For The Grace Tales reader Tracey Fried, a throwaway comment from her daughter made her question her job title - 'stay at home mum'. With a job description longer than a phonebook, why did it sound so inadequate?
Words: Tracey Fried
One morning, while driving to school with my six year old daughter and three year old son, we were all listening to music. Both kids agreed with each other on song choice – this was not the norm. This day, we had a pretty good run. The kids were chatting, which I love to listen to. Their conversations are everything! It’s amazing how they perceive the world around them, especially at their age.
But what came out of my daughter’s mouth next really got me thinking. Out of the mouths of babes, they say. I can’t quite remember the lead up to it, but it went something like this: they were discussing that dad was on his way to work and then my son asked me “Mum, are you going to work after you drop us off?” To which my daughter interrupted and spoke for me – quicker than lightning – “Oh, Jake! Mum doesn’t go to work. She just goes to buy dinner after she drops us off to school.”
WTF? I thought, ‘that’s all I do? From 9:00am drop off until I pick you up at 3:00pm. That’s all you think I do?’
Well in reality, she is right. I don’t have a ‘job’. Not a paid one anyway, but when I heard it out loud and so matter of factly, I of course immediately started to defend myself. I felt like I’d been punched in the face. I proceeded with the immediate response to my daughter, not in self defence but to change her perception of what a stay at home mum actually is.
“Oh darling, mummy does more than just buy dinner. I look after you and your brother, run our household to make sure everything goes smoothly every day and make sure you both have everything you need and are happy and content. I make sure you get to everywhere you have to be without any stress. I cook and clean and drop you off and pick you up from school…”
I kept going.
“…..I help daddy with his work and make the houses he builds look beautiful…”
I went on and on explaining. After I itemised my daily to do list to her I realised I was justifying myself and my decision to be a SAHM. I also realised her perception is a common one, and I’m sure mothers that work outside the home and in the work force must also feel like they have to justify themselves as well.
The way we are perceived as mothers is not new – there has always been the stigma. Working Mum vs. The SAHM. I believe the very wording ‘stay at home mum’ or ‘working mum’ conjures up a negative and misconceived image for both titles. The SAHM has a negative undertone implying being lazy and spoilt, and the working mum equally has the negative undertone for being absent and perhaps unavailable at times.
I think society may voice their opinions less of late, and are more accepting about people’s choices, but unfortunately the stigma is still there, even though it may be less verbalised. The narrative and perception should change and we shouldn’t have to ever validate or justify how we parent. My job title is SAHM. I had my kids later in life, beginning my motherhood journey at almost 40 years old, and worked full time prior to that. Being there for drop-offs and pick-ups, and not having a 9-5, works for me. It works for my family.
Even though I’m labelled as a SAHM, I’m not staying at home. My kids are now at school every day and in my spare time I work with my husband as an interior decorator for his residential development business. I do it because I love it, and in the words of Marie Kondo, it “sparks joy” for me. The number of women working outside the home is undoubtedly on the rise. According to the 2016 Census, in Australia from 1991 to 2016, the number of mothers in paid employment increased and in America nearly 70 percent of women were in the work force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Many women, single parents in particular, have to work because they can’t afford to stay at home and raise their children. The government assistance they rely on necessitates they be employed.
Work is also a choice for a lot of women as they pursue their professional careers. I have often wondered how resilient my kids are? Are they different to kids with working mums? Do either have more or less behavioural problems? Are their academic aptitudes stronger or weaker depending on if the mother is in the workforce outside the home or not? Luckily for both working mums and SAHM, most research shows a child’s development is influenced more by the emotional health of the family, and the quality of child care that is given. Phew. We would all agree that we have to do what’s best for ourselves and our families, and luckily as women I believe we are striving towards building each other up instead of tearing each other down. Unfortunately though, I think sometimes we can tear ourselves down due to our personal situations and/or choices.
My daughter’s comment just made me wonder, is what we do as mums ever enough? Are we enough? Or are we sometimes trying to do too much? “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things alone.” Lin Yutang. I’m sure as mothers, whether we work outside the home or not, we would all agree the pressure of getting everything done is A LOT.
Even ‘self-care’ has recently become just another thing to add to the ‘to do’ list. If you can’t fit in the bubble bath or a 20 minute meditation, and would prefer to spend that time watching Netflix, then do it! With zero guilt! I don’t believe as mums we will ever get the perfect balance. There is probably always going to be an element of mum guilt, however I think if we lose the self-doubt and switch the internal dialogue to positive chatter, we can then be kinder to ourselves and empower each other – as we should be. After all, it doesn’t matter what your job title is. We are all just doing our best and winging it. Aren’t we? I know I am!