Melissa Stanton | Don’t Spit in the Air

Melissa Stanton is the author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-tested strategies for staying smart, sane, and connected while caring for your kids; she also authors the blog Real Life Support for Moms.  Prior to becoming a Stay-at-Home mom, Melissa was an editor at People and LIFE magazines. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Parenting, Redbook, and Organize. She lives with her family in a rural suburb of Washington, D.C.

A few years before we had our first child, my husband and I were invited to lunch at the suburban home of college friends I’ll call Dan and Patty.

When we arrived at around noon after a nearly two-hour, traffic-filled, Sunday drive from the city, Patty, a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s three children, was still in her pajamas. Dan was mowing the lawn. Their baby was stationed in a bouncy seat and needed a diaper change. The older children, haphazardly dressed in stained clothes, were playing in a toy-strewn living room. This did not look like a family that was expecting guests for lunch, except that they were. Our visit was at Dan and Patty’s urging.

Lunch was eventually served. As I recall, it amounted to each of us slapping together a sandwich from the half loaf of white bread and cold cuts that Patty scrounged together from the refrigerator. Our afternoon of socializing was spent at a nearby park. My husband and I tried to have conversations with our hosts while they kept an eye on, talked to and played with their kids. I left that visit hungry, angry (that I had wasted a day out of my weekend) and disdainful of stay-at-home moms.

At the time, I was working more than full-time. Patty, I felt, didn’t work. And because she wasn’t employed I believed that, at the very least, her house should be clean, her kids should be well-groomed, and when we arrived she should have been dressed and had a lunch ready for our visit. In my view, the fact that she didn’t do any of those things meant that she was incompetent, and enormously lucky to have found a man willing to support and take care of her.

Roughly a decade later, I had become (yikes!) a stay-at-home mother of three. My once impressive meal prep skills had diminished to a small menu of what my kids would eat. Many rooms in my house were (are!) toy-strewn. My kids weren’t (aren’t!) the most well-groomed.

I had spit in the air and it came back to smack me in the face. Splat! Yuck!
I had become “Patty.”

IStock_000001767375XSmallSource:  istockphoto

I tell the tale about our visit with Dan and Patty because, no surprises with this grand observation, it’s easy to judge and criticize and pontificate about shoulds and shouldn’ts. It’s easy to have high standards when we’re not actually the ones having to meet those standards. It’s easy to make assumptions, and even be superior, when we haven’t walked the walk. Patty and her husband were in “little kid mode.” My husband and I were not. As couples, we were at very different stages of life.

Obviously, I’m still a bit irritated by our hosts’ behavior. But unlike before, I am sympathetic to the chaos of caring for a home and small children. Unlike during that visit, I now know that women who leave the workforce to care for children are not incompetent, and as such in need of a Prince Charming to support and take care of them. (In fact,  it may be that men with stay-at-home wives are the “lucky” ones: They’re lucky to have a partner who is able and willing to provide the hands-on, 24/7 care of his children and home, and they’re lucky to be able to earn enough for their household to live on one income.)

By trying not to “spit in the air” anymore (or at least not as much), I am more aware of the importance of empathy, and I greatly notice when it’s lacking. For instance, when “Justine,” a woman I’m acquainted with, was pregnant, she considered mothers who didn’t nurse to be bad mothers. Fast forward to a post-partum Justine suffering from mastitis while her screaming, hungry newborn loses weight. Out came the bottles—for good. A couple of years later, when the arrival of a second baby made using a daycare center too costly and logically cumbersome, the anti-nanny Justine (“How can anyone leave their baby at home with a stranger”) hired a nanny.

We all make snap judgments, or demand perfection of others that neither they nor we can achieve. Many of us think we won’t ever be, for instance, unemployed, uninsured, unhealthy, unable to get by without a bit of help or understanding. We’ve all recoiled at the (unhinged?) mom who screams at her child in public. But then, one day, we too snap from our own child’s whining and tantrums, and from our frustration at being unable to complete a simple task without first accommodating our trailing entourage.

I never thought I’d become a stay-at-home mom. Other women never imagined having (or wanting) to stay in the workforce after they had kids. Experience brings awareness.

Life is a journey with many paths, and it’s a game in which the rules change. It’s best to keep an open mind—and not spit in the air.

I used to criticize parents whose children showed up to school with clothes disheveled, hair unkempt.  Ummm…. I don't anymore.

I spit in the air less than I used to; perhaps that's why I experience systergy more.

What are your thoughts?

Melissa Stanton | Don’t Just Think It, Ink It

Melissa Stanton is the author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-tested strategies for staying smart, sane, and connected while caring for your kids, which was published last year by Seal Press/Perseus Books.  Prior to becoming a Stay-at-Home mom, Melissa was an editor at People and LIFE magazines. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Parenting, Redbook, and Organize. She lives with her family in a rural suburb of Washington, D.C.


Was it my dream to be a stay-at-home mom?

