Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SAHM Inferiority Complex

This is how I feel about being a stay at home mum. I feel inferior to mothers who go out to work. I feel that I am not pulling my weight in the household. I don't believe that the work I do each day, caring for Cave Baby, cooking and keeping the house clean, bears any comparison to a real work day. I feel that I'm exploiting my kind partner who goes out to earn the money. I feel embarrassed that we can afford to have just one of us working, when other people have it much harder. I feel like my education is going to waste. I feel that my family must wonder why I'm squandering my talents. I wonder when my partner is going to come to his senses and realise how unfair the arrangement is.

Why do I feel like this? I'm not short of stay-at-home role models - my mother took seven years out to look after me and my brother, and my mother-in-law never worked. My partner thinks it is perfectly right and reasonable that I should look after our daughter while he earns the money to support the family. He says I am doing a valuable job. He knows how hard it can be sometimes.

I think that I have been brought up in a culture that places a very high value on mothers going back to work. My family was full of very strong women. My mother has had a successful career, both my grandmothers had good jobs and worked until retirement, my aunts are both wealthy high flyers. Our government constantly encourages women to go back to work by offering money off childcare and withdrawing benefits from those who do not find work once their children reach a certain age (yet at the same time, politicians bemoan the collapse of the family unit and the resulting social problems).

But I am here at home because my partner and I have agreed that it is the best thing for our daughter at the moment. We think it is good for her to have her mum all the time, and we know that we are very fortunate to be able to make this decision. She has quite high needs and the parenting philosophy that we have developed over the past year means that we would feel uncomfortable about handing her over to someone else to care for until she is a little older (though again, I know we are privileged to be able to make this choice).

Being a stay at home mum can be frustrating but I am under no illusion that it is about a million times more fun than going to work. I have never had a job I liked and I have never looked forward to going to work. I cannot identify with women who say they need to get out of the house and work, though I do not doubt that their feelings are perfectly valid. Many studies have shown that stress at work is often caused by a lack of control over your own time, and one of the great aspects of being a full-time mother is that you have almost total control over what you do each day, baby mealtimes and naps permitting. There is a lot of angst amongst full-time mothers (not least amongst bloggers - see recent posts by Mon at Holistic Mama and Jessica at This Is Worthwhile) and I can empathise with their themes of martyrdom, isolation and compromise. I know staying at home is hard - I really suffer from a lack of any time to do anything on my own, for example - but I am satisfied with my lot. I am confident I am doing the right thing for our family and I can't really believe how lucky I've been to have the opportunity to be a stay at home mum. In fact I wonder how long I'm going to be able to get away with the improbably good deal I've got.


Earthenwitch said...

Yes - I would still like to be at home with the tiny daughter full-time if I could. Like you, I felt I'd just been given the ridiculously better end of the bargain when Quercus was working full-time and I was on maternity leave; when the year ended, everyone told me I would really enjoy 'getting back to things', but it only felt like the end of how things should be, rather than the return to it. I have adapted though, and I know that, like you, in being able to work part-time I am more fortunate than many. Now all we need is to win the lottery and then we won't be running at a gentle loss. ;)

JK said...

I think it's sad that we live in a society where the most important task - bringing up the next generation - is so undervalued compared with paid work. And I too think that the best place for very young children is with close family. I would rather be frugal than have to work full-time and pay someone else to care for my son.

Joxy said...

Been on both sides of the fence I can honestly say that being a SAHM is not the easy option. Perhaps because my partner of the time, was not hands on at all and I was left to do all the child rearing, getting up at night,cooking, cleaning, shopping etc and even when he was on his regular 18 days off he never did anything but sit playing on second life on the comp. So no I never felt I had the better deal, he of course thought so, but then he wasn't on call 24 hrs a day - he didn't have survive through days and weeks of virtually no sleep and still function.. didn't even change when I started working full time when my son was 5.5 months old.. I was still expected clean house, cook, look after Rye as soon as I was home (he would literally thrust the baby at me as soon as I walked in the door), and I still had to do all the night wakings.. but then I worked in an office - just sat on my backside gassing all day. Hmmm.

Truly ladies, don't feel being a SAHM is a privilege, in my opinion it should be a right, it should be unquestionable that one parent should be able to stay home with the child until at the very least school age.

TheFeministBreeder said...

I just left my full time corporate gig last week, I can say say without a doubt that being home with my kids has turned me into a much more sane, happy, healthy person. I have always felt that it would be easier to be home than to work the 80+ hour weeks I was working. Going to work doesn't mean you have a different job - it means you have TWO jobs (mom and employee.) I find it much easier to have one job at a time (though in addition to this mommy thing I'm also a law student and run a business out of my house, so I'm not exactly bored or lacking non-mommy-related things to do.)

I do know what you mean about the guilt though. I've been drafting a post about this for a long time. The only thing that mitigates my guilt is the fact that my husband was the one who got to stay home with our first son - for a little while. Now it's my turn. But why don't men have the automatic choice to stay home or go to work? I suppose in *some* progressive households they do, but it's not a societal norm yet. As a feminist/equalist, this kinda bothers me.

Cave Mother said...

I think the fact that working mums do two jobs - the proper job and looking after the family - is what makes me feel inadequate. I find it hard enough managing me and my daughter on not enough sleep. I can't imagine how you do a job on top of that. And at only 5.5 months postpartum - Joxy, you must be superwoman. I have long marvelled at TheFeministBreeders ability to juggle studying, work, and family. I honestly don't know how you do it, and I am left feeling a bit of a wimp.

Jessica said...

