The Bus Stop Divide: Working versus Stay-at-Home Women
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
December 29, 2011 01:48 PM | 3401 views | 3 3 comments | 119 119 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Feminist Movement has a long and interesting history that has been written by many women who are greater than I will ever be.  Partially because of that movement, I grew up understanding that my voice is as loud as my brother’s.  I have never been told I am limited simply because of my gender.  I have always had choices, and that is a beautiful thing.

However, there is another side to all this “choice” that warrants discussion.

Not that long ago, I ran into a friend of mine who has three gorgeous children as well as a demanding job as a lawyer.  She is ebullient, smart, and ambitious, and I am certain she is capable of making partner at her firm if that’s the path she chooses. 

Yet our conversation took a familiar turn when she acknowledged it is difficult to balance professional pursuits and parenting.  The expectations that are put upon modern women to achieve that perfect balance can feel a bit crushing.  Per the blurred roles many women now play, there is a tug that constantly pulls on a woman’s spirit, that can rip her apart if that pull becomes a tug-of-war on her time and emotional resources. 

This brings me to the great lie ultra-feminists seem to have established as the gold standard for which we must all aspire.  When we are young, we are told we can have everything, but how is this possible?  Most of us are not wonder women.  We cannot bend time. We must choose one stage on which we’ll star, or we must accept we will play supporting roles that don’t come with top billing. 

Intellectually, I think women know this is truth.  Emotionally they often feel that when they can’t do it all, they are less than everyone else.   Forget the professional glass ceilings that are inevitable for women who in their prime earning years choose to interrupt careers with the duties of child rearing.  Forget the men they say get in their way when they want to move forward.  Women judge themselves much more harshly than men ever could, and they also judge other women. 

As my lawyer friend pointed out to me, this is clearly evident at her Cobb County bus stop where women who work and women who don’t show up in their respective suits or slippers to send their children off to school most mornings.   The suits stand on one side of the curb.  The slippers stand on the other. 

Perhaps in those wee morning hours, the working moms are dismissively thinking as Hillary Clinton once said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession…” 

At the same time, perhaps the stay-at-home moms feel superior as they know they will be back at the bus stop in the afternoon, and they will provide the snacks and supervision for some of those latchkey kids, who crave adult attention that they simply won’t get from their own parents,

Who is better?  Suits or slippers? 

Now that’s a loaded question. 

Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the bus stop divide, and I know the choice to work outside the home or not, is never clear-cut.  Sometimes finances determine this choice, especially in a downturned economy.  Sometimes a special circumstance such as a special needs child makes pursuing a profession more difficult.  

So when I asked friends this question—which choice is more valid--regardless of their household circumstances, I wasn’t surprised when many of them came clean about feeling judged for whichever life they’d chosen and resenting women in the opposite position. 

One said, “I’m sick to death of hearing stay-at-home moms say they’re tired.”  But another noted when she worked in an office, she felt she had more time to sit down and gather her thoughts, so working outside the house was easier in her opinion than the constant treadmill lifestyle of catering to kids, making contributions to her family that she felt were as valid as her husband’s paycheck. 

This all brings me back to those feminists. 

I understand mothers who work in and outside the home are the same in that both are working.  Both must prioritize in their lives, and both are often left questioning whether or not what they are doing is the right thing for themselves or for their families.  

Neither one can do it all.

Perhaps instead of staring quietly at each other across the bus stop divide as if suits or slippers signify different tribes, women should have more open and honest conversations about the implications of the choices we all must make and how these choices truly impact us and our society.   Perhaps through mutual respect, we could even find a way to help each other.

After all, I believe we should embrace the choices feminism has opened up for us, but we should also understand that reality shows us choices are inevitable.

If we don’t accept this truth, we will never feel whole, as we will always be torn in two by none other than ourselves.    

In the end, that’s far worse than being judged by someone else. 

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Laura Armstrong
January 02, 2012
Barbara, you've articulated so well what so many of us have been thinking for years! Thank you so much.

I'll never forget my first year as a Girl Scout leader -- also a stay at home, freelancing mom, working in the home doing both jobs, a whole other thing. I had a neighbor who decided to go back to work to earn the big bucks. She scrambled to get her kids into every activity possible to fill the time between school and her return time, and asked me to keep her daughter on the day of scouts from 2:30 until the meeting at 4:30. At the time, I was resentful that she wanted to use me as a babysitter when I was already volunteering with the girls and she was putting on her suits and escaping the whole thing, getting that fancy car and new furniture while we (stay home moms)sacrificed the material things and helped her out.

I'm not sure how you fix this divide...for many people not entirely happy with their lives, the grass is always greener. But talking about it a little is a start. Great post!
B. D. Lane
January 03, 2012
Thank you very much, Laura. That means a lot coming from you. While you were leading the Girl Scouts, I was off in my neck of the woods being a den mom. Same deal. Different fundraisers. Since we are both writers, the rest of our day was also probably very similar: both hunched over our computers, typing away to the hum of the dishwasher, neglecting the laundry entirely. :) But then... that's another topic.
December 30, 2011
It is wonderful when women have family and friends to help them make wise decisions that they won't regret in the future. It is a shame that so many women don't have close family or friends to help them make good choices or to assist them with that all important care of their children. Women need to do a lot of soul searching and to seek good advice from people they can trust who have the wisdom to help them make choices that won't haunt them at a later date.
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