When I became a SAHM, my whole world turned upside down. I had no idea the identity crisis I would go through. As someone who had a teaching career of six years under her belt, it was quite an adjustment to go from being in the workplace and constantly interacting with other people, to being a mom at home who talks to herself most of the day.
But there are plenty of people I have talked to about being a SAHM and I would sort of cringe on the inside, worried that they were thinking the infamous SAHM question “what does she do all day?” Or better yet that what I do is some kind of cushy experience.
Then I have my good friend who is a working mom and while she is incredibly strong in her decision (and a necessary financial need) to be a working mom, she often feels pressured to say that she is standing for her feminine right and value to be a working mom. That for her, working is a fundamental way to show her sons the value of women in the workforce as equal contributors in their careers.
Does this mean that being an at home mom doesn’t meet that need she is talking about? I think the answer is no. For her, this is how she needs to show her sons. For me, it will be showing the side of what it looks like to be home as a woman, while educating him and showing him the power of women like my friend who work away from home.
Both are valuable lessons that can be taught whether you’re in the workforce or not.
But more times than not, both sides of the “mom” perspective feel the pressured need to defend themselves. Not to mention other child caregivers in our society who subtly, yet directly, seem to get a low recognition and pay from the general workforce.
And while I understand many women want to fight to get rid of the various mom labels as a means to stop defending themselves and judge each other less, we’re dealing with a bigger root problem here.
Why do moms feel this need to defend themselves?
Because there is an underlying patriarchal tone that still exists in our society that says you can’t win and be a mom, and if you do, then something along the way must have suffered in the process, making you less than. Maybe it was your career. Maybe it was your marriage. Your finances. Or worse, your children.
Many women respond to this conviction from society by explaining away their decision for motherhood.
A mother who struggles with her identity will have her own path to work out. A SAHM will need to be confident in her decision that may include transition from a career and not let what others think affect her peace of mind and heart. A working mother who feels she has to do what she has to do, shouldn’t feel like her choice to work penalizes her in some way as she tries to progress in her career.
We say that we believe each family should do what works best for them. Each mom should decide what will make her a better mom. But our society makes this one of the most difficult decisions a mom may have to make as she starts her journey down motherhood.
Plenty of research will tell you we have the shortest period for maternity leave with some of the worst benefits for moms. We bring new life to this world, yet we seem to be penalized for this with job security risks and high costs of childcare. What does this say about family values of the workforce? An unreasonable deadline forces a parent to work late missing the precious time with their family. Vacation time for most employees is a joke. And is there even such a thing as paternity leave?
A mother’s choice shouldn’t be pressured by society or her job. Her choice shouldn’t be influenced by the financial demands of today’s living, but sadly it is. Many times she doesn’t even have a choice. She has to work. So why aren’t we as a society able to see that we’ve created a patriarchal monster that ascribes a lower value to caring for your children and makes it that much more challenging to work or to be home? That her value is defined by being labeled as a “SAHM” or a “Working Mom?”
We need to raise awareness that it’s not about erasing labels, it’s about changing societal standards which will result in label changes down the road.
While my decision to be a SAHM was a tough one, it is not one I regret and I know plenty of mothers who say it was a no brainer for them to become a SAHM. We are doing what we think is best for our families. I also know plenty of working moms who are confident in their decision to work away from home as they care for their children. Yet both will have to journey down the painful process of holding on to their identity while answering to society for the decision, and most likely suffer because of it.
In the end, we are all caring for our children and the choice we made (or lack thereof) enables us to be the best mom we can be for our kids. Problems will always arise for both moms, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end all for their children. It doesn’t mean they are a lesser mom. Who am I to say otherwise?
And why should society get a say in her value based on her being a mom other than because she is female? Maybe it’s because we let them.