Stay at Home Mothers Made Sacrifices Too

*Deep breath. Wades in well aware that she may regret this.*

I see quite a lot written about working mums* and the guilt, the feeling of missing out, the lack of choice. I have great sympathy for all of these feelings, and, to be very clear, this post is not a criticism of those emotions, nor of mothers working. Nonetheless, and maybe I will turn out to be alone in this (in which case, I am probably setting myself up for a tidal wave of indignation, though it is really not my intent to offend), something bothers me in a lot of what I see written about this subject.

It is this: there generally appears to be little acknowledgement of the fact that being a stay at home mother is not always a choice either. Or, worse, little acknowledgement of the fact that often there has actually been a choice by both working and at home parents, and that stay at home mothers have made sacrifices for their choices, too. The suggestion, sometimes explicit, sometimes implied, often seems to be that stay at home mothers are privileged and fortunate to have what working mothers do not. It is there in every statement that a working mother wishes she were ‘lucky enough’ to have had the option to stay at home. The implication is that to stay at home is a matter of luck and good fortune, not something that there may have been no choice over, or something a family has made significant sacrifices (that perhaps the working parents did not wish to make) in order to make happen. It may well be that it is often not the writer’s actual intent to suggest this. But, regardless of the intent, the implication does remain: that it is a position of privilege to be a stay at home mum.

Whilst not disputing that certain people may (wrongly) be guilty of judging the particular sacrifices made by working mothers, I don’t think that there is much dispute that there are sacrifices made. Is the same true of the sacrifices made by stay at home mothers? I am not sure that they receive quite the same level of recognition or discussion. That being a stay at home mother is not more often just vaguely regarded as the position of the privileged (or even, by a few unpleasant specimens, regarded as the position of the lazy). I want to highlight that many families with a stay at home parent have to make difficult financial sacrifices to enable that position, the stay at home parent themselves may have sacrificed a career, and for some families there is not even a choice at all. Why is this perhaps not discussed as much as the hardships facing working parents? Maybe partly because many stay at home parents enjoy and appreciate looking after their children, of course. I do. But many working mothers enjoy their jobs, too. I don’t think this is the whole explanation. Because, while many stay at home parents are happy with their role and the time they spend with their children, would they also like to be able to provide more for their children? To have some financial independence? Yes, many would. But we don’t seem to talk about that. Is it because we wouldn’t want anyone to infer that we don’t like looking after our children, that we don’t appreciate the time we spend with them? Is it less acceptable to mention the sacrifices of being a stay at home parent?

Consider the situation if I was to write that it upsets me that I can’t provide for my children, and that I wish I was lucky enough to have had the option to have an income, and to be able to give the children more material luxuries and opportunities. I imagine many working parents would indignantly think, ‘Hang on a bloody minute: luck? It’s not luck. I chose to go to work to provide for my children, and I have to miss out on spending time with them as a result. If you want to have more money, do what I do and go to work.’ And that would be a reasonable response, as far as I am concerned. But it should apply the other way around, too, and I think there is something of a subconscious mindset around that says that it does not. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone knows really that stay at home parents have made sacrifices, would agree this if asked, but there remains a tendency to be unthinkingly dismissive of it. I am not sure how many people really consider that perhaps when a working mother states that she wishes she were fortunate enough that she could have stayed at home and not had to work, stay at home mothers may also be just a little indignant. That there may be a mother who stays at home who had just as little choice in her role, who maybe feels sad that she can’t provide financially for her child. Or a mother who knows that, in order for her to stay at home, her family gets by on a fraction of the money that working mother’s family does. Maybe even gets by on less than the working family would have on a single income, who knows? Maybe she feels that she is accepting the sacrifices that came for her to stay at home, and that others could have done so too, had they wanted to. And maybe, just maybe, she feels like she should not mention any of this, for fear that she would be accused of not appreciating her time with her children, or of not showing sufficient empathy for the feelings of the working mother.

In truth, when it comes to working or staying at home, there are really only two groups of people: those who had a choice, and those who did not. Not having a choice is not the preserve of working parents. There are those families who really cannot in any way afford to live on one person’s income (or single parent families, where there is only one person to provide an income), but who do have free or affordable childcare options, for whom working is the only available path. Equally, however, there are those with no one to provide free childcare, and no (or insufficient) assistance towards childcare costs, for whom the cost of childcare would exceed what the second person could earn, making one parent undertaking the childcare the only viable option. In both cases, the decision is made for the parents by the limits of their circumstances. They may or may not be perfectly happy with the arrangement they have had to pursue, but this is not particularly relevant: there is no choice regardless.

