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Both stay-at-home and working mothers feel social pressures

FARGO - Carrie Stange works full time, has a 2-year-old son and is pregnant.

Some days the Fargo, N.D., woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom, but she says she works so her family doesn't have to live paycheck to paycheck and so they're prepared for unexpected expenses.

"It's still hard sometimes, but I know it's what's best for my family," she said.

As if her internal struggle weren't enough, she's had to deal with people questioning her lifestyle choice.

Some simply ask how she does it.

Others declare how they couldn't leave their kids to work all day.

And some actually say they would feel "mean" putting their children in child care.

"You just can't let those people get to you," Stange said. "Some people just don't know when they are being rude, and some people know, but they don't care. Nothing you say to them is going to change that, so you learn to just ignore it."

Even though the working mom has become a common part of our culture, there are still obvious social stigmas associated with women who decide to pursue their careers while having young children at home.

And the judgment works both ways, as stay-at-home moms field their own criticism for making the choices to give up their careers to be with their children.

Here, a few women discuss how their mothering decisions have been perceived by the worlds around them. The funeral director

As a funeral director, Colleen Lanners, of Fargo, works in a typically male-dominated profession, which she says brings on its own challenges for a working mother.

Lanners works full time, including most weekends, and is on call one to three nights a week. She also has a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

"I remember when my children were small, I was talking to a gentleman who asked what I did and if I had children," Lanners says. "He made it very clear to me that he felt the role of the wife/mother was to stay at home with the children and went as far as to say that my children must be suffering since I was not home."

Online vitriol

Judgmental comments aren't always so direct.

Melissa Skeen of Moorhead, a single mom with a 6-year-old son, is a member of a large online mothers' group. She said that while people do not make judgmental remarks to her face, there are some who are very critical of her decision to work when they can hide behind the anonymity of a screen name.

Online, she says, "it's the mommy wars."

Where Skeen feels disadvantaged as a working mom is in her inability to participate in activities with her son that are only available during the time she's at work.

It's not only the working moms who have to defend their decisions.

Stay-at-home moms are often asked what they do all day, as if they're sitting around eating bonbons and watching soaps.

"When I hear those comments, I just assume that person has never done what I do as a stay-at-home mom, so they are just speaking from what they know," says Kimbra Amerman of Kindred, N.D., who was a stay-at-home mom for eight years.

Now that her daughters, ages 5 and 8, are both in school, Amerman works in a Shaklee business and an organizing/green cleaning business she owns. The jobs allow her to work around her daughters' schedules.

"I like the fact that I am available when they need me," Amerman says. "I work in their classroom when the teachers need me. All of these things are memories and time that I could never get back if I worked full time."

Briannan Gahner, who stays home with her 4-yearold daughter and infant son, has had people tell her that her kids need child care in order to socialize.

"As a young mom, I feel completely blessed to be able to stay home with my kids, and my husband works his butt off to allow me to do so," she says. "I've hit a point where I couldn't imagine my little ones in day care and being away from them."

Tracy Frank is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Pioneer and Forum are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.