what I discovered.
1. We each face our own struggles. As a working mom, I struggle every day to manage the household, meet project deadlines, and spend quality time with family and friends. But talking with Nancy reminded me that even if I did stay home, I’d still have difficulties, albeit different ones. Nancy admitted that even though she’s not physically alone all day, she often feels very lonely. Not having adult interaction takes a toll on her and she welcomes any chance she gets to engage with other grownups.
2. We both feel guilty. As mothers, we have all experienced guilt at one time or another over a parenting decision we’ve made, and electing to stay at home or go to work is no exception. While I am proud of my career and enjoy what I do, the mom guilt creeps up on me from time to time—when I miss school events or when I work so late that my daughter is asleep by the time I get home. And Nancy feels guilty about not financially contributing to the household and sometimes worries how that might strain her marriage. Nancy and I also experienced the same guilt of feeling like “bad moms” whenever we enjoyed time away from our children, even when we know how necessary and helpful it is.
3. We both feel judged for our decisions. Guilt and judgment go hand in hand, and once again, neither SAHMs nor working moms are exempt. Despite the fact that so many mothers work outside the home, there is still a pervasive, underlying sentiment that a mother’s place is home with her children. And yet, when mothers do stay home, they are still judged. Working mothers are judged for choosing their jobs over their families, but SAHMs are judged for not applying their talent and education in the workplace. Working mothers are accused of having others raise their children, but SAHMs are accused of doing nothing all day. It seems that neither camp escapes unscathed from the claws of mom judgment.
4. The grass is always greener. I love my job, but are there days when I wish I were home with my daughter instead? Sure. Are there times when I fantasize about all the park outings and lunch dates we’d go on if I weren’t at work? Of course. But just as I envisioned this happy movie montage of what life would be like if I stayed home, Nancy sees my days as being filled with important and interesting adult conversations, countless bathroom breaks with the doors locked, and endless breaks without my child. We each envied the other for having more time, but the truth is that we’re both wrong. Neither of us has much time solely for ourselves; Nancy is constantly at the mercy of her demanding toddler, and my days are filled with meetings, phone calls, emails and project deadlines.
5. We share more similarities than differences. Many times throughout conversation, Nancy or I would exclaim, “Me too!” or “Same here!” and I quickly discovered that we have more in common as moms than not. We both fretted over how much housework we still needed to do and laughed about how hard simple things, like leaving the house, have become since having children. We worry about how much screen time our daughters have and how dangerous the world had become. Staying home or going to work is just one small aspect of our parenting and when we stop focusing on it, we’re able to bond over the much bigger thread that unites us—the fact that we’re both mothers.
Nicole Beniamini lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter. She is a Director of Research at Edison Research, where she is also part of The Research Moms, a team of experienced market researchers, who also happen to be moms.