The stay at home mother

I used to be a working mother but after spending a number of years balancing work with looking after my children, I finally gave up work after the birth of my third baby.  The cost of childcare for three children hardly made it worthwhile returning to work and the demands of a special needs son made things even more complicated.  Such was my son’s hyperactivity at the time that I didn’t feel that childcare providers would be able to properly look after him.  With no diagnosis for him either, I decided it would be easier if I devoted these early years of motherhood caring for my children though I always had the intention to return to work when my children were older.

However, it was at this point that I started to encounter negative attitudes towards me.  Whenever I stated my occupation as a SAHM I often encountered patronizing responses to the effect that I must spend all my days watching daytime telly or gossiping over a cup of coffee with other mums.

Equally offensive was meeting people who no longer thought I had anything else  to say beyond weaning and toddler development.  As important and as wonderful as our children are, I am also capable of discussing issues such as current affairs but for some reason people seemed to assume that my brain had morphed into a cotton wool ball, unable to hold an adult discussion.

Such stereotypes are damaging and unfounded.  Being a SAHM involves work.  Yes there is the odd cuppa with a fellow mum or a bit of telly but most of the time I am looking after my children and running a home.  And this entails a whole host of skills: cooking, cleaning, teaching and mentoring our children, providing basic nursing and psychological support, organizing social lives, planning meals and shopping, chauffeuring, managing the family budget.  On top of this there is also the myriad of other duties that comes with being a special neeeds parent.

As an ex PA, running my home and bringing up my children is  like an epic version of my offce management role but with the added responsibility of caring for other human beings.  And of course  the hours are longer, the perks nonexistent.  No 9-5 here or weekends off, no minimum pay, sick pay, holiday pay or overtime.  There are no bonus schemes, health schemes or pension schemes to opt into and any pension we have is the paltry government scheme which is hardly sufficient to maintain us when we become elderly.

Being a SAHM can be a tough and thankless task but one that, for me,  is one of the most important jobs  I’ll ever do.  Nevertheless I have had times when I felt quite demoralized.    The idea that we can have it all – a career and motherhood – was just not possible for me due to my husband’s long working hours and the particular needs of my children.  For a while I felt inadequate that I had chosen what society regards as the lesser of the two vocations. That somehow I was a lesser woman for not being able to handle a career on top of my home and children.  I felt as though I had failed though I now think that  it is society that has failed me.  By creating a social norm and expectation that women  return to work, it has, I think, made parents like me feel unnecessarily inadequate at times.

Even more disappointing has been the tension between working mothers and stay at home mothers.  Nothing makes me so annoyed than this futile SAHM versus working mother row that seems to emerge every now and then.  Why are we tying to out do one another as to who works the longest or the hardest or who is the most caring or dedicated to their children?

Having experienced both roles I can honestly say that in both capacities I worked equally hard and cared equally hard too and that both roles had their challenges, albeit different ones.

As a working mum there were the logistical challenges of balancing work outside the home with caring and domestic duties inside the home.  As a SAHM I had the challenges of raising my children (two with special needs) without any childcare as well as running the house without the  status and much needed income from paid work.

It’s time we accepted that families differ, their needs differ and that this has an impact on what parents can or can’t do.  But above all we need to acknowledge that the work being done in the home is no less important than paid work outside the home.  To care for our children and to run a home is not menial work – it is work that is multifaceted and utilizes a whole range of skills.  It is also something we all do to varying degrees, whether we are stay at home parents or working parents.

