As I write this, the United States is rapidly approaching the end of what might be the longest, weirdest, ugliest election cycle in recent history. There are so many things I could (and probably will) say about what I wish politicians would stop saying in general. However, for now I'll just focus on things politicians need to stop saying about stay-at-home moms (SAHMs), on the relatively rare occasions SAHMs are discussed at all, and what they should be talking about instead. As someone who's been a SAHM and done paid work from home for the entirety of my son's life, I can say it's really hard out here trying to make this work, and — surprise, surprise — most politicians’ rhetoric about us truly isn't helping at all.
Real talk: very few people who choose to be a SAHM do so because we're about that 1950s, “cleaning in pearls and high heels” life. Nor are we all wealthy enough to be able to afford to be overlooked in conversations about how government can and should help families. A lot of folks make this choice out of combination of dismay with a contemporary workplace culture that makes it damn near impossible to balance work and family, and unfair pay and gender discrimination that frequently makes it more “logical” to sacrifice mom’s income than dad’s if the family can't afford or find childcare. Yet to hear some politicians tell it, SAHMs are either a disappearing relic of the distant past, or magic superwomen keeping the “traditional” family alive. Back on earth, though, SAHMs are a diverse group of real people, who can’t trade empty compliments for housing, diapers, or food at the local grocery store.
Politicos, you’re not fooling as many of us as you think. We know bogus lip service when we see it. Here’s some free messaging advice to any future campaign that wants to sound more than halfway competent when discussing SAHMs, or talking points for anyone else who is totally over SAHMs being either flattered or ignored in public policy conversations.
Anything That Pits SAHMs Against Moms Who Work Outside The Home…
Enough of this divide-and-conquer mess. Any time politicians assume that staying home with kids is a mother’s default choice, and that women working outside the home is always optional, they unfairly pit moms against each other. They're basically saying one group of moms is right and the other isn't, and that if moms don't stay home like they're “supposed to,” they're on their own to figure out how to make it work.
As a mom group aficionado, I assure you that moms are perfectly capable of finding stuff to fight about without policy makers adding this to the list. (Flame war over rice cereal or screen time, anyone?) But seriously: SAHMs are people with our own reasons for their own choices, not political props to be used to badger moms who can't or don't want to be SAHMs, or as a shield for politicians who are too lazy to rethink public policy so that it works for all families, ours included.
...Or Suggests That Women Staying Home With Kids Are “Natural” Or “Traditional”
Yeah, no. One person rearing their own kids full-time — alone, without other family and community members working side-by-side with them and their other kids around — while their partner leaves their home or community to work elsewhere is actually kinda odd for humans. That's why being a SAHM is so lonely sometimes. Politicians, overwhelmingly men who already struggle in the whole, “knowing WTF they're talking about when discussing women” department, seriously need to stop with this already. It lets unfair expectations for SAHMs infect public policy, while beating up on moms who work outside the home.
Anything That Suggests SAHMs Don't Work…
Keeping kids alive is work. Keeping a home clean and safe is work. That's why people who do that work for people who aren't their family members demand to be paid for it (and are usually paid pretty damn well).
...Or That What We Do Is Magic Fairy Superhero Stuff That's Untouchable By Public Policy
Mothers aren't magic. We're ordinary people, living in a society that revolves around money. Part of why so many 1950s moms were able to stay home with kids is because of government assistance and public policies that enabled unprecedented numbers of their partners to more easily buy homes and make a decent wage.
We’ll never (and shouldn't) recreate the economy of the 1950s, but we can build something way better, that benefits all families, not just white, middle class families led by straight, cisgender men. Policies like a universal basic income, a higher minimum wage, paid leave for all parents, better policies protecting and supporting freelancers, requirements that part time work should be paid fairly, universal high-quality childcare (for occasional or daily use), and more would all directly and indirectly benefit SAHMs — and all other adults trying to balance work and family — way more than empty praise.
Anything That Assumes SAHMs Are All “Old Fashioned..."
...Or That Over Time, No One Will Choose To Stay Home With Their Kids
Feminist SAHMs exist. Stay-at-home dads exist. People of all genders who think going to an office every day kinda sucks, exist. Politicians, particularly on the Left who often completely ignore SAHMs when discussing families, need to understand that some segment of the population will always want to do this. Stay-at-home parents aren't a historical relic or a trend that's going to fade. We're a permanent part of the family landscape who need to be proactively factored into public policy, and not just as a way for conservative politicians to avoid having to figure out how to enact paid family leave and other workplace accommodations.
Anything That Assumes Only Cis Women Should Or Do Want To Stay Home With Kids
A lot of people, regardless of gender, would prefer to spend time with their adorable children rather than angry customers, unreasonable bosses, and co-workers who use terms like “Case of the Mondays.” Policy proposals that specifically target moms who want to stay home, but not dads, or rhetoric that praises women for making that choice while ignoring (or denigrating) fathers who do the same thing, need to go.
Praising SAHMs’ Sacrifices Without Offering Meaningful Support
Politicians: we don't need your compliments, unless they're backed up by concrete support for our work. Put your budget appropriations where your mouths are. Instead of just gushing about how being a mother is “the most important thing a woman can do,” support moms. Support all moms. All those policy ideas I mentioned earlier? Look them up, and get to work making them a reality.