Breaking Down the Stay-At-Home-Mom Stereotype

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October 5, 2017

I recently got kicked out of a Catholic moms group because I didn’t participate in enough mom meet-ups.

Yep, that’s right. Kicked out.

Let me back up a little.

In the two years following college, I worked full-time at a hospital and school for children with disabilities. I did mainly fundraising and community outreach, and I loved it. The kids were heroes, each battling severe physical and mental conditions, and I was daily reminded of the sacredness and frailty of human life. I was grateful to do meaningful work right out of school and I appreciated the chance to touch lives in some small yet powerful way.

When my husband and I welcomed our first child into our family this past spring,  I decided to stay at home full-time. It was no doubt sad to say goodbye to my job and the families to whom I had grown close. Nevertheless, I embraced my role as a new mother wholeheartedly and didn’t look back for a second.

But as many new mothers will admit, life at home all day with an illiterate little person can be extremely lonely, especially when you’re used to constant intellectual stimulation as a professional in the working world. Knowing this, I was excited and anxious to make some friends who would alleviate that feeling of loneliness and isolation. So, I joined the Catholic moms group in hopes of finding a few kindred spirits who were also looking for companionship and solidarity in the sometimes mundane stay-at-home life. What I thought would be an enriching and stimulating community, though, proved instead to reinforce a stereotype about stay-at-home moms that is both limiting and reductive.

You know the stereotype: a bunch of busy-bees who spend their days whipping up crock-pot wonders and Pinterest-worthy crafts since they're not actually doing “real work”; shaming—intentionally or unintentionally—working mothers for leaving their children every day; discussing the ethics behind cloth diapers or the moral dangers of their child watching a half hour of Sesame Street. Whether they mean to or not, these women can often seem cliquey, superficial, or judgmental - reduced to much less than who they are or were made to be.  

Even though I was now one of them - a stay-at-home mom - I felt trapped and inadequate under the weight of these new expectations. What if I didn't want to pack my calendar with playdates or use cloth diapers? What if I was intimidated by these older, more experienced mothers who seemed to have it all figured out? I was still me - the same me who only a few weeks ago was working full-time and exceeding expectations set before me - but it felt like I suddenly had to “live up” to a whole new set of expectations that frankly didn't seem to matter. I was and am more concerned with how to raise a happy, holy son; or how to keep pursuing my husband in a healthy and joyful marriage; or perhaps most importantly, how to grow closer to Christ as a Catholic woman, wife, and mother.

What if I didn't want to pack my calendar with playdates or use cloth diapers? What if I was intimidated by these older, more experienced mothers who seemed to have it all figured out?

So what's going on here? How do we begin to eliminate this stereotype? In order to do so, we must first come to a better understanding of our role and responsibility as women - particularly as wives. In Saint John Paul II's Letter to Women, he thanks wives for "irrevocably join[ing] [their] future to that of [their] husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life."

Regardless of our career, circumstances, or particular path in life, we are called to serve; to love and to do whatever love demands. So often we are tempted to mask the bad and ugly about our own lives and to get dangerously caught up in reaching an unattainable level of “perfection”. When this happens, as Edith Stein describes, “the dominating will replaces joyful service.”

These tendencies seem to be woven into our very beings, and some of us struggle more than others. But what if instead we tried to build each other up as women and mothers, rather than outdo or look down on one another? What if we changed the stay-at-home mom culture by putting less of an emphasis on the supposedly “right” or “wrong” ways to mother, and more on how we simply love our spouse and children as individual and unique women living out a common vocation?

What if we changed the stay-at-home mom culture by putting less of an emphasis on the supposedly “right” or “wrong” ways to mother, and more on how we simply love our spouse and children as individual and unique women living out a common vocation?

In order to overcome the stereotype which captures the very worst of this important and dignifying vocation, let’s remember that before we are mothers, we are women; Catholic women, called as daughters of God to love and serve one another and our families. Let's create women's groups that challenge us spiritually and intellectually, that foster real friendship and genuine growth, and initiate complex and thoughtful conversations about our identity as women.

Rather than limiting our discussions to diaper brands and attachment parenting theories, let’s talk about our marriages, our roles within our families and the Church, our fears and challenges as women, working or not. We are complex in our gifts, our abilities, our needs, and our desires. There is no perfect way to mother, no simple answer when it comes to each of us living out our vocations as a daughter of God. The answer, perhaps, lies in doing whatever love demands, and in doing that, God uses our gifts in the home, in the workforce, and wherever He may lead us.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll rejoin that moms group.

This author would like to remain anonymous.

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