So... you’re just a mom

More and more women are prov­ing them­selves in the board­rooms. Yet some women choose to give it all up to be stay-at-home moms. Does this make them in­ad­e­quate, asks Laura le Roux

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

SOME STAY-AT-HOME moms feel in­ad­e­quate when eval­u­ated against their work­ing coun­ter­parts, with many say­ing they are of­ten told they chose the easy way out. Stay-at-home moth­ers are some­times asked to break down their day and ac­count for what ex­actly they do all day. One work­ing mom put her foot in her mouth when she re­ferred to a friend as “never hav­ing worked a day in her life”, as all she did was stay home and raise her four chil­dren.

IS BE­ING A STAY-AT-HOME MOTHER ENOUGH?

Has bra-burn­ing, protest­ing and fight­ing by fem­i­nists who came be­fore us re­ally brought about any change?

Many may say that our at­tempts to teach our daugh­ters that they can be­come any­thing they choose to un­in­ten­tion­ally taught them that be­ing a mother is not enough.

Leti­tia Smuts, a lec­turer in the de­part­ment of so­ci­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg with re­search in­ter­ests in gen­der and sex­u­al­ity stud­ies, says this may be the case, but this phe­nom­e­non could also pos­si­bly be viewed as a re­sult of the ex­act change women fought for.

“Early fem­i­nist de­bates ar­gued that women should en­gage in paid labour in or­der to gain bar­gain­ing power in and around the home and, in so do­ing, re­duce their de­pen­dence on men. Con­se­quently, women in paid jobs are then con­sid­ered as more valu­able,” says Leti­tia.

This then im­plies that those who have no or lit­tle bar­gain­ing power are less valu­able to so­ci­ety.

Dur­ing a dis­cus­sion with a group of women who have cho­sen to be full-time moms, the gen­eral con­sen­sus was that they had been made to feel they had taken the easy way out by stay­ing at home and they were “just” moth­ers and noth­ing else. Many of them felt like un­der­achiev­ers.

“Iron­i­cally, now it seems that women them­selves need con­vinc­ing that what they are per­form­ing as stay-at-home moms is both valu­able and cru­cial,” says Leti­tia.

Whether it’s right or wrong, this kind of judge­ment against and be­tween moth­ers hap­pens so of­ten that it’s been given a name.

“Dr Aric Sig­man uses a term called ‘moth­erism’ – a prej­u­dice against moth­ers who choose to stay at home,” says ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Claire Ma­her.

THE TRUE VALUE OF A MOTHER’S ROLE

De­cid­ing to be a full-time par­ent is not easy. It comes with great sac­ri­fice and com­pro­mise from both part­ners. It ul­ti­mately means giv­ing up a part of who you are for some­one else.

Meet­ings are traded for play­dates, cor­po­rate suits for comfy pants, and 50hour work weeks sud­denly be­come 168hour work weeks. Ul­ti­mately, get­ting the baby to nap be­comes just as im­por­tant as sign­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion-rand client. Life turns, rather dra­mat­i­cally, into a world that has no job de­scrip­tion, no fi­nan­cial re­ward and very lit­tle sleep. There is no per­for­mance ap­praisal to let you know you are on the right track.

“Stay-at-home moth­ers of­ten feel more sad­ness, worry and frus­tra­tion than the av­er­age work­ing mother, sug­gest­ing in part that be­ing a stayat-home mother is more stress­ful than be­ing a work­ing mother, with lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion,” says Claire.

The mer­its of be­ing a work­ing mom ver­sus be­ing a stay-at-home mom have been de­bated and dis­cussed ad nau­seam. Nei­ther is bet­ter nor worse, ex­cept when those who have cho­sen one above the other are made to feel like they have failed. Stay­ing at home full-time with your chil­dren is many things, but it is cer­tainly not an un­der­achieve­ment.

STAY-AT-HOME MOTH­ERS OF­TEN FEEL MORE SAD­NESS, WORRY AND FRUS­TRA­TION THAN THE AV­ER­AGE WORK­ING MOTHER

FIRST AMONG EQUALS The fight for women’s rights didn’t hap­pen so that all women could en­ter the cor­po­rate world or earn equal pay. It hap­pened so that women could choose for them­selves what they wanted to do with their lives.

In our des­per­ate at­tempts for equal­ity, it seems we have started de­valu­ing the tra­di­tional roles of women.

Why do full-time moms say, “I am just a stay at home mom,” or “I don’t work, I stay home with the kids,” as if ashamed?

One could ar­gue that so­ci­ety no longer views be­ing a full-time mother as a worth­while oc­cu­pa­tion but rather as some­thing you do when your hus­band earns enough money.

“Be­ing a full-time mom – en­gag­ing in child­care, nur­tur­ing, and par­tak­ing in house­hold ac­tiv­i­ties – is ir­re­place­able be­cause it per­forms cru­cial ser­vices to keep a so­ci­ety go­ing. There­fore, at­tempts should be made to change the per­cep­tions that women have of them­selves and of oth­ers who are stay-at-home moms,” says Leti­tia.

This change in per­cep­tion be­gins with par­ents. We need to put our per­sonal feel­ings aside and en­sure that our chil­dren are taught that no mat­ter what they de­cide to be­come one day, their role is val­ued and im­por­tant.

No one should ever feel they are “just a mother” or “just a sec­re­tary”.

Ev­ery­one should feel like the cleaner at NASA who, when asked what his job was, as the tale goes, replied: “My job is to help put a man on the moon.”

“Be it a paid or un­paid oc­cu­pa­tion, all women’s choices in life should be so­cially ap­pre­ci­ated. Oth­er­wise we di­min­ish what the fem­i­nist strug­gle tried to achieve,” says Leti­tia.

While the fight for gen­der equal­ity is far from over, we need to be care­ful not to tip the scale in the other di­rec­tion and start clos­ing doors on our­selves and each other be­cause that will only take us back­wards. No mat­ter what path you choose for your­self, as a mother, if it is done with con­vic­tion, pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion then it can only ever be a great achieve­ment. YB

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