I want to finally end the bullshit of dividing women into categories of stay-at-home mom or working mom.

This is not just semantics: we are all working. It’s more than that. Here’s why.

Before I had my first child, in 2002, I had been bouncing between corporate jobs and fast-paced startups ten years, and I was earning a solid, six-figure salary. But I didn’t go back because I didn’t want to miss time with my son. By the time I had the baby we had used up all our savings (my husband, also, was not working), but I still didn’t go back to an office job because I wanted to stay home with my son.

But we needed money. So I wrote columns from our kitchen counter (I didn’t have a desk) when my son was sleeping. Sometimes I wrote columns while he was breastfeeding. I was deliriously tired, but I had to earn money.

I felt like I was a stay-at-home mom, because that was the most important thing to me: To stay home with my son, so I refused all overtures to take an office job. But I still supported the family.

I have a friend who has three kids under the age of six. She quit her teaching job to be a stay-at-home mom. Her husband has a job at a startup and he works long hours. But she has a job, too. She earns about as much money writing book reviews sporadically as I did writing my one column. But the family does not depend on her money. She does the job because it’s interesting to her. She and her husband call her a stay-at-home mom.

The difference between the two of us was not the amount of hours we worked, or the amount of time we were with our kids. It was the portion of the family’s income that each of us earned.

Here’s another example: Both parents work from home. Is the woman a stay-at-home mom? I think so. Because she’s at home. But if you ask them at a cocktail party, who they are, the dad will say what he does for a living. The mom? Who knows what she’ll say? Maybe stay at home mom, or maybe she’ll talk about her career.

I know that’s what I used to do. When I hung out with stay-at-home moms, that’s what they thought I was. When I hung out with working moms, that’s what they thought I was. I heard both sides talking about the other. And you know what? It’s insane. Women don’t even know what to label themselves, let alone each other.

To people in Darlington, WI, where I live, I’m a mom with a big career. To my friends who live in the city and work 100 hour weeks, I’m a stay-at-home mom. So much of the labeling, I think, is not about the woman and the live she leads, but what that life looks like relative to the people around her.

It’s impossible to have a venture-backed startup and work less than 100 hours a week (which is why so few women do it). So, those of you who are working 40 hour weeks, I wonder—should you say you are working outside the home? Maybe not. Maybe you are stay-at-home moms. If you want to be.

Maybe the only people who are not stay-at-home moms are the ones who do not have custody of their kids. Or the ones who travel all month. But wait. What if you are gone one week of the month, but home the whole rest of the month? Stay-at-home or not? Because you are more at home than a part-time working mom.

So let’s just stop using these labels. They are not useful. What would be really productive is to get some language that helps women to convey what they are doing with their lives.

For example: What are you focusing on right now? That’s a good way to learn about someone.

Something I remember from living in Park Slope – land of overachieving and overfunded parents—is that moms would meet each other and ask, on the playground, “What did you do before you had kids?”

This is an interesting way to find out about someone without pigeonholing them.

Dad’s don’t have this problem. If they’re unemployed, they are a stay-at-home dad. If they have any kind of job that is not kids, that’s what they say they do.

You know what? If fathers had any of their own confusion issues with being stay-at-homers then there wouldn’t be such a huge divide, pay-wise, between men with kids and women with kids. The pay gap speaks for itself: Men are not drawn to kids the way women are. They are more drawn to outside-the-home validation.

So. Now I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m working about 35 hours a week, but relative to how I had been working, this is part-time work. It’s scary to tell people I’m not working full time because all the good jobs will dry up. And it’s scary to tell people when I’m not home with my kids because I only get one chance in my life to do that. The labels are most scary because they tell you what you gave up. And the scariest thing about adult life is what we give up.

What women try to do today is give up nothing. Which is impossible. Because look, we can’t even find a word for it. You know how we couldn’t prosecute for date rape until we had a word for date rape? Well, we can’t live a life where we have work and kids until we have a word for doing it.

I think I am doing it. But the only word I can think of to name it is scared.

Or lost.

Or lonely.

It’s weird. I have everything I aimed to have: All the time I want for my kids. I make my own schedule. I control how much money I make based on how much I want to work. I am doing the work I love most. How can it be that it’s hard for me? And, if it’s hard for me, it must be really hard for everyone else.

