Saying you are a ‘stay-at-home-mum’ is the ultimate conversation stopper
Modern motherhood is a minefield: the sleep deprivation, the juggle and responsibility of raising happy, polite offspring that we can actually afford. On top of all of this, there is the issue of being judged for staying home with the kids.
I don’t fit so nicely into either box of ‘working mum’ or ‘stay-at-home-mum’. I’m a WAHM – a work at home mum – but who actually cares?
Well, it turns out that quite a lot of people do. Despite the fact that we’ve all survived a pandemic and both cursed and praised our childminders and teacher for their incredibly hard work, in between the school runs, work meetings, homework torture, bedtime stories, banking, feeding and the daily grind – some people still like to separate the mummy herd into nice neat boxes.
To be fair, there isn’t anything glamorous about routine and vomiting bugs.
It isn’t always women. For the four years that I didn’t work when my children were very small. I’d see men’s eyes glaze over when they asked me what I did. It wasn’t that they found it dull, it was that they had nothing with which to relate to me.
To be fair, there isn’t anything glamorous about routine and vomiting bugs. Obviously, the fathers ‘got it’ a little better but for the most part, being defined only by my parenting work/choices was pretty dismal.
“How many mums in your class work outside the home,” a friend asked me recently. “About half and half?” I had to stop and think. I hadn’t divided up all these smart, hardworking women based on what they did all day. I like to find the similarities among the mums in my children’s class rather than to focus on the differences but I fear I am not the norm.
Naively, I didn’t realise the misconceptions when it comes to being at home with your children. It is usually one of three things some people believe you have when you stay at home; a lack of ambition, a mind-numbing frustration or worse, an indulgence reserved only for those who can afford it. That doesn’t sound like much of a choice to me.
Not everyone is looking for a pat on their aching back.
It is a conversation stopper. “What do you do?” “I stay at home with the children.” Where do you go from there? If you are a solicitor, people might want to discuss interesting cases. Electricians might talk about regulation in their industry, town planners might get drawn into chats about housing. I doubt anyone wants to hear about my son’s constipation patterns or my meal planner for the week.
Discussing your work when you are a ‘working mother’ is acceptable, nay, encouraged. It defines how interesting or clever you are. “Goodness, you fly planes” or “You do the marketing for CocaCola, that’s impressive”. You will never catch anyone oohing or ahhing about the fact that you got your son to practice piano after a monumental battle, or that your daughter now eats carrots. In fact, it is seen as BORING to discuss the ins and outs of life as a stay-at-home-mum.
Not everyone is looking for a pat on their aching back but maybe as a society, we should place more value on the slog that it takes to put career on hold or the sacrifices made to be at home with the children. For some, it isn’t an option as much as they’d like it to be. But this can lead to a snippiness that comes with sleep deprivation and insecurity over how we raise our children.
I know firsthand, too, the juggle of being a working mother, the sneaky office exit, the guilt, the missing out, the feeling that the ‘other mums’ are bonding at the school gate (spoiler alert, they aren’t). None of it is easy but at least working mothers have the shield of outwards achievement to don to the world.
I like being an outlier because I can see both sides of the same coin. I work in the mornings and stay at home with my children in the afternoon. I’d like to think I have a balance, but it mostly means I do two full-time jobs each day.
Maybe the next time someone asks me what I do, I’ll point out that I travel, I ride horses, I garden, I bake very badly and I watch too many true crime programmes.
We are more than just the sum of our work – no matter where we happen to carry it out.
The article was originally published in September 2021.