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In our culture, a stay-at-home mom is someone who spends her days shopping at Target (in a not-so-sexy jogging suit nonetheless) and watching Oprah. This stereotype, while grossly unfair, is one I’ve bought into even without knowing it. It’s more than a little embarrassing to admit but I realize I’ve been less than kind over the years in my judgment of stay-at-home moms. This little identity crisis I’ve been having of late has forced me to confront my biases and realize that a woman can be smart and sexy and stay at home with her kids.

Staying at Home, Taking Care of Baby and Identity Crisis

When I got married the word wife followed me around for a while creeping me out around every corner. Not because I didn’t like being married but because of all the connotations and stereotypes associated with the word. These days, I love being Eliza’s mama, but I’m still struggling with the label stay-at-home mom.

I work from home 20 hours a week for a local nonprofit and I’m a freelance writer. But I keep my baby at home with me, which makes me by all means and purposes, a stay-at-home mom. I feel so lucky to be with my baby everyday. And I love watching her change and come into this little person she’s meant to be but I’ve quickly realized that by not going to a job everyday, people have started to look at me differently.

I would love to tell you that I just don’t care what people think and that is partly true. I don’t care what someone at the grocery store thinks of my cut-off pants or my sweater with dried squash on the shoulder. I don’t care what people think about my 80-year old house in the middle of a cow pasture or about the fact that in 1998 I made twice as much money as I did last year, but I’m smart, and I care when someone assumes that I am not because I’ve made the choice to work from home and care for my child.

In our culture, a stay-at-home mom is someone who spends her days shopping at Target (in a not-so-sexy jogging suit nonetheless) and watching Oprah. This stereotype, while grossly unfair, is one I’ve bought into even without knowing it. It’s more than a little embarrassing to admit but I realize I’ve been less than kind over the years in my judgment of stay-at-home moms. This little identity crisis I’ve been having of late has forced me to confront my biases and realize that a woman can be smart and sexy and stay at home with her kids.

When I was in my early twenties I never saw myself as a stay-at-home mom. I always thought I’d have a very important outside-the-home job changing the world and that, somehow, when I chose to have children, I’d fold them into my life. I never really thought about who might take care of these children while I was out standing up for the little guy or giving a voice to the poor and underprivileged among us but I thought those details would fall into place. It was one of those plans I had for my life where I could see the end result but couldn’t quite figure out how I would get there.

Then I got a job. And I realized quickly that I didn’t really like it when that job got in the way of living my life. There was no fire in the belly for me if I had to stay late when a big story broke. I had no sense of loyalty when my boss called me in on my day off. I was never one to take one for the team when management needed a scapegoat. I didn’t feel like I was changing anything except the way I thought about my perfect little plan. After a few months on the copy desk of a daily newspaper, I was far more interested in living than working. I saw what lay ahead on the corporate ladder and I decided early on that the climb was a big fat waste of my time.

So I got out. I went to graduate school to concentrate on the one thing that did light the fire my belly knowing that it would likely never have a very large paycheck attached to it. And I didn’t care.

I’d been told all of my life that I could do it all. I didn’t, they said, have to choose between work and family. I could have both. But at a very young age I saw my step-mother struggle with that balance and I think it was then that I started trying to figure out another way, not a better way necessarily, but a different way.

My step-mother was the second-wave feminist archetype. She carried the briefcase, the beeper, the cell phone. She had a demanding job in corporate communications, three kids and a significant paycheck. She wore the suit, made it to the board meeting and the kindergarten play. She went to the little league baseball game, picked up dinner, made sure everyone was clean with nice clothes and shoes that fit. She did the television interview and answered media calls into the night. She proved to the world that women could do it all (did anyone honestly doubt this?) and she told me over and over again that I didn’t have to. Because of her I was able to go to my boss when Eliza was born and ask to work from home. I can stay at home because she wasn’t able to and I couldn’t be more grateful.

So here I am. I work, I take care of Eliza (also work!) and I try not to go to Target too often in anything resembling a jogging suit. I don’t have TV but if the opportunity arises I can still only make it through about 15 minutes of any talk show including Oprah. I think I’ve been trying to avoid becoming something that doesn’t exist except in the collective consciousness of a few small-minded guardians of the patriarchy.

Staying home with my daughter doesn’t mean that I’ve abdicated smart or sexy. Just because I had a baby doesn’t mean I traded in my brain and just because I stay home with her doesn’t mean I only want to talk about diapers, pureed carrots and naptimes. I’d like talk about the little mess Alberto Gonzales seems to have gotten himself into, Sharon Olds’ poetry, the difference between art and illustration and where design fits into that. And I’d like to talk about these things with women whether they work outside the home or not.

