The Changing Face of the Stay-At-Home Mom
Babies and the economic climate don't mix.
I agonized over the decision to stay at home with my children. It wasn’t anything I set out to do. It wasn’t the plan I had for my future. But when I became pregnant with my second child and my husband and I sat down to look at the budget, staying home just made sense. We live in the Midwest and I have struggled to find a job. I ended up working freelance from home. While I made a decent salary, the cost of childcare for two would mean I would be working just to cover the bills. It didn’t make any sense. Plus, we rationalized, it would just be for a short time before our children were in school.
So, we saved and paid off my remaining student loans. Then, I quit my jobs and said “goodbye” to the babysitter.
The first six months were brutal. My daughter cried because she missed daycare. I cried because I felt like I had lost my identity. When I took my daughter to story time, the librarians thought I was the babysitter. Money was tighter too. I had to plan meals and grocery shop on less. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of momness—meals, poop, playdates. Was this who I was now?
Things got better when I decided to take a few writing jobs. The house was messier, the laundry took a lot longer to migrate from the washer into our drawers, but the extra income and the ability to do something else besides professional mom helped me feel like I had something else to talk about.
According to a Pew study an increasing number of women are choosing to stay at home and they, like me, are doing it for financial reasons. Today.com reports: “More moms are staying at home with their kids full-time, and those moms tend to be younger, less educated, and more likely to be poor than women who work outside the home, new research finds.”
Specifically, the study found: “About 21 percent of college-educated moms are stay-at-home moms, compared with 35 percent of high school graduates and 51 percent of moms with less than a high school diploma.”
Despite the stereotype of the stay-at-home mom with fancy clothes, driving a Lexus persists, it isn’t based in reality. The majority of stay-at-home moms like me aren’t buying Lululemon yoga pants or hiring babysitters so we can lunch with our friends. We are finding bargains at garage sales, grocery shopping at Aldi, and doing our best to make ends meet. While I’m sure most of us cherish this time with our children, the study highlights the impossibilities of childcare in this country and the pay gap between men and women. While it is trendy to talk about the number of dads opting to stay home, this study shows that it is still largely women dealing with the blunt end of the economic realities.
In the Today.com article, D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at Pew Research Center noted: ”Even women who say they’re staying home by choice may tell you they’re home because the workplace didn’t offer them many other options.”
Stay-at-home moms are often mythologized as saints who willingly sacrifice for their children. And understandably so, parenting is a relentless, all-consuming task that is often spoken of in sacred terms. After all, stay-at-home parents aren’t writing codes or building businesses they are raising people. Popular blogging personality Matt Walsh recently wrote a tribute to stay-at-home moms placing them on a pedestal of virtue. Other commentators have argued that staying at home is what women really want. It fits our cultural myths about mothers to believe that the mothers who stay home must be choosing this holy vocation from selflessness. Recently, New York Times magazine wrote a trend piece on feminists choosing to stay home with their children because of their desire to be with their children. And the New York Times mythologized wealthy, white women for choosing to “opt out” in order to care for their children. But the truth is, the majority of women who stay home aren’t choosing to do so out of noblesse oblige, rather women are forced to choose between a paycheck they need and childcare they can’t afford. Women are home because the economic climate, wage gap, division of labor at home and maternity policies in our country unfairly target working women.
And while I’m sure we all cherish our time with our children, the concern then becomes the decision to enter back into the workforce—the implicit bias against women who have stayed home, the impact on earning potential. While we deeply love and cherish our children, it’s a sad reality that having children in America in 2014 still comes at a huge economic, personal and professional cost for women. It doesn’t have to be like this.
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