Why “Working Mother” Is A Redundant Term, Part 2

Hello there, and welcome. This is the second part of my conversation on the incredibly redundant term, “working mother”. If you are just joining the read, it might help you to catch up by reading yesterday’s post here, where I left off talking about my journey out of self-righteous feminism.

When one of my best friends, someone who vigilantly linked arms with me in our efforts to empower women, decided to leave the workforce and stay home, we both had some philosophical wrestling to do.

One of the primary goals of feminism is empowered and educated choice for both genders, not just one. So when my friend chose to stay home, not because of an imposed feminine ideal, but because of her own desire, this resonated with me. She retained her choice, and therefore her identity and calling. This was massively important to both of us.

But the real truth of calling surfaced: no longer was a life purpose relegated to participation in the workforce. I’d always known this, but now here was the tangible evidence. My friend, a former workforce laborer and social worker, was now a stay-at-home mom. No more business cards. No more work hours. No more titles. Her calling was going to manifest in her new role, in her home, as a parent and a wife.

Suddenly, calling myself a “working mother” felt like an edgy face-slap to my friend. Phone conversations about her day and mine revealed who had the more challenging gig. It wasn’t me.

I listened as my friend explained her new schedule: consoling her infant daughter, rocking her daughter to sleep for literally hours, only to realize she didn’t know what to make for lunch, or dinner, educating her almost preschool-age son, wondering when she would fold the never-ending load of laundry, all while trying not lose a body part navigating Lego landmines and trying to remember where she left the binky. Nevermind alone time or date nights. When would that ever happen?

She never once regretted her choice to stay home – the rewards were far too many. But as far as challenges go, she’d reached the max.

Who’s working harder? Who’s doing work that matters more? Those aren’t the right questions. Both of these moms are making sacrifices, but we have to stop overlooking the challenges and contributions of stay-at-home mothers.

Being a stay-at-home parent sounded impossible. In fact, my day job felt like an escape. I got to run off into my area of competency all day, got to look knowledgeable and pretend to be “the expert”, with opportunities for acknowledgement for all my contributions.

Meanwhile she woke up to the same rewarding yet difficult labor, day after day. She wanted to do it, she chose it, and she didn’t miss her work. But she’ll tell you – this mommy life is not for sissies.

Yup, her job is way harder than mine.

So back to the “working mother” business. This term has got to go. It not so subtly implies that stay-at-home moms like my friend aren’t working, that they are just sitting there catching up on 30 Rock episodes while their Roomba vacuums and a nanny totes the children about to various activities. Hardly.

And what’s worse, I’ve heard many women answer the question, “So what do you do?” by saying, “I’m just a mom.” AACCCKKK! No! Just a mom? Come now.

From now on, when someone asks what you do for a living, you should answer, “I’m just doing one of the most difficult and thankless jobs on the planet every day because I really wanted to be the one to educate and empower my children for the short time I have them. I was fortunate enough to have that option so I chose it, and it’s hard, but I wouldn’t do anything else.” 

Yes, that’s what you should say.

So stay-at-home moms, and part-time stay-at-home/part-time work-out-of-the-home moms, I’m sorry for being a hater. I’m sorry for being so myopic and committed to my cause of feminism that I failed to see your empowered choice in your life. I hope you’ll forgive me.

I commend every man and woman who makes fully-informed choices to work or parent their children. I know some parents like me have no choice but to work outside the home, away from their kids, although they would love to stay home. And they are making giant sacrifices too.

But I especially want to honor the women who shirk off the social pressures to “matter” or “lean in” into the workforce and instead stay home with their children so they can be the ones to educate and raise them.

You are powerful people.

You are pioneers.

You are awesome.

And you have my sincerest respect.

Now I need your help: instead of using the term, “working mother”, what are we going to say if we work outside the home instead of inside the home? And while we’re at it, I wonder if we need to rehabilitate the stay-at-home mom term too. What do you think?

For more on this subject:

If you feel like you don’t matter any day, or most days, or every day, visit Lisa-Jo Baker’s blog. She talks about motherhood in the most honest yet noble way. She has a gift to infuse life back into your weary mom soul, and help give you back the vision for the great, great thing you’re living in motherhood.

And if you want to hear what a guy thinks about women who “just” stay home, you better hear from Matt Walsh. This guy holds nothing back in his opinion of those who misunderstand stay-at-home moms. I love what he has to say. It’s all Bam! In your face!

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11 thoughts on “Why “Working Mother” Is A Redundant Term, Part 2

  1. We do need to really look at the terms “Working mother” and “Stay at home Mom” I would like to point out the gendered terms “mother” and “mom”. It would be great to make the role of stay at home care giver a respected and meaningful life choice. It would be great if it was a respected and meaningful life choice for both males and females. There are many men that would love to stay at home with the kids and many women that would love to have someone to offload that burden to. Using gendered words for the stay at home parent reinforces the gender roles that stick women with the domestic work and exclude men from doing it.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading. You make excellent points about including the possibility that dads may want to stay home too. I didn’t mention this in either of these posts, but my husband works partly out of home, partly from a separate office and has our son with him all day. It’s been a juggling act, but it’s been so great for him to grow up with his dad. I’m so fortunate my husband was willing to be a primary caregiver in this way.