Here's the thing: the feminists forgot say that child-rearing and everything attached to it is high in status and as valid as work done out of the house. It's my belief that if we had been raised in a post-feminist world where working at home raising a child was regarded as important and vital to our economies as working in an office no mother at home would ever have a moment of guilt scamper across her mind.

What we do at home is vital and important. It is no less vital and important than earning a paycheck. You can think of it this way: waht if you could get paid for the work you do for your family?: cook, maid, financial planner, daycare worker, teacher, etc. You may be making upwards of $2k a month if you worked for someone else. In a sense, you're saving your family money - almost like a negative earner.

You work for you. I work for me. It's something I've come to terms with and feel very strongly about, despite having a loss of self in the whole matter (I think it's some what of a separate matter), but one thing I'm certain of is that without me my personal economy would collapse.

My son would be in daycare being cared for people I didn't really know and at an exorbitant cost, both fiscally and emotionally. I'd be stretched a thousand different directions and exhausted even more (if that's possible).

In the end, I think it's horribly sad that it's a luxury to stay home with children. Like @Joxy, it should be a right and a choice for everyone. Not just those well-off enough to afford it.

Excellent post as usual, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I think that unfortunately whatever a woman's circumstances, she has some reason to feel guilty. Much before J was thought of we knew that if either of us could stay at home it would be best if it was DP, and due to a random quirk of fortune he now does do most of the childcare, while working 16 hours a week.

This situation works for us, we are both happy and have been for several months. However, at a family 'do' last weekend I was asked whether DP does enough around the house, and my mum leapt in with "Yes, Paul does EVERYTHING around the house"!

Firstly, not true, and secondly if I'm out 11 hours a day earning to pay the bills should I really be made to feel guilty for wanting to spend my remaining time with my baby?

Apologies for rambling comment!

Lisa - edenwild said...

I have a lot to say, I'll try not to ramble too much. I don't know if staying at home is a "privilege." To me it is a choice. Well, at least FOR me, it was a choice. I broke off an engagement with a man I loved because I believed he would never make enough money for me to be a stay-at-home-mom. I later found someone who could provide that for our family. Sometimes unforeseen events happen that mess this situation up, and that's different. I grew up in a religion that places a very high value on family and the importance of the mother nurturing her children, which may be why I don't feel undervalued as a SAHM. I feel that my first priority as a mother is to care for our child. Secondary stuff includes doing what I am reasonably able to do as far as housework goes. When I learn new ways to be frugal and save money, then I feel like I am making a monetary contribution to the family.

I know that working moms seem to be super moms, but really what is the difference between working all day taking care of a little one and keeping house, or working all day outside of the home? You are working either way. One or the other may be more enjoyable depending on your own personal preferences. Don't feel bad that you enjoy your job as a mother! Your job is much more important than any other job out there. And honestly I think a "strong woman" is a woman who endures no matter what life throws at her. That most definitely can be a SAHM, too.

I'm totally with you, though, that having control over one's time is certainly more enjoyable. That's why I wanted to run my own business. Of course, I have to let the little guy have some control over his time, too, so it's a bit of a compromise, but better than punching in a clock!

docwitch said...

Everything you've said here is what rumbles around my brain on a daily basis. I feel I have won some kind of guilt-ridden prize. Guilt because it's the Bloke who has to go out and earn the living, whilst I get to wander through idyllic markets and be with my girl, (well, those are the good bits).

At least you have a baby. Having a baby gives you the socially condoned excuse to stay at home. I'm little more than a lay-about and a parasite, (having a school-aged child), who is wasting a perfectly good education. Many of my friends are asking me whether I'm bored yet, and ask me when I plan to "get back into life". Gah. Yet many of them are completely jaded and worn-down by their jobs.

My days can also be frustrating - I can't work on my Projects the way I used to - the focus has become smaller. Interrupted frequently.

But I stand by all the feminist theory I have spouted (and taught/preached) over the years, and say that this home-based work is damned valuable work and should be held up and universally acknowledged as more valuable than most of the corporate wank that is so generously rewarded by our cultures. And full-time parenting should at least attract regular superannunation/retirement fund payments - paid by the govt. in recognition of lost earnings. And that's just the tip of the iceberg really. Quite simply, it would cost govts way too much to recognise the economic worth of full-time parents.

carol b said...

I had a lot more thoughts like this in the early days; with time I've grown to recognise the true value and importance of this job relative to jobs out of the home.

I agree that being a SAHM should be a right not a privilege, and that it should also always be a choice made without risk of judgement.

Mon said...

Boohoo! My comment got eaten up in cyberspace! arghhhh! ah well.

i rambled on and on about how shocking it was to hear you say you feel those things (like not pulling your weight).

It's so frustrating that we live in a time that women can have careers, choose to stay at home, or have both. And yet we still find so many mothers suffering from guilt at the sahm bit.

I was glad to see you finish with the security that your choice is right for you, your child, and your family. phew! lol

I love that I am fortunate enough to be able to stay at home. It's also a choice too, of 'giving up' (although you know I dislike that way o thiking) other things like fancy clothes etc. I hear so many mothers who say they MUST work for financial reasons and then realise what they mean is they want the fancy car, extra vacation, etc.
I think I'm going off on a tangent.

But anyway, it's a choice for my girl, and it's one that has many, many perks. But as you know, I'm not a natural mothering type, and so it's tough. And it's good for sahms to know that not all mothers are at home playing with play-dough and having the time of their lives. Some of us love that we're home, but it's also very hard work. And that's ok, when you choose it all out of love (and not out of obligation or martyrdom).

It's good to find this moral support of - 'it often drives me crazy, but I wouldn't have it any other way'.

Cave Mother said...

Indeed it is good to find this moral support Mon (and everyone else who has given it). Thanks.