"I want to be a stay-at-home parent when I grow up."

For young adults: What would happen if you said that to your parents? For parents with children: What would you say if your child said that to you? I'd be especially interested in hearing from stay-at-home parents; how did your family react when you told them you'd be working as a stay-at-home parent?

Feminists have been making the case for decades that motherhood is undervalued, despite its being ostensibly revered as "the most important job in the world." Recent analyses include The Mommy Myth, as well as monetary quantifications like this one and this story that got a lot of press about a month ago.

So even though stay-at-home parenting is worth $130,000+ per year, how much is it valued at home? A lot, one would hope, but this has been on my mind lately, and I'm afraid that based on my own experience and those of my friends and family members close to me in age, it doesn't seem to be worth that much. I'm not necessarily saying I want to be a stay-at-home mother, but if I did, I believe my family's reaction would be a mixture of disappointment, anxiety, and maybe even touches of disgust, betrayal, and anger. In a practical sense, they'd have good reasons: I'd be financially dependent on a spouse, and if I had to re-enter the workforce due to widowhood or divorce, I'd be at a major disadvantage if I'd spent years at home. I don't think that's all there is to it, though, not in a culture obsessed with upward mobility, manifested in bragging rights, vicarious living, etc. My intention is not to pick on my family here, not at all, but I think part of them would believe I was squandering my talents. They want to be able to tell people their daughter (or granddaughter, or whatever) is a college professor with a title of Dr.

The whole thing is sad, and I imagine quite widespread (and far, far worse for men who want to be stay-at-home fathers). I post this because I really want to hear about others' experiences. To what extent is the phenomenon I'm referring to class-related? I'd appreciate any comments you have.

Edited to add: I forgot to include this earlier, but the viciously misogynistic stereotypes I encountered in college also informed this post. I'm talking specifically about the stereotype of sorority women as "breedstock." They major in early childhood education, and they're only in college to find a husband (or, as the joke goes, to get their MRS. degrees). It's all part of the same thing.

And, for context: Right before I came back here, I spent the day with a good friend of mine from college who is a stay-at-home mother with three children, ages 5, 3, and 3 (twins). I had a wonderful time, so I guess I'm experiencing a "grass is greener" effect, and feeling as though if I ever decided I wanted to do that, my family, and many of my friends, too, wouldn't be supportive.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

you have options :)

Depending on the sort of lifestyle you'd like to maintain, there are other options besides being a only SAHM or a only working mom.

You and your partner can each work part time, both sharing in the responsibilities and fun of being a homebody, volunteering at the kids' school, doing playdates, whatever.

We have done this for a while, with a lot of flexibility (sometimes one of us going full time for the summer or while the other is in between jobs).

The problem is that you don't make a lot of money, and you don't get benefits like health insurance unless your lucky to work for a company that offers them to part timers (though such places do exist, like UPS and SU). Our family and friends are mostly ambivalent. We don't NOT get support, but we often do get comments like "how can you live like that (ie without a boatload of money)?" But we do, and we don't do without, really. The kids still get dance lessons and new shoes every-so-often.

Who cares what people think, as long as you're happy?? :)


Upending Stereotypes by Living Your Life

2 Board Alley

Ultimately, it's what Madeline says--who cares as long as you're happy? So much is up to the individual, her partner and their needs and abilities. And it doesn't have to be either/or--maybe just not all together at once. But I'm not a Dr. working at a university, with the expectation of publishing and teaching ahead of me. I'll bet that there's much to be gleaned from other academic moms' blogs.
I appreciate your post--it speaks to reflecting on how society still privileges the male model of success for everyone, but remember that "society" is made up of individuals who are far more varied than the stereotype.
As far as family disapproval goes, by the time you have a family, you'll have your ph.d and be working, and despite any professional choices you'll have to make, you'll have created one thing that will soften their hearts: grandchildren.

This topic really "hits home"

This topic really "hits home" for me. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who railed against feminism, claiming it looked down upon any woman who didn't try to juggle both a job outside the home and children. It infuriated her when other women would ask her what she did all day, and she assigned those women the label of "feminist." I grew up resenting the idea that my mom wasn't a feminist and put everyone before herself. Now as an adult, lesbian, feminist, with little interest in necessarily having children, I tend to rail against conceptions and/or images of motherhood that imply the maternal involves and/or necessitates putting everyone's needs before your own. My mother takes personal offense to these rants, feeling as though I'm demeaning her life's work (my brother and I being the products). My brother, I believe, is in search of the type of home he grew up in, so he wants to find a woman who is willing to have the kids, stay home to care for them, while he is the breadwinner. I just try to be realistic (in my opinion) with my family and tell them that his quest isn't necessarily going to be an easy task (finding a woman he is in love with, who ALSO *wants* to stay home). My mother also gets choked up and hurt when I make comments like this. I try to explain to her that feminism is *not* anti-motherhood, as she believes. But she won't believe me.

