Few phrases in our lexicon are as misleading as “just a stay-at-home mom.” That “just” devalues the hard work and sacrifice of motherhood, its essential role in society’s well-being. Although one still encounters occasional chauvinistic usage of that phrase by males, the true tragedy and irony is in seeing women apply it to each other and themselves.
As pastor to many young mothers who have foregone or taken sabbaticals from careers to undertake the ministry of motherhood, I can testify to the painful effects of pressure they feel to see this choice as a waste of life, or a betrayal of empowered femininity.
A composite sketch of such conversations might begin: “I know it’s wrong, but sometimes I resent my child for destroying my life. I remember working, doing something productive—having engaging conversations with other adults, or sitting in cafes and enjoying novels.
“But now I take care of my child all day. And if that’s not demanding and stressful enough, when I look around and see others living the life I once had I hear this message that I’m not only missing out, but not being productive, not achieving my full potential as a woman. I feel like ‘just a stay at home mom,’ which means I must lack the skill or drive to succeed.”
How to combat such negative imaging? It might begin: “You’re doing a job few others have the character or stamina to take on—with no union benefits—that you’re never off the clock from. If you got paid, no one could afford your wages.
“It’s a job where you sacrifice yourself to give your children—not your career—your healthiest, most energetic years. Hopefully, they’ll appreciate that—but if not, God does. Since He benefitted from a devoted mother, the Theotokos (as Orthodox call Mary), He has great gratitude for motherhood.”
This pep talk would be followed by specific advice: “Take strength from the company that misery loves. Get together with other mothers. Pediatric pointers may be sad conversational substitutes for great works of literature, but that’s where you’re at. A shared burden is lighter.
“Also hold your husband accountable to help. He may be deluded into thinking his work ends when he comes home but yours doesn’t. He’s had the luxury of being away all day. Now make sure you take the chance to breathe. Go for that coffee, or take off some evenings and weekends.”
A man may once have balked at such arrangements, but most young fathers I know have had sufficient exposure to dad duty to realize who has the tougher job.
So women: don’t apply to yourselves or others the delusions of a hopefully dying chauvinism, with its condescension toward home-making. Your greatest worth is not as knock-off males. Anyone can “just have a job,” but it takes fortitude and stamina to embrace the awesome task of motherhood.