Whatever you do, please don’t call my wife a “Stay-at-Home Mom”. You’ll just irritate us both. She’s a mother.
Perhaps it’s unfounded, but when folks say, “Oh – so your wife is JUST a stay-at-home mom now?”, the inference is that she does nothing but change diapers and veg on the couch all day, punctuated by occasionally cleaning up toys and vacuuming. And it’s that inference that I find most demeaning – especially in light of the sheer number of things my immensely-capable wife does as “Mom” now that she’s quit her full-time job to go back to her rightful place as Supreme Overlord and Grand Sorceress of the Family.
The Irreducible Minimum of “Mom”
When my son was a few months old, my wife went back to work at a very full-time job, managing a large dental practice in the Washington, DC area. It was only at this point that a very sleep-deprived me, having spent my umpteenth night in a row up at 2am washing cloth diapers & making lunches & folding clothes, realized the sheer number of things that my wife was doing as “Mommy”. I wrote an article about it then, only at that point fully appreciating what a home mom does for the quality of life of the family.
Sometimes, the economic nature of life requires that both parents work, in order to pull in enough income to support the family. Such was the case for us in DC, what with the stratospheric cost of child care, plus the hopefully-you-have-an-inheritance cost of living in the DC Metro area. When that happens, one ends up reducing the normal “mom” duties down to the irreducible minimum of “keeping children & parents alive.” The house ends up a disaster, or you end up having to shell out more cash and hire a cleaning service to keep it acceptably clean. The bare minimum gets done in terms of financial planning, and for us, despite the both of us working, the spectre of debt kept creeping up on us. The kids got less of our attention, and not a ton of time was able to be put into planning their activities, or working on their basic learning skills. Home cooking? Hello, Trader Joes prepared meals (which don’t come cheap). And how about the normal things that parents like to do – like actually talk to each other for protracted periods of time, thinking over the future? That wasn’t really happening either.
And as much as I tried to be an involved, active dad – the number of little (and big) things that would fall to the wayside was more than could be picked up with our schedules.
The Family as an Organization – and the Job Description of MOM
And when we did that, so many of the immensely valuable things that this “MOM” job brings with it were able to be disambiguated from the generality of “stuff we have to do to not be homeless”. And many of these tasks have nothing to do with “Staying at Home”.
Chief Strategist: One of the first things that my wife was able to now that she didn’t have a 65 hour work week, was to mastermind our cross-country move. She managed to cut around $10,000 off of the cost of moving, deftly dealing with moving companies and iteratively working to slim down our belongings, cut down on the mountains of kiddie toys, and take something like 28 boxes of donations to Goodwill. She flew to Oregon to locate and secure our new house, and arranged all of the other mountains of gotchas that result from a big move. Then, on arrival to our new place, it’s been a constant parade of things I’d never have had time for – from visiting umpteen million schools to find the right preschool for our youngest, to working out long-term financial & housing goals for us to discuss & start working toward. It’s a mountain of research & thought that goes into LIFE that, when you have two exhausted working parents of small children, that just doesn’t have time to get done. And much of that is done out & about, not just at home.
Chief Financial Officer: My wife is extremely gifted as a finance manager. I’ve talked to some other husbands that still like to keep their finances separate, but I honestly would be lost without her financial acumen. And now that she’s able to really throw her weight against the long-term goals of the family, she’s been able to work out brilliant ways to trim unneeded expenses, reorganize accounts, and otherwise get us into a better standard of living on a SINGLE income than we ever had on our dual incomes.
Nurturing our Children: Whilst I don’t think anyone is going to accuse me of being an “un-involved dad”, the fact of the matter is that I work – and work a lot. When both my wife & I were working full-full-full time jobs, a lot of of the ‘parenting’ work ended up falling to our au pairs (which were wonderful for that), or ended up simply falling to the wayside. With my wife able to really throw her weight against this as well, in addition to the physical work of getting the kids back & forth to school, ready for school, lunches made, clothes washed, etc, etc, there are the other things that defy the “stay at home” term, like the trips to the nature center to find out about banana slugs, and trips to the local skate park to see how far those biking skills daddy was trying to teach could actually be pushed. Then, after school, it’s the reading homework, the fine-motor-skill work with scissors & coloring, and the patience to guide them into actually completing things that they start, keeping their spaces clean, and working well with each other.
The most important thing that we are doing as a family is raising these kids, and with my wife able to be “mom” as much as she needs, this task of spending adequate time with the kids gets the attention it deserves.
All that Cleaning / Dusting / Dishes Stuff: In terms of the archetypal “stay-at-home-mom” duties that everyone thinks of, my wife and I prefer to share these duties instead of dumping them all on one person. It’s our shared job to keep the house up, so when I get home from work, I find out from her what needs doing, and go do it. She’s the boss, I’m the muscle. And that works out fine by me, to keep the house in decent shape, keep the legos from gouging holes in our feet, and the kids bathed and in clean clothes. But cleaning the house is probably the least of the jobs that that she does, that makes this whole family organization desirable.
In the end, I really feel like there needs to be an understanding of what being a “Mother” really means. It’s not just the irreducible minimum of “a woman gives birth to a child, breastfeeds for a while, then goes back to work while the child starts growing.” It’s a host of responsibilities that result in a family that can really work together to set and achieve its goals.
Now, I’m not trying to disparage the Dads out there that pick up the slack on this, and take over these functions. If Mom is the primary breadwinner, then someone needs to actually do these jobs that keep the family on a good path.
But I deeply believe with all my heart that women like my wife who successfully tackle this job of “MOM” deserve at least as much respect as the highest-paid CEO, as opposed to the casual dismissal they all-to-often get.