Handling Criticism from Family and Friends
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25 No. 4, 2008, pp. 30-32
"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I love being home with my baby, and my husband is also very supportive. I'm feeling a lot of judgment about my decision from my old friends and even some family members, however. How have other mothers at home dealt with the cultural expectation that all women should be working outside the home, particularly when it comes from family and friends?
It's a shame that the most important job we'll ever do doesn't command the respect it deserves. It sounds as though you are happy in the role of full-time mother, and it really helps that your husband is supportive. Sadly, judgment from family and friends can cause rifts in relationships. More than a decade ago, I intended to return to full-time employment when my baby was six months old. Once the time came I had changed my mind. I had not anticipated just how dependent a six-month-old would be.
Being at home rather than in an office was quite an adjustment at first. A stay-at-home mother has a much slower pace of life. She does not have a finished product at the end of the day to show for her toils or a list of things she can tick off as completed. More often than not, she has a messy house and a lot of dirty laundry! She'll have to wait years to see the true value of the time she has spent being with her children. No one places a monetary value on the work she does.
It can be hard for some to understand or accept that motherhood is fulfilling in itself and easy to think a mother who doesn't resume her career is throwing away her education and training. Yet being with your baby is both enjoyable and rewarding in a way that even the most prestigious career could never hope to be. What clinched it for me was a comment from a friend. While we were discussing the relative benefits of daycare and nannies, she said that no one caring for my baby while I was away would be capable of loving him as I did.
Those who care about you will come to see that the path you have chosen was the right one for you and your family, even if it might not be the one they have chosen for themselves.
Ilkley, Yorkshire, Great Britain
Many people asked me about returning to work shortly after I had my first son. My husband and I both agreed that my staying home to raise our children was what was most important. And honestly, after I had my son, I could not imagine leaving him for an hour, let alone all day long!
What a gift you are giving to your child. Motherhood is a different road in your career path, and the most important job you will ever hold. I've heard many people say things like, "As a stay-at-home mother, you will lose yourself!" I find that quite the opposite is true. It gave me the opportunity to find myself, face challenges, achieve incredible goals, and feel more fulfilled than I ever imagined.
Most of the time, I think people questioned me about being a stay-at-home mom because they were curious about the financial aspect of it. How in the world could we afford to be a single income family? As first time parents, we did not have financial concerns going into parenting. It takes sacrifice and creativity, but we have saved so much money by breastfeeding.
I recall a Leader at an LLL meeting one time saying to us about her own choices, "We have simply decided to put people before things." You will find that just like anything else, you can never make everyone happy or understand your choices, but as long as you know in your heart that you are doing what is right for you and your family, that is what matters!
Scotia NY USA
While I can't offer specific advice for dealing with judgmental family and friends, I can offer suggestions to help you feel more supported.
I think the reason that I haven't had to deal with this sort of thing is because I found a playgroup of stay-at-home mothers and surrounded myself with like-minded friends. It happens that my playgroup stemmed from LLL meetings that I started attending back in 2000. We were all there together with babies born within three to four months of each other. Someone suggested we meet socially outside of LLL, and then some of us invited friends to join us.
If you haven't already done so, attend some daytime LLL meetings and connect with other stay-at-home moms. While it won't prevent judgment from others who don't understand or respect your decision, it will at least give you more support than you're getting right now and a place to vent as I'm sure some of those other moms are feeling the same judgment you are.
When I have been asked why I choose to stay at home, my response is that while it does make our budget tight, our children are more valuable to us than material goods. One thing to keep in mind: while there are some mothers who genuinely prefer to work outside the home and have their babies in daycare, there are many more who have no choice. In today's economy, many mothers are forced to return to work when they didn't plan to. While I'm not making excuses, please do consider that some people who appear to be judgmental of you may be speaking from a place of envy because they'd like to be home with their baby, and it could be that they are defensive and seeming judgmental when perhaps they don't mean to be.
Enjoy your time at home with your baby -- it goes by very fast. The next thing you know, you're putting your child on the school bus and waving goodbye.
Being in the position of challenging cultural expectations is tough, but hopefully you'll grow into it, as so many mothers have over the years.
First of all, you and your husband know that you are making the right decision for your family. No one can replace a mother in her baby's life, even for a few hours a day. So you can look anyone in the eye and smile and say, "Thank you for your concern. This is working for us right now."
