A Letter from a Working Mother to a Stay-At-Home Mother, and vice versa

Dear Stay-At-Home Mum

Some people have been questioning what you do at home all day. I know what you do. I know because I’m a mum and for a while I did it too. 

I know you do unpaid work, often thankless work, which starts the moment you wake up, and doesn’t even end when you go to sleep. I know you work weekends and nights, with no discernible end to your day or working week. I know the rewards are joyous but few.

I know that you seldom have a hot cup of coffee or tea. I know that your attention is always divided, often diverted from a moment to moment basis, and you cannot ever count on completing a task in the one go. I know that you probably don’t get any down time when you’re on your own at home, unless you have a single child who still naps in the daytime.

I know the challenges you deal with daily, usually with no peer support or backup. The toddler tantrums, the toilet training accidents, the food battles, the food on the floor, the crayons on the wall, the sibling rivalry, the baby that never seems to stop crying. I know how the work seems incessant, like an endless cycle – you shop for food, prepare it, cook it, attempt to feed it to your children, clean it off the floor, wash the dishes, and repeat in three hours.

I know you fantasise about having an hour to yourself to eat your lunch in peace, or about having an afternoon nap. I know you sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it, and feel envious of your friends who are having coffee breaks at work. I know that sometimes when your partner gets home in the evening after his work is done, he wants to put his feet up exactly when you need a break the most, and this can bring you to tears. 

I know that you are misunderstood by so many who do not appreciate the difficulties of caring for small children on your own, all day, and refer to you as joining the “latte set”. They imagine you spend your day sipping coffee while your children play quietly. I know you miss your financial independence. I know you feel amused and sometimes annoyed when others proclaim “TGIF!” because to you every day is the same – there is no Friday, no break from your job. I know that many people do not understand that you work – you simply work an unpaid job at home.

SAHM, I don’t know how you do it. I admire your infinite patience, your ability to face each day cheerfully and bring joy into your children’s lives even when they wear you down. I admire your dedication to being a constant presence in your children’s lives even if it isn’t always easy. I admire the way you work without expecting any reward – no promotions, no fame, no salary. I know you want your children to feel important and loved, and SAHM, you do this the best.

I just wanted you to know that I understand. We’re both mothers. And I know.

Love from the trenches

Working Mum


Dear Working Mum

I know you sometimes get judged by others for leaving your children in the care of others to work. Some people imply that you don’t love your children as much as us SAHMs do, and that it’s best for children to be at home with their mothers.

How can they say this about you? I know you love your children just as much as any other mother. I know that going back to work was no easy decision. You weighed up the pros and cons, long before you conceived a baby. It has always been one of the most important decisions of your life. You thought about this even while you were in high school and were choosing subjects for Grade 11.

I see you everywhere. You are the doctor I take my children to when they are sick. You’re my child’s allergist, the one who diagnosed her peanut allergy. You’re the physiotherapist who treated my husband’s back. You’re the accountant who does our tax returns. My son’s primary school teacher. The director of our childcare centre. My daughter’s gymnastics teacher. The real estate agent who sold our house. What sort of world would it be if you hadn’t been there for us? If you had succumbed to the pressures of those who insisted a mother’s place had to be in the home?

I know you weigh up every job to see if it will suit your family. I know you wake up an hour before everyone else does, just so you can get some exercise done or some quiet time. I know that you have attended meetings after being up all night with your toddler. I know that when you come home in the evening, your “second shift” begins. The nay-sayers don’t understand that you run a household AND hold a job. You come home, cook dinner, bath your children and read them stories. You tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. You pay the bills, do the grocery shopping, the laundry, the dishes, just like every other mother does.

I know that you often feel guilty about having any more time away from your children so you sacrifice your leisure time. I know you can’t bring yourself to take a “day off” for yourself when your children are at daycare. I know you accept that work is your “time off” for now. I know that when you are at work you don’t waste a single minute. I know you eat your lunch at your desk, you don’t go out for coffee, and you show complete dedication and concentration to your job. You chose to be there after all. You want to be there.

I know how discerning you are about who is looking after your children, and that many long daycare centres offer excellent care. I know you only leave your children in a place where you confident they are loved and well looked after. I know that you spend many days caring for your children at home when they are sick, and sacrifice your pay. I know that you secretly enjoy these days, and revel in being able to be with your children.

