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Last month, I received a question via email from a reader – we’ll call her Anna – asking whether her friend should consider leaving her job to become a stay at home mom. Immediately, it made me think less about financial matters and more about just how wide-spread mom shaming has become. Anna wrote:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether to keep working full time hours to kick debt to the curb or to stay home with little kids and resume working full time when they are older. Asking for a friend…… 😉
With Mother’s Day approaching (husbands, consider this your reminder to head out shopping for gifts now!), today is the perfect day to answer Anna’s question. Though this is a personal finance blog, my answer may surprise you.
As a disclaimer, though I may be considered an expert when it comes to financial matters and paying off debt, I’m far from being a knowledgeable pro when it comes to motherhood.
I’m not even a father yet, but I can see that being a mother is a true superhero effort.
My opinions which follow are rooted in my beliefs and values regarding family and money, but they may or may not align with your values.
Take them with a grain of salt.
This post is for any mother who has ever dealt with stay at home mom shaming. It is also for the moms out there who have been made to feel guilty for continuing their careers after having children.
This post is for the moms who haven’t had more than 10 minutes to themselves in weeks or months. It’s for the moms who somehow manage to put dinner on the table, keep their kids in clean clothing, help with homework, chauffeur kids to practices on opposite ends of the Earth, and keep a clean house.
And it is for the moms who transition from board room presentations, the classroom, or the hospital to becoming everything for their children every day without skipping a beat.
In Defense and Praise of the Stay at Home Mom
Seventy years ago, nobody questioned a mother’s decision to stay home with her children. Over the decades, the pendulum has swung the opposite direction, and in contrast, today there is practically a full-blown war between stay at home moms (SAHMs) and working moms to determine whose job is more difficult and more important.
Recently, stay at home mom shaming seems to have reached new heights. I’ve spoken with dozens of SAHMs over the past several years, and most of them have heard variations of the following comments:
- “It must be SO nice to stay home every day.”
- “What on Earth do you do all day?”
- “Do you miss real work?”
- “I wish I could stay at home like you but we have bills to pay.”
Some of these questions may seem innocent at first glance, but they are all classic forms of stay at home mom shaming. They demean and belittle the selfless actions of the stay at home mom. They imply that stay at home moms are second-rate contributors to society.
It’s an absolutely ridiculous notion, and it needs to stop.
As a teacher, I can confidently say that kids are rare creatures who can simultaneously be awesome and awful; sometimes they are perfect, and other times even Mother Teresa herself would lack the patience to deal with them. My additional experience as an uncle confirms this.
In my opinion, the difficulty in committing to raise children full-time makes the choice to be a stay at home mom one of the noblest choices a woman can make.
Working Moms Deserve Credit, Too
On the opposite end of the spectrum, working moms receive their undue share of shaming as well. Even though Anna’s email above is very short, it’s easy to detect a hint of its effects on her thought process.
It is unacceptable that working moms are made to feel like they don’t truly love their children because they work outside of the home. All too often working moms are subjected to an onslaught of comments:
- “You shouldn’t have had kids if you can’t be their mother.”
- “Do you feel bad that you don’t get quality time with your kids?”
- “Aren’t you worried about how your kids will turn out being raised in day care?”
- “It must be so nice to get out of the house and have some time to yourself!”
Yes, working mom shaming is just as prevalent as stay at home mom shaming.
And the worst part about all mom shaming, regardless of its specific nature, is that its basic premise assumes a mother’s value is found in her financial or child-raising contributions to her family.
The truth is that a mother’s real value cannot be evaluated by her bank ledgers, credit scores, work evaluations, tallies of minutes and hours spent with her children, number of loads of laundry washed and folded, or the cleanliness of her home. It is so much more than that.
A mother’s true inherent value is rooted in love for her children. Whatever ancillary titles we choose to bestow – stay at home, working, and others – are secondary if not entirely insignificant.
What can we learn from all of this?
It’s time to stop all forms of mom shaming.
The Decision: Stay Home or Work?
In light of the truth that a mom’s value has no connection to whether she works or stays home to raise children, the answer to Anna’s question becomes much more simple. In my opinion, it largely becomes a matter that must be decided on principle and personal preference.
That said, I believe there are a number of universal truths which Anna’s friend should consider before deciding to embrace the stay at home mom life or keep working to pay off debt.
First, it is important to realize that as a mom, you can always go back to work and earn more money after your kids are grown and in school. But you can’t go back in time and regain special moments with your kids once they’re grown.
Second, while money is important, it is far from being everything. In fact, it isn’t even near the top of a well-crafted priority list.
Third, money will not buy or replace your children’s happiness. Children genuinely crave and need positive interaction and quality time with their parents more than they need anything else.
Fourth, the choice to stay home with children need not be entirely an economic one. Salary and the cost of child care are certainly critical factors to consider, but they aren’t the only factors. Multiple children tend to complicate these decisions even further, as staying home vs. sending multiple children to day care could be a wash, financially-speaking.
Making a Difficult Choice
Ultimately, the decision to work or stay home with children is a difficult choice that every mother must make at some point. There isn’t a definitive right or wrong answer.
However, what is abundantly clear is that the mom shaming – on all fronts – needs to stop. Though I cannot possibly understand the frustration, anger, exhaustion, and countless other struggles you go through, I do know this, moms:
Participation in The Mommy Wars isn’t helping you or your fellow moms.
Stop tearing each other down with hurtful questions, snarky comments, and judgmental glances.
Support each other. Build each other up. Be encouraging.
After all, your kids are watching.
To Anna’s friend, and all mothers out there:
No matter what path you choose, remember that your job/career or choice to leave them behind has absolutely nothing to do with your value or worth as a person and mother.
Sometimes a job is just a job. An income is just an income. And debt is just debt.
Your contributions to this world, your family, and especially your kids, are so much more than monetary in nature. In everything you do, you’re the true superheroes.
So boldly do what is best for you and your family and make no apologies for it.
Have a Happy Mother’s Day.