Then there is everyone else. The people with some level of choice. Now, there are, of course, a few people who have such privilege that they have literally any option they want available to them, and little sacrifice to make. We can all agree that we hate those jammy sods (sorry – just kidding). But this is rare. For most, this is not how it goes. Instead there is choice, but it has constraints. Sacrifices must be made. Having it all is not an option. Decisions have to be made, priorities assessed, myriad considerations taken into account. And, guess what? There are no wrong answers here. All the possible decisions are valid. All the considerations have merit. Children can benefit from being cared for by a parent at home. Equally, children can benefit from having a comfortable, more affluent lifestyle. We all want to spend time with our children. We all want to provide well for our children. How much you like your job and the potential for career development is, of course, relevant. So is the availability of family members to provide childcare. It is perfectly acceptable to decide that you will take a greater degree of financial hardship because it is important to you that you stay home with your child. It is perfectly acceptable to decide that you want to be able to maintain the standard of living or the lifestyle you have for your child’s sake, and cannot do that on one income. It is perfectly acceptable to decide that you love spending time with your child, but do not want to surrender a career you enjoy.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with whichever decision anyone makes. What I am saying is that perhaps we all need to accept the consequences of those decisions. Perhaps we need to take responsibility for the fact that this is what we chose, we reaped the rewards and paid the price of whichever path we followed. We should not be jealously comparing ourselves with others who made a different decision. We need to acknowledge that they have made their own sacrifices, ones we chose not to make, in order to have those benefits we covet. That should not be brushed under the carpet. You cannot choose the starter and main from a two course set price menu, not be willing to pay extra for dessert, but complain about how unfair it is that someone else had the dessert, how lucky they are. It is not luck: they made a different choice to you. They skipped the starter. (Yes, analogies are not my strong point. And clearly this is not exactly analogous, as in my menu scenario there is obviously only one correct option: dessert. Sorry, starter people – what are you thinking? I digress.)

It may not feel fair. The available options may be hard, imperfect, limited. But that is life. Apart from those few jammy sods we have all agreed to hate (sorry, again), everyone is either having to make similar decisions, determining their priorities, sacrificing on something; or they are simply having to play the hand they were dealt. Perhaps the level of choice we have in modern life has given rise to the idea that there must be this elusive option of having it all, and that we should therefore feel dissatisfied and cheated if we do not. For most people, however, having it all simply does not exist. Perhaps we would all be happier if we accepted that. Accepted that we make our choices, pay the price, and that nearly everyone else is doing exactly the same.

None of this, of course, is to say that there is anything wrong with working mothers saying that they feel sad that they do not see their children as much as they would like. I suppose what I want to say is: working mothers, don’t beat yourself up with guilt over your choice (or lack thereof). You made the decision that was most right for your family, or you simply got on with the only option you had, and I am very sorry for what you feel you are missing out on. But perhaps you could be careful to remember that stay at home mothers made a decision and sacrifices, or did what they had to do, too.

No working mother should feel judged because she had to, or chose to, work. But, equally, no stay at home mother should feel resented. Nor should she have the decision she made to stay at home, and the price she has paid for it, undermined by being dismissed as someone who has merely had luck, ‘luck’ that may be acceptably coveted by those who did not make her sacrifices.

(*Everything I have read has been from the perspective of mothers, and I am a mother, so I have – mostly – referred to mothers, but of course the points can apply to fathers too.)

25 comments

  1. Jade Munro says:

    A topic that I often mull over in my mind. As a military spouse who has relocated 3 times in the past 18 months being a SAHM has been my only option. Meh… As much as I adore spending every day with our daughter (And I do x 1 000 000!) that doesn’t cancel out my ambition, my dignity, my self esteem. Nor does it combat my resentment at being financially dependent on someone else and relying on them for whatever I want or need.
    A well written piece and perhaps a platform of support for SAHM who don’t feel they are allowed to complain.

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you! Yes, military families are of course a very good example of people whose options are often restricted by their circumstances. Financial dependence is always difficult. Thank you for reading and being first supporter – posts that might anger people always make me nervous & it is so nice when you know that there is at least one person who doesn’t just think you were talking absolute crap!

  2. A very thought provoking post. I have (before I went public so not sure it counts) written about something similar and yes I do think ownership of decisions is important, as is recognising that there are many ‘right ways’ to do something. And that, yes, on both sides even when a choice is made it is not always (or ever) a choice without sacrifices. Hmm the wording thing is interesting…I do call myself lucky in being able to make the decision to stay at home. My sister calls herself lucky in being able to make the decision to work full time. I don’t see it as a term of derision when it is used about oneself. I’ve come over all royal.

