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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Elizabeth Street

BEING A STAY AT HOME MOM

May 31, 2013
Being a Stay at Home Mom

Being a Stay at Home Mom

In Learnvest’s Money Mic series, the site hands over the podium to people with controversial views about money and parenthood. These views are theirs, not LearnVest’s.

In the past, the site has featured writers with controversial views on everything from what it was like to be a welfare mom to the reason one mother home-schools her kids. Here, mother of two Amy Keyishian vents about the lack of respect for stay-at-home moms.

I was recently bemoaning the fact that my $80K college education was not paying off in the form of my being able to support my family (something a woman is not supposed to say in the first place, but that’s another story).

“Holy moly, do you think your only value to your family is as a dollar sign?” my friend asked. “The things you learned in college impact your kids every day in ways you can’t monetize.”

I stopped. I thought. I realized I totally undervalue the work I do as a mom. And many of my friends do the same thing. One is so filled with guilt about not bringing in income that she practically martyrs herself. Her underlying (false) belief: Being a stay-at-home mom is not a real job, and therefore does not require a car.

Case in point: She was adding extra hours to a simple shopping trip because, in order to get to her Zipcar, she had to juggle a double stroller and two car seats on a long walk. Not to mention that she was often hopelessly delayed by an off-schedule nap or unscheduled diaper explosion. The result? At the end of a typical day she was wrung out and tearful, and her well-meaning husband was clueless as to what was wrong, because she felt it was her wifely duty to shoulder everything so he had the freedom to concentrate solely on his work.

When he finally figured out what was going on, he sat her down, assured her that he wanted to be a full member of the household (and even pointed out that she was doing him a bit of a disservice by cutting him out of the loop), and rearranged their budget so that they could buy a base-level used car for about the same cost as the Zipcar’s monthly fees.

Stay-at-Home Parents Are Not Worth Less
Such a simple solution—but why was it so hard to reach? Because we are taught, consciously or unconsciously, that we’re worth less when we become parents.

Oh, I know there’s a Cult of Mommyhood that seems to hold us up as saints and angels, but honestly, doesn’t all that Mother’s Day–style praise, with its hearts and sparkles and soft-focus, feel just a little bit patronizing? When it comes right down to it, the real public opinion of stay-at-home moms is more along the lines of how my bête noir, a blog called STFU Parents, puts it: ”If going outside is considered a major accomplishment, what are doing taxes and getting an oil change considered to be? Rare and amazing feats? Most people just call that ‘living life.‘”

Uh, but, that’s the point: The regular chores inherent in “living life” are sometimes insurmountable for someone who can’t walk from the bedroom to the living room without having someone poop on her, suck on her and/or barf on her, while a slightly larger person is running around with no pants on, screaming, “ELMO!”

Anyway. The point is that we can’t just demand respect from the people around us—we have to give it to ourselves first (just like we couldn’t find love until we loved ourselves first, right?). Once we adjust our own attitudes and stop apologizing for everything we do, it’s time to sit down at home and hammer out a way to make your role feel vital, and not just a catchall for the crap nobody else wants to do.

Your Family, Inc.: How to Organize Home Like an Office
To do this, you could do worse than to consult “Family Inc.: Office-Inspired Solutions to Reduce the Chaos in Your Home (and Save Your Sanity!)“ While it doesn’t specifically address the role of stay-at-home moms, the book outlines ways for us to take the training we learned on the job—whatever that job may have been—and apply best practices from the business world to the corporation we call home.

It’s not just about calling weekly and even annual family meetings, though that is a vital part of it. It’s also about having a time budget that maps out daily, weekly and seasonal duties; delegating or outsourcing some of the more onerous tasks; creating job descriptions for everyone who contributes to the household; and learning how to be a better manager in a home environment.

You can’t treat your job, your role as a stay-at-home mom, as an amorphous blob of responsibility. If your husband were treated that way at work, you’d be furious on his behalf, so give yourself the same credit. How much of your day is spent cooking, shopping, cleaning? Teaching music, art, science? Managing medical matters, nutrition, finances, taxes? Parse every little bit of your duties out and figure out which ones are the best fit for you. (Salary.com has a nifty wizard to help you.)

You should also create a “Spousal IRA,” adjusting your husband’s take-home pay so that there’s more in the paycheck, and shunting that directly into a dedicated IRA. It may seem like a lot when you’re already trying to create a savings plan and emergency fund while paying down credit card debt, but believe me: As someone who trimmed the budget after one layoff, then again after another, then again after the unemployment ran out … there’s always something more that can go. But you have to work together and agree.

The bottom line is, you’ll be taken as seriously as you take yourself. If you walk around calling yourself lame and scatterbrained in some misguided attempt to be disarming, well, frankly, people are going to take you at your word—even your loving husband. If you slink around feeling guilty, you’re doing yourself more harm than good. Be your own best friend and a terrific role model to your kids: Name your job, treat it as a profession, and feel proud that yes, you are a working mom too.

By Amy Keyishian for Learnvest (@learnvest)

Amy Keyishian has been a staff writer for Cosmopolitan Magazine, a freelance writer for Glamour, Self, Maxim and other magazines, and now blogs for LearnVest as well as Recipe.com and Kveller. She lives with her family in San Francisco. 

For tips and debate on balancing work, family, and finance, check out LearnVest’s Seven Surprising Jobs for Stay at Home Parents, Mat Leave in America: Is the Landscape Finally Changing?, and Money Mic: The Case for Stay at Home Moms.

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