I am a Stay At Home Mum.
Emphasis on the word Mum.
Please note that it does not say that I am a stay at home housemaid and cleaner.
My job, which I take pretty seriously, is to bring up my children. You know, those little humans who will one day be running our society and determining how we will be cared for in our old age.
Recently, I was involved in a conversation about the role of the woman in the home. I was at a table with some extended family members, one of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. The conversation was lively with plenty of laughter. Then he said the oddest thing:
“You know, Sarah, I always saw you as, well, lazy… since you don’t work, I mean.”
I just stared at him. I think he was trying to compliment me, in a rather misguided kind of way. I think he was saying that, after spending some time with me, he can now see I am not so lazy after all. Yay me!
This is not new to me. It is something I come across all the time. People look at me and see a privileged woman who “gets to stay at home and be with the children.” (Believe me, in this day and age, I am absolutely aware of how lucky I am that I get to make that choice).
But I am tired. I am tired of the diminishing value the role of a mother plays in our society. And I mean motherhood as a stand alone function. Motherhood seems to have become a non-event. People see no value whatsoever in what I do. I constantly have to field questions of “what do you do” and often feel the need to justify my choice to be at home with the children, usually citing my son as having autism.
Yes, I have to look after my son, but I happen to also believe in my role as mother.
But I have never felt comfortable with it. Because women are judged, yes, but SAHMs especially so. Unless we are somehow bringing in an income, or are whizzing about cleaning house like a demented mad woman or rushing around like chickens without heads, we are completely and utterly devalued.
Friends of mine have lamented the fact that their husbands put pressure on them to bring in an income and keep a spotlessly clean house. Some husbands really resent them staying at home despite being able to afford it. Some friends have given up their passions of crafting and writing to ensure that the house is kept spotlessly clean at all times, to justify their choice to be Stay At Home Mums, because we certainly can’t be seen to be doing “nothing but mothering”. Such is the expectation to be more than “just a mum”, society has coined the phrase “super mum”.
I have given into it in the past – I am only human after all, subject to the pressures of the tribe as much as anyone. I have started a gazillion things in an attempt to bring in an income to justify to the world my maternal choice.
Feminists have accused me of giving in to patriarchy, have chastised me for not being “economically independent”, for not wanting to “earn an income”.
Frankly, it has really started to irk me so I did a bit of research on the role of women in the home.
In medieval times, the upkeep of the home was shared by everyone in the house. It certainly was not considered women’s work alone. The man worked for himself and everyone pitched in to help him earn the money (either in a shop or a business run from the home). Everyone was united in bringing in the income. Likewise, the running of the house and parenting was shared by both the man and woman.
But then came Industrialisation, which ran from around 1760 to 1840. Men went to work for other men and increasingly, women were left at home to look after the children and to run the household. Chores were no longer shared as the men were “too tired” after a long hard slog and so the housework fell to the woman.
In her book written in 1919, The working life of women in the seventeenth century, Alice Clark saw the Industrial Revolution as something that undermined the social and economic importance of women in society. Whereas previously women were seen as collaborators with their husbands and together they brought up their children, now the men dominated the new labour market and women were either encouraged to stay at home or take menial, lower paid jobs. The household went from earning a “family income” to one of a single income brought in by the man. The wife was no longer seen as a productive entity.
Additionally, increased wealth created at this time, meant that women became status symbols – newly cashed up men would hire servants so that his wife didn’t have to do the menial work of housework (because, we have always hated doing it!). Even motherhood was taken over by nannies. Women of the lower classes resented the women of the middle and upper classes as they exhausted themselves trying to keep a well ordered house – an increasing sign of being a “good wife” – along with parenting their children.
Gone were the days where wives and daughters had worked together with their fathers and sons in shops and at home. Not only that, but women were now pitted against each other as they fought against, or became a slave to, a system that had utterly diminished them as functioning members of society. A new era had begun.
That was around 200 years ago.
Not much has changed. Women are still fighting for their right – to earn an income at a fair wage, to be a mother, to make choices without judgement about how they live their lives. Yes, women are far more economically independent than they were 100 years ago, but we are living in a delusion if we truly think things have changed. We earn 17% less for the same job in the workplace and despite taking up 50% of the workforce, the running of the home is still left to women. Those women, like me, who choose to be SAHMs are discounted entirely.
So ingrained is this mentality that even our Prime Minister feels that his greatest achievement as Minister for Women has been the abolishment of the carbon tax which apparently gave women an extra $550 a year for the “household budget.” Yep, he actually said that.
Political rhetoric is all about “getting women into the workforce”, and none at all about “helping women to be better mothers to support raise future generations”. Perhaps if they did that, we would have less social issues going forward.
My husband never has to field questions about why he is away from home 13 hours a day not helping with the parenting or housework. Yet I have been told on more than one occasion how lucky I am that my husband affords me the lifestyle I have. Not only that, I am told that I am especially lucky because he took me on with a daughter that he subsequently adopted. It is assumed that I am lazy because I choose not to forgo being at home with my children to take on work that is meaningless to me all in the name of an income. I am never applauded for the wonderful job I have done with my children. And I am certainly not given any credit for enabling my husband to forge ahead with his career. Rather, I am simply whitewashed with the label of “privileged middle class women who has it lucky.”
I cannot deny the judgement does get to me sometimes. And once, Mr C, came home to find me in tears.
He sat me down – and this is why I love him – and, being an accountant, decided to place a monetary value on all the jobs I perform. He wrote down things such as Cleaner, Day Care, Taxi, Cook, Psychologist. It transpires he can’t actually afford me! I am lucky I am married to him – but not for the reasons most people imagine.
We are, in a way, like that medieval family. We share the responsibility of parenting and household chores. Post industrialisation life means he has to work to earn the crust and I utterly support him in that role. My role is one of mother. I am the one that does the parent evenings, the cooking, the running around, with him knowing that he isn’t going to get a phone call from the school during a board meeting that our son has fallen and broken his arm and he needs to leave immediately to meet him at the hospital. I do that. And he values that.
Together, we have worked and sacrificed an awful lot to have the lifestyle we enjoy. But I openly admit that I cannot do it all. I cannot be there for my children fully and be a housemaid. And so I choose to be a mother. A role that I consider to be extremely important. So, yes, you may come and visit me and my dishes will be all over the kitchen bench, there will be dust in the corners, and mountains of washing lying around.
Because, my friend, proudly, I am a mother, not a cleaner!
Until next time,