If family and friends want to "persuade" you differently, it can be a good idea to let them have their say, acknowledging their opinions. (For example saying something like, "I hear your concern that I'm not going to have any time for myself," or "You seem to be worried that we won't be able to afford a bigger house if we live on one income," or whatever it is that they are expressing.) You can follow up by saying that you're glad they expressed their concerns to you and you'll take them into consideration when making your decision. This allows them to feel that you really have listened to them, and are considering their point of view, but leaves no room for doubt that ultimately the decisions are in your (and your husband's) hands.
It would also be helpful to find other mothers who are staying home, through LLL group meetings or other mother-baby groups. You can give each other ongoing mutual support in the face of societal pressure, and perhaps you can form your own informal playgroup.
I've been home now for over four years. I have two girls (ages two and four and a half). I was really hard on stay-at-home mothers before having children myself. I thought they had plenty of time to do the shopping, baking, cleaning, meal planning, and that if I were home I'd be sewing my children's clothes, too. I don't think like this anymore.
Being home with children is something friends, relatives, and even your spouse cannot fully understand. Mothering takes everything you have. It means sometimes you've sat on the floor all afternoon reading books and doing puzzles, there's no dinner, the fridge is empty and yet, I'd consider it a productive day. You can pay someone to take care of your child, but you can't pay anyone to love them.
If you are able to stay home with your children, just do it -- try not to worry about the opinions of others. Your friends will come around, and your relatives will adjust. Your life will never be the same as it was. You've been given the opportunity to fall in love with the most beautiful human being on the planet, your child.
Kalamazoo MI USA
It's only natural to seek approval and support for your work, whether it be in or out of the home. How disheartening to find indifference and criticism from the people who you expect to be sources of support in your life.
One of the biggest changes I faced when I chose to stay home with my son was learning to live without my usual sources of external validation. Throughout my academic and professional life, I always had a teacher or a boss to evaluate my performance and let me know when I'm doing a good job. At home, you quickly find that a baby is an unreliable source of validation, as an unhappy baby doesn't necessarily mean a poor mothering job or vice versa, and that many of the people you come into contact with don't really notice or appreciate that you're doing a job. It's very disheartening when you turn for that "good job" pat on the back and there's nobody there.
You said your husband is supportive of your decision to stay home, so you already have one cheerleader in your corner. Don't be afraid to tell him that you need support and validation. I've found that a simple, "Wow, you're doing so great with the baby," from my husband goes a long way in helping me to be able to ignore criticism and feel good about the work I do. I've also gotten a lot of support from other stay-at-home moms. I make it a point to compliment them on their parenting skills and hard work and I've found the compliments returned many times.
Don't be afraid to ask for support from those around you who do support what you're doing, and don't be afraid to ignore the opinions of those who don't. Like so many aspects of mothering, once you are certain in your heart and mind of what you are doing, it becomes a lot easier to defend it to others.
Manassas VA USA
I think that it is very hard for women to make choices that aren't what is expected from them. Most of my family and friends didn't understand right away my choices regarding my children (breastfeeding, slow and respectful introduction of food, staying at home). I think that they feel as if our children changed the "wonderful life" that we had before! They don't really understand that we made our choice and that we are very happy with it! In my case, the people that didn't understand kind of gave up asking when I was returning to work at some point. The most wonderful thing is that now that my older daughter is almost four years old, people can't stop telling me how wonderful, well behaved, intelligent, and healthy she is! All of my choices have really paid off.
If you feel as though you have to explain your choices, just say this is something that is really important to you, and you strongly believe that your baby should be with you.
Victoria BC Canada
It can be very difficult to respond to criticism, but it is especially hard when it is coming from friends or family. Many mothers have dealt with this when breastfeeding their baby and responding to criticism from a mother or mother-in-law who did not breastfeed. Frequently these comments can be stopped with gentle answers that validate the choices of the person making the criticism. For example, "We have found that the expenses I've been able to cut while staying home actually save our family more money than if I were working. I don't have to pay for daycare or a work wardrobe, I save so much gas money. And I've discovered that I love staying at home with Bobby Junior and don't miss work like I thought I would. Suzie, I am so glad it worked out for you to stay employed. With the wonderful benefits you were getting at your work, and a sitter you trusted around the corner, it was an ideal situation."
Most mothers have found it also is helpful to point out that each situation is so different for every family, and this is what has worked best for your family right now. Often if critical people can feel validated in their own choices, they will be less threatened and more accepting of yours, even if it wasn't their business in the first place. The most important thing is not to let these comments bother you. They come from a place of misunderstanding, and you need to continue to trust in yourself that you are making the choices that are best for your baby and your family.
Derby KS USA