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20 Responses to The stay at home mother

  1. I too have written a similar post about how I was so brought up knowing the differences involved in being career-oriented or a SAHM that it has taken me some time to mentally come to terms with doing what is the best thing for our family right now by staying at home. I have full respect for all women who give up succesful careers to put their children first. The thing is that all SAHMs are lumped in together as under-educated and not wanting to work, which is ridiculous. Life is not black or white, but a lovely cloudy shade of grey. I want to shout ‘I had a career once you know, and I can soon have one again!’ but no-one would listen anyway.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      I was really quite shocked and disappointed how people started to treat me when I decided to stay at home and look after my children. It was ridiculously short sighted and arrogant that other people thought themselves better than me or that because I was at home meant I was virtually unemployable. It has taken me a while to adjust to my role but to be honest I haven’t really come to terms with the negative judgements made against me because they are unfounded. Thanks for commenting and I will check out your post as well.

  2. From across the pond, I can tell you it has been no different here. My response was to create my own job title, Domestic Commando, as I personally felt SAHM was entirely too passive a term for the enthusiasm I had for the job and the effort I put into it. It was my own personal (R)evolution. As for the Mommy Wars (the media term for it over here), I have made it clear that I prefer to conduct my life without the need to judge others for their choices or situation. Conversely, I expect the same courtesy. Instead of others dismissing me as (erroneously) less than intelligent, I could dismiss them for being unquestionably judgmental. It was very liberating.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Think you are right; the SAHM is too passive a title for what we actually do. Love the domestic commando title; for me I would choose Warrior Mum because this sums up my work fighting for my children’s education etc. I also try not to judge others as well; for me it is a total waste of energy which could be better used elsewhere.

  3. Aspieside says:

    I think it is great that you stay at home with your kids. I often say that I have two full time jobs but really sometimes work is a needed break from home!! I am not sure I could have stayed home all day with my son even though I love him dearly.
    I love what the psychologist said too- you just switched careers!!

    • Aspie in the family says:

      I know what you mean about work outside the home feeling like a much needed break. Now that Im doing some sessional work (only 3 hours a week at the moment) it gives me a chance to have a break from caring for my son who is out of school at the moment. For me though, its all about getting a balance which is hard to do as there is not enough flexible work about (another topic for another blog post I think). Thanks for commenting. Deb x

  4. Lucy says:

    The use of ‘vs’ needs to be avoided when discussing parenting. It starts with ‘Breast vs Bottle’ and progresses from there to every single comparison imaginable.
    I am so sick of hearing the same dreadful cliché’s regarding SAHM’s and working mums. Working, or staying at home are not always choices.
    I’m regularly asked if my brain is atrophying because I don’t work.
    I’ve worked full-time, part-time, evenings-only, weekends-only and now not at all since becoming a mother 12 years ago. Nothing is perfect.
    This is the best post I’ve read on the subject, I will never understand why women can’t just pat each other on the back more!

    • Aspie in the family says:

      I agree becoming either a working or stay at home mother are not always choices and some of us are just trying to do our best in difficult situations.
      It makes me sad too that women are so harsh towards one another and its not helped by public figures making crass comments in the media. I think its time we worked together and supported one another. There are still many barriers to women’s full participation in society and we should be working together to improve things for us and families generally. Thanks for sharing your views Lucy. Deb x

  5. Jazzygal says:

    Hear hear… very well said! I agree whole heartedly.
    I hate the arguments between SAHMs and working mums. It is a personal choice and Governments should make them viable ones by not penalising & demoralising those who stay at home. By that I refer to the Individualisation tax system applicable in Ireland (and will probably lead to said arguments!) Working mums should not be penalised either. Anyway, that’s MY rant over.

    I was also looked down upon by some (not all) when I job-shared (week on/week off) when myson was born.

    Shall I tell you what a Government psychologist told me only yesterday? She has never met my son but has read reports and sees the massive progress he has made. I mentioned I was on a careeer break and she says, in direct reference to the work I have done with my son ‘No, you are not on a career break…you have changed careers’!

