When I was in college, I took a class called “Gender and Inequality.” We learned about feminist issues and read Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique.” In the 1963 book, she argued that the women of her age were unhappy from being confined in the roles of mother and wife. In the decades that followed, women were “liberated” from the home and it seemed that women could have it all: a thriving career and a happy home life with kids.
Except as many mothers now know, this is far from reality. Whether a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, it is IMPOSSIBLE to have it all. There just isn’t enough time or money. And that’s the reality of it.
But lately I’ve seen women embracing stay-at-home mom status as the answer to it all. Our mothers’ generation fought to be in the workplace and now we’re fighting to be back in the home. And so in the 80’s we had the power mom. Today we have the new SAHM. And I believe that this new view of an old role can be just as damaging as the one Friedan pushed. Please read further…
SAHM: The Stay at Home Mom
Otherwise known as the “new overachiever.” Being a SAHM is suddenly the new career. The purpose driven life. We don’t just cook, clean, and tend children. We KNIT. And not just knit, but matching sweaters for the whole family (and the dog.) We COUPON. And you can’t just do regular couponing these days, but everything has to be EXTREME. We are learning all of our grandmothers’ trades: canning, baking, preserving, sewing, and even cloth diapering has made a comeback. We don’t just play with our kids, we EDUCATE them. And we’re not just moms who happen to be at home anymore, we’re HOME MANAGERS (anyone heard that term floating around?) To top it all off, now every SAHM is also a mommy blogger, projecting images of a perfect home and happy family out into the blogosphere.
But where is the line between perfection and the cold truth of reality? On one hand, I think it’s wonderful that the shame of being a SAHM has lifted somewhat. Women are learning useful skills to take care of family and home. And it can be so incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling. But on the other hand, I think this mentality can lead to an unhealthy focus on the pursuit of the unattainable. We’re not concerned with keeping up with the Joneses anymore, but keeping up with other moms.
I came to this conclusion recently when I was thinking that maybe I should learn to knit. For those of you who know me, I couldn’t possibly sit still long enough to weave bits of yarn between two needles. But for some reason, I felt like I SHOULD be doing it.
And that is the root of the problem: SAHMs are not successful at their “job” if they aren’t doing it ALL. Many left the workforce to avoid this mentality, but guess what? It followed us home.
I’ll be the first to admit: there are usually piles of dirty dishes in the sink, dog hair floating across the floor, and mounds of laundry to be washed EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I get bored during the day and follow news stories religiously to have a connection to the world outside my home. I miss regular adult conversation, but I love being with my daughter. Everything is a trade-off.
And I know behind those perfect Instagram, Pinterest, blog photos of domestic life, are homes filled with women trying to keep up. Facing kids who are messy, a husband who is tired from work, and a day in which there is not enough coffee in the pot. And I’m ok with that, because sometimes reality is more refreshing than idealism.
So just as Friedan liberated women from the domestic life, I say let’s liberate ourselves from the idealistic, unachievable idea of the perfect mom. Whether you stay at home or work, cut yourself some damn slack. I know I am. Put away your plans to freeze meals for the next month, bake bread, or organize one more closet and go put your feet up. And guess what? Your family will love you just the same.
Kate is a stay-at-home mama who is terrible at clipping coupons, drinks her coffee black, and can bake a mean apple pie. She blogs about her adventures on the homefront at Boomerang Mama.