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
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