It was unfamiliar territory to me to be standing sedentary in the schoolyard, watching my kids play with their friends before the bell rang, instead of rushing to get the kids to school and make it to work on time. I had decided to take a leave of absence from work for a year in search of that long lost friend Sanity, who used to wrap so comfortably around my brain and confidently guide me to sound and thoughtful decision making. I missed that friend. I missed who I was when he was with me.
According to Stats Canada, in 1976, nine in 10 non-working mothers in a single-earner family were stay-at-home parents. In 2014, 6.6 in 10 of non-working mothers were stay-at-home moms. For a variety of reasons, moms went back to work and shared in the financial contributions to the family, but not all fathers felt it necessary to share in the ongoing needs at home. Women maintained those duties as well, eventually becoming overworked and overstressed. Psychologist Shari Thurer wisely wrote that “[m]otherhood versus personal ambition represents the heart of the feminine dilemma.”
Many of the women I met in the schoolyard had felt that pull and decided they would rather not leave their children in the care of someone else, and, if they were going to take on the role of a SAHM, they were going to do it with the same drive that pushed them to succeed in their former workplaces.
As I encountered more of these SAHMs, it became clear that they took their jobs very seriously. Why wouldn’t they? Considering their accomplished backgrounds in careers such as publishing, marketing, banking, accounting, advertising, human resources, legal, social, and medical work (to name a few in my schoolyard), they had worked hard to get where they were and weren’t about to settle for cruising through this next phase of their lives nonchalantly.
They paid attention to their kids’ lives and volunteered in classrooms, on field trips, and on school committees; they knew what their kids were eating; they knew their children’s friends; they chauffeured their kids to games, practices, lessons, and clubs. Most of the women I met were not on maternity leave but had made a conscious decision to change careers for a period of time. (I should also note that the community in Toronto in which I live has a fairly comfortable social status, where many parents can afford to stay at home by choice and not by any financial directive).
But do you know who is sitting in the backseat of their cars, farting with their kids on their way to soccer or ballet? Other kids whose parents are at work. As I infiltrated deeper into SAHM territory, I realized how fundamentally important these moms were to the fabric of our community. Without volunteers in schools, field trips would not run and special, in-class programming would end (which wouldn’t matter because funding for many of these events would not exist). I had no idea how important these women were to the enhancement of my children’s experience at school.
If parents weren’t at home, many kids would not have the opportunity to participate in programming beyond school. How do you get your daughter to hockey practice an hour away at 5:00 if you’re working nine-to-five? What happens when playing in a league includes weekend tournaments that begin Friday morning (on a school day) and end Sunday night in a town that requires a hotel stay? If you don’t have a flexible job or don’t want to hand over your vacation days in order to get your kids to these events, these moms are your saviors.
These moms were my saviors for years and I am so grateful to them. How many times have I asked someone in a panic to pick up my kids or to drive them to a practice? In desperation, I was asking people I barely knew for help until I couldn’t do it anymore. I was the universal receiver and it didn’t feel good. My kids couldn’t keep up with the schedule because there was no schedule. All they knew was that Mommy was wound up really tight, so don’t mess with her. Don’t tell her she’s late again. Don’t mention that she’s wearing two different shoes. But DO tell her gently that she’s tucked her skirt into her pantyhose. Again.
This past year I was able to be present. I drove the van filled with gassy kids, I offered to help out in a pinch, and I brought the (homemade) muffins to the game. Not once did I consider this to be an “us versus them” (working versus non-working) mom competition, which I knew created tension and resentment in some schoolyards. I was not smug in my newfound ability to participate more fully in the daily lives of my children. In fact, I was grateful for the opportunity and was particularly sympathetic to working moms. I did my best to proactively alleviate stress where I knew they felt it – where I used to feel it. It was a much more comfortable role. Having the capacity to give back felt really good. Since joining the playground club, I wear the daytime uniform exclusive to this group consisting of yoga pants and flip flops, which makes it impossible to put on two different shoes or show off my underwear through my pantyhose.
As the year comes to an end, my husband and I decided that the net gains of me not working well outweigh the losses, so I have left my job and will continue to stay at home for the time being. Welcome back my old friend, Sanity, may you never stray far from me again.