There, I said it.
Not idolizing stay-at-home motherhood is a little like confessing to not liking Disneyland. Sure, there are such people out there but who admits it out loud?
I don’t admire the particular type of stay-at-home motherhood that the Mormon culture has declared to be the only true type of good motherhood. In fairness, I don’t find stay-at-home fatherhood morally superior either.
I daydream a lot these days about winning the Lottery. What would I do with the money? How would it change me? Wouldn’t it just solve all my problems? What would I change immediately? What would I not change at all? Wouldn’t it be awesome to get to spend more time with my kids? Would I do that full-time if I could?
And then it struck me… I wouldn’t exclusively stay at home and exist as a father even if I could because I don’t believe it is what would be best for my children.
I think being a stay-at-home parent is a poor choice for the children regardless of the circumstances. Child rearing isn’t a task suited for isolation. It’s part of life and best done while living life, for that’s when the real lessons come.
What kills me is that hard-core proponents of SAHM-ism talk as if that method of child rearing is an ancient traditional approach. It’s not. Stay at home parenthood, as it is now practiced and preached, is a fairly recent invention. It’s a phenomenon of the early to mid-twentieth century. Mothers have always primarily cared for the children, but they’ve also always contributed significantly to family economics in direct ways…working to gather food, working to create clothes, homes and educating the children. Today’s SAHM rarely does any of those additional tasks. The good fortune to exist as a SAHM is a product of a good economy and the Industrial Revolution.
It’s my own experience that my children have thrived more since my ex-wife got a job (only after our divorce when it became a necessity). Our children are more independent, reliable, self-assured and dependable than they would have been had my wife continued to stay at home full-time. I always sensed that stay-at-home motherhood for her was as much about what she wasn’t doing (working) as about what she was doing in the home.
My wife didn’t want to work and didn’t see the point in finishing her education even in the off chance that the knowledge would make her a better Mom. I always found it odd that such a “highly prized” and “valued” job as a SAHM required, even demanded, no education. I hear a lot of back-patting regarding the “sacrifice” of such mothers. How is there any real “sacrifice” involved when that’s exactly what you want to be doing? If you didn’t really want a college degree?
As a result, my wife’s time at home wasn’t spent taking the kids on daytime adventures or on creating learning experiences in the home. We had yearly passes to the zoo, for example, but she’d only go if she could team up with another SAHM and her kids. In other words, it needed to be a social event for her to make an outing worthwhile.
SAHMs today are full-time wives and mothers just like the Mormon church advocates. They also spend a considerable amount of time on church callings. A lot of time…time that could more productively be used to contribute to family finances. Sounds pretty normal, especially in the Mormon world, right? My ex-wife and every other Mormon women I know interpreted leadership guidelines to mean she was exclusively a mother…no other outside jobs or activities unless they took place right in the home.
My own mother was a SAHM and a good one, but a career or even a part-time job would have made her a better one. It would have improved our family finances markedly. As it was, her church callings easily consumed 20+ hours a week away from us. Yet she was horrified to imagine a job that might do the same. Her calling contributed NOTHING to the family. Oh she imagined mythical and very intangible “blessings” that her callings provided for her family. She would bear testimony to that often. I’d even suggest, however, that it diminished her capacity to mother us best as her concentration and focus was often in that direction rather than on her children.
I know a few such mothers who have started home-based business, but the others pat themselves on the back for their complete dedication to their children and the home. Some will rationalize that their being home is actually more economical than if she worked. That is often mathematically true but only because these same women never properly trained and qualified themselves for a well-paying career to be able to contribute significantly to home finances if they were working.
In this diatribe, I don’t consider the Moms who have their own businesses to be stay-at-home Moms. They’re actually the ideal of what really is the traditional mothering role…that of integrating motherhood with real life and economic survival of the family. The ones without a job, a business, or without making a significant economic contribution would do well to follow their lead.
There are a lot of solutions for someone who wants to be around the home at important crossroads in their children’s lives. In addition to my ex-wife starting to work, I also made significant changes when we divorced. I quit my 8-5 office job and started my own business so that I had the flexibility to supervise and nurture my kids when they were with me. I’ve been working from home ever since in one capacity or another. It has been priceless but I’m 100% responsible for my own financial health.
I AM a full-time father…by that I mean there isn’t a time and a place that I’m not a father, but it doesn’t mean I’m ever-present. I’m full-time, yet I’m not a stay-at-home father even though I now work from home. My new Real Estate venture (going really well by the way) allows me the flexibility to coordinate with their schedules but the kids are old enough to spend time alone at home when I had to be showing a home or holding an open house. A healthy dose of that is good for them.
My fatherhood is integrated into my daily routine and my approach to all my other activities, but there’s not one day, or segment that I’m exclusively a father. I see my children thriving under these arrangements with their Mom and I. They’ve learned and developed skills that don’t germinate under the constant watch of a parent such as: problem-solving, leadership, self-reliance, curiosity, self-confidence, time-management.
Of course the first year or two of a child’s life do benefit from a parent’s constant care. After that children of SAHMs, I find, expect to be catered, shuttled, coddled and to have problems solved for them. They even unknowingly determine their parents’ social life. Their children’s friend’s parents become their friends.
The parents I’ve admired most, however, are the ones who have integrated parenthood into their own active work and social life rather than vice versa. They have children who are accomplished and able to comfort or problem-solve themselves.
I’ll admit that my observations and conclusions are anecdotal and I’m sure there are exceptions, but I believe the iconic SAHM to be a stupid, unhealthy invention of a bygone century.