So in answer to some of your questions: My stay-at-home mother would be more than thrilled if I followed in her footsteps (but that also involves finding a nice man with whom to have those children, and of course the man would have to be well-educated and out there making a "good" living--supporting me "in the manner to which I'm accustomed"). My brother wants a woman like my mother, and that makes my mother proud, it makes her feel good. I am still left resenting much of this, and therefore making my mother feel badly about her work...making me feel bady for making her feel that way.

Adding my own Thoughts

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this particular issue. I work part-time at a university - which mostly involves teaching. I don't have time time nor the funds to attend conferences and get fully emersed in research. I love the balance between teaching what I love and being with my three small children. Working part-time is a luxury I try not to take for granted. I have also been giving some serious thought to doing the doctoral dance - seeing that I love what I do - why not "go for it". After I finished my MA I travelled, got married and had kids. In someways I think it would have been easier to balance an academic career and a family if I were already had an established position. I think this is the case for many of the women who balance family and careers. I also know a fair share of broken marrages and families where the academic chose scholarship over a personal life. I've come to the conclusion that if a PHd is in the cards for me - its not at this moment. My kids are small..and we would need to make sacrifices (including moving, investing money and time) that I don't want to make at the moment. (I have a child with some "special needs" so consistency with his school is paramount)

There are a few months out of the year when I am a single mom - and balancing that with a part-time career is more than enough juggling. There are also months when I am a stay at home mom. The money sucks, and there is a banal aspect of being at home all the time that I find monotonous. This usually involves housekeeping - since being at home all of the time means the house gets more use and more dirt. Sometimes being a SAHM can be a bit isolating - (this depends on scheduling and where you live etc). (I also think routine is important). There is a whole new dimension to identity-making when you are a SAHM. I have to say that I prefer the me who works part of the day and hangs with the toddlers the rest.

I've thought alot about utopias, best case scenarios, and I came to the conclusion that the isolation and lonliness is what I do not like about being a SAHM. I think part of this stems from our cultural focus on the nuclear family as opposed to an extended family. In my situation - its like pulling teeth to get famuly members to "babysit" (whats up with that anyways? My kids are well behaved!!)

Thats enought rumination for now. If I don't stop...I won't



quantifications and valuations

Re the undervaluation of motherhood: economist Duncan Ironmonger published an essay in Feminist Economics 2.3 (1996) titled "Counting Outputs, Capital Inputs and Caring Labor: Estimating Gross Household Product" that used statistical analysis and time-use surveys to tally the value of unpaid household work in twelve OECD countries. The conclusion: aggregate market work makes up 48% of all economic activity, while aggregate household work -- performed primarily by women -- makes up 52% of economic activity. In other words, non-monetized (and largely feminized) home-work is slightly larger than the entire GDP. The essay's well worth a read.

But yeah, there are the class attitudes. My mom worked; brother and I both went to after-school care until we were 10 or 11, and then we were latchkey kids. When my cousin decided to be a SAHM, my mom was disappointed, and would sometimes say rueful things to me about my cousin's "potential" -- which sounds somewhat like the reaction you imagine from your family. But I wonder how much of it might have been my mom's wanting to struggle against her own parents' expectations that women should stay home with the children.


I realize that the point is a

I realize that the point is about being happy, rather than what you do per se, but I think my parents, too, would be disappointed if I said I was going to be a SAHM. This is not at all to disparage being a SAHM; I'm just saying how I think my parents would react. Like Clancy's family, I think mine would be disappointed that I wasn't putting all my education to use. It's not even so much that they would look down on me for SAHM-ing (my mom was/is a SAHM) as that they would worry that I would be unhappy and unfulfilled - my mom initially found SAHM-ing VERY VERY hard, and I've never shown any inclination to that lifestyle, so they would probably worry.


Thanks a lot for all these great comments. On further reflection, I'm thinking that even if I wanted to be a SAHM for a couple of years, it wouldn't be economically feasible anyway. I was speaking from a position of privilege that I, along with ninety-something percent of the world, don't even have. That's what makes me angry, really: the fact that so many people have to work and can't stay at home with their kids, the fact that men who want to stay at home with their kids are so strongly discouraged and disapproved of (I know some of these dads personally, and it breaks my heart to see them in apologetic postures WRT career), and the fact that if a woman excels academically, finishes college, and especially graduate school, a lot of people think their talent is wasted on staying at home with children. It just makes me sick.

