by Kate Sawtschuk
“What do you do?” is a common enough question to be asked in social situations. Your job (or lack of) can play a big part in how people see you and how you see yourself.
Being defined by your profession can be misleading and unwelcome for anyone, but where mothers are concerned it is even more problematic. This is because there is actually no true and accurate answer to the “what do you do?” question if you’re a mum.
The terms stay at home mum (SAHM) and working mother (WM) not only don’t reflect the realities of mother’s lives, they restrict people’s understanding of them. They deflect empathy and understanding of mothers lives. This is of particular concern, given that women have been and are too often defined and limited by others.
Here are 3 reasons to ditch these terms.
1. They are not descriptive
The terms SAHM and WM do not accurately describe mothers. There is no definite line between mothers who stay at home and those who work. Some mothers do volunteer work at home, assist in family businesses, work from home, or dip in and out of the workforce based on family needs.
To say you’re a SAHM can imply that you make no contribution to society (ignoring the contribution made by raising reasonably functioning children, often at the cost of your own ability to function!) and inherently devalues the act of mothering. If you say you’re a WM, that doesn’t convey your need to manage much more than other co-workers, such as seeking flexible work hours to meet children’s needs. Oh, and just like you can’t be a bit pregnant, you can’t be a part-time mother no matter what your working hours are.
2. They are limiting
How many times have you felt judged by one of the stereotypes attached to these terms? For instance, the stereotype of an oppressed SAHM with no identity beyond being a mother who has given up on making a contribution to the world? Or the stereotype of a WM who ruthlessly neglects children’s needs in order to further her career?
In reality, there are as many different kinds of mothers as there are personalities – and that’s a lot! Women have different backgrounds, family life and reasons for either staying at home or working and all the shades in between. These stereotypes should not be the starting point of people’s perceptions of mothers, and any divergence from which needs to be explained and justified.
3. They are divisive
Setting up this binary distinction between mothers who are and are not engaged in paid employment creates feelings of inadequacy on both sides, as well as a truckload of judgment. It creates a constant debate and competition over which one is harder. Spoiler alert: they’re both hard in different ways!
We shouldn’t hear crickets chirping when mothers from each “side” meet. They have more in common than not! Pitting women against each other damages the only “village” mothers have these days: the community of mums such as this one, with whom we can share stories, ask for advice, keep company and who bring us back from the brink of insanity more times than we can count.
If mothers must be divided, I say we do so on the basis of something we can all agree is truly reflective of their differences, such as those who do and do not need caffeine to function. Seriously, those mums who can start the day without a coffee and get anything done at all? They’re obviously superior and possess superhuman powers! *desperately gulps coffee noisily*