Maybe the truth is that the words we were using — stay at home mom, working mom — these were all patronizing words and what we should have used was more straightforward: adult. Because adult life is scary and lonely and we only get it feeling right in short-lived spurts.

112 replies
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  1. mel brackstone
    mel brackstone says:

    As a stay at home mum who does a lot of photography on the side, it shits me when people ask me “what do you do?” Now I’m in my fifties and I care less what people think, I say “I’m a lazy cow” and leave it at that….they mostly feel that I don’t actually “exist” because I don’t have a full time job….I like your take on this….from here on in I’m an adult.

  2. Alisa Bowman
    Alisa Bowman says:

    Penelope–Glad you wrote this. There’s so much unnecessary divisiveness in the mom community. In reality, we all have more in common than we have differences. I’m a mom and I’m a writer. I work at home. I’m married to a store owner. We also have a dog. He works at home, too. (By keeping me company). We’re happy, regardless of whatever our label is. That’s all that matters, right?

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the problem is the unnecessary divisions. It’s a tough enough job as it is – why make it more miserable by alienating people?

  3. amy parmenter
    amy parmenter says:

    I don’t have kids. I work two parttime jobs and I am a blogger, which means I work about 80 hours a week. And, at each of my jobs, my co-workers think I barely work and ‘must be nice’. Plus, until I am really making money with my blog..then, according to some, it’s just a hobby. (don’t tell amazon…). You know what’s great though? I don’t care what others think. I’m okay with my choices. Sorry if others are not okay with theirs.

    Amy
    The ParmFarm

  4. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Yes, absolutely. Thanks for saying this.

    I cringe at the mom labels. I hate them. I also resent how my work has to fit around the needs of the family. I need to concentrate, and the windows for that are so small. I also creepily resent the moms that seem to have it all: income, status, happy kids. It feels like criticism.

    My kid has Asperger’s and is now in high school, but the no-man’s-land space I’m in hasn’t changed.

  5. EngineerChic
    EngineerChic says:

    I don’t have kids & when people ask me about that I say, “I couldn’t have kids & do this job.” And I truly believe that – I travel too much, for too long and work too many late nights on con calls with Asia. It just isn’t possible in my brain to be a “mom” and be on another continent for 2-3 weeks out of a month. At least not a mom to a little kid, and they all start that way.

    I’m sure plenty of moms think my life must be a breeze compared to theirs since I only have a husband & a couple pets. And in some ways, I bet it is. But other days I think about the traditional SAHM and wish I could be *that* for a little while. Usually that’s when I’m slogging through week 3 of a hellish trip with little sleep & unpalatable food.

    Sometimes I wish we could all just be considered women. Women who are struggling through different things, but all struggling & all trying hard (most days) to figure this out before we get hit by a bus or succumb to Alzheimers.

  6. Me Thinks
    Me Thinks says:

    This is an interesting post and you bring up the one thing that always comes to my mind about this debate: Men do not face this challenge. Why? They are parents, workers, some of them part-time/full-time single dads. You have an interesting take on it – that its solely because of the way they define themselves.

    I work from home Full Time 50-60 hours a week. The SAH moms think “wow, that must be great” and assume I’m casually stuffing envelopes while watching Oprah. The working moms think it must be great because I don’t have to commute or deal with child care. Honestly the stress on ME is so much greater because I’m trying to juggle conference calls and kids after 3pm. I feel like I’m sacrificing things in order to give my kids a balanced life. There are many days I’d rather be in an office than dealing with dicsovering my son is standing on TOP of the car swinging a rake at a tree (to get a ball out) while I’m holding a team meeting….

    At least I get great stories out of it :)

  7. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I have little interest in kids, but that’s for me and I don’t think staying at home with kids, whether you work or not, is bad, nor is it mutually exclusive. I know so many different types of women in such different circumstances: one home schools her three kids while being a personal trainer and training for triathlons, one works as a nurse but only once every two weeks which is the minimum for her to keep her job, one had a baby very young so she got a job while she was pregnant (and single) and has had it ever since, which is eight years. I’m not interested in kids because I have never felt that pull, but I admire every woman in her different choices because every choice is hard for the work it takes, and the opportunity cost.

  8. Sacha Chua
    Sacha Chua says:

    Not only that, but people who focus on child-rearing and don’t earn outside income are still working, and very much so. We forget that with labels like “stay-at-home mom” and “working mom”. The at-home parent works long hours too, and it’s labour that creates value for the family while saving expenses.