In my early twenties I thought I would change the world by standing up for the poor and underprivileged. I work for an abortion clinic and hope that some days I do just that. But I also hope that I change the world a little each day right in my own house by helping Eliza become a secure, strong and happy little girl.

My step-mother says she’s never been more proud. I’ve never been so happy.

Jennifer Savage writes about being a new mom on her own blog here on NewWest.Net. Read more from “Savagemama” at www.newwest.net/savagemama.

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8 comments

  1. misssmartypants

    Very inspiring – I love how openly honest this piece is. Seems to me that smart women should not feel bad about committing themselves to raising their children, or pursuing anything in life the way that they want to. Integrity. When you sacrifice a big paycheck for an enjoyable life, it’s always worth it. Always.

  2. Jennifer, about four years ago I looked around and realized that somebody else was raising my kids. At that point, with the support of my full-time working wife, I changed my career track and became a freelancer so I could work from home and be there for the kids. It’s the best parenting decision I ever made, and my kids are excelling in school and in society. I, too, am making a lot less money than before, but I know you’ll agree that, once the kids come along, money and career take a back seat to what’s REALLY important: raising quality individuals. I tip my Stetson to you and every other work-from-home (Beverly is right–no such thing as a non-working mother) mom and dad. Thanks for sharing your experience with the readers.

  3. Jonathan Machen

    Enjoyed the honesty of the piece and want to commiserate in all the glory and sacrifice with being a stay-at-home parent – in my case I can actally take my son to my workplace for a few hours, but oh, how my life has changed! Appreciate the comments above, too.

  4. You are changing the world and sticking up for the little guy, the real little guy! Right on. The new feminism–doing what is right for you as a woman and not what the world tells you. I cannot tell you how happy I am that my wife stays home with our two boys, ages 1 and 3. She is a certified doula but spends most of her time and energy on the boys. I think one of the adverse effects of the feminist movement has been the belittlement of the hardest worker of them all, the mother, or in Bob’s case and many other men who choose to stay at home, the father.

    The perceived unimportance of the father. . . . Another place for exploration another time.

  5. Great article! I too am still struggling with the word wife (we had our one-year anniversary this past January) and also with the perception of women who marry young (had my 24th birthday two months ago). All of that makes me shudder when I think about the decisions ahead, but your article makes me feel a lot better about my options! Thanks for such honesty and for setting such an encouraging example.

    Something you and others who enjoyed this article might also find interesting:
    http://www.salon.com/books/review/2007/04/03/feminine_mistake/

  6. Thank you for putting my feelings into words. I am truly coming to realize how important it is for me to openly value being a stay-at-home mom, and that doing so doesn’t diminish my place in society as a woman. As a long time feminist who has always wanted to be home with her children, I’m glad to find others who share my sentiments. You might be interested in the book You are Your Child’s First Teacher, What Parents Can Do With and For Their Children from Birth to Age Six by Rahima Baldwin Dancy – it is an excellent resource that values stay-at-home parenting and mothering and fathering (per comment above about fathering)

  7. I am not a mother yet, but as I get closer to that stage in my life, I look around at my working-mother colleagues and I can’t help but wonder: where are all the men? Beyond the couple of examples above, I have observed very little contribution by men to the domestic front. I was lucky to be raised in a household where, outside of the cooking, my father contributed equally to raising the four of us. Where are the men like my father? Is it the fault of women not demanding more out of the men who father their children? Or is there an innate apathy in men when it comes to their offspring? I don’t know the answer, but I find it terribly discouraging when I think about my own desire to be a mother.

  8. mcammons,
    Choose wisely when you arrive at that stage in your life when you decide to become a mother. Be sure you surround yourself with the kind of relationships you respect. As a father and husband, I’ve seen that there is no such thing as equal when it comes to raising our daughter…but that said, I’d say we’ve struck a pretty good balance. (My wife agrees, I just asked her.) We share cooking, cleaning, laundry, staying home when she’s sick…but its a big old balancing act that is always adjusting to work schedules, moods and any number of life’s rhythems. “Men like your father” are all over the place. We talk about this with our friends who are parents all the time–well balanced relationships surrounds my wife and me. It’s not all that rare. But, of course, it’s hard to say what sort of story my wife and her friends tell when we fathers are not around! I can assure you, what ever anyone out there says, that there is not an “innate apathy” in men when it comes to their offspring. I’m sure there are bitter people out there with poor experiences who think that is true, and there are certainly lame parents who fit the mold, but it’s not innate.