      I totally agree that we need to discuss primary caregiving in a gender neutral way that is welcoming to either parent who would want to stay home. Let me explain where I’m coming from on this particular post because I am specifically focusing on women on purpose for a couple reasons. No one uses the term “working dad”. We only talk about “working moms”. Why is that? I didn’t even get into it here, but it’s worth discussing because historically our culture assumed women don’t “work” outside their home, and although this is no longer the norm, the terms have stuck, and I think that now negative assumption is where this term came from.

      But when women started working out of the home, women who stayed home were relegated to being called something that does imply they are not “working”. And this tends to be feminine issue specifically, as many mothers who work outside the home having “mom guilt” for doing it, or at least are given conflicting messages about their choice. Also, there is a ton of judgment passed back and forth between moms who work outside the home and moms who stay home. It’s really sad we can’t respect each other’s choices. So I wanted to start a conversation around this, and my way of doing this is looking at the term “working mom” and what our culture assumes about women (specifically) from the term, that women who stay home are not “working” and therefore not making an equal contribution to society. So that’s where I am coming from in this particular post. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. I hope to continue this conversation in the future. I think it’s so important.

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      1. What culture tell women specifically from the term is why it should be gender neutral. As you pointed out we never say “Working dad”. By using the term “working mom” you are reinforcing the gender roles saying that it is women’s job to take care of the unpaid domestic duties.

        Also why did you feel the need to write a post about how gender roles affect women, and only women? Hasn’t this conversation been started a million times already? Why didn’t you write about how these gender roles hurt men? Did men even enter your thoughts about parental responsibilities before I mentioned them? I don’t mean to be overly aggressive, but this is probably the single largest gender issue “Women’s Right’s Vs Human rights” and “Gender Equality Vs Equality For women”
        I agree that parental obligations are a very real issue. Trying to tackel the issue from “Women’s rights” or “Equality for women” standpoints is only going to make the matter worse due to very poor understanding of what’s going on. We need to approch this (and virtually every other issue) from a Human Rights and Gender equality perspective. Men are half the humans. Male is the other gender. If half the conversation is not about men, we are simply doing it wrong.

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      2. Again, I appreciate your perspective, and I think you’re right that gender issues need to be looked at from a broader view. I’ve definitely thought myself, although I’ve considered myself a “feminist”, that some of the work of focusing on only rights for women has left men out. You’re right on there.

        Perhaps my view is a little too narrow, and that may be part of the problem. Still, the gender neutral view is something I’m struggling to fully comprehend. I think there are benefits to this, but I also think there are some disadvantages, mostly because right now, the term “gender neutral” is defined differently by different people, which causes confusion. There are many motivations for wanting equality (yet not “sameness”) for both genders, but please be assured that is my ultimate goal, although I may not be articulating that perfectly yet. I sense that you and I do want some of the same things, but we are speaking of it differently. Again, thank you for reading, and thank you for challenging my preconceived notions about gender. I have some things to think about.

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  2. Great posts on a topic that I struggle with. I actually read that Matt Walsh post earlier today along with a SAHM’s take on the matter. I know you and I have discussed it, but I really wish there were more opportunities for part-time work. I guess I want to have my cake and eat it, too. Get more quality time to raise my child while not pushing pause (or even rewind) on my career. Wishful thinking I suppose!

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    1. Steph, great point. I want to have it all too, and it really seems like we can’t. It seems like one way or the other, there is a sacrifice. However, I think part-time work is far too hard to come by, and either way, it would at least slow down a career path, if it didn’t stop it completely. The good news is there are so many more opportunities for entrepreneurs and home businesses these days, which is really exciting. People who want to start a business or some venture can do it, although it’s a risk – but this can definitely provide the potential option to stay home with kids while still involved in meaningful work. That’s what I’m aiming for with my blog and book. I don’t know how much you’ve thought about starting “your own business” of some kind, but it would be interesting to see if there are possibilities there.

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  3. I frequently feel I need to justify my decision to work in the home AND list everything I DO all day. There’s also the impulse to mention what I used to do before kids as a way to apologetically convey that I have a brain and know how to work… that I’m not ignorant or lazy…
    A title like “Home Manager” or “Life Coordinator” seems more fitting than “stay at home” anything. “Stay” has a connotation of inactivity or passiveness. It’s an irksome word. I’ve been far more active, innovative and creative in the home environment where I have the autonomy to use my time and talents as I see fit – in the way they are most productive. I would argue that as an asset to society, I have just as much positive impact, if not more, than I would in the offices or classrooms of my previous vocations. I’m certainly far more fulfilled – but that’s my own personal situation. I’m well aware that what suits me here and now, may not always suit me, and could be a nightmare for someone else.
    This is why when I meet people, I say, “tell me about your life,” instead of the dreaded, “So what do you DO?”

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    1. Such a good point here about asking smart, open questions, rather than “what do you do?” Gives a person a chance to be anything. It takes a thoughtful person to ask the right questions. Good work. I am stealing this. Meanwhile, I totally understand that feeling of justifying your work – I feel like that in my current role at work, not to mention if I’m talking to a “home manager” who is able to parent full-time, I often feel the strain of realizing I’m not able to invest in my kids like they are. It’s all this comparing that’s no good for our souls – as you said, what suits you now may not always, and could be someone else’s nightmare. I would like to talk about this more soon, this concept of seasons. I think it’s not well-understood, but we need to know that it’s okay to be where we are now, and that we will not always be here. There is so so so much material here. I want to really sit down and look at all the angles because I want people to be fulfiled in every season, and I think it’s more about perspective than the perfect role.

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