No, at least I didn’t think so. But I’ve recently realized that becoming a stay-at-home mom, which I’ve been for nearly eight years, might have been an unintentional dream come true.

This past year, for the first time in my stay-at-home career (yes, career, more about that later), all three of my children—a boy, now 11, and twin six-year-old girls—were in full-day school. With my newfound freedom I started working through my giant To Do List, which had gotten significantly longer during my years of caring for small children. One of the biggest tasks on the list has been to go through two decades worth of files and boxes that my husband and I have accumulated from various jobs, degrees and homes.


A few weeks ago I was sorting through boxes from when I left my job at People magazine, where I was a senior editor. At the time, a confluence of events—my husband taking a job in Baltimore when his Wall Street-area employer hit hard times, my being a weekday single mother with a demanding career and long commute, September 11—led me to conclude that I needed to work a different way, and live a different way. I decided that the traditional course of working full-throttle until I retired, got laid off or died wasn’t working for me.

In the chaos surrounding my decision to leave a career I had aspired to and worked hard at for more than 15 years, I didn’t realize I was making one of my dreams come true. Nine months earlier I had participated in a career development workshop. As is true at many corporations, staffers at my company were encouraged to attend these programs, which most of us groaned through, as I did with the “empowerment” class I attended. The instructor told us to write down three personal goals we wanted to achieve within a year. The activity’s mantra:

“Don’t just think it, ink it.”

As I sorted through the old work papers, I found the class handout and my scribbled list of goals:

  1. I will have a family-friendlier career.
  2. I will have a second child.
  3. My husband and I will be more financially secure and able to pay down some debt.

It turns out that within a year of “inking” those goals, I had achieved each one—although not in ways I ever imagined.

  1. After leaving People, I started freelance writing from home and working very part-time at a local Williams-Sonoma. The job wasn’t a career, but it was family-friendly, and after years of climbing the corporate ladder working an hourly retail job was fun.
  2. Baby Number 2 materialized as Numbers 2 and 3.
  3. My husband’s new job enabled us to get by on one income, and selling our New Jersey home bought us a larger home in Maryland with money to spare.

My goals (or dreams?) had come true.

IStock_000008204805XSmall The experience of navigating the huge transition from an active work life to a life dominated by domesticity led to another goal, or dream. I wanted to combine my “past life” as a writer and editor with my new life as a stay-at-home mom by writing a realistic, non-Mommy Wars “support-group-in-a-book” for, as one reviewer would so aptly describe, “any mom who has felt she has the best job in the world, and the worst job in the world, all within a two-minute time frame.”

While some women love every minute of being a stay-at-home mom—and are, in fact, living their dream—many others struggle with the demands of being a 24/7 at-home mom. To them, stay-at-home motherhood isn’t necessarily a calling. And that’s okay. I believe stay-at-home parenting is a job, and stay-at-home moms are “working moms.” We work as moms. No one loves their job every minute of the day. Not always loving stay-at-home motherhood doesn’t mean a woman is a bad mother, or that she regrets leaving the workforce, or that she doesn’t love her kids or appreciate her good fortunes. It just means she needs a break, and she needs interests and activities independent of caring for kids.

(To naysayers who gripe that stay home moms are “lucky not to work” and shouldn’t complain, I respond: “Imagine if you lived and worked in your office. Imagine if you were on active duty for an 18-hour-plus shift every day, and then you were on-call. Imagine if anytime you left the office your boss, colleagues and direct reports came with you!” Enough said.)

After many, many rejections from agents and publishers who didn’t want to do a “stay-at-home mommy book,” or else wanted a book with a “strong” platform (“Mothers should stay home with their children” or “Mothers should stay in the workforce”), my pitch landed on the desk of an editor who had once been a stay-at-home mom. She understood the need for the book (which I researched and wrote at night while I cared for my kids by day) and championed it to publication.

Would the former me have ever dreamed that I’d someday write a book about stay-at-home motherhood? Absolutely not. But just as dreamers need to live in the real world, dreams—manifested as goals—emerge from our realities. (emphasis added)

My new dreams, which I’ll dare to “ink” here and not just think, are to:

  1. Write a “support-group-in-a-book” for stay-at-home moms seeking to re-enter the paid workforce.
  2. Re-enter the paid workforce myself, with a truly family-friendly career that allows me to earn decent money and do significant, professional-level work without having to sacrifice myself and my family to my job. (Unlike the last time, I’m making my current goals a bit more specific.)

What dreams would you dare to ink and not just think?

At the beginning of a new year, instead of writing out New Year's Resolutions, have you ever written down what you wanted to accomplish (without resolving to, just sort of a ‘nice-to-do-‘ list) and gone back a year or two later, and recognized that the mere act of ‘inking it', moved you toward making something happen?

“Is there anything you'd like to dare to ink and not just think?”   Great question!  I can't wait to check in with Melissa in 1-2 years and see how her dreams have unfolded.

Now that she's ‘dared to ink', any thoughts on how we can help Melissa make her dreams happen?

Photos courtesy of:  istockphoto and  istockphoto

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