    Are you familiar with ‘mothers at home matter’? They are an interesting group looking at both mothers and fathers that stay at home to care for children.

    There is one major thing I have to disagree with though, STARTER every time.
    x

    • Silly Mummy says:

      I entirely agree that the wording is interesting, and definitely complicates the point I am trying to make – couldn’t quite find a way round it without going into really convoluted explanations! I know what you mean though, as I would consider myself lucky because I love being with the kids, though we have no choice and there are other difficulties. I think, as you say, it is a matter of when you say it of yourself, that is okay, as you are highlighting the things that make you feel lucky. But, when you say it about someone else, even if you really only intended to indicate that same specific lucky element, it is hard to avoid the implication that they are in the position they are in due to luck, not work, planning, sacrifice, or lack of choice. I suppose there is a difference between feeling lucky as a result of your position, and being lucky to get there. As only you can ever say you feel lucky about your position, anyone else referring to it as lucky can really only ever fall in the latter category.

      No, not familiar with ‘mothers at home matter’ – will have to check that out.

      Haha, well, clearly picking starters is insane, but let’s hope offending starter people is the worst I do here! xx

  3. Alice says:

    I consider myself very privileged to work part time – having gone back to work full time before jet was six months, I know the difficulties it presented me with emotionally. But as chris works evenings and weekends, I didn’t feel that we could justify both of us being at home during the day. Now I can have a couple of days at home with them all (a weekend has never been that for us because Chris is working usually) albeit on Monday and Tuesday. And then I get to go to work, be a grown up, earn some money and keep my finger in the pie of my career.
    To be honest, I think being a sahm would drive me to the edge of reason 🙂 so I am lucky to have the choice not to do so.
    I also have to disagree on the point of analogies – your analogies are awesome 😀 xxx

    • Silly Mummy says:

      That sounds like a really nice middle ground for you. My mum did part time to start with when she first returned to work too (well, she did supply for a while, then part time). Though, to be honest, she didn’t actually escape us that well as a result of returning to work – she ended up teaching us both for a period in infant school!

      No, my analogies are pretty dodgy. Perhaps I will become the subject of a counter post: ‘Why Is That Stay at Home Mother Randomly Bringing Up Profiteroles?’

  4. Annie says:

    Really great post and I have often had similar thoughts, I really wanted to be at home with the kids when they were little but I didn’t realise until I returned to work, part-time when they were at school, that it had been a sacrifice in some ways too. Now that both my kids are in primary school and I also work in a school, it’s much easier.

    Ps totally with Lucy on the whole starter thing!!!

    Annie x

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you! I can see how, no matter how much you enjoyed being at home, it must be a big adjustment, and really highlight the things you did give up, once they go to school.

      Haha – I don’t think anyone’s with me on desserts! x

  5. Carol Hedges says:

    I made the choice to stay home in the 1980s when D was born as there were no workplace nurseries or fulltime childcare facilities available. Also the job that I did and the level I attained meant that I’d be expected to work evenings and some weekends. I also believed – and I see this born out by Little G, that a small child (under 4) needs one person to ‘be there’ for them – ie NOT exhausted at the end of the day and using TV as a babysitter. Yep – we had no money, yep, I was reliant upon clothes parcels from richer friends. Yep, it was bloody boring at times…but I think it cemented my relationship with D, and I was ”doing a job’ – bringing up the next generation.. I am sorry for all those mums who HAVE to go to work to make ends meet. I am sorry for all those mums who HAVE to go to work to maintain there career. But I am NOT sorry that I opted out.. I’d rather be part of the rugrat race than the rat race. No regrets. Never.

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Yes, my mum did the same, and she returned to work once we went to school, and of course had to live with the damage that was done to her pension, etc, as well as the financial hardship when they were on one income. But she never had regrets either – it was what she felt was right. I didn’t have any other practical option available, but that is not to say I am not glad I am at home.

      No regrets I think is a great way of looking at it. Regrets don’t do any good. If you can’t change something, regrets will not change it either; and, if you can change it, change it instead of having regret. Or, if actually you know it is the right decision, own that & focus on the positives. Regret and jealousy are such unhelpful emotions, & we should all work to not succumb to them I think!

