The Stay-at-Home Mom or The Working Mom: Who Has It Better?

My wife, Christi, and I feel more like hostages of late than parents, confined to the beck and call of our two-year-old son and seven-month-old daughter. Yesterday, our two-year-old owned me. The CIA should hire him to train terrorist negotiators.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not giving in to our son’s every demand, but we are, like many young parents, in the trenches.

Not too long ago I was talking to a childhood friend as she shared with me the struggle of being a working mom. She said,

“I see your wife on Facebook and read your posts and imagine her getting out of bed, putting on makeup, getting the kids ready, playing with them all day, and still having dinner on the table for you as you get home from work.”

My sudden burst of laughter even caught me off guard.

Our pictures on Facebook and blog posts must be very misleading,” I replied, in a genuinely contemplative way.

In reality, we’re far from Leaving it to Beaver. Even leaving it to God is a struggle.

I corrected my friend’s perception,

“Maybe I need to start writing about the times Christi rarely makes it out of sweats, cries at 5AM on the shower floor because she can’t get our inconsolable infant daughter to settle, and often resorts to frozen pizzas and mac-and-cheese for dinner as she exhaustingly turns the kids over to me for the evening.”

I could tell by the look on my friend’s face that we immediately went from talking to relating. She told me of her struggles as a full-time working mom, and the guilt she feels for not being with her kiddos as much as she’d like to be.

The irony is that my wife, who runs our business part time when we can get a babysitter, often feels guilty for wanting to work more than she can.

Not long after that conversation, I find myself, as a dad, relating to both. Well, a little bit anyway.

Christi’s chronic back ailment recently left her immobilized for about three weeks, leaving me as a stay-at-home dad taking care of all three. Her recovery was a bit prolonged due to her inability to pick up our daughter, who just so happens to be in the 97th percentile for her size.

Running our own business, for these reasons is a blessing. But it’s also a curse.

I need to work. I also need to help Christi. The kids need me. She needs me. The checkbook needs me. Our trench right now is deep.

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m writing this to say—we get it.

No matter your situation, whether you’re an exhausted stay-at-home-mom, an anxious working mom, or an exhausted and anxious single mom, one situation is only better than the other when you allow self-imposed guilt and shame to own you.

That guilt and shame is often what leads us to look upon another and judge:

The working mom says, “It must be nice to stay at home and do nothing all day but play with your kids.”

The stay-at-home mom says, “What I wouldn’t give to get a break from my kids and do something else that gives me identity."

The truth is that no matter your situation as a parent, there’s likely strain on your marriage, strain on your work and/ or finances, and strain on your personal time.

I know this because I’m a parent, who often feels like a hostage. Here are two ways Christi and I are dealing with that:

1. Changing our perspective

The challenge Christi and I are facing of late is not that we’re hostages to our circumstances, or worse yet, hostages to our kids. The challenge we’re facing is that we’re hostages to our own way of thinking.

When we see ourselves as hostages to our circumstances, we blame and judge others. 

When we see ourselves as hostages to our kids, we treat them as an inconvenience.

Our kids are not inconveniences.

Our kids are human beings learning how to navigate the challenges of life.

Do our kids see that we own our circumstances, or do they see that our circumstances own us?

2. Helping other parents

Parenting is flat out hard. In addition to the universal challenges of every family are the myriad of unique challenges each individual family is facing at any given time.

If you're emotionally spent, don't be proud, be resourceful. Ask trusted family and friends for a break. There's no shame in getting "YOU" time. Especially when you realize your kids are most likely feeling your pain.

Instead of judging one another, let’s reach out and help one another. Trade off babysitting so you can go on a date night. Take a meal to a family in need. Sit with a parent friend and just listen. Dads, give your wives a regular mom's night out. She deserves it.

Giving of ourselves, especially when it seems like there’s little left to give, can be the most freeing next step we take. For in it we discover the universality of parenting--that we're really not alone in our struggles and that there's a community of others who need you, as much as you need them.

Besides, our kids are watching how well we love.


Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and President and Co-Founder of the Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah, October 2015) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st CenturyHe wakes up each day striving to love others better beginning with his wife, Christi, and their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.

For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.