    I’ve never been fond of the “What do you do?” kind of social pigeonholing conversation. I’d rather ask people what they’re passionate about, and how they enjoy spending their time.

    • Glenda
      Glenda says:

      You put this in to a whole new light for my old brain. Thank you – You found the magic switch – ??What are you passionate about?? – Thank you!

  9. Monique
    Monique says:

    I was oddly comforted by reading how people in different circles perceive you and your lifestyle. I am a writer and a teacher, but my schedule allows me to pop in at the kids’ school periodically to volunteer, meet friends at 9 a.m. for coffee, etc. Often, I feel like a poser who doesn’t quite fit anywhere. People who work full-time resent my flexibility and somehow seem to feel that my choices say something condemning about theirs, and people who primarily stay home view me as somehow taking something from them by “having it all” while they don’t feel they can or should. The entire experience is quite isolating and, I think, makes it difficult for me to travel comfortably in most mom circles.

  10. sami
    sami says:

    I have to say wonderful article for recognizing that it is impossible to sweep all mom’s into two broad categories. I have children and I work. I stayed home for their early years and went to school after they started kindergarten.
    I think it’s important to know that no one has it all, on either side of the fence and much love to all mom’s for raising kids, working, and getting everything else done on top of all that. Hats off to you all.

  11. barbara de vries
    barbara de vries says:

    I’m also a do-it-all mother.
    I just posted a blog on my site about how only last week I felt 100% myself again after doing a high profile installation at Art Basel Miami and getting some professional kudos. I had done exactly as P did, going from corporate solid six figure and high profile job description (so what do you do? I’m senior VP of Design at Calvin Klein, ta very much), to having three daughters and becoming a hard working but invisible freelance designer. In fashion however every added year to her age makes a woman designer less employable. Gay men seem to last longer. I found that once I had kids and my husband’s career took off and became “high profile”, people at dinner parties only ever asked me: “and, how are the kids?” And why did this annoy me so? Why did I want to scream, what about ME? Other mother’s opinions don’t bother me as much. I just don’t engage in the stay-at-home/working tagging. I pick my mother friends based on their freedom to think beyond labels. They are all free spirits and aware that we mothers ALL do what we can to make it work (for him, kids and family first), no matter how, upside down, inside out, asleep, sick, happily, grumpily, overwhelmed yet underwhelmed (pushing that swing in the play ground? What a yawn! I used to take a sippy cup with scotch! bad bad mother). I can go on, this topic always brings it out for us do-it-all mothers. And thats ok.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      “I pick my… friends based on their freedom to think beyond labels.”

      I love this. Thanks for writing it, Barbara. I’m going to say it from now on, like I thought of it myself :)

      Penelope

    • @TheGirlPie
      @TheGirlPie says:

      Oh Barbara, you got it so right. Your friends are lucky you picked them, and I love that three more girls are growing up the way I was raised: the only label is “Me.”

      Thanks Penelope, for the swell post. You know that writing about being scared makes it all a little less scary for your readers. So come back and be a reader of this post soon, yourself.

  12. Jen Hinderer
    Jen Hinderer says:

    “Sometimes I wish we could all just be considered women. Women who are struggling through different things, but all struggling & all trying hard (most days) to figure this out before we get hit by a bus or succumb to Alzheimers.”

    Thanks EngineerChic for finding the right words for what I was thinking. Labels only help us to compare ourselves to other people, take a measure of our life as it compares to someone else’s. But the only thing that really counts is how we are holding it together today, right now and right here: as a person, equal in value regardless of gender or parenting status or how many hours we spend earning our paycheck.

  13. Brigid
    Brigid says:

    Omigod this post is awesome. Thank you.

    We want to use labels to help clarify our lives, but it feels like all we do is use them to divide us. We put ourselves into different camps and spend our time rolling our eyes at the other side, thinking they have it easy, instead of banding together to support each other through the difficult task of being an adult.

  14. Maggie McGary
    Maggie McGary says:

    Ugh–the 8 years I spent as a “stay home mom” were horrible. In my mind I was a stay home mom for 8 years–I just wrote that, didn’t I? Yet I was working part-time for most of those years, either out of my house buying clothes from the thrift store and selling them on ebay (right when ebay started), doing freelance writing, or working various part-time office jobs. But in my mind I was still a stay-home mom because I thought working moms were selfish and it was bad for the kids. If I went to a party and someone asked me what I did during that time I said “nothing.” Makes me sad to think about it now but I honestly felt that way at the time.

