I wish that I believed in fate, I wish I didn’t sleep so late

So I was wasting time browsing a job board where I don’t even like to accept work while I was eating my lunch, and I came across this gem of a post. See if you can tell what’s wrong with it before I tell you what I think is wrong with it.

(I realize my attempt to block out the site name wasn’t perfect. The point is that I don’t want it to get back to her and am not trying to start a feud. My objection here is to the views themselves and not this individual whom I don’t even know.)

So, what’s wrong with it is that line: “…empower stay at home moms to thrive at what they were created to do.” That sentence enrages me more than I can put into words.

She’s not the first person to make such a claim, of course. My uber-Catholic friend who was chosen by the church to be my kids’ godmother honestly drives me crazy, and not just because she follows the church’s teaching that she will have however many children God gives her. No, on her FB profile she lists her job title as wife and mother and her employer as God. As though God intended that role as the primary one for her life.

Note that none of this is a slam on stay-at-home moms; I was one myself for most of my kids’ childhoods, although I also tried to earn some money and often held part-time jobs or even full-time work-at-home jobs. If you’re staying home and feel it’s your calling, you do you. If you’re staying home, whether you have kids or not, and you enjoy it and can afford it, more power to you.

What I object to is the idea that we women were created to be stay-at-home moms (SAHMs). That God wanted us to care for children and homes and nothing else. If you have ambitions or above-average intelligence, well, you just better squelch that or find a way to channel it into the one role for your life that you’re allowed to have.

The other part I object to in this ad is that the target audience is moms who don’t have time for friends or self-care. How much more unappealing of a job description can you get? Gee, sign me right up. When you point out how much your chosen role in life requires you to give up free time for yourself and with friends, you’re making it sound like a really unpleasant way to live.

This description of stay-at-home moms as not having time for friends or self-care also sounds absolutely miserable. If you can’t have friends or take care of yourself, you’re being way too much of a martyr. And I honestly don’t believe that’s what the role requires. I haven’t always been the best SAHM; I didn’t give my kids as much attention as I probably should have and I do regret that. Ironically, though, I was actually a better parent during the years when I had jobs outside the home because I could shift modes and be more present with my kids when I got home.

I don’t believe that kids need a helicopter parent whose entire life revolves around being on standby to serve them. When your entire life is focused on your kids, what happens when they grow up? Will they be able to care for themselves? And what will you do when your “God-given” role is fulfilled – just hope your kids give you grandchildren at a young age so you have something else to do and aren’t engulfed by loneliness? (I do actually know people in that situation.)

The fact that many stay-at-home moms say they don’t have time for friends or to take care of themselves means they’re defining themselves by their sacrifices – and are often sacrificing more of themselves than they have to. If women who work can hire a babysitter to go out on occasion, why is it that so often SAHMs can’t or don’t?

Part of it is that being a SAHM is incredibly isolating, so it often feels like you have no help and no way of getting help. Another part of it is that being a SAHM often comes with such an economic disadvantage that you can’t afford to hire sitters. The less often you hire sitters, the less safe you feel doing so, which makes you feel like you alone are the only person in the world who can take care of your kids. It’s a cycle that reinforces itself.

Statistically, it’s not the women with wealthy husbands who make up the biggest percentage of SAHMs. Women who are SAHMs are significantly more likely to be in poverty than moms who work outside the home. SAHMs as a group also includes the women who can’t afford childcare but who can’t get assistance with childcare costs. I know that’s why I stayed home — I didn’t particularly want to be home, but having 3 kids in 5 years in an area where even $10 an hour jobs were hard to come by, it didn’t seem like there were many other alternatives. I’m actually pretty damn proud of my creativity to come up with some type of income. Of course, some of them also just don’t want to work and think it sounds better to be home with their kids.

But that also creates a recipe for a financially strapped family. Trying to say it’s God’s intended role for women prescribes a life of poverty or unnecessary struggle for the whole family, all in the name of God. Then some of these women try to say they don’t have time for friends or to take care of themselves, maybe because they don’t have enough help. Or maybe they choose not to do those things but tell themselves they “can’t” because it makes them feel like their job as a SAHM is more important.

Everyone, male or female, has a right to be out there interacting with the world. We all have a right to have friends and a responsibility to take care of ourselves. I do not believe at all that God created women to be stay-at-home moms. I do think there can be some benefits to young children in particular in having a parent at home. But past the breastfeeding stage, it doesn’t have to be the woman.

In general, I’ve known a lot of women who say they would rather be SAHMs because they have stressful jobs that they dislike or because the workplace is so hostile to the needs of working parents. But many women find that actually being a SAHM is not as fulfilling as many pro-SAHM Christian commentators try to say it is. And it’s also an incredibly financially precarious situation for women.

I believe I was born with gifts that meant I had more to contribute more to the world than just my children. I was not created to be a breeder alone. And again, that’s not to say that women can’t be happy being home or can’t be deeply fulfilled by caring for their children. It’s just that there’s no way in hell I believe that my biology destines me to have to be home, or that I should be fulfilled by it. We don’t ask men to be solely defined by their parental status. Why do we try to push women into that role – and why in particular is this so often a Christian phenomenon?

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