The author of today’s guest post has asked to remain anonymous.
Friendly fire: inadvertent firing towards one’s own or otherwise friendly forces.
The words were said so quickly and with such ease I was shocked. We quietly went about our work; busy with our hands in service for our children. A young woman, with preschoolers, asked me about my work and told me she was, “fascinated by working women.” I replied, “It’s really hard. If you can stay home with your children do that. Go to school or learn a trade and go back to work later if you need to or want to.” Then another young woman joined the conversation, while still busily working, and said, “Besides, the children really suffer.” She immediately realized what she had said with little thought to the company she was in. We made eye contact and then went back to our work. I don’t remember where the conversation turned next; I only know where my heart has turned again and again since then; the “friendly fire” rhetoric against the working mom leveled by those who should be friendly forces and who often intend no harm. This rhetoric knows no individual circumstances and only levels generalized judgment or “friendly fire” causing harm when there is no enemy in sight.
“Besides, the children suffer” were words heaped on the words of a co-worker who, just weeks before, on my first day back at work said, in reference to his wife’s ability to stay home with their child, “You can really tell the difference between the children of working mothers and stay-at-home mothers.” I was stunned at his rudeness and the inappropriateness of his comment.
Those words were added to comments before including a former co-worker who raised her children in the home she shared with her alcoholic husband and referenced my “brand of mothering” as “watchful neglect.” She failed to label her brand of mothering for what it was during the time she was a stay-at home-mother; mothering her children in a dynamic of severe alcoholism. There were other rounds of friendly fire too numerous to count but all similar in the sharing of opinion upholding personal circumstances while condescending mine. The friendly fire was often propelled by sisters in the gospel; the most painful source of criticism when seeking salve for wounds.
The rhetoric said without understanding, the offhanded comments, the unkind observations and judgments without the benefit of personal experience or perspective. This friendly fire rhetoric cannot possibly know the individual details of my life. It cannot know my heart broke when I realized I would go back to work so much sooner than I had planned. The rhetoric cannot know I applied for a small handful of jobs, interviewed, and accepted a job offer that provided so much more potential than my prior job. The rhetoric cannot know my husband was facing unexpected job loss. The rhetoric cannot know I will eventually be the breadwinner in my happy marriage to a man who is good and in a dynamic where my children have very rarely seen an unkind word or raised voice between their parents. The rhetoric cannot know my husband and I knelt by the couch in our room and I very tearfully poured out the grief of my heart to my husband and then to my Heavenly Father as we considered the job offer before me. The rhetoric cannot know I have been guided spiritually as I have sought care for my children and felt the directional promptings of a loving God who is concerned for me and my children. The rhetoric of the ideal stay-at-home mom as compared to the less than ideal working mom cannot possibly know the intimate details of this life I live.
I sat on a hotel room bed my first night back at work and wept for the loss of my stint as a stay at home mother; overwhelmed by the life in front of me. I wondered at my ability to be a good employee and a great mother; could it be done? Would my children suffer? Were they doomed to all of the assumed pitfalls of a dual income home? As I wept at the loss of the brief time I lived in “ideal” circumstances and as I wept at the rhetoric that implied failure and personal selfishness; the Spirit quietly whispered, “My grace is sufficient.”
The rhetoric is so easily applied when we think we know the circumstances, when the work seems to be in pursuit of material goods and when the working woman appears to sacrifice less materially than the stay-at-home mother. The rhetoric fails to take into account there are individual circumstances not visible to the assumptive and judgmental eye. The rhetoric fails to take into account His grace. His grace is sufficient for all; even for the working mother. His grace is sufficient for all mothers who are doing their very best. So, when the thoughtless rhetoric and untamed tongue engage in friendly fire, I try to wrap my mother’s heart in the peace of sitting on a hotel room bed, so burdened with every additional care and concern a working mother has, as the Lord whispered to my soul, “My grace is sufficient.”
Post Script: Months later the young stay-at-home mother who stated “Besides, the children really suffer” poured out the details of her very unhappy marriage. Circumstances I was already aware of, including a physically present but emotionally absent husband and a high conflict marriage where the children routinely see arguing and anger. With only heartache for her deep grief, I was struck by the importance of understanding under what circumstances our “children really suffer.” With no judgment against her, I understood that motherhood isn’t as simple as whether the mother stays home or works outside the home. Our struggles are unique. Our marriages are unique. Our children are unique. His grace is sufficient, especially when coupled with our valiant efforts, whatever the circumstances may be.