    I wish women would be able to do what you’re suggesting and stop the labeling thing once and for all, but sadly it will never happen. Women are too invested in putting each other down to build themselves up when they feel conflicted about their own choices.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      Maggie, you said what I was thinking while reading P`s post, women are just way too consumed with bringing each other down to justify their own decisions/lives.

  15. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Great post! I personally think of a stay-at-home mum as being any woman without a career/job/paid employment of any kind, who usually takes care of her family, while a working woman is any woman who works in paid employment, even if she does it from home. I don’t get how the lines are blurred here. If you work from home, then you’re a working-from-home mum.

    I say this with a new-found respect for working mums as I took care of my 4 younger siblings when my parents went away for a month, while juggling other commitments. The stress of taking care of everyone and everything and getting work done is ridiculous. Especially considering you need more than 24 hours to get it all done. I think this little taster (which I know is nothing compared to the real thing) has reinforced my opinion. I think stay-at-home and working-mum are both adequate descriptions. I think the problem is when women who are working from home think that they’re not working-mums. Because they are. And I think that working-from-home is a perfectly good label for those who do that.

  16. Angela
    Angela says:

    The label I detest (and refuse to use) is “full-time mom.” It’s as though only moms that don’t have a job outside the home are REALLY parenting and the other ones are just parenting on the side.

    • SJ
      SJ says:

      I must disagree, sorry Angela. In some cases, this is a useful description. I am a musician, and work evenings. When I am asked on a job what I am doing nowadays I say ‘full-time mumming, part-time singing.’ timewise this is accurate- there is no emotion, it is not a reflection on my commitment to my work or my family. It is certainly not a judgement on parents who work different hours to me… We all do our best eh?

  17. Tina Portis
    Tina Portis says:

    Yikes! You’ve just “scared” me! Well, not really because I refuse fear and all his “homeboys” in my life. Really though, my husband and I are moving to another state and I’ll be working my Corp Job from home and running my for-profit and non-profit from home. Although we have 3 children, I would not classify myself as a “stay-at-home” mom. They’re all school age so I’m just happy to be home when they leave and home when they get out of school (especially with a teenager). It’s all in how you think.

  18. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    My favorite post of yours so far. I’m single and don’t have kids or a husband/partner or whatever, but, have very strong views on this and couldn’t agree more. I’ve *always* felt the stay at home mom title is patronizing, but couldn’t quite piece together why I thought/think that. Now I know why…you nailed it. Now I’ve got my ammo. thx

  19. Kelli R.A.
    Kelli R.A. says:

    *Loved* this post. Thank you!

    It’s so human of us to try to label our lives to sort things out. I also think the media likes these “easy” labels (SAHM, Working Mom, DINKs- dual income, no kids, etc.) because it makes it easier for them to group us, as if we all can be grouped like that.

    I’m a writer who has been working from home since my daughter was born. Both in a position hired by a company (tech support, which I could do from home) as well as being a freelance writer & editor of a small non-profit literary journal.

    Now when asked and need a cocktail party answer, I say self-employed, freelance writer, or working writer. Now I say “doing everything I can not to get a *real* job.” Now I say, Happy.

    It’s all interesting, no one ever says, “Oh, he’s a working dad.” But I think because many times there are various choices for mothers (choices I am thankful for), but it seems with choices come the labels, the nametags so we know who everyone is.

    Let’s just choose “creative women” or “incredible women” or even “full-time woman” in whatever we decide to do with our lives. The “working” is always there, no matter what choices we make.

    Thanks for again for this.

  20. Anita Junttila
    Anita Junttila says:

    Penelope, I am in love with you ! This post was brilliant and says exactly how I’ve been feeling about being a ‘stay at home mom’ . the labels are patronising, annoying and any other word that comes up in my vocabulary that means treating someone like an idiot?small child? while scratching ones’ fingernails down a chalkboard. My Generation Z son gets the joke. the other day he introduced himself to a group of people saying: “My name is Luukas and I’m a stay at home teenager”.

    xo Anita

  21. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    This post and the comments are inspiring. I have been a non-traditional remote worker at a corporate firm for quite a few years, but have been successful because I am fully dedicated during business hours and my location is transparent.
    Now that we are getting ready to have a family, I’m terrified about how to handle it. We live in NYC where space is a premium, and it would not be physically possible to have a babysitter in the same house with a baby/toddler while I am working. Yet, I would feel tremendous guilt sending the baby to day care while I was “sitting at home” all day.
    This helps me realize that you can make anything work, and I’m not the only one.

