Over the weekend, a woman of an older generation told me she loved that I remain “home” with my daughter. The words were shocking – I’ve heard them just a few times since I decided to postpone going back to work almost two years ago during her most formative early development. I’ve received a lot of flak from other women, rarely men, regarding my choice. While I love being a stay at home mom, I haven’t been without my critics – near to my heart as a friend (behind my back more than I can count), an arm’s length like a neighbor, and as distant as a complete stranger. I believe the social distaste for stay at home moms that has developed over the last few decades is a feministic issue brought on by feministic pursuits. Refrain from passing your judgment of that word for now.
As we broke free from our households and tossed our aprons aside, respect for the modern woman who chooses to stay home (even for just 2 to 3 years, even part-time, even with 5 kids and no financial ability for 5 daycare bills) in the 21st century has diminished. In many eyes, particularly other females’, you became a more valuable human if you worked outside the home. You lost worthiness, respect and desirability by remaining at home. If you don’t agree, you only need to look in the shallow waters of our advertising culture or get the opinions of a few friends or colleagues. “Soccer mom” has become a derogatory term. “What does she do all day? I would be bored.” is often a sentiment I’ve heard friends and other women make. A judgment really.
While women on both sides of the coin (working and stay at home moms) have experienced judgment on their decision, the root of the problem is equitable. Far greater than men, society has told us who we are supposed to be and what ideals we must adhere to be deemed ACCEPTABLE.
ACCEPTANCE is the elephant in the room of every psychologist’s office humankind is unwilling to face. The constant, seething need to be accepted, to belong, to be deemed worthy, to be validated is a deep human desire dating back to tribal times. So, how do you judge stay at home moms? Yes, I’m asking you. Is the first thought in your head… lazy? bored? stupid? soccer mom? How do these judgments make you feel about yourself – accepted into the majority? Shameful for wanting that?
Now, if acceptance is largely one of the most important factors that guides our self-esteem, how we interact with our world, and who we portray ourselves as… why do we continue to tell stay at home moms (or working moms) they are not accepted? By doing so, we are telling women that by acknowledging a primal desire to care for their child and set aside their career pursuits (or pursue them from home), they are not meeting your expectations. That dialogue transfers down to generations as the stay at home mom feels constantly defensive of her choice, children begin to think, “Am I a burden? Did my mom make the ultimate sacrifice for staying home with me?”
Why do we not qualify men as “stay at home dads” or “working dads”? Besides the fact we automatically assume all fathers work, we also automatically assume that all dads must work to support their families and adhere to principles of masculinity. Men are also not immune to these stereotypes and pre-judgments but to a far lesser degree than women. Most men follow the pages of the patriarchal story they’ve been told their entire lives – you must work to support your family. There isn’t a male-centric movement telling them to think differently.
On the other hand, women are told many things. We must be “nice” (what exactly is nice?). We must be thin. We must cook. We must clean. We must get an advanced degree to compete with the opposite gender. We must work our way up the corporate ladder. We must accept a lesser pay grade. We must break the glass ceiling. We better please our husband or he’ll leave us. We better be Super Moms or the PTA won’t want us. Our cookies need to win the bake sale. We shouldn’t eat cookies. We need to drink to loosen up, but we can’t drink so much that we start talking too much. We shouldn’t talk so much. Loud women are unattractive. We need to speak up more. We need to be in a constant pursuit of perfection. We need to accept our bodies. We all hate our bodies. We must be sexy. Don’t be conceited. We’re quiet. We’re bitches. We’re hormonal and hysterical. We’re making it up. We all like shoes. Our opinions matter less. We’re bossy. We’re submissive.
The only consistent message women receive is that we need to be all the things, for all the people, and accept that we will still be marginalized and judged for our choices as a mother.
Feministic pursuits (which I align with) working to reverse the above stereotypes have also played a part in mitigating the beauty of maternalism. I’ve heard all of those judgments above. I’ve been called a bitch for standing up for myself, caustic for not being afraid to share my opinions, hormonal for being sensitive to my needs and asking others to respect them, and disrespected for being at home with my daughter… by my friends, my neighbor, a stranger on social media, a stranger at the grocery store, a friend of a friend. I’ve been told I’ve wasted my master’s degree. She really should be in school 5 days week. You need to be around adults (My response: But I learn more from my child than I ever did in 25 years of school. She is more joyful, interesting and so much less of an asshole than you.)
I consider myself an unwavering feminist, but feminism has also caused a ripple effect washing away the esteem of motherhood in some sectors. I work for myself because you bet I will break the glass ceiling at my previous job in advertising. In fact, my main source of income is *gasp* working for a direct retail company whose mission drives me more than any office job could. Would it shock you to know that I’ve built a business among my blog, books and Beautycounter that has more than replaced my previous income as a full-time occupational therapist yet I work 20 hours a week from home while caring nearly full-time for my 2-year-old. I’ve also saved my family tens of thousands of dollars by holding off on full-time daycare/preschool.
I’ve felt pressured to justify my financial contribution to my family when in it should be an empty descriptor of success. In America, money = success, value and self-worth. In America, stay at home moms do not financially contribute to their household (untrue, see above), therefore we cannot consider them successful, valuable and worthy (on the more extreme spectrum, more people sit comfortably in the category of “less successful, less valuable and less worthy”.) If I had chosen to not work at all, I would be equally as proud of myself for becoming a self-sufficient, loving, immensely caring mother. Because I see the time, devotion, thought, skill and intention that goes into motherhood. It’s the hardest job a woman will ever have – you’ve heard that before haven’t you? Then why does the stigma of being a stay at home mom still permeate?
What is my goal in writing this article? For the general public to move towards the following dialogue. I respect women who choose to stay at home, who choose to work, who choose to do both part-time, who choose to not have children. I accept women in my life for pursuing what brings them happiness, balance and success. I refuse to define success in terms of financial value but rather the physical and emotional contribution that woman is making to her household, and I equate caring for her 2-year-old at home to the same level of value and reverence as a mother working a 50-hour a week job outside the home.