I often witness one of my beautiful friends introduce herself to people as "just a stay-at-home mum".
"Wow, that's amazing! What an important job" -- said no one ever in response. There's simply a pause, and a change of topic.
And an imperceptible part of my friend dies a little more.
I find it fascinating that society apparently values family above everything else, but massively betrays stay-at-home mums (SAHMs) -- women who are usually married and don't work outside of their maternal role. SAHMs, while dedicating their lives to something society approves of, are somehow still not good enough. There is the perception that a SAHM isn't contributing anything to the community because her focus is on her home. The belief that she couldn't possibly have anything interesting to say because she doesn't exist in the real world.
Subconsciously, a SAHM is judged for being a woman who is taken care of financially.
But I think it's more than that. I suspect it's because, subconsciously, a SAHM is judged for being a woman who is taken care of financially. Most people can't relate to a life of such apparent ease -- and it's certainly not respected.
But that doesn't mean we're not fascinated by it; look at the popularity of television shows such as The RealHousewives of Melbourne or Desperate Housewives. It's super fun to be entertained by a bunch of women who seemingly have nothing else to do with their time other than gossip, lunch, and run perfect homes. And the ones who 'pretend' they are doing something more by being involved in charities or the school community are mercilessly mocked, like in the movie 'Bad Moms'.
Sometimes a SAHM's situation is envied by those who are struggling with their work/life balance. But rather than say "You're so lucky not to have to juggle everything", they are brutal instead. "Why was she late to school today? Why did her kid not have his lunchbox? Can't she do her job?" Because if you're a SAHM, if "that's all" that's expected from you, the very least you should do is always get it right.
Of course, many women would tell you that she would work for her sanity, no matter how much money her husband made. I can absolutely understand that -- I'm one of those women. I love working, I love what I do, and I'm so grateful to be able to work. I'm a sole parent, so I also have to work to ensure my family's future is secure. And I'd still do it even if I were married to a billionaire.
But let's pause for a second and question whether that really matters. Sometimes we forget that motherhood is not a competition, and that no two women are the same. A SAHM has made a choice for herself and her family, weighing a number of factors, just as a working mum has. It doesn't mean one is a better mum than the other. There is no right and wrong beyond what is right and wrong for each woman.
SAHMs know just as much as working mums that it's a situation of damned if you do, damned even more if you don't.
I know from my friends that a SAHM questions her choice just as much as any mother who works for an income. But her internal struggle is less obvious, more private, because she knows she engenders little empathy. She knows her choice isn't validated or valued by many. We talk a lot about the pressure on working mums and their juggle, but SAHMs know just as much as working mums that it's a situation of damned if you do, damned even more if you don't.
I can see in my friends that it chips at their self-esteem, and makes them question their choices -- while imprisoning them in silence. Hearing and knowing "many women would love to be in your position and not have to juggle career and family" isn't helpful because the problem isn't that a SAHM is unaware of her financial privilege. That just makes her feel like she should never complain about anything. And that's not good for her wellbeing.
Deep down inside, many SAHMs feel like they've lost their identity. They are Mrs XYZ only. They've forgotten who they really are. There's one mum at school who always tells me she loves my work. She admires me because "I'm not just a housewife" like she is. This from a woman who needed an almost perfect matric score to study for the profession she worked in for a decade before she had kids.
I tell my friends to rethink their approach. Many of their husbands work 60 plus hours a week and/or travel constantly for work. His SAHM wife enables him to concentrate on his career. So, in essence, the SAHM is part of that career. Her husband couldn't have his success without her. Hence the saying; behind every great man, there has to be a great woman.
Except, she's not actually behind him; she's beside him.
SAHMs are so much more than just their label. We have to respect that no two women are the same, and value the individual person. Next time someone introduces themselves to you as a SAHM, perhaps respond with an honest "that must be a lot of work", and consider asking them what they did before motherhood, because women are not only defined by their children and the title in front of their names -- and that applies equally to stay-at-home mums.
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