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Debate Club: A Different Take on the SAHM vs. WOHM “Battle”


Dear Stay-at-Home Mom,

by: Kelly Bay

You are crushing it.

Our eyes meet almost every morning as we drop the kids off at school. My day has already been chaotic, and I’m sure yours has, too. Making breakfast and packing lunches and convincing small children to wear clothing are not jobs for the faint of heart.

I notice a toddler hanging from your leg as I chase mine down the hall. We both smile, thinking that they may be in the same class someday. Somehow we manage to get our older children to their classrooms and our younger children back to our vehicles. It’s a monumental moment in the day, a shared struggle of parenthood.

I wanted to let you know that as a mom who works outside of the home, I am so impressed by you. I know that there’s this myth that we are somehow at odds with each other, but I think you are amazing, and I’m grateful for everything you do.

For what it’s worth, I never call myself a “working mom,” because I know you’re a working mom, as well. Somehow you feed your toddler lunch while spooning pureed peas into your infant’s demanding mouth. You sing lullabies and rehearse colors and walk the dog with a baby strapped to your chest.

You welcome your older children home from school and prepare yet another snack and field the demands for TV time and help locating sports equipment. By the time 5 p.m. hits, you’ve done multiple loads of laundry and repeatedly picked up the house and wiped your children’s faces approximately 100 times, none of which would be obvious to an onlooker at this point.

And then you start your second shift, rushing from appointments to soccer practice, picking up the neighbor’s kids along the way. You make dinner and help with homework and give baths and read bedtime stories. You fill your spouse in on the details of the day and upcoming events and manage multiple schedules like the boss that you are.

On a good night, you may get 30 minutes to crash in front of Netflix before someone needs a drink of water or a third trip to the bathroom, or for you to check for monsters under the bed just one more time.

Maybe you chose to stay home with your kids because of their special health issues or your spouse’s demanding career, or maybe it wasn’t a choice at all. The astronomical cost of childcare makes the decision for many parents and I know firsthand that the workforce can be a brutal environment for moms who try to do both. There is a good chance that the company you worked for didn’t offer the flexibility or support parents need to continue with their careers.

The time you have with your children at home is precious, but I know that it’s exhausting trying to juggle so many different roles and meet everyone else’s needs. Your own needs often fall to last on the priority list and you sometimes worry that you’re too distracted when you interact with your kids.

You have no reason to be concerned. My mom stayed home with us and I’m sure she was distracted most of the time but, honestly, all I remember is that she was there for us, always.

It’s a common misconception that you’re “off” all day. I know that your day actually never ends and you don’t get the breaks that I do. Lunch out with friends is a highly orchestrated and extremely rare occurrence. Dropping your kids off at daycare to attend a doctor’s appointment of your own simply doesn’t happen.

I also know that your daily work, with both its struggles and beauty, is overlooked in our culture. You notice that people talk more to your husband at parties. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom your input into conversations seems to be less important. You may even wonder what your former colleagues or classmates think of you now that you’re “just a mom”. The value of being a caretaker is minimized in our society because there isn’t a dollar sign attached to it. That sucks, and I’m angry for you.

I want to tell you that I see you. I want to tell you that your work is important. More than likely you’re committed not only to your family but to all of ours. I’m not always available to help in my son’s classroom, I’m grateful that you take time out of your day to be there. We often need assistance getting our kids to extracurricular activities, I’ve noticed you are one of the first to offer help. You take constant requests for PTA involvement and coaching positions and field trip chaperones and you rarely say no.

I love that I’m able to work outside of the home, but it’s vital for our sons and daughters to see the value of a loving, involved parent from others, too. I watch you demonstrate this every single day.

You are making the world a better place and I wanted to thank you for that.

In case you don’t hear it enough: job well done.

Sincerely,

A Work-Outside-the-Home Mom

Dear Working Mom,

by: Jackie Semmens

You are crushing it.

It’s 7:30 in the morning, and I’m staring out the window with blurry eyes watching you load your kids into the car to head to daycare, or walking them to the bus stop. I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, much less gotten my kids dressed, but you’ve been up for two hours already, answering work emails, packing lunches, waking sleepyheads up and making them breakfast. It’s not even 8 a.m., and you’ve accomplished plenty – yet you’re already worrying that you’re slipping behind.

I wanted to let you know that, as a stay-at-home mom, I am so impressed by you. I know there’s this myth that we are somehow at odds with each other, but I think you’re amazing, and I’m grateful for everything you do.

For what it’s worth, I never call myself a “full-time mom,” because I know you’re a full-time mom as well. You’re pumping milk on your lunch break, fielding calls from the school in the middle of the day – no matter how many times you’ve asked them to call your husband first because his schedule is more flexible than yours.