  22. Jen Maidenberg
    Jen Maidenberg says:

    Double amen sister with a cherry on top.

    This has been on my mind a lot lately, too.

    Is there possibly a way for us to feel a little less scared? A little less lost? I don’t know.

    I know for me “as much money as I’d like and enough to make my husband breathe a little easier at night” is the big thing that’s missing. Other than that I have the life I want and love.

    I aim for balance as much as possible. And some days are good days and some days are shitty. Thanks for sharing your point of view.

    Here’s mine (at least, as of late):
    http://montclair.patch.com/articles/the-key-to-work-life-balance-for-moms-a-regular-performance-review

  23. Marina
    Marina says:

    Penelope, thank you for your post. I struggle with this subject all the time. I am a 24 single female and currently building my career. Things are going really well for my age and I personally struggle with dual desires for a career and a family. I feel that regardless of working in the home or outside of it, once I have children I will acquire more titles than I will know what to do with. Mothers are not only mothers they are mentors, educators, counselors, entrepreneurs, managers, artists, personal chefs, life coaches, friends, and so many other things. Women are versatile, flexible, creative, and dedicated to the safety and development of their children.
    I am not sure how I will handle this situation in the future but I hope when someone tries to ask me what I do I can answer “I dedicate myself to the success of my family, my children, and my career.”

  24. Vicky
    Vicky says:

    Such an excellent post! You’ve analyzed and put into words exactly what it’s like to be a working mom or what ever you are dependent upon who you’re talking to.

  25. Danny
    Danny says:

    Boy, when do you ladies find time to clean house, cook dinner, do the dishes and please your men? LOL (kidding, don’t hate)

  26. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Penelope, I am so intrigued by your posts all the time because your view point is unique and expands my horizons. For me, this post is slightly less unique because I am living this everyday – I’m that mom you talk about that travels 1 week of every month and works at home. Today is a perfect example of my life as an “adult”:
    – my 3 week old is asleep next to me while I am working part-time on maternity leave (my compnay is lean and nobody to do my job while I’m out)
    – my 7 yr old is drawing/playing/watching TV while I’m working because school is closed due to snow
    – my 3 and 5 yr olds are at daycare, which is where my husband dropped them off about an hour ago before going to work (after he woke up at 5am logged in at home to do some work and then took the kids outside to sled while I made oatmeal for breakfast).
    It works for us and if we wanted it to be different, then we would find a way to make it so….
    Every life event causes a re-evaluation of me as a worker, as a mom, as a human. I had to face career ambition questions when my husband was transferred to Mexico 6 months after we were married, I had to face being a perfect mother ambitions after my first child was born and I went crazy staying home with her the first year; I have to face prioritizing work, children, husband, friends, family on a daily basis. Every person reading this can put their name in replace of “I” in the previous sentence, which just says that we should have nothing but support for all adults out there making their way in this world in a productive manner.

  27. Rick Geissal
    Rick Geissal says:

    When my then-wife & I were about to have our first child, she was an up-and-comer in her 4th year at a big law firm and I was stabilized after 12 years practicing law. She wanted to go for the brass ring – make it big at the big firm – whereas I was content with my small-firm practice. We both wanted one of us to take care of our child(ren), and we both wanted it to be me. At first, I took our child to my office, where I only worked while she slept – I was the boss and had a baby-bedroom and a baby-playroom. When she was 10 months old, she stopped sleeping at the office; so we went home for good. Again, I only worked when she slept; then I went to the office after my wife got home – till midnight. I did that for three years, by which time our second daughter was walking & talking. From then on, I was a full-time sahm (“m” not “d” – mothering was what I, and all my sahm friends did, although I was the only male: some had given birth, some had not; some breast-fed, some did not; some had a uterus & ovaries, a few did not; all of us got up in the middle of the night w/sick kids; all of us took our kids to the doctor, the dentist, to summer camps; all of us did all the family errands; all of us volunteered in schools; for years, all of us were exhausted.).
    I was the one more suited to being with our kids and helping in schools. My then-wife was more suited to slaying dragons and making money. We did what suited our personalities. Her father and my mother continued to refer to me as a lawyer; I always said I was staying home taking care of our children. We did that for 16 years.

