When you become a parent you are confronted with several choices which color the life of your child. It’s your duty to weigh these options responsibly and to choose what you feel works best for your family. As women have been perceived as a child’s primary care-giver for decades, you would think staying home for the kids would be most socially accepted – if not expected. Four months into motherhood I’m finding out the opposite is true. I’ll even go as far as to say I feel that in our Western culture there’s a stigma on being a stay-at-home mom. In this article I would like to share my personal findings, and make a call to action to remind ourselves to simply allow moms to be moms (and of course, allow dads to be dads).
My mother was a stay-at-home mom. And a great one, if I might add. I always remember her being busy: Busy with the household, busy doing groceries, busy running family errands… But she was never too busy to take care of us, in the broadest sense of the word. I fondly remember sitting at the back of her bike, clutching the sides of her coat while misty morning streets passed by on our way to school. And when I got older she would make me a cup of tea after I arrived home, while listening to my highschool-tantrums with the sort of attention that made you feel that what you said actually mattered. Her first priority was to love her children, and by staying at home to do so, I never felt I came short. Also we had a house so cozy and clean visitors felt they walked into the spread of a magazine, and delicious home-cooked meals every night.
As soon as I decided on having children, I knew I wanted to give them the same kind of upbringing. Luckily I am with a man who doesn’t only wholeheartedly support this decision, but who can also make it happen financially. During my daughter’s naps I focus on other endeavors (including my work as a freelance creative), but so far I’m spending most of my time like my mother used to: Focusing on my child and on my household, providing a stable and well-tended home.
I feel lucky to be in this position. In fact I feel extremely fortunate that during this day and age – where our financial means color the way we spend our days – I can take a step back and focus on raising our daughter. That we’ve been able to envision an ideal, and that we’ve been able to make it work. And in the process provide what we feel is best for our child.
Unfortunately, four months into being a mother, I start noticing the stigma. The stigma on being a stay-at-home mom.
The stigma on being a stay-at-home mom
My mother, who so consciously and lovingly stayed at home for her children, had to deal with a lot of resistance.
When the second feminist wave came at a slumbering halt my older brother was born. Women fought and demonstrated for equality in life, including equal rights on the work-floor. My mother, who together with my father made the deliberate choice to stay home for her children, had to count on a lot of critisism. Fellow women didn’t understand her motives and had little good to say about being a full-time mom. They found it underwhelming, ungrateful, and even hinted at my mother that she had to be lazy for not wanting a job.
It came up once or twice when I came at an age to have adult conversations with my mother. I didn’t understand it one bit. I simply couldn’t understand why people would make assumptions about my mother like that. My mother – who got up before any of us in the morning, and was busy wrapping up her last work late in the evening – was anything but lazy. But I never considered it to be an ongoing problem. Being limited in what you as a woman believe in sounded so old-fashioned; it had to be a thing of the past. That’s why I put the information away in that one box we all have in our mind, labelled “stuff people used to do back in ye olde day” / outdated bullsh*t.
Unfortunately, having recently become a mother myself, I notice that we as a society – and us women in general – aren’t as socially progressive as we’d like to think. Because even though I count myself lucky never to have met someone who called me lazy for wanting to be a stay-at-home mom to my face, I still notice a lot of raised eyebrows when people ask about what I currently consider my occupation. And even more surprisingly, the vast majority of people with strong opinions on the matter seem to be women – or mothers themselves.
That one pressing question
Four to six weeks after labor. The dust is settling. Your world is slowly adjusting to a new norm with this new, delightful addition to your family. You’ve already changed dozens of nappies. You’re getting used to broken nights. You might very well be able to sit without the help of one of those charming hemorrhoid donuts (ouch). But when people inquire how things have been, one question always seems to pop up.
“When are you getting back to work?”
As you might have had a job before you became pregnant, you’re probably on maternity leave – which around this time will end soon. The question isn’t unexpected. Although I am self-employed, the question wasn’t unexpected for me either. But few people seemed to expect, or even fully accept my answer. That my primary focus would be to tend to my little girl. I received exclamations like “Not work?”, “But how?”, “Why would you?”, “HUH?” and even “Are you sure?”. I regret to say that very few responses could be deemed positive. A daunting prospect for a new mother who under all these new circumstances, naturally fares best under support and approval.
It even caused me to word my current situation differently. At some point, after stating I was going to be a full-time caregiver for my daughter, I would add: “Well, I’m a freelancer, so I still pick up the odd job here and there”. Not untrue, but an endeavor that currently has little to no priority. I was easily tempted into adding that little sentence to my story, because people would respond differently. More consenting. Their thoughtful grimace would quickly switch for an approving look. It often looks like my statement – that I turn on my PC and hustle between my baby’s naps – makes me a better mother, if not a better person as a whole.
I am happy to feel strengthened by the strong female role-models around me, who have proven the choice I’m making isn’t a bad one.
Why we should allow moms to be moms (and dads be dads)
If you are a parent yourself, I only need to remind you of the variety of parenting topics people share their (often unwanted) opinions on. Being a stay-at-home mom. Being a working mom. Breastfeeding. Bottle-feeding. Sleeping patterns. How often you trim a baby’s nails. Whether you first give them a fruit-snack or a veggie-snack. Strangers who interfere when you deny your child a treat at the grocery store. People who press you for a “yes”, when you just told your toddler “no”. That one distant aunt who started complaining your kid was growing too fast*.
* Yeah, that last one actually happened recently. ‘My apologies auntie, my kid’s really healthy, I’ll ask her to cut it out’.
In a world where old fashioned face-to-face judgement is ruthlessly complemented by online critics, it’s time that society takes a step back. To realize that venting a personal (and unnecessarily critical) opinion in parental manners isn’t considered welcome advice. That it can actually result in a lot of bother and insecurity which can directly distract from the important task at hand, which is raising a child. Simply put: It’s time to allow moms to be moms (and dads to be dads).
Let’s just presume that the average parent tries to do what’s best for their child. That he or she isn’t one of the few people who walk the earth which are actually a danger to the well-being of their own children. That they try to make the best choices for their offspring, based not only on their own experience but also on a good bit of research. And that their parenting choices usually simply aren’t that sensational, shocking or appalling.
Because let’s face it: Mommies who raise their babies on formula aren’t poisoning them. Skipping nap-time because one day the schedule doesn’t add up won’t kill a kid. No matter how you want to be stern in denying your child a sugary treat; you can’t – nor is it your place – to condemn a parent who does the opposite.
And finally, there’s no reason to guilt-trip a parent over their choice to either go to work or stay home for their kids.
Do you feel parents are often needlessly criticized? And has it happened to you?