I have been thinking a lot about the labels – “working mother” and “stay-at-home” mother and how much these perpetuate the very problems we are trying to solve around gender, inclusion, and caregiving.
Let’s start with the “stay-at-home” mother. This term makes it sound that she is simply “staying” home when the reality is far from it. This mother is a true caregiver both to her children and likely to other elders. She does some very important “work” that sets the foundation for young humans and enables other kinds of work that is much needed in our economy and society and yet we have failed to give that work the respect, value, and recognition it rightly deserves.
I have a friend who chooses not to work full time while her kids were in school (Yes, I acknowledge the privilege here). She has a large family and her husband is an ER doctor. She volunteers at a homeless shelter for several hours every week and is an active member of her local community. She is the backbone of her family that enables her husband to work overnight shifts and for her kids to make it to school the next morning and all of their activities. She has a huge role to play to enable this doctor to be able to care for his patients because there is another adult attending to everything else that needs to be taken care of at home. I refuse to call this mother a “stay at home” mom and it deeply saddens me that don’t recognize these very important caregiving responsibilities as work.
And then the “working mother’s” work doesn’t stop when she is not on her computer, or with her clients or her patients because chances are she is also still the rock her family relies on at home. Working outside the home doesn’t mean she doesn’t work at home yet we often view it as invisible labor that magically gets done.
My point with this post isn’t to say that women shouldn’t work outside the home. I am a huge advocate for mothers in the workforce but I want our systems to support the complex and myriad needs of mothers and I want our cultures to value all the ways she contributes to society. More importantly, I hope we can elevate the impact of caregiving as it truly is the bedrock on which so much other work in our society rests upon yet we are failing as a modern society by not valuing the invisible caregiving work
I’d love to have different labels and dismantle the terms “stay at home” mothers. The reality is that they are both working just differently. I want this not just for mothers but also for fathers many of whom are doing much more caregiving than generations past.
And if this post resonated, highly recommend Angela Garbes‘ new book – Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change where she uses “mothering” as a verb and sheds light on the important caregiving work to keep our society afloat and thriving. She was also on a few podcasts passionately sharing her voice and views here and here that I’d highly recommend!