Addressing the Stigma of Being a Stay At Home Mom

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. 

 

 

 

 

12 comments on “Addressing the Stigma of Being a Stay At Home Mom

  • Yes to every single word! I have friends who have kids, don’t have kids, are still struggling to conceive, and variations of working or not. Part of me can’t believe that we still live in a society where women judge other women (woman-on-woman crime, as Amy Poehler so clearly articulates it), whether it’s on a subject of motherhood, the way a woman dresses (*really* people, come on), what she eats, her hobbies or how put together her life is. But we still live in a society that puts less value on those of a different race, gender, health or income status, so it shouldn’t be surprising. This is an important conversation to have, and thank you for trying to show people different lenses to look through – and importantly, the reason why they’re judging others in the first place.

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  • Alaena, thank you. I worked in the IT field for 16 years as a software developer and later a project manager. I have four children ranging from 14 down to age 5. When my youngest was 2 I finally left the field to come home and invest in my family. I do work (for my husband’s construction business) but I work out of my home and far fewer hours than I ever did in the IT field. My health, our family, our business, and even the ministries we serve in, have all thrived because of my choice to walk away, yet I have been criticized in many the same manner as you. I applaud your voice today and appreciate you using your blog as a platform for such words. 💕

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  • Brenda H. says:

    Our children are out of the house now….. they are both out of college and working. I chose to stay home in the 90’s after our first child arrived. I left my 4 day a week traveling technical sales job(I have a Chemical Engineering Degree) and stayed home to care for our son and then our daughter who arrived 15 months later. I also homeschooled them the first few years of elementary school. We made some materialistic choices – our cars grow old under our care, our kids did not have $100 tennis shoes when they were 10, they were the last of their friends to have cellphones, etc . However, I am sooo thankful we made the decision to make those choices. Your children truly do grow up in the blink of an eye. You can never get back a childhood. Not only are the woman/men that choose to invest their time in their children’s upbringing stigmatized, but their spouses can experience stigmatization at their workplace when people know that their wife/husband is a stay at home parent. My husband experienced this when coworkers /bosses heard his wife “didn’t work”. Surprisingly, the people most “offended” were woman. How dare he subjugate his wife to “stay at home” status – he was old fashioned and sexist! I thought feminism meant I could be whatever I wanted to be – including a stay at home mom!

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  • Valerie S. says:

    This is so important for women (and men) to hear over and over until it is finally accepted.
    With all the problems society is experiencing today with young people who are incapable of sitting still in class, paying attention, respecting others, taking responsibilty, not reacting violently to any felt insults, the list goes on, one would hope that people would begin to realize that spending time to raise a child is the most significant way a mother (or father) can contribute to our society. Raising a caring, considerate, curious, responsible child is full-time work that requires more love, involvement, problem-solving and patience that any office job possible could and benefits everyone far more than hours spent in an office or tax dollars paid from a salary. With this in mind, who can say that a stay-at-home parent does not contribute to the family and society as a whole?
    If you really want to call yourself a feminist – then make sure that you are supporting the right for women (and men) to choose. Some of us, despite successful careers and college degrees (or maybe because of), really want to stay home with our children.

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    • Alaena Haber says:

      Thank you, Valerie – those are very important words – I hope I did make it clear that (especially in my last paragraph) that I am in FULL support of the right for mothers to choose whatever their heart is telling them.

      Reply
  • Society’s willingness to judge mothers no matter their decision to work out of the home, at home, in the corpprate world, as a caregiver, part-time, full-time, or any combination of the above just boggles my mind. As if I, like many mothers, don’t already ask myself “am I enough” 100 times a week. And often it is through seemingly.innocuous comments…