You’re clutching your cellphone under the table during a meeting, hoping daycare won’t call to tell you your baby’s fussiness turned into a fever. You’re folding laundry well past bedtime, or spending precious dollars on a housecleaner so you can spend a few more hours with your kids. You’re burning the candle at both ends and trying to figure out if you can light the middle, too.

Even when five o’clock rolls around, you’re off to your main job, walking into the insanity of tired and hungry kids. You’re up all night with a teething baby who only wants to nurse, and a toddler who had another bad dream. Even if you have some help watching your kids during the day, you’re never off the clock.

As a mom and an employee, you are giving 200% of yourself every day. I bet that you’re amazing at what you do, because research shows that mothers are actually more productive in their jobs than their childless counterparts. When you get to the office, there’s no wasting time on Facebook. You plow through your to-do list because you don’t want to stay late tonight. Having kids makes you acutely aware of how precious time is, and you know that it is not to be wasted.

I know those efforts aren’t always rewarded, however, and are too often overlooked. There is a good chance that you aren’t earning as much as a man doing your job would be, especially if you’re working after spending some time at home with your kids. You’re worried about telling your boss that you’re pregnant again, and trying to figure out how you will make it through an unpaid maternity leave.

That sucks, and I’m angry for you. As a stay-at-home mom, I know how little our society values caregiving, and how hard you work when you’re on maternity leave. Trust me, I know that you deserve to be paid.

Working is the right decision for you, the best way to support your family. But I know that you occasionally wonder if you’re spending enough time with your kids. In all likelihood, though, you are spending more time with them than your parents spent with you, whether they worked or not.

And even if your time is limited, take heart that research shows quality far outweighs quantity. Take it from someone who spends almost all of her time with her children – there is nothing inherently magical about it. My kids love their dad, whom they see on evenings and weekends, just as much as me.

Stay-at-home mom to working mom, thank you for everything you do. The nurse holding my son’s hand as he gets his blood drawn, knowing exactly how it feels to see your baby cry? His teacher, teaching him his ABCs and how to play nicely with his friends? Their pediatrician, diagnosing life-threatening allergies? All working moms. These women touch our lives every day, and I couldn’t do what I do without you.

Maybe you’re punching numbers into a spreadsheet that will never personally impact our lives, but I still wanted to say thank you. What you’re doing is so important. Our sons and daughters need to see women in all sorts of careers, and our world benefits from having mothers in the workforce for their abilities, perspective, experience, and skills. You’re at the forefront of social change, and I want to thank you for fighting the good fight.

Right now, staying at home with my kids is the balance that works best for our family. But when it’s time for me to re-enter the workforce, I’m glad to know that there are mothers out there now who have been proving that women can be great mothers and great employees. You’re making the world a better place, and I thank you for that.

Occasionally, my afternoon walks take me past a local daycare. I watch parents pick up their children, ready to head home for their second shift. Wave if you see me. I’m the one pushing a stroller, thinking that you are an amazing parent.

In case you don’t hear it enough: job well done.

Sincerely,

A Stay-at-Home Mom

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My favorite part of every weekday is when I get home from work. As soon as I walk in the door, I hear a tiny voice scream, "Mommy, you're home!" Then my 3-year-old gives me the most amazing hug. Then a kiss. Then she grabs my hand and shows me whatever project she did in school. I always say, "I missed you today."

It's so different from my childhood.

My single Korean mother didn't get home from work until after 6 pm, so by the time she walked in the door, I was either doing homework in my room or out playing. If I was home, I'd yell a "Hi Mom!" and she would go into the kitchen to cook dinner. I knew she was tired, so I never bothered her. She rarely said a word.

I love being a mom, but it's profoundly difficult for me. I had to learn it was okay to openly express affection with my daughter. I have never felt like I deserve the overwhelming love she has for me, because I wasn't raised that way.

I love that my mother showed me how to be independent and instilled in me the value of hard work. But she was so focused on being strong that I often felt neglected. I just wanted to be loved by her.

Now that I'm a mother, I often think about how I'll raise my daughter differently than my mother raised me. It's not because I think she was a bad parent. I respect her more than anyone else in the world. I just want to make sure my daughter always feels loved.

1. I want my daughter to know it's okay to say, "I love you."

I don't ever remember my mother saying, "I love you" without me saying it first. I would hear the phrase in my friends' homes in daily conversation, and I thought it was strange.

In Jody Phan's 2016 article "Different Ways Asian Parents Show Their Love," she said her Asian parents never said it to her either. Soon, it became part of who she was, and it wasn't unnatural to not hear it.

