Editor's note: This post by Rita Merrick originally appeared on her blog, Merrick Family. It has been reprinted here with her permission.
"So, where else do you work?"
Without fail, I've gotten this question at least once every week since I've gone back to work. I work one day per week at the long-term care facility where I used to work and it feels good to be back in the nursing field.
"I work at home. I'm a stay-at-home mom."
Ironically, it's the women who usually wrinkle their noses and the men who usually congratulate me. Living in an area that is generally known to be conservative and family-oriented, the reactions of the women in particular always surprise me.
One female co-worker, at hearing my response said, "Why would you go through all the time and money to get a degree in a profession that you barely even use?" I'm ashamed to say that a snarky and equally judgmental reply came to mind, which I fortunately had the good sense to keep to myself.
It's also painful when judgmental remarks are made about our decision to have another child. We've only made the announcement of our upcoming arrival to a few people, and part of my hesitation comes from the response we've gotten from some of the people we've already told.
"Seriously, girl?!? Aren't your hands full enough already?"
Or the remark one co-worker made to another (I assume joking) when I was completing my drug screen for work: "Make sure you check her extra well. You've got to be high on something to have gone and gotten pregnant with your fifth child."
Or with bulging eyes, "So will this one finally be your last one?"
I remember a little sadly when I first announced I was pregnant with my first and second children and the joy with which people received the announcements. With the third, fourth and now fifth pregnancies, the reactions have become gradually less joyful and more of shock and ominous warnings about the wrecking ball that is about to destroy my life.
I'm not sure when being a stay-at-home mom, let alone one with a houseful of children, got such a bad rap. I'm guessing it has happened in the last few decades when more women have entered the work force, and the stay-at-home mom has been portrayed by the media as a frumpy, uneducated underachiever, who is left with no other option than to stay home to bear offspring and do the grunt work that a housekeeper should be doing.
But then I think as individuals we've done plenty to propagate the stigma as well. Take most people's opinion of the minivan (which includes mine as well). A minivan just isn't cool, no matter which way you spin it. It doesn't matter the year, make or model, or whether you call it a Mormon Mobile or a Swagger Wagon ... it's a friggin' mini-van. Sizing up to a Suburban, or in our case Excursion, isn't much better. You're still packing around a boatload of crazy. Your mommy ride just became bigger, squarer and harder to park.
Then come the strollers that are wide and long enough to carry the Pope, the diaper bags that are forever spilling out their contents of Cheerios and stale sippy cups, the sour burp cloths, and don't even get me started on nursing bras.
Then you come home to breaking up fights fit for a bar, cleaning the contents of blown-out diapers, the spills, the sticky fingerprints, the broken blinds. Your once magazine-esque house is now baby-proofed to the nines in plastic plug-in covers and rounded table edges, with your Christmas tree sporting a bare bottom half.
And then there are the embarrassing mommy tantrums and the apologies you give to your husband for acting like a sleep-deprived lunatic.
Yes, it's all there in its awkward glory of motherhood. And yet, I love it. There's nothing I'd rather be doing with my life. It is unglamorous, monotonous, cumbersome, back-breaking, and soul-breaking, but raising children is sacred work. I believe that the hardest things that we do in life will be the ones that we look back on with the greatest fondness. And raising my four little monkeys and growing a fifth has been without a doubt the most difficult thing I've ever done and likely ever will do in my life. But this is my life's work. They are my life's work. Yesterday afternoon, as I sat next to my first grader and helped him through his reading, I felt a surge of gratitude for the grace of God in allowing me to be home at that moment, to listen to him conquer his first four-syllable word. I felt it last week as I helped my boys scour their room to find odds and ends for their "Wacky Wednesday" costumes for school. I felt it when I french braided my 4-year-old's hair, and she told me I had just made her look as beautiful as a princess.
I've noticed from working at the nursing home that life and the things we hold dearest to our hearts have an interesting way of unraveling themselves in the twilight of a person's life. I'm amazed at how often the dear, sweet people I care for — many of whom have little to no awareness of their circumstances or surroundings, or even the name of their spouse — often fall asleep calling out for "mother." The role and influence of a mother is never diminished, even when the faculties of the mind and body are gone.
The frumpy mother is a myth — a creature of unkindly propagated legend, often created in our own minds. In the eyes and heart of the child who a mother is nurturing, there is no such a thing. I've started making it a point to tell people who raise their eyebrows at my "underused degree" or "unemployment" how privileged I feel to be able to do the most honorable work available to women. I tell them how thankful I am that I married a man who honors women who bear the grunt work of humanity and who thanks me daily for doing so.
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Thanks be to God for the women who labor in the workforce who make this world a better and kinder place. But thanks also be to God for the women who work on the homefront, often who carry out their life's work behind a veil of anonymity.
Rita Merrick was raised moving around Latin America as the daughter of a foreign service diplomat and currently lives in Nampa, Idaho. She is happily married to a small-town Idaho farm boy and is the mother of four beautiful children. She is a registered nurse who enjoys photography and being outdoors.