Can you call yourself a real feminist while conforming to traditional gender roles? Why voluntarily add to the gender inequality that women have been fighting to change for generations? Perhaps it helps to remember that, like all other parenting choices, decisions are based on many different factors, and choosing or sometimes being forced to dedicate one’s time fully to raising children is no exception.
The image people have of women who choose this lifestyle is rooted in the highly problematic term that is used to describe us – “Stay-At-Home-Mum” a.k.a SAHM. A phrase that inaccurately sums up the realities of our lives, undervalues our labour and reduces our routine to merely being at home and being “just mum”. Although staying at home to raise children is still revered in some cultures as the ideal, in progressive societies where women can be anything they want to be, a decision to shelve your certificates and career in favour of raising your kids is looked down on. Unfortunately, being classified as a SAHM comes with some stereotypes and misconceptions. Let’s examine the most common ones:
“SAHMs are lazy…”
Sadly, this is the most recurring stereotype of a Stay-At-Home-Mum – that she is lazy and spends her days watching daytime TV or gossiping, eating biscuits and tea, and getting fat. While I won’t deny that over the last six years, some of my days have been spent watching Homes Under The Hammer and eating entire packets of custard creams, that is not typical, and I know for a fact that it’s not the average day for most SAHMs. A day in the life of a SAHM will depend on her reason for staying at home, her children’s ages, her financial situation, and so much more. My typical day, now that my children are 6 and 3, looks completely different from what it was when they were both toddlers. Every year since they were born has been very different.
I’ve been a student, carrying my baby with me to meetings with my professors. I’ve run a photography business, volunteered for several projects, picked up some fantastic freelance gigs, all while being at home with my children. My days are usually filled with catering to their every need, while my nights are spent catching up on my own stuff. Thanks to the digital age, it’s not uncommon for a SAHM to be a Multi-Hyphenate, involved in several ventures at the same time. I’ve met SAHMs who are freelancers and small business owners, charity founders, students, bloggers, vloggers and influencers, facilitators, volunteers, home-schoolers and more. Their days all look different, but the one thing they all have in common is that none of them is lazy. Being with the kids 24/7 means no physical or mental break from parenting, which is overwhelming and puts SAHMs at a higher risk of Parental Burnout, as studies have shown. So if a SAHM feels like taking a lazy day, it is well deserved and needs no justifying to anyone. All mums should be making time for themselves without feeling guilty anyway.
“SAHMs lack ambition…”
Why else would you leave a promising career to stay home and wipe bums and noses all day? The mistake people make is to assume that only people who work full time have ambition. What is so wrong with wanting to be the best mother to your child even if that means not holding down a 9-5 simultaneously? For mums who are forced to be Stay-At-Home-Mums to children with special needs or mums in whose culture staying at home is the norm, it can be so painful to hear this. Many SAHMs want more, and they struggle with balancing their desires with the needs of their children every single day. But when options are weighed, what is best for all is to prioritise the needs of the children. This in no way means they are devoid of aspirations. Many SAHMs I know continue to pursue their dreams on the side, which is genuinely challenging especially when you don’t have extra help or can’t afford to outsource childcare.
“SAHMs are financially privileged in some way…”
While some SAHMs have partners in high paying jobs, many of us often rely on meagre incomes from one source. With astronomical childcare costs, and more families living far away from family members who can offer assistance, staying at home is the better option for some mothers. Not because they can afford the “luxury” but because the numbers just don’t add up to cater for an alternative lifestyle. This is why it’s not odd to find many Stay-At-Home-Mums taking up side hustles to make extra income.
“SAHMs cannot possibly be feminists…”
If you only have one image of a SAHM in mind and a very narrow view of Feminism, then you won’t understand how someone can be in a traditional mothering role while also advocating for the rights of women. Imagine this scenario: Kike is a mum of three girls whom she homeschools because the educational system disillusions her. She enriches her girls with a variety of experiences, untethered by the confines of a formal classroom. Kike is also a Scientist, has studied Feminism in great detail and identifies as a feminist. Part of her day with her girls includes volunteering at a local afterschool club, teaching STEM subjects to young girls. Do you get the picture? It is time to let go of the idea of “just a mum staying at home.” We are so much more!
“SAHMs absolutely love their lifestyle…”
The final misconception, one that I had before becoming a Stay-At-Home-Mum, is that I will always love and enjoy being home with the kids. The reality is that there are days I loathe staying at home. When I’m feeling a little isolated and unappreciated, I question my decision. Then I remind myself that this path was a very well-informed choice. Though I may not be fervently pursuing a full-time career or getting a regular paycheck, so much of what I do daily is valuable to my family and the entire world. I’m sure a lot of SAHMs can relate to this.
I’ll conclude this by saying that I firmly believe that ALL mums – paid or unpaid – are working mums! Whether you’re a SAHM doubting your decision, a mum-to-be considering your options or a mum who works outside the home, I hope we always remember that being a mum is challenging no matter your lifestyle. We all need to support each other as we all do what works best for our families. The time we have with our children is so short; let’s make the very best of it.