I can say the same for me.

I tell my daughter I love her every day. Maybe it's selfish of me because I'm making up for lost "I love you's" my mother never gave me, but I like to think it makes her feel special.

2. I want my daughter to know it's okay to give hugs if she wants to.

The first time I met my best friend's family, everyone gave me a hug. When I tried to let go, they squeezed harder.

I never got random hugs from my mother. We didn't show physical affection.

In Mabel Kwong's 2014 post "When to Hug Someone. And Why Asians Don't Hug," she shares why it's a cultural thing. "In Asian cultures, getting touchy-feely with each other is frowned upon." For some Asians, it's also a way of getting dirty or catching germs, while others are just super aware of personal space.

I give my daughter massive bear hugs. The feeling of her tiny arms wrapped around my neck is something I never want to give up.

3. I want my daughter to know it's okay to have a sense of humor.

When I was younger, I remember sitting on the couch, shaking my leg. My mom said, "In Korea, they say if you shake your leg, you will shake all the luck out of your body."

She laughed loudly, and she never laughed when my brother and I told funny jokes. She was always so serious. In Elena Ruchko's article "Chinese Humor vs American Humor, and How to be Sarcastic," she says it's hard for non-Chinese people to understand Chinese humor because it's deep-rooted in cultural references that can't be translated effectively.

I see how I may not have understood her joke. I'm sure American humor, since English is not her native language, is just as confusing to her.

I make sure my daughter has deep-rooted belly laughs. It's usually when I'm dancing to the Trolls soundtrack. I want her to know laughter is the best medicine.

4. I want my daughter to know it's okay to cry.

The only time I saw my mother cry was by accident. I had walked into her room and she was sitting on the floor, weeping softly into her hands. When she heard me, she sat up and pretended nothing was wrong.

I didn't know how to react, so I walked away. I never brought that moment up because I know she would either deny it or feel embarrassed.

Was refusing to cry part of Asian culture? In Tia Gao's Medium article, "Why Chinese People Don't Cry," she says that for her parents, it was important for immigrants to maintain a positive outlook because "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." And whenever she started to cry, her parents would brush it aside because they had suffered so much in the past.

I think my mother can relate. She had lived through the Korean War. She endured starvation. Both of her parents died when she was young. She married my father and moved to an unfamiliar country, only to raise two children alone.

She didn't have time to cry.

I tell my daughter it's okay to cry. Instead of bottling emotions deep inside, I let her know it takes more strength to let them out.

5. Finally, I want my daughter to know it's okay to talk about mental health.

Years ago, I had what I called my "early-life crisis." I went into a deep depression, was put on medication and started therapy.

I was terrified to tell my mother.

When I finally told her, she reacted how I expected: She refused to believe me. I needed "to get over it." And I felt as if I failed her. She had always been so strong and here I was, so weak. So, I hid my bouts of depression from everyone for years.

But I eventually learned not to be ashamed of my mental health. I also learned I'm not alone.

There's an insightful article by Ryan Tanap titled "Why Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Don't Go to Therapy." It helped me see my mother's point of view: "There's an underlying fear among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that getting mental health treatment means you're 'crazy.' If you admit you need help for your mental health, parents and other family members might experience fear and shame. They may assume that your condition is a result of their poor parenting or a hereditary flaw, and that you're broken because of them."

I don't blame my mother for refusing to believe I needed help. She had always denied her own need for help. But I want my daughter to know there is nothing weak about needing help, and there is immense strength when you finally ask for it.

There is nothing more beautiful or frustrating than being a mom. As much as I say I'm not like my mother, deep down I know I am. So I will take to heart everything I learned from her and try to be a good parent.

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Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's emotional journey with losing a baby.

I'm used to being called names. I'm used to negative comments calling me fat, ugly and every name in between. That's life as a television news anchor—not everyone is going to like you. And that's okay. While I am good at brushing off the mean comments, when someone attacks my parenting, that's NOT okay.

I received a message that was not only hurtful, it brought me to tears, as my entire body began shaking. To the woman who called me sick because I talk about my children who died, my heart hurts for you.

As a mother who has experienced child loss, premature birth and infertility, I put my life out on full display. I write and share my family's story as a way to help others, all while getting the chance to share stories about all three of my triplets, even though two are no longer alive. Yes, the Internet can be filled with insensitivity, especially when I discuss topics that, even in 2019, are considered taboo. Most times, I can take the high road, but not today.

The woman called me "sick" for talking about my two children who passed. She told me to lay them to rest and move on, mentioning that I am dragging my husband and child through my "sick state of mind."

