You know that scene in Mean Girls, when Tina Fey’s character confronts the junior girls over the contents of the Burn Book, and declares that “it looks like there’s been some girl-on-girl crime here?" That’s what plays in my head every time I see other women trash-talking moms who work outside the home, or when I hear or see snide comments and other things women need to stop saying about stay-at-home moms (SAHMs). (I may or may not also see Damian exclaiming “She doesn’t even go here!” whenever folks without kids start talking about what those of us with kids should and shouldn’t do, but I digress.)
Having been a stay-at-home mom and now a (paid)work-at-home mom, I know firsthand that we’re all struggling in multiple ways to make the best of life in a deeply flawed world. We’re all trying to make ends meet, plus figure out all the normal, human, “what’s my purpose, what should I do with myself” stuff, plus navigating systemic oppression based on gender (and race, and class, and sexuality, and ability status, and anything else as it applies). Why are we making life harder on each other (and in turn, ourselves) by making uninformed comments to and about each other and our life circumstances, instead of trying to understand what life is like for folks who aren’t in our shoes?
It's bad enough when men say ignorant things about stay-at-home moms, or when politicians say ridiculous things about SAHMs. We really shouldn't join them in spreading nonsense that just keeps our fellow ladies down. For most of us, by the time we get to the point where folks we know and/or love are deciding to have and raise kids, high school is over. Let’s retire the burn book already, and stop saying the following when talking about stay-at-home moms:
“I Could Never Do That”
This kind of statement often comes across as a backhanded compliment, no matter how sincerely a person might mean it. No one wants to be made to feel like someone is looking at their life choices and thinking, “Wow, that looks freakin’ awful! How are you surviving that?”
It may be intended to be a remark about another person’s strength, but mostly, it sounds like you’re taking stock of her life and deciding that it sucks. If you're genuinely trying to be nice, and "I could never do that!" is your first thought when talking to someone about her day-to-day life, take a moment to find a better way to say what you're trying to say.
“I Would Never Do That”
Never say never. There are plenty of us who “never” thought we’d be doing a lot of things with our future kids, only to find ourselves doing exactly those things once our kids actually arrive. As bad as humble pie tastes under normal circumstances, it’s even worse when you have to eat it one-handed while juggling a restless baby in the other.
“She Must Be Going Crazy”
Any of a number of impossible choices moms (or any women, with or without children) face can make us feel frustrated and out of control. Literally anyone could say this about any of us, no matter howwe’ve chosen to spend our lives, and it’s completely unhelpful in all cases. So let’s just stop with this already.
Also, how about a moratorium on using the word “crazy” to describe, well, anything about other women? Men frequently, and wrongly, try to write women off as “crazy” to invalidate and disempower us in situations when we deserve to be taken as seriously as anyone else. We should stop throwing that word around when referring to ourselves and each other.
“Isn’t She Bored?”
Probably not as bored as a person who’s sitting around gossipping about other people instead of her own ideas, so...
“That’s Not Feminist”
Nope. Individual women do not have a responsibility to force their choices to fit someone else’s agenda for their lives; that’s literally the opposite of feminist. Also, automatically devaluing care work — necessary, life-sustaining work frequently done by and associated with women — relative to paid professional work is itself problematic, as far as feminism is concerned.
“She Must Not Have Anything Better To Do With Her Time”
No. As women, we should know better than anyone that other women are perfectly capable of deciding what is and isn’t worth our own time. We are all grown enough to look at our choices for our lives and figure out whatever arrangement we feel is going to be best for us and our families. Whatever choice we arrive at, is our own business.
“What A Waste Of Her Education”
First, a good education is never a waste, because learning is always useful for its own purposes. People are better off becoming better educated, regardless of whether they ultimately take a job that bears some resemblance to the words on their diploma, because education (done well, anyway) broadens our horizons and makes us more thoughtful, well-rounded people.
Second, a person making the free choice to spend time with children they chose to have is never a waste of time, regardless of what else they might be doing. We would never say it’s a waste to spend time with anyone else a person loves, so why would time spent with kids be any different?
“I’d Never Expect Someone Like Her To Just Be A Stay-At-Home Mom”
Once more for the cheap seats in the back: there is no “just” anything when it comes to being a mom. “Just” implies that something is easy, and no matter how you do it, being a mom is as hard as it is worthwhile.
“Her Kids Are Going To Be So Spoiled”
Is it just me, or does literally everything lead to “spoiling” children, according to some people? Breastfeeding, or not; attachment parenting, or not; working outside the home, or not. No matter what choice you make, somebody out there is convinced the end result will be rotten, sour milk-children. I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe, we might be better off if we all put away our crystal balls and stopped presuming we can predict how a kid is going to turn out based on our extremely limited info about their parents’ choices.
“Why Is She Complaining? She Should Just Be Grateful She Doesn’t Have To Work.”
One, taking care of children is work. That’s why people who take care of other people’s kids for a living expect to be paid. Two, being grateful for something in your life doesn’t preclude being honest about the challenges you face as a result of that same thing. Three, being a stay-at-home-mom comes with plenty of difficulties, just like any other life choice, and SAHMs aren’t required to pretend their struggles are less hard than they are just because someone else mistakenly believes her grass is greener than it actually is.
Instead of policing what other women are and aren’t “allowed” to complain about, let’s just learn from each other and support each other -- or just keep quiet if we can’t think of anything useful to say. That’s always an option, too.