If you belong to multiple mom groups like I do, you not only get valuable information and camaraderie from moms; you also start to see patterns in how specific motherhood struggles play out in our communities and families. Sometimes, that info is helpful and affirming. Other times, that information makes you wonder what year we're living in. Nowhere is this more true than in the conversation that happens around stay-at-home moms (SAHMs), especially when male partners and other men are taking. There are several things that men need to stop saying about SAHMs already, even if only to spare me the reflexive anger I’ve become conditioned to feel every time I see a post begin with the words, “Am I overreacting? I'm a stay-at-home mom and my husband/significant other/some other dude in my life says [insert horrible asinine and sexist thing here].” Literally nothing good ever follows those words, and it's awful that there are still so many presumably decent men out there speaking and believing this kind of complete nonsense.
I’ve spent the entirety of my toddler son’s life (thus far) as a SAHM and now a work-at-home mom — a term I now hate, as it implies that until she takes on paid work, a stay-at-home mom was doing nothing at home. It has been such an eye-opening experience. People make so many assumptions about moms who quit their jobs and what it means to be a SAHM, all of which are colored by sexism regardless of whether the person making those assumptions is for or against moms staying home with their kids. Even self-professed feminists are not immune to making ridiculous statements about SAHMs, and the tricky nature of this conversation gets all the more fraught and problematic when it's men talking about it, given their privileged social position.
If you're a guy who's ever had anything like the following statements fall out of your mouth, please read on (and maybe draft a note apologizing to whomever you said it to or about). And if you are (or love) a stay-at-home mom who has had to deal with this kind of ignorance, please share and/or print as necessary. Better yet, post it to your mom group the next time this same problem comes up, cause it's bound to happen at least four more times before the week is up. Ugh.
“Oh, My Wife/Partner/Woman I Know Doesn't Work. She's Just A SAHM.”
For starters: work is something people do, not a place people go. Just because a person doesn't go to a worksite or office every day — or just because what they do is (unfairly) unpaid — doesn't mean they don't work. Raising children and running a household is hard freakin' work, which is why it costs a lot of money to pay other people to do that stuff when they're not members of your family. Stop saying SAHMs don't work. It's not true.
“They Shouldn't Expect Their Partner To Help Around The House…”
If an employer expected their employees to be working or on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, they'd be sued, fined, or shut down for violating labor laws.
The idea that having a partner who stays home should be a “get out of raising children or cleaning up free” card is patently ridiculous. It's physically impossible for any human being to work nonstop, and women don't suddenly become superhuman the moment we become mothers. Nor does having a stay-at-home partner absolve a person of the responsibility to engage with their families once they're home from their paying jobs. A dad is not just a paycheck, and a mom is not an unpaid servant. Every able-bodied person in a home needs to contribute to the maintenance of that home. Life just doesn't work otherwise.
“...They Should Just Be Grateful They Don't Have To Work”
If what SAHMs do isn't work, it shouldn't be a big deal to expect help with it after a day shift, right? Yeah, exactly. Stop saying this. (And as always, fellas, be careful where you aim the word "just.")
“What's So Hard About This?”
Being on every hour of every day of every freakin' year, is hard.
Trying to do anything else when you're responsible for awake children, is hard.
Being held to much higher expectations than parents in other times and places, while the people around you don't respect or acknowledge the complexity or demanding nature of your work, is hard.
Being alone trying to care for your kids and a house is hard.
Dismissing other people's experiences and struggles, or doubting them when they say they're having a hard time, is no way to treat people.
“Other Moms Manage Just Fine”
For starters, no, that's not necessarily true. Depression, anxiety, loneliness are more common for SAHMs, so just because many moms keep their struggles private doesn't mean they're not struggling.
But even if that were true, it's a totally unsupportive, unhelpful statement. If a mom is struggling, she needs help, not judgment and comparison.
“It's Better For Kids If Their Mom Stays Home”
Actually, research shows kids are fine either way, as long as mom is happy with her choice. If she feels pressured (or is forced by circumstance) to be home but wants to be at work, she and her kids are more likely to struggle. Ditto for moms who want to be home, but end up working outside the home and putting kids in daycare.
Women should be free to choose what works best for us and our families; there truly is no one-size-fits-all approach to family life.
“That's The Traditional Arrangement For A Reason”
A nuclear family where mom stays home and her (presumably male) partner goes off to work is actually a really novel historical phenomenon. Being a stay-at-home mom is not traditional.
However, even if it was, the “reason” is because our economic system doesn't work without someone tending to the care work that our broader society treats like a private responsibility, rather than a collective one. It’s not because women are any better suited for it than anything else we might do with our time, or better suited for it than men would be if they were held as responsible for that work as women are.
“Women Are Just Better At This Stuff”
No, we're not. Women and girls are taught to be and expected to be, but men are just as capable of tending a home and raising children as women are.
“Supporting A SAHM Is (Or Would Be) A Burden”
A statement like this would only true if her efforts had no economic value, and she were making no contributions to her household.
But they do, and she is.
Some families may not be able to afford for mom to give up her paid work, but that's a very different thing than calling a hardworking woman a “burden” simply because the rest of society has decided not to support or value the care work she does.
“A Woman’s Place…”
I'm not even gonna finish that one. I'll gag. If it's not already obvious that women should get to choose where and how we spend our time, there's nothing more to be said.