It’s Time We Treated Stay-at-Home Parents with the Same Respect as Other Professionals

After all, what job could be more important than raising the next generation?
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After all, what job could be more important than raising the next generation?

A recent video released by baby formula maker Similac is making waves. The short docu-style video shows seven new moms—each with different lifestyles—as they all struggle with the issues and decisions that have come with their “mommy” status. It reveals that a whopping 95 percent of moms feel judged, with even the featured moms admitting that they had initially judged each other upon meeting. The video’s intent, it says, is to #endmommywars. The cynic in me wants to dismiss this as smart marketing for a formula company—the rise of breast-feeding, often a key issue of mommy wars discussion, could certainly be hurting its bottom line. But it’s hard to dismiss because I feel judged for my parenting thoughts. And I’m not even a mom yet!

That’s because I know I want to be a stay-at-home mom. Few debates are as heated—and judgment-laden—as the should-I-work-or-not debate. The number of women who want to be stay-at-home moms and the number of women who are work-at-home moms is on the rise. And yet, when I’ve disclosed to others that I hope to stay home with my kids one day, I’ve heard a range of criticisms about my choice. “Oh, so you’re basically just looking for a rich baby daddy,” or “Why did you even bother going to college?” Or take the example of my 6-year-old cousin: When she submitted her “When I Grow Up” project with the goal of being a mom, her teacher said she had done the assignment wrong.

Sowing the Seeds of Discontent

At this point, these reactions hardly surprise me. Go to almost any “mommy blog,” and you will see comments telling the author that she is under-using her talents by not working “a real job” and that she has reversed years of progress made possible by the feminist movement. When stated so plainly, this seems absurd. After all, isn’t feminism about women being treated equally to men and should therefore be holding up the choices women make as equally good as the choices of men?

But it isn’t just Internet trolls who have a nasty view toward stay-at-home moms. Popular culture is constantly depicting SAHMs as either overbearing control freaks or shrill, vapid women who do nothing but drink or shop all day. Take The Goldbergs, for example. Beverly Goldberg is a nonworking mom of three children. She is constantly seen as the villain by her family for being too involved and controlling. Beverly is shrewd and domineering as she carries out the tasks of stay-at-home motherhood. The recent movie The Intern, which focused on a working mom, showcased stay-at-home moms as judgmental, gossiping women with superiority complexes who brought bullying to the drop-off lane of their children’s school.

Rarely are full-time moms displayed as accomplished or smart. Instead they are characterized as unhappy, unfulfilled women who desperately seek attention from their spouses—spouses who look down on them for not pulling their financial weight within the household. Jacqueline Voorhees of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is demeaned and controlled by her husband. She spends the beginning of the show’s first season ignoring her children and responsibilities, despondent over the fact that her husband is not paying as much attention to her. (She does eventually manage to break free of this and finds fulfillment on her own terms, but not before the stay-at-home stigma has taken root.)

What Does It Mean to Work, Anyway?

Child rearing is not an easy task. It is a full-time job—a real job minus the quotation marks. Seven days a week, from morning to night, anyone who stays at home to take care of their children is constantly at work. As a job, it’s even been priced out at equating to a salary of $118,000. Weekends? Holidays? Sick days? Those go out the window as long as one’s child still needs care. It’s a job. Any woman, or man for that matter, who chooses to raise their children one-on-one and full-time should be proud and should be given the same respect as anyone who earns a paid salary.

Furthermore, look at the juxtaposition of opinions about dads who choose full-time parenting. They are either applauded as forward thinkers or stigmatized for choosing a woman’s lifestyle. Outlets such as the New York Times have celebrated the stay-at-home dad, claiming that the progressive role reversal allows men to find “fulfillment, not money or status,” an opposition to the idea that stay-at-home moms are unfulfilled. The flip side of the coin is that men who stay at home with the kids are somehow less than masculine—a statement implying that being a dedicated parent is a feminine quality and therefore lesser.

Rethinking Fulfillment

Despite all the negative messaging, I still want to be a SAHM. Now, I understand that being a nonworking mom is a privilege; it’s difficult for many families to be single-income households, and I may not be able to have that opportunity. But to imply that working outside of the home is better seems to suggest that women can only find true fulfillment within the workplace. I hope that we can all see that this is patently false. (Otherwise, what do we have to say about women who dislike their jobs?) True life satisfaction can be found in everyday moments—yes, even in going to bed at night, exhausted, knowing that you have put in a hard day of work raising your kids and have been paid in memories instead of paychecks.

Child rearing can be just as fulfilling as any other occupation that is lauded by society. And just because a woman chooses to make motherhood her career doesn’t mean she has no other interests or pursuits. Happiness comes from a variety of avenues. No woman—or man—is entirely satisfied by just one thing, so to say that a parenting choice is solely tied to fulfillment is cheating both those who work outside the home and those who don’t.

If being influential in your child’s rearing is something you find fulfilling, then the one-on-one care received by children of stay-at-home moms is indisputably influential. Of course, parenting goes well beyond a choice to stay at home or work, and one or the other does not guarantee better parenting. But research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that children who received one-on-one quality, loving care are less stressed and less aggressive than those raised in all-day day cares with larger caregiver-to-child ratios. Having a parent at home full time also teaches children to form healthy attachments and relationships, something that they carry on throughout their lives, as shown by the Center of the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. This isn’t to say that children without stay-at-home moms or dads are automatically doomed, but it’s one more reason why it’s not a ridiculous decision on the part of those who decide to stay home.

Photo Credit: Greg Finck