Since I've become a stay-at-home mom, I've found it difficult to answer the "What do you do?" question. I've never been able to simply say, "I'm a mom" with conviction. I stammer through my answer, saying things like, "Oh, I'm not working right now, I'm at home with the kids," or "I'm a stay-at-home mom, but I'm also writing a book and I volunteer at the school." My answer is always qualified, always timid, always apologetic. I add in extras because "I'm a mom" doesn't feel like a complete statement, like "I'm a doctor" is. I can't be just a mom, can I?
I was running through this narrative with my soul dude, when he pointed it out and challenged me on it.
Aren't all moms working? What's the difference between a "working" mom and a "stay-at-home" mom? You're all working - some in the home, some out of the home - it's just the expression that's different.
WHAT?!!! (insert face palm) Oh my god, of course all moms are working! What had I been thinking? What had I been saying?!!!
As soon as that light came on, all sorts of dark, dusty corners of my psyche became visible. Up until that point, I had no idea how I had been diminishing my role as a stay-at-home mom. Rationally, of course I know how important being a mom is. So why was I feeling like it wasn't enough? Why was I talking about it like it wasn't real work, or as valuable as any other "job."
"Humility is remembering how conditioned we are." - Br. Wayne Teasdale
Now, normally I'm the first one to raise my hand and take accountability for my own shit. Being someone who is committed to my own personal growth means I regularly get smacked in the face by my gremlins, and I welcome it. However, this one is different. This isn't just mine, it's cultural. So, I'm going to have to give most of the credit on this to social conditioning and consensus reality. Our society consistently devalues stay-at-home moms in lots of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
A friend of mine who is currently a stay-at-home mom caring for her four-year-old son regularly gets asked when she's going back to work. As if she ever stopped working! As if being home with her child isn't work?! Even though she and her husband very consciously made the choice for her to stay home, and even though she loves being home with her son, she still has moments of doubt. Am I doing enough? Is being "just a mom" enough?
Another friend of mine, who is also a SAHM, takes her daughter to childcare one day a week. She uses this time as her recharge - she has lunch by herself, she reads books, she naps - whatever she needs that day. She treats her parenting as her vocation, and she knows that this time is critical to her being a conscious parent.
The other day, her childcare provider informed her that they were going to be short-handed the following week and they wouldn't be able to care for her child that day. My friend told me she would be keeping her daughter home, so we could plan a play date.
And as she told me this story, at first it made perfect sense. The other child in the daycare has parents who both work in full-time jobs, and so of course it wouldn't be right to inconvenience them to find alternate care. Of course my friend, who is really just using the time for self-care, should be the one to get the boot. I mean, she doesn't really "need" childcare. Of course the "working" mother should have priority, no conversation needed, right?
These are just two of a million stories. I've had people ask me what I do all day (something I was never asked when I worked in an office). I've had people ask me if being home with the kids is enough for me, or if I'm bored. All of it, very clearly letting us know that being "just a mom" isn't a real job.
Our society does not acknowledge "mom" as a vocation. For the record, I recognize that I'm the one who chose to have all these kids so I don't expect the world to throw me a parade. However, as someone new to the stay-at-home mom role, I was not prepared for being treated as a second-class citizen.
Do you know what happens when you give a human an incredibly important task, one that is almost completely thankless, one that isn't paid, one where she rarely receives any recognition, where she's on-call 24 hours a day with no breaks, and then you imply that she's not working? Well, that is a recipe for self-doubt and a loss of self-worth.
So it's no wonder that I've been taking on more volunteer work, way past what I would have signed on for when I worked full-time in an office. And it's no wonder I've felt uncomfortable taking any time for myself if there's anything that needs to be done with the kids or around the house. And it makes perfect sense that I would have taken all of the house cleaning, and grocery shopping, and meal planning, and organizing off of my husband's plate onto mine (because, you know....he's working and I'm not).
I could have fallen so much farther down this rabbit hole, but luckily I didn't. My eyes are open now, and I can see clearly how the "just a mom" story has been impacting me, and I'm climbing my way out.
Not only was I tolerating this story, I was feeding it. I'm realizing and feeling incredibly remorseful that I've been contributing to the consensus reality of stay-at-home moms.
That ends now.
"We change the world when we change ourselves."
You will never again hear me ask a mom when they're going back to work. Ever.
I'm taking the terms "working mom" vs. "stay-at-home mom" out of my vocabulary. They are divisive, and paint a deeply inaccurate depiction of our realities. It's not a competition ladies; we are not against each other even though all the headlines may tell us we are.
No matter what your expression is - a full-time job, a part-time job, stay-at-home, or anything in-between - we need to acknowledge that all moms are "working" moms.
When someone asks me now, I just explain what I do rather than putting a label on it. (e.g. I'm raising three humans.)
Side note - ever notice that there's no such term as a "working dad?" Roll that one around in your noggin for a few.
Most importantly, when the kids ask I explain that my work is raising them. That it is as valuable as Dad's work and that we are equal partners in our family. I'm more willing to ask for help. I'm putting a moratorium on signing up to volunteer for random shit. And, I've put my mental health time in the calendar.
Because if we're going to change this, the best thing we can do is take a stand for what we want to see. To no longer tolerate the status quo about the value that moms provide, but hold a vision for a world where what we're doing so obviously matters we sit around coffee tables laughing and shaking our heads at how backwards it used to be. We'll say things like, "Wow, can you believe that stay-at-home moms weren't paid? And that their work wasn't valued? And that we used to hold them in contrast to "working" moms?!! Crazy!" Then we'll laugh, sip our tea, and thank goodness that higher consciousness has prevailed.