I had been curious about the origins of the term “stay-at- home mom” , ever since my first knowledge of it on a popular parenting site, soon after conception. However, recently I came across an article that talks about the history of changing terminology for wives/ mothers who work without remuneration . While the usage of the term “housewife” dates back to 1200 AD,”homemaker” made its inroads, (at least in the western world )as a more acceptable and pleasant term in the mid-twentieth century. Whereas “housewife “ connoted drudgery associated with domestic work, “homemaker” added the extra dimension to the role of the wife and mother as a “healer” , actively providing emotional and psychological solace to her husband and children . It was only in the 1990’s that the term “stay-at -home mom” started gaining popularity. Historian Rebecca Jo Plant suggests that with “stay-at-home mom” the focal point shifted from the husband to children with emphasis on ” cognitive/ intellectual development ” of the children .The entry of term” stay at home mom” could be ascribed to the increasing participation of women in careers and professions outside the domestic domain and the accompanying need for them to step outside the house everyday. Therefore, the term “stay-at-home mom” conveniently divided women to “working” and “non-working” moms or more precisely the moms whose job was to stay inside the house and the moms who worked outside.
I see women who are sad about the terminology and find the categorization to be derogatory. A full time writer or a self-employed woman who is trying to juggle between the formidable tasks of delivering deadlines and taking care of her kids 24/7 has every right to be upset at the unfair label “ stay-at -home mom”. I am mostly neutral about the “stay -at-home mom” label because that’s what i do- stay at home and tend to the needs of my kid. That’s my primary focus , at least, at this point of time. Taking care of my daughter’s health and nutrition, emotional and intellectual development, keeping her entertained are my primary agendas on a regular day . However, the “working” and “non-working” implication of the usage of the term bothers me, sometimes. Precisely because , “stay at home moms” are working hard too and it is fallacious to categorize them as “non-working”. That the stay-at-home moms are working without a paycheck would be a more appropriate statement.
The other day, I was trying to focus on my article amidst all the chaos in the living room as my daughter wanted me to be with her. She wanted me to really shun writing and play with her. So, I bargained from 0 minutes(her choice) to 10 minutes and promised to play with her thereafter. She is yet to be 5 and yet to be familiar with the sense of time . Working on her deadlines is therefore a precarious proposition. To her 10 minutes means 10 seconds , so to speak. Every few seconds, she would come near me with that sweet expression and state that my writing time was over. I was determined to write a little before giving in to her demands. So, I assertively told her ,“ I am working . I need to finish a job.“ To that , my daughter instantly replied ” writing is not your job” . “ Then , what is my job?” I asked, matter-of-fact. She responded “ Your job is teaching me, playing with me, cooking healthy food for me, reading stories to me , putting me to sleep.” “ Wow!” . I was amused and surprised with my daughter’s perception of her mother’s role and articulation of her expectations from her mother . I couldn’t afford to disappoint her . I put the laptop to sleep and joined her for a game of hide and seek.
Though its fun and a privilege to be able to be the kid’s best companion through their smiles and tears, being a stay-at-home mom is more challenging/demanding than it appears to be. Toddlers and pre-schoolers have this notion that they are the boss. They want to have it their way. Park at 2pm,ice cream at 10 pm, maggi for dinner, no vegetables at lunch and the list goes on. They want their wishes to be honored, every time. Since that is not possible , the mom needs lots of patience , tact and work-around handy, merely to convince her child that her choice/s may have to be postponed for another time. And of course, when all else fails, the mom’s “voice” prevails. The other day, I was talking to a friend (over the phone) who is a stay-at-home mom too to two lovely kids- a 6 year old and a 4 year old . She had a cracked voice and could barely speak. On asking, what was wrong with her voice, she replied, “I need to keep repeating myself over and again for everything- bath, food, homework, brushing their teeth,changing their clothes , for all of their waking hours. I think I am losing my voice” . I could very well relate to her .
The most honest confession for a stay-at-home mom would have to be : there’s no “ me time “ or exclusive time with other family members or friends and hence the lack of meaningful adult conversations . You sit down to watch your favorite serial and the forceful“mammmmmmma” re-directs you to them. You are talking to your friend about your weekend get-together plans and there’s another teary yet emphatic “mamma”. You enter their room with an anxious, puzzled “what?” , only to discover that they want the ball from the balcony .The children trust their moms to respond to each decisively authoritative “mammma” call by them. And, there’s this cruel mom guilt in many stay-at-home moms, if ever they choose to prioritise their wishes . Say, they are showing my favorite movie on my favorite channel. I choose to go for it, having the TV babysit my child for a while. Apparently,its a win-win situation. Its a humongous task to keep the child entertained all day, after all. But, the mom guilt post-movie supersedes the joy of having watched my favorite movie.
Stay-at-home mom or career mom , we all have our unique battles. There is always an expectation to be the super mother , the utopian “perfect mother”. The highest of them all – our own expectations from the mother in us .It is not uncommon for stay-at-home moms to wonder whether she is doing justice to her long , arduous years of education . Likewise, it is not uncommon for career moms to have indecisive moments between her job and kids. The grass appears to be greener on the other side. But , both the stay-at home moms and the career moms have their sets of challenges and struggles. On the one hand , we have the stay- at-home mom who patiently deals with the demands and challenges of juggling between the roles of the guide and teacher, the cook, the nurse, the chauffeur, the playmate , the baby sitter , around the clock. She remains as composed as she can while coping up with the overwhelming task of managing her kid/s single handed, every minute of the day. She might be angry, she might want to shout but she remains calm(most of the times) to set a good example for her kids. On the other hand,we see the career mom put on a brave face while dealing with her share of struggles – dividing time between her job and her family , waving a sad reluctant good bye to a sick kid at home, fighting for a leave so she can attend her kid’s annual day. Being a mom is never easy, after all.
Published here earlier : http://www.mycity4kids.com/parenting/a-mother-s-journal/article/ramblings-of-a-stay-at-home-mom