It's been five-and-a-half years since my triplets were born, and in all that time, never has a comment made me sick to my stomach. In the minutes after reading this message, so many emotions took over me. I wanted to yell at this woman. I wanted her to know how much words can hurt. And I wanted to know if she has ever lost a child. I tried to calm down, but that message kept coming back to me. I found myself awake throughout the night, quietly sobbing while my heart was racing and hurting at the same time.

I put my life out there on the Internet, so I have to realize that people are entitled to their opinion, even if it's negative. But here's the thing—If you've followed my family and our story for years, you would know that my life is not surrounded by grief and loss.

Social media is not an accurate view of a person's life. You only see snippets on Facebook and Instagram, and oftentimes, you only see the most glamorous, happy moments. I choose to show reality, and it's not always pretty. I share the heartbreaking moments of parenting children in both heaven and earth. Yet, I also show the wonderful moments of raising a daughter who is truly remarkable. If you've followed my story, you would know that I'm the happiest I've been in years. Yes, it's possible to find life after loss and it's possible for grief and happiness to coexist. My life doesn't revolve around grief, and no, I don't dwell over my losses every day.

My daughter is her own person, a unique individual full of joy and spunk. She will always know how special she is and we are constantly finding ways to celebrate her, along with remembering her brother and sister. Yes, my daughter is here. She's alive and present. But, I'm not going to forget that she was a triplet and I'm not going to hide the fact that I'm a mother to two angels above.

I woke up today, exhausted from a lack of sleep and worn out from the emotional toll of this cruel message I received. But, the more I think about it, the more I want to share. I have a unique platform through television and writing where I can be a voice for others. I can share the ups and downs of life and know that I am making a difference. If at least one person reads my words and feels like they are not alone, then it's worth it. For every one negative message I receive, I know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world that can relate to my life.

Life has been difficult for my family at times, but we choose to look at the positive. The loss of two of my children is not a burden, I now choose to see it as a blessing. I would give anything to have them here today, but I've learned to find the good in our tragic situation. All three of my children have shaped who I am today. My children have taught me compassion, grace and kindness, all traits this cruel woman could learn from. It's tricky being a parent of child loss, but I'm doing the best that I can and I know all three of my children are proud of me.

Originally posted on Stacey Skrysak.

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Perinatal depression (defined as depression during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period) happens to so many mothers, 1 in 7 of us, in fact. It can make pregnancy and early motherhood even harder than it needs to be and rob new mothers of a joyful time they were looking forward to.

And now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says there is a way to prevent perinatal depression in the moms who are most at risk. This week the USPSTF published guidelines calling on health care providers to identify at-risk women and connect them with cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.

These counseling interventions are effective in preventing perinatal depression, the USPSTF found, and, as The New York Times reports, the new guidelines mean the kinds of therapies that can prevent moms from becoming depressed with be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Therapy can change and save lives, but it's often unaffordable. Now, more mothers will have access to it when they need it most.

👏👏👏

Any mom can develop perinatal depression, but certain women are more at risk. Those with a personal or family history of depression and those dealing with stressful circumstances like poverty, divorce, young or solo motherhood are at an increased risk. Past abuse or trauma, gestational diabetes, and experiencing an unplanned or complicated pregnancy also increase a mother's risk for depression during and after pregnancy.

Untreated, perinatal depression can have terrible outcomes for women, babies and families. A proactive approach—getting at-risk moms into therapy before depression hits—could actually prevent the disease and its personal and social consequences.

"We can prevent this devastating illness and it's about time that we did," Karina Davidson, a clinical psychologist and researcher who helped write the recommendations told NPR.

But it won't be easy to do that, says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Marlene P. Freeman. In an editorial published alongside the USPSTF recommendations, Freeman points out that proactive intervention is a challenging task for the current health system. "Clinicians who provide obstetrical care may not have the expertise or time during clinical visits to perform assessments and tailor referrals to women who are identified," Freeman writes. "Availability and access to care present potential hurdles, and stigma presents another potential barrier for some women to seek and accept mental health care," she continues.

The system and our society are not currently set up to help get moms into cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, but maybe the adoption of these guidelines can change that over time.

Perinatal depression often goes untreated because mothers don't know how or when to ask for help. According to a 2017 study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, one in five new moms experiencing postpartum mood disorders doesn't disclose her symptoms to healthcare providers.

That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics released its own depression guidelines in late 2018, urging pediatricians "incorporate recognition and management of perinatal depression into pediatric practice."

If health care providers do what both the USPSTF and the AAP suggest, American mothers could have doctors looking out for their mental health at every stage of the perinatal journey.

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