I know that sometimes you feel guilty about not being there all the time. But WM, I know this. You are setting a wonderful example to your children. You are showing them that a woman can have a career, contribute in some way outside the home, and still be a loving mother. You are showing your daughters that they can do anything they want to do in life. You are displaying strength, endurance, dedication, tenacity, and you do it with so much joy and love.

I just wanted you to know I understand. Because we’re both mothers.

Love from the trenches

Stay-At-Home Mum

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Carolyn is a medical doctor and researcher. She blogs about health and her journey to discover the Nirvana of work-family balance. She has a toddler and a three-year-old and a wonderful husband, and returned to full-time work/study in February 2014. In her “spare time” she enjoys running and the occasional eating of cupcakes.

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323 comments on “A Letter from a Working Mother to a Stay-At-Home Mother, and vice versa

  1. laurie
    February 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

    John is clearly here to be a troll; his adage there is so typical… did you copy and paste that from the hordes of other threads… I get to complain about my parenting because I do. If you don’t want to hear about, why the fuck are you trolling around articles about people talking about their experience with parenting. You are ignorant of the battle here and why, although I feel some of the wording a bit trite, it is something women need to discuss. So, please, piss off and troll a thread you have knowledge about the topic.

  2. Joshua Davis
    February 12, 2014 at 11:01 am

    The thing that stood out to me most about this was the nature of the jobs that you attributed to working moms.

    “I see you everywhere. You are the doctor I take my children to when they are sick. You’re my child’s allergist, the one who diagnosed her peanut allergy. You’re the physiotherapist who treated my husband’s back. You’re the accountant who does our tax returns. My son’s primary school teacher. The director of our childcare centre. My daughter’s gymnastics teacher. The real estate agent who sold our house.”

    How about factory worker? Fast food worker? Cashier? Waitress? That’s the reality, and it’s even harsher.

  3. Emily Kallio
    February 12, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Thank you for writing this! I so appreciated the balance and compassion in this post…. both letters brought me to tears!

  4. Laura
    February 12, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I liked the letters and agree with them. What I don’t agree with is that being a Mum is a job. It is actually a relationship. Same as a Father, Grandparent etc. We all have different responsibilities in life and within that relationship and that is where women who work or SAH differ but their title and relationship with their child is the same. They are Mothers.

  5. Julie Munn
    February 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

    what about the mom like I was, that worked all day taking care of a one year old and newborn twins, gardening canning cooking cleaning nursing planning dinner ironing, and when my husband cold then from his day at work, I pulled out and worked until 2 in the morning, only to come home wired up and unable to sleep, to get up at 5:30 a.m., and start all over again. What about me the stay at home and go to work mom?

    February 12, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Just a mention to the mom’s who stayed at home for years to care for their family – maybe they gave up a career like I did to devote all their time to their family. Daddy had a good job and travel the globe – coming home to a home filled with happy kids – dinner on the table and clean shorts in his drawer. UNTIL daddy decided to quit and refuse to support mommy and kids. Now all the years mommy spent at home and her age now block her from the workplace. Kids are still not grown. Mommy is thrown on the side of the road left to fight the Court system. My point: deciding to stay home with kids or work involves other long term issues that mommy may not fully appreciate she is giving up. Of course daddy would add in he didn’t know how much this whole life was going to cost. Those cute little babies take a lot of money and time to raise. It is not an easy choice one way or another — but mommy usually has the most at risk.

  7. Lindsay
    February 12, 2014 at 11:41 am

    This is a great read. I was a working mom and then decided to quit and become a Work at home mom. I took control of my own schedule and work it around my kids schedule. I get to pick them up every day from school, yes I cook and clean and do homework but I also get to financially help as well. It is the best of both worlds. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Jennifer letzer
    February 12, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Let’s give some credit to fathers too. When both parents work, both continue their second shifts at home too. My husband cooks dinner every night and goes grocery shopping and pays the bills. He takes the kids and picks them up from daycare so that I can commute 100 miles to and from work each day, attend meetings and make my deadlines to collect a paycheck to pay for our family. I cherish the last two hours of bathing and bedtime stories that I get with my kids each night and the moments of sleepless nights where they crawl into my bed for a snuggle. Loved the letters just think working fathers deserve more credit.