    A few days prior to returning to work at my corporate job, I stopped to chat with other moms after dropping my older child at school. I mentioned my impending return to work as they made plans for a playdate the following week, saying I wished I could join them…and the responses came all at once: “Well do you have to work?”…”Csnt you just stay home?”…”Does hubby make enough?”
    I mmediately I felt defensive…as if I had to substantiate my decision to return to my career. The truthful answer is no, I don’t have to work. Would our lifestyles change if I didnt…sure…but we could make it work. But should I say that? How would that make me seem? What kind of animal leaves her baby when she doesn’t have to? What is wrong with me? In that moment I felt that I wasn’t enough…like I am doing it wrong. In a split second I weighed a half dozen different replies, ranging in tone from apologetic to aggressive. I ultimately went with a relaxed, “I choose to go back.” Nothing more, nothing less…no excuse, no apology, no substantiation. Their faces looked stunned and confused and possibly a bit disgusted…and the topic was quickly changed.

    It’s a sad thing…the mom on mom hate. We need to lift each other up..set an example for our littles that says “See sweet baby… you too can have it all one day.” Whether that means working your butt off at home raising good humans, working your butt off in an office/school/lab/store…or some combination in between. We shouldn’t judge any other person, especially a member of our fellow mama tribe, for how they choose to live their best life.

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  • This was a really interesting article. I had no idea how much judgment a SAHM could feel. I, personally, look up to stay at home moms (and sometimes feel a little jealous of them)! When my children were babies, I wasn’t sure I could stay home with them and keep my sanity! I didn’t have the ability to do so even if I had wanted to (my husband had just started a business and had $0 income). Now that they’re in elementary school, I long to be a SAHM. Taking care of my family is my priority and I wish I could devote all of my time to that, rather than splitting my time and energy between a job (outside the home) and my family. For now, I work part time, and that allows me better balance than when I worked full time. I totally agree that women run themselves ragged trying to be everything to everyone. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’m really striving to find some time to be lazy, relax and take time for self-care. Thankfully, my husband is supportive. I don’t care that the world (or at least our country) looks down on getting enough sleep and taking time to take care of yourself. I, too, have a masters degree, but have never had any interest in climbing the corporate ladder. That path wouldn’t allow me to focus on what’s most important to me. Other women may want to climb the ladder. I have no problem with that, it’s just not for me.

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  • catherine j buchardt says:

    Im now retired, but when my first child was born I made the conscious decision to stay home with my children. To this day, it was the best decision I ever made. I didnt want others raising my children thus becoming a part time Mom. When my youngest child was 17, I took a series of part time positions to test the market to find my nitch. When my youngest graduated I took my first time position in years. I developed a career and loved what I did. Fortunately I was financially secure that I could stay home. I think if you truly want to be a stay at home mom you can find a way. You wont have a second income to afford you extras, but it was worth it to me. But the decision has to be an individual’s decision. If you wont be happy staying home, then by all means go to work. This is what worked for our family.

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  • I think this is a great piece. The part that got to me was the whoe paragraph of “we must be,” because that is ALL we hear! I started to go on a rant, but I’ll save you the trouble and just let you know that I agree! Loved this 🙂

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  • Thank you so much for encouraging dialogue about this! We must address this so our daughters, nieces, and all the next generation of women can grow up to have true freedom and choice.

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  • Well said. I don’t have children but I always think of raising kids as one of the most difficult jobs out there – how to bring up another human being and guide them to be respectful, responsible, kind, passionate, creative, patient, etc. etc. etc.? That’s a daunting, full-time job that doesn’t get time off or a pay raise or, as you’ve said, nearly enough respect. More power to you for raising another human being well, making money, and overall having an impact on the world around you.

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  • Michelle Gray says:

    What a great discussion of this issue. My guilt at not returning to work made me so ill I almost died – true! – but once I got past that, I also truly felt that the most important thing to me was to be home with my son and hopefully have another one. I had to also get over wasting my degree which was so difficult. But I told myself that work would always be there while my kids wouldn’t and I’m so glad I had the option to make that decision and the support I needed. I found the group Mothers and More so helpful at that time because it supported and connected mothers who had careers but were taking time off – no judgement. Some of returned, and some didn’t and some are now, 18 years later! I don’t know why the group folded but having other moms with similar life experiences to share with is a blessing.

    Reply

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