    From here on in that’s the line I’m using! And you should too!!

    xx Jazzy

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thankyou Jazzy. Yes your rant about the tax system is a valid one; there are issues with it over here too. I like what the psychologist said; might use that phrase myself. Deb x

  6. Steph says:

    Whoop whoop! Well said. I’m filing this for next time I’m feeling low and demoralised and stressed…… whilst I have no idea how anyone can manage to go to work and look after children (and often husband) at the same time, I also know they mostly don’t really know what it’s like to be at home day after day, and what really happens. So we’re all fab. :)

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Absolutely, most mums and dads do a great job whether its in the home, outside work or both! Time to end the division I think. Deb x

  7. Blue Sky says:

    Personally I sometimes wonder if a lot of the SAHM v ‘working’ Mum debate is engineered to stop us all talking about what I think is the real issue: why is having children now regarded by many as a lifestyle choice. That parents should only have them if they can afford them and should ideally expect no help from the State or society or God forbid the business community, when in fact all three of these would have no future if none of us had children. I think that the whole way that the world of work needs reorganising and society needs to truly recognise that children are our number one resource. There, rant over.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      That’s a really good point Blue Sky. We’re too busy arguing between ourselves and defending our positions than to spend time considering the bigger issues that concern us all.

  8. Beth says:

    It would be nice to have more appreciation of the hard work involved in both roles wouldn’t it? It is like an almost inverted ‘ keeping up with the Jones’s scenario….” I work longer hours, no I do. Well, I earn less, I think you’ll find I earn much less, I get up earlier, no I do etc……”

    The hardest thing I find is the lack of ‘sick pay’ and associated time off ( rightly so!) for mum’s at home. No hiding under a duvet with a bowl next to you and morning TV… with 2 kids to look after and no-one to hand the reins over to, you do the school run with your fingers crossed your stomach contents stay where they should, dose yourself up on pain killers ( bad back, broken foot) and hope that no one requests anything with garlic in ( makes my nausea worse!) or hope you can get away with a hob job” tea as one too many bends to look in the oven and you may not get up again! I am sure there are many working mums who soldier on in similar ways at work like this too :)

    Beth x

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Im sure working mums would love more appreciation for their roles as well but I found that when I worked when I had my first daughter, I got more respect because I worked outside the home. Saying that though, one of the problems I did face was inconsiderate bosses who did not appreciate my caring role and who were not flexible enough when I had to attend appointments etc. As soon as I stayed at home though, attitudes towards me worsened. People don’t see what we do in the home as work which is a shame and I’m sure this is one of the reasons why I’ve found it harder getting back into work. As mothers, it feels as though we can never do anything right. Deb x

  9. Lizbeth says:

    You want to know something weird? I did the same thing and wound up staying at home when it became cost-prohibitive to work since childcare and therapies were costing more than I could make. Hubs works really long hours and it only made sense for us that I stay home. My sister (who had no kids) is the one who has the hardest time with my decision and acts as if I just morphed into a child not worth her attention not that I’m not out there and working a “real” job. Sigh. Strange when your family is the one to defeat you.

    I’ve gotten over it but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Ditto. My inlaws have totally looked down on me for staying at home and have made some very cutting comments about me being at home. One of my inlaws who is a highflyer in our National Health Service (and with no kids) sees me as some lowlife who is not capable to having an adult discussion with! Like you I’ve got over it but as the time it was very hurtful. Deb x

  10. JuliesMum says:

    Could not agree more! The working/stay-at-home argument is boring and divisive. It should be recognized that all families need a lot of work, especially with special needs, and there are no easy solutions.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      I get totally fed up with this division; it helps no one, though I realise I may have contributed to this debate here. This was not my intention though I did want to bring attention to the problem over what constitutes work. It seems that if work is unpaid (ie caring, domestic duties) it gets little respect and this makes a parents role (whether we work outside the home or not) harder. As a result, as a working mum I found it harder to get time off to attend appointments etc and as a stay at home mum, people assumed I was a lazy and unintelligent person who just lounged around and watched telly all day. I can’t win. Somehow I think this debate is going to rumble on for years. Sigh. Deb x

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