There is a new book out entitled "In Praise of Stay-At-Home Moms." I'm intrigued by the concept. We've become a society where the obvious needs to be stated, and then proven through expensive studies. (Did you know that men and women are different?)
Of course stay-at-home moms deserve praise. Most mothers (and fathers too, for that matter) deserve praise.
Unfortunately, at least since the advent of Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique, mothers who stay home have been demeaned and devalued.
They are considered to be either ill-informed (at best), and incapable of even being informed (at worst), uneducated, incompetent, foolish and at the very least, the spoiled rich. Otherwise why would anyone make such a choice? When women with MBA's leave their jobs to stay home with their children, it becomes a major NY Times article.
We need to praise stay-at-home moms because it's not an easy choice; it's a choice that society in general looks down on. A women without a least one graduate degree and an upwardly mobile career path just isn't worth talking to. Everyone has a riff on that classic cocktail party scene. "What do you do?" "I'm home raising my children." "Excuse me, I need to mingle."
We need to praise stay-at-home moms because no one else does
We need to praise stay-at-home moms because no one else does. Their kids certainly don't. And sometimes their husbands are also unsure, negatively influenced by the noise of the world around them.
We need to praise stay-at-home moms because it's a lonely job. The kids are cute but the need for adult company is strong and frequently unsatisfied. To accept the loneliness in order to give your children stability and security is a brave decision. I used to receive a lot of praise for having a houseful of Shabbos guests when I had many small children underfoot. They didn't realize that it was a totally selfish act. By the end of the week I was in desperate need of the conversation and companionship of adults!
We need to praise stay-at-home moms because it's not an easy job. It's physically draining -- you need to operate at high energy with little sleep. You get dirty, your kids get dirty, your house gets dirty...and your children don't stop moving.
We need to praise stay-at-home moms because they are constantly working on their character. The opportunities for lack of patience, frustration and losing your temper are frequent, perhaps every few minutes. (Although some careers may pose similar challenges, if they're as frequent as in the care of small children, it's probably time to look for a new job!)
We need to praise stay-at-home moms because they are creating the future. They are aware of what's at stake and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
In fact the only thing that detracts from the praise of stay-at-home moms is the fact that amidst all the effort and hard work, there is a lot of pleasure available.
Through the blur of mess and exhaustion, there is the joy of watching your children explore the world -- a flower, a birdie, a new friend. There is the thrill of their first step and their further adventures of discovery. There is the excitement of their first word and the thoughts and sentences that follow. There is the gratification in watching their character develop -- in seeing them share with others, play with others, and even comfort others. If you pay attention, those pleasures never cease.
Everyone needs praise. But perhaps stay-at-home moms just need to change their focus. We need to focus on the benefits and not the challenges and frustrations, not the lack of external validation (I know, not an easy task). We get to watch our children's eyes light up when they see us, we get to hold their little hands as we play at the park with them, pushing them on the swings and catching them at the end of the slide. And we get those hugs and kisses and "I love you mommy" at the end of the day. Who needs cocktail parties anyway?