Dissertating Mama

Ah, this is great stuff. I'm sitting right now at my computer trying desperately to finish revisions on a dissertation chapter with a baby asleep in my lap. I have to sit crosslegged on the couch with the laptop in front of me, because if I move she'll wake up and cry. The only reason I'm working so hard is because I'm so so so ready to be done with this project, to have it no longer hanging over my head. It's taking everything in me to sit down and do this--I just don't care anymore. My main motivation right now is that the sooner I get this done, the more time I can spend with the baby.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm giving up on academia, but it does mean that already it just seems so much less important to me. I love teaching, so that's where I want to put my energy. I'm looking at a position for this year in the writing center, which I also really love. But I can't see myself ever succumbing to the "publish or perish" "work before family" mentality that i see in so many of my profs. I just like being a mama too much, and I feel neither guilt nor stress about that (so far...).

Whew--all this to say, it can be done!
And...I hope we cross paths in real life sometime. I bet we did at CCCC in San Antonio and I just didn't know who you were yet. Pity.


2 Board Alley

You all, I've been thinking about these comments and recalling the 70's-80's, when we were told that we could have it all, despite seeing other women crash and burn from taking on too much. I'm also thinking about how hard it has been for women to get a foothold and more as professionals. When my mother got pregnant in the late 50's, she had to quit teaching--it was in her contract. I grew up with my going to college and having a career as a given, but my mother also cautioned me to have fun and a career before I married because having kids changed things. So, for both of us, it was an either/or thing. These days, it seems that my peers (colleagues, not age-peers) work things out so that if they want to have kids, there are several patterns that they can follow, and fathers as well as mothers are part of the equation. Still, I don't think we've gotten to the point where homemaking is given its due, and where young women aren't judged regardless of what they choose.

I wish I'd seen this before I did my post on "what is a wife wor

I think my mom would be not only disappointed, but disdainful. My dad, I'm not sure--he tends to pretty much take things at face value. When Mr. B. said he wanted to be a stay-home dad, his family's reaction was kind of "good for you" but at the same time, kind of "are you really happy?" (this coming from one of his sisters who is herself a stay-home mom), and I think there's a little suspicion that I "made" him do it (nothing could be further from the truth). And I'll be totally honest: the fact that my two married sisters-in-law and my sister are *all* being stay-home moms right now does bother me a little bit.

But, on the other hand, I think the thing is: we look at "stay home parent" as a permanent job. Which it isn't, necessarily. By four or five, the kids will be in school part of the time; when I was dissertating, I taught on and off and also "stayed home" a lot of the time (we had daycare ranging from three hours/day to about 40 hours/week). Some people, of course, stay home after the kids are in school; but staying home for a few years doesn't necessarily mean saying goodbye to a career.

More and more, I think the way to look at it is: life is long, and there are a lot of variations. You can cut back hours, or do some freelance type work, or do "work" that's unpaid; you can be stay home and still have some kind of organized care (preschool, the occasional afternoon program, a daily sitter for an hour--personally, I think it's kind of healthy for children not to be cared for by the exact same person, all day, every day, but to get a broader sense of "belonging" to a range of caring adults). You can take a year off, or three.

Yes, there is a sense in which we all, culturally, think that a woman who is highly educated and/or well-paid who "quits" to take care of young children is "giving up." And maybe that's not a good thing. But I think maybe the problem is thinking of it as "quitting" rather than as taking a kind of hiatus, or even continuing to "work," even if not as an employee somewhere, for money (e.g., you can write; you can read; you can participate in early childhood education stuff; you can be politically active). I think a lot of it is this idea we have that staying home with kids is *only* that, that one is locked up in the private home with no connection to the public world.

Bitch. Ph.D.

Being a stay at home mom

I was browsing the feminist blogs and found myself here.

My children are in college now. My son and his finacée are both in grad school out East. They seem to be on their way to resolving the parenting/career issue when that comes up.

As a parent I would hate to see either one of them let go of their careers. If someone has been in a field long enough and can do part time or even full time (but not too full) - I think that is best.

I never went and got my masters degree and I regret it. Though I may still do that. It would be harder now to get back in the groove. I didn't intend to have children right out of college - but that is what I did.

It's interesting to read how many women's families would be disappointed if they became SAHMs. My pressure was the other way. There was no expectation that I be a career woman. In high school I intended to work part time as a mother as an artist. And that is what I did. And then I went to full time when the kids were older - working at a company for a number of years until I got downsized and was laid off and now I'm deciding what to do next.

It is difficult when nobody has any expectations for you. I could do anything or nothing. It's all on me.

Financially, of course, it would be better to be making money. I am creating art and have a show coming up. But I've found myself on the feminist blogs because I need the inspiration.

I did enjoy the mom thing. Except when I was bored out of my mind.

Staying involved with others in the field would seem to be a key to balance.

To me - it's not that easy to stay involved when you are not working with others. And of course art and child-rearing are both solitary activities.

Having children is a wonderful thing - but so is career momentum (and so are expectations for that matter).

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.