  6. Kirsty says:

    I feel compelled to write on this as I am a full time working mum and my little boys goes to nursery 10 hours a day 5 days a week. I earn enough to warrant me going back to work and to cover childcare and food shopping bills for example but that’s it. I just couldn’t be a SAHM and I don’t hide that fact that I just couldn’t do what you do. Some mums are cut out to do it and some aren’t. hopefully that doesn’t make me a bad person, but I do agree that there is a lot of guilt mentioned in other working mums posts – I do get guilt too about working so much, I honestly do, but you are right that it is what suits every individual mother. No one should be judged for how they choose to raise their little ones. We all only want to do what is right for them and for us. xx

    • Silly Mummy says:

      No, it definitely doesn’t make you a bad person! I firmly believe that, if you have the option to do so, you should do what works for you. Your children benefit more from a happy mother than one who is home but finds that hard. And that is exactly the point – because some people do have to be at home, even though it is not really right for them, and they probably don’t need to hear how lucky they are. As you say, no one should be judged, and what I hope I have managed to get across is that there is still a judgement in declaring certain people to be automatically lucky about their position. In truth, we never know what circumstances may have forced people into the life they live, or what sacrifices they may have made, or how they feel about it.

      I’m glad you have found an option that is workable for you.

  7. Ruth says:

    You express your thoughts really well here, and I enjoyed reading your article. Having been both SAHM and worked outside of the home at different points in my life, I know that both have advantages, disadvantages, and can make you feel equally guilty for different reasons, as you explain so well above. In the end – as you say – you have to do what’s best for your family given the circumstances you find yourself in. And really, the main thing is – whether you stay at home or not – that your children know they are loved.

    • Silly Mummy says:

      That is definitely the most important thing, yes. Thank you for your comment – I’m glad what I’m trying to say came across okay!

  8. Sadie says:

    I’m a working mother and recently blogged about the working mother guilt I feel. It’s always good to read a perspective of people in different situations.
    I am.always being told how hard it is for stay at home mums I think it’s all about perspective and attitude. I would struggle as a SAHM mostly because the best ways to entertain kids cost money from art supplies, books, play barns and trips. The sacrifices you make mean that money isn’t always there. Also no respite however many sahm I know also have childcare but still complain.
    The fact is having a child means sacrifices if your lucky it’s a few nights out or losing spontaneity but some sacrifice holidays, careers and much much more.
    I’ve not heard the same opinions as you or maybe our own issues mean we only hear the criticism of our own situation as I get how lucky you are to work you don’t know how hard it is at home etc. Perhaps you hear the opposite any way I’m rambling why can’t we just be nice and accept it’s bloody hard work raising kids no matter what.
    Big hugs and stay strong mama x x

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Yes, it is! I entirely agree – having children is in many ways about making sacrifices yourself.

      It’s interesting what we each think we see the most of, isn’t it? Confirmation bias?? Though I would agree that I see a fair amount about the challenges of the work involved in being a SAHM. And also things about the challenges of balancing work with parenting. I tend to think of those two as comparable viewpoints. It is just specifically this area that I can’t say I have personally seen an equivalent amount about the sacrifices made by families to have a SAHM.

      But I think the point for me, & if people are doing it to you in reverse, the same absolutely applies, is that the comparison and assumptions are where the problems lie. There is, of course, nothing wrong with people saying that they are upset that they had no choice but to work. Or that they had a choice, but still feel guilty. I do think that perhaps we would all be happier if we tried not to let those regrets consume our thinking, but, nonetheless, those statements are about a person and their own experience. What I think should be moved away from is simply the bringing into it of ‘I wish I was lucky enough to have been…’, or ‘….are so lucky to get to be…’. Because that is then making assertions and assumptions about other people, when actually their circumstances, sacrifices, how they feel about it are unknown.

      As you say, hard work whichever way you look at it. & I think most people feel some guilt whatever their situation too.

      Thank you for giving your perspective! x

  9. Min says:

    As a working mum who has been known (oops) to blog about the working mother guilt, it is always interesting to read a different perspective. I think in my position, as a single parent, it is easy to assume that all SAHMs are WAGs lolling around drinking coffee and shopping, even though I know that a) when I was at home on maternity leave I barely had time to shower and b) clearly living on one income involves financial sacrifices. I often wonder, though, what I would do if I was married and had some sort of “option,” and it makes me feel glad I don’t, as I don’t think I would enjoy being a SAHM, in all honesty. Then I start thinking that if I don’t want to spend every waking moment in Piglet’s glorious company, I must be some sort of reprobate, and argh the cycle of guilt starts again!

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Oh, as I said in above comment, it isn’t the writing about feelings of sadness or guilt, and your own experiences, that I was referring to (though I do think people should try to stop beating themselves up!), just the specific practice of drawing other people’s situations into it by comparisons, etc.

      As I said, I have only very rarely seen anything that I have actually thought was particularly malicious or intentional either. I just wanted to highlight what you say, actually, which is that I do feel that there is a bit of a subconscious mindset to think of a certain idea of a SAHM, which does not reflect the reality for most of us, and is a little dismissive of what we have actually had to give up. I’m intrigued actually as to how a tiny percentage of really privileged SAHMs have come to embody what so many people seem to picture!