  9. Jackie
    February 12, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I’ve been both a working mom and SAHM, and I loved reading it from both perspectives! I found myself smiling and nodding through both letters.
    As for “John” – if your opinion or prejudice is so strong, perhaps you should start a blog and find a voice for it. Otherwise, stop trolling other people’s blogs and acting like a creep. Negativity will only get you so far dude. No one has respect for someone who clearly has no respect for others, women or men.

  10. Amy
    February 12, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I’m a former working, current stay-at-home mom who is struggling with guilt over wanting to go back to work. I wrote a blog post about it yesterday, and a friend of mine shared your post with me in her comments. I can’t tell you how beautiful and encouraging these letters are. I got choked up reading both of them. All moms – all parents – deserve love, respect and support. Thank you so much.

  11. Laura
    February 12, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    I’m a full time working mum. I have that “going to work” guilt every time I leave the house at 7am and return back home at 7.30pm and don’t see my son at all on a working day but the fact is, I didn’t weigh up anything before going back to work, I simply didn’t have a choice. I didn’t choose my career over staying at home, I just have bills to pay. I’d love to be a SAHM but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury. If only… I’d even wear the frilly dresses and bake! Sadly, I just have to get on with it.

  12. vicki
    February 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I have been both a SAHM and a working mother. I think women who obsess over this issue have no other life, either way, and are using their kids to define who they are, which is a really easy trap to fall into. I work full-time and I am not some harried woman desperately eating my lunch at my desk and skipping coffee breaks. I have my own life, and I did when I was a SAHM mom too. Kids are only young for a few years and then it’s full-time school, so I think it’s a waste of time to worry about this. It’s part of the package of having children, I’m sure we all knew that when we got ourselves into this. I have no guilt for having worked when they were little and enjoyed my time home with them. I don’t relate to either of these posts.

  13. admin
    February 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    You were raised in a different family for sure Mike, I have commented before that men are doing more than ever before but women still do the majority of domestic labour and, from the comments of msny on this blog, are still expected to. Well done for making the domestic division of labour equal in your house.

  14. admin
    February 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Ooh wow! Wrong about that. Full time working/studying mum here.

  15. Lelia Schott
    February 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I love the sincere empathy
    Thank you
    Sharing on Synergy: gentle parenting resources to encourage women there too xx

  16. Jennifer-Mommy Life After Ph.D.
    February 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I’ve been on both sides of this, as a student/instructor at a University earning my advanced degrees, and now as an SAHM to four kids five and under. There is so much joy on both sides!!!

  17. Ali
    February 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Omg to they guy lifting boxes. And do you have anyone screaming for you when you do this? And are you constantly interrupted? And do you have to worry about what your children are getting into while you do this? And do you get a lunch break? And when you do, do you get to sit down and enjoy your meal before someone asks you for something else. Can you eat your meal without worrying about choking because before you can swallow you have to give another instruction. Can you go to the bathroom in peace or do you have to bring your toddler with you for fear that he might get int dangerous situation in time it took you to pee. I can go on and on but I just don’t have the time. In the time it took me to write this post I was interrupted 6 times!

  18. Jeremy Rodden
    February 12, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I really like the first letter but the second letter seems like it is written to not just a working mom but a working, single mom.

    Neither one of these letters address the fact that either of these moms might actually have a partner to lean on…

  19. anonymous
    February 12, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Wow, how about those of us who CHOOSE to work. I don’t have to work. My husband makes plenty enough for all of us. I work because I value my career, and honestly, I am better at my career than I am at being a mother. I LOVE my children, I cherish them, I take wonderful care of them, spend every second of time in the evenings and weekend with them. But their daycare provides them with the attention and education that I would never be able to provide. For my own sanity and emotional well being, I choose to work instead of be a stay at home mom. Everyone just needs to live their life and stop worrying about what anyone else is doing with theirs. Geez.

  20. Angela
    February 12, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes!! I have been a SAHM and a WAHM and know how hard both are. Many hugs for all moms and dads out there!!!

  21. SAHM
    February 12, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Just WOW, to all of you who have the audacity to bitch that this letter was not directed at your specific situation. Seriously, Grow up and enjoy it for what it is, stop purposefully missing the point and trying to make it about you.

  22. Vanessa (Hey Lady Grey)
    February 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I loved this! Beautifully written. I am also a working mother (a family doctor), and this really touched my heart. xo

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