Friendly Fire

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.

13 thoughts on “Friendly Fire

  1. Another target of “friendly fire” is converts. If there shouldn’t be a distinction between mothers who are employed outside the home and those who aren’t, why should there be one between those who are born in the church and those who aren’t? Pres.. Hinckley said baptism puts us all on equal footing. That hasn’t been my experience with members. And I don’t care to hear how much converts are admired. I’ve had too much of the “friendly fire” to accept that as a common opinion. And for the record – I’ve been an active, committed “always there, always can be counted on” member for 50 years. And still get the inferiority of converts friendly fire comments (well meaning of course, as I’m always assured).

  2. It should be noted that even among parents at home, they may need to spend time away from their little ones. I left my kids at home in daycare while I flew out of state a couple times to help take care of my parents during their illnesses. I also left babies in daycare so that I could chaperone a trip for a high school student. In fact, our daycare expenses were pretty steep for a few years there, yet none of it was tax deductible, since I wasn’t working at a paid job!

    A lot of moms direct school plays, are deeply involved in politics, have busy church callings or spend time at the gym. Those seem to be okay, as long as they are not (gasp!) earning money.

    It is a shame that you had rhetoric thrown at you. But wonderful that you learned to follow your own path.

  3. I’m divorced and I really hate off-hand comments like “people don’t value families anymore and just get divorced” or “divorce is too easy to get these days”. People will often say, “oh, we didn’t mean you”, but I don’t know who those mythical people who casually get divorced are because I haven’t met any yet. Either way, we shouldn’t make sweeping judgements about people, whether we know them or not. It’s just not helpful–knowing that divorce is a bad thing certainly didn’t keep it from happening to me. I think that people sometimes disparage the choices of others as a way of making themselves feel better about their own lives, but we really need to find a better way of knowing we have made the right choice.

  4. What you describe as friendly fire (which it is) is also what happens when we continually repeat the party line, the boiled-down mottos, our cultural and historical understanding of concepts without evaluating them or looking at them in individualized contexts–or completely reevaluating them altogether.

    “The children really suffer when the mother works outside the home” is just a shorthand way of saying “The children really suffer when their emotional and developmental needs are not given the proper weight by both of their parents in balancing all the other needs and concerns faced by a family and each of its individual members. Because each individual is unique (adult and child) and each family is unique and the circumstances facing that family are unique, there is no blanket right answer, but don’t forget the needs of the children in this equation during this season of their life.” The shorthand way is much quicker to say and easier to remember, but before long, instead of representing the much more complex truth, it comes to embody and be accepted as the only truth.

    I am thankful for the grace of the Savior in my life and for you in your life. And, my heart goes out to the sister who has contention in her home.

  5. My niece was recently bemoaning how hard it is to leave her kids every day and go to work. This is what I told her. “The most important thing is that your kids know you love them. Some times that love is shown by pulling a twelve hour shift at work.”

  6. I wish I could wrap my arms around you and hug you. How true it is that all of our situations in life are unique. I am a working mother as well and received many personal revelations that confirmed that working was definitely the right choice for our family, yet people make unthinking comments about how “I quit working so I could raise my own children” etc. etc. I also get people who assume I work out of selfishness or desiring to have more materially. I love the reminder that “His grace is sufficient.” We do what the Lord prompts us to do, and He makes up the difference.

  7. Great post. I’m glad you have been able to step back and try to better understand the people making these insensitive comments. The employed mothers I know are just trying to do the best they can with their circumstances.

    I really liked comment #4

    My mother went back to work when I was in middle school. This wasn’t the best time for me personally my folks were feeling a financial pinch and needed to start paying for missions. I did not like this arrangement at all, but as I look back on it I have become more philosophical. From my own personal experience I have some advice for a full time working mother (or any parent for that matter). First it would be to hold a regular family dinner at a regular time as much as possible. Get out your crock pot and put something on in the morning or learn to make other simple but nutritious food. Routines are very comforting to most children. If my parents had followed this advice it would have gone a long way. My second piece of advice is to try to always stay in tune with your child and the Spirit to sense and problems and then deal with them as they come along. Don’t ignore subtle warnings. I would also we aware of the transition times between coming home from school and a parent coming home from work. Trouble can arise at these times when older children are not being watched.

    Lastly, I would be careful if you are often more concerned about what your boss and coworkers think than what your children think. Children can be easy to brush off and your boss less so. This one is tricky and will take a lot of prayer to navigate.

    I hope I have not offended anyone. Best wishes for your family and career.

  8. I love this post! Anytime that we demean, criticize or condemn one another, we engage in friendly fire. We cannot presume to know a person’s heart or intent. In a religion that for many years told us to become *perfect* in this life, (President Hinckley was the first to my knowledge to disavow that concept, many women struggled with loving themselves and sometimes accepting and loving others who had different lifestyles, experiences, and beliefs that they had.

    Conversely to your experience, I stayed home with my children (at considerable financial sacrifice) after earning an M.Ed. I was ridiculed by a number of my female relatives who worked outside of the home. One said I had no right to a degree if I “wasn’t going to use it.”

    Perhaps some qualities that needs more emphasis on the Church is kindness, compassion, mercy, and goodness which are fruits of the Spirit and gifts we receive by the grace of God. I wish more Sacrament meetings, visiting and home teaching lessons, and Sunday School, RS, and Priesthood meetings emphasized these fundamentals. Perhaps the Dalai Lama says it best when he attests, “My religion is kindness.”

  9. Thanks for this post. My heart goes out to you. A year ago one of my sons had to stay in the hospital for a few days. During that ordeal my older children took care of their younger siblings and it worked out fine but each time I came home from the hospital to grab some clothes or something, I cried all the way back. I felt so torn–I needed to be with the one in the hospital but I knew my five, three and two year olds needed me too.

    I very much appreciated comment #4. She is spot on. I think of what President Hinckley said about this very subject–”Do the best you can.” I think that applies to all of us, no matter our circumstances. Maybe if we just assumed everyone around us was doing the best they could, we’d be less inclined to judge. I also REALLY liked your story about the Lord’s grace being sufficient. I’ve had similar feelings come to me when I’ve struggled. I believe it is true.

  10. This makes me love my ward…but I’m moving to St. George next month. In my ward there are all types and we just love and accept each other!

    I loved the Lord’s answer to you. His grace is sufficient. I’m a homemaker (don’t like the sahm term) and I feel blessed, but I struggle to be present. And I’m not the best mom I could be…I hope we can keep from firing at those we should be lifting up.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this perspective, because I feel the same rhetoric coming from the other side: You stay at home? Are you dull-witted? Why don’t you go back to school and get an advanced degree and then contribute to society?

    It is nice to be able to see things from other perspectives and fundamentally understand that all we are really commanded to do is Love Each Other. We are horrible judges, with imprecise evidence and limited understanding. If we focused as much of our attention on loving and building each other up as we do in figuring out what is going wrong in other peoples’ lives, we would be in Zion already.

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