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with not wanting to spend all your time with a small child. Like absolutely every other job, activity, pass time in the world, it doesn’t suit everyone. That’s no reflection on love for your child or how good a parent you are. But I wonder sometimes about your thoughts in reverse: if we had available childcare from family nearby, so that there was a choice, would I have felt like I should bring in money to make us more comfortable, though I would prefer to look after the kids?

      Thanks for bringing your perspective. & I am also thanking all working parents, who have not lynched me, too, as very concerned I am really just going to cause offense by trying to explain why I find something a bit offensive!

  10. Musing Mumma says:

    Wowser! Putting it out there! In most respects I agree with you — we all make our choices. I have full respect for SAHMs. After all, up until two months ago I was one. I also have oodles of respect for mums who work full-time – I live in between the two. I think the important thing is to acknowledge that each individual makes their own choices. There’s no right or wrong, and we need to support a parent’s right to choose. And we need to not imply that one makes more sacrifices than other. After all, being a parent inherently involves sacrifice, period.

    I know people in each category you described. And each and every one of them love their children to the mink and back. That’s what’s important.

    Great piece! Glad you put yourself out there!

  11. Really interesting post, and I can completely understand where you’re coming from. When you lack choice in any scenario, you’re going to feel a degree of resentment, however fantastic the rewards of the situation you’re stuck in. Women definitely have to make more sacrifices in this respect than men do, as we’re so often further down the pay-scale than our partners (when we have one). I earn well, but still not as much as my husband, so the decision about who would be putting the brakes on their career was made from the very start, despite the fact that I am actually more passionate about what I do than he is! I took a year’s mat leave, and now work part time, which is a good compromise, but in retrospect there are still times when I am peeved that the decision was made with so little discussion, so little fanfare. Had I earned more than him, I am quite sure there would have been considerably more debate…

  12. Really interesting post, and I can completely understand where you’re coming from. When you lack choice in any scenario, you’re going to feel a degree of resentment, however fantastic the rewards. Women definitely have to make more sacrifices in this respect than men do, as we’re so often further down the pay-scale than our partners (when we have a partner!). I earn well, but still not as much as my husband, so practically, the decision about who would be putting the brakes on their career was made from the very start, despite the fact that I am actually more passionate about what I do than he is! I took a year’s mat leave, and now work part time, which is a decent compromise, but in retrospect there are still times when I am peeved that the decision was made with so little discussion, so little fanfare. Had I earned more than him, I am quite sure there would have been considerably more debate and the ‘solution’ would not have been so obvious…

  13. I sometimes wonder if the whole ‘war’ between working mums and SAHMs is more prevalent in certain countries/cultures. I left the UK 10 years just after my eldest turned 14 months old and haven’t worked since becoming a mother. (And recently I’ve become very frustrated by my lack of financial independence but at the same time I love being there for my kids all the time.) I agree re sacrifices because the opportunity for me to find a decently paid job where we now live is slim to none and it’s not easy for us on just one income so for as long as we live in Malta, I can’t work (hence the launch of the blog). BUT going back to your point, I can honestly say I’ve never ever heard one negative word on my ‘decision’ to stay home here. I’m really only aware of this issue when I read British or American journalism/blogs etc. So as I said, I wonder if it’s cultural.

    Thanks for linking to #BabyBrainMonday

  14. Mrs Tubbs says:

    Thing is, all parenting – like most of life – involves scarfices and hardships. Most times, it’s a question of choosing the least worst one or the one you’re willing to live with.

    Rev T stayed at home whilst the Tubblet was little. I went back to work as I earned the most. We managed it by going without and being very careful.

    Better or worse? Bigger or smaller? No, just different. We considered ourselves lucky as we were able to manage. Many can’t and have a decision forced on them by circumstances.

    Long winded way of saying I agree with you. Passes tin helmet just in case … 🙂

  15. Harps says:

    I really love this post – its something i was speaking to Prabs (Absolutely Prabulous) about just the other week. I must admit I’m guilty of the whole “you’#re so lucky you get to spend all day with your baby” without thinking that actually you may not have had a choice. Rather naively, I’ve often assumed it’s because the mummy or daddy have a free choice as opposed to having none. I really like this post and how you’ve laid it out – it’s true, most of us are in the same boat of “no choice”! I’m fortunate enough to work part time so I get best of both worlds but even that isn’t always easy!

    Thanks for linking up to #BabyBrainMonday my lovely x

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