  28. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    My mother used to prefer the question “Do you work outside the home,” because she felt that it said that work inside the home was also work.

    However, we are social animals who label. That’s unavoidable, no matter how enlightened we think we are. Grouping is part of our nature. And no matter how we label those groups, someone will be offended by that labeling.

    More important than the labeling, I think, are the attitudes. If people would focus on doing what’s best for their families rather than worrying about what they think other families should do, we’d all be a lot better off. What works for me may not work for you at all, and that’s fine.

  29. Maria
    Maria says:

    “What are you focusing on right now? That is a good way to learn about someone.”

    Isn’t that the truth! Instead of defining ourselves by “What do you DO?” we should be saying “What interests you?” Our society is topsy-turvey defining ourselves by the ‘job’ we have, the money we make, the hours we work, instead of our interests. And sadly, society seems to define their friendships thus, too. And B-O-R-I-N-G.

    This is an ongoing conversation in the homeschooling community as you can well imagine! I enjoyed seeing you develop the theme and give me some more food for thought on the subject.

  30. anon
    anon says:

    in Belgium 38 hours is fulltime. like you said, its all quite relative. and the labels are mostly patronising and rarely lead to any insight about the person or their life.

  31. Bill O'Neil
    Bill O'Neil says:

    This last line is fantastic “Because adult life is scary and lonely and we only get it feeling right in short-lived spurts.”
    As you may know, there are lots of men who read your blog. I think there is a tendency to lump them all together and think that they have it all together. We don’t.
    Add my story to mix: I make the six figure income, but that’s all my career is to me. I would much rather stay at home with the three kids and think I am better suited than my wife at this point. She, on the other hand, gets much more reward from her job (non-profit) which features longer hours than mine and a 1/3 of the money. At times, it feels like we are all losing. My kids see little of either of us. The spouses see little of each other. My job offers no validation, hers offers no appreciation.
    So, for some reason, it seems that we have the worst of all worlds! (Besides real issues like health problems, unemployment, etc. of course.)
    I think your posts do offer great discussion points and about how all labeling is dumb.

  32. NHManager
    NHManager says:

    I’m having a hard time understanding this part;

    “So, those of you who are working 40 hour weeks, I wonder – should you say you are working outside the home? Maybe not. Maybe you are stay-at-home moms. If you want to be.”

    I currently work more than a 40-hour week, but I do aspire to one. Are you saying those of us working 40 hours — male, female, childless or no — should not say we work outside the home because we are not working 100 hours per week on venture-backed startups? Help me understand.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m saying, who decides how many hours you have to work away from kids for it to be a full-time, not stay-at-home mom job? A guy who has done startups his whole life and is now giving other founders advice 40 hours a week and picking his kids up at school would probably say he’s between jobs. A woman who has stayed home with three kids til they were school age and now works when they are in school will probably feel like she finally went back to work.

      There are not clear definitions of who works and who stays at home. It’s not a physical thing. It’s not an hours thing. And it’s all relative.

      Penelope

      • NHManager
        NHManager says:

        Thanks for the clarification … now I get that it’s all part of the “it’s all relative” theme of the post.

        Gotcha.

  33. MH Williams
    MH Williams says:

    I don’t know P. Seems kinda codependent worrying about what everyone else thinks. Raising my family, working my ass off and trying to maintain a relationship was exhausting frankly. What I do know is when your children leave the nest you wonder where it all went. I had a fantastic career and now I am on to other things. There are stages in life. Pick and choose what you want for your life. Just know that there are always sacrifices. Family if your working like a slave or career if your dialing it down.And know that this to shall pass.

  34. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    This was a great post! I agree that lables can do more harm than good.
    I would just like to say, that regardless of pay, all moms are working moms. Taking care of children is hard work – no matter what else you do. Just because our male-dominated society doesn’t validate motherhood as work (and deserving of any compensation) doesn’t mean it is not work. Women contribute so much to society – often in ways that are unpaid, unrecognized, yet still really hard work.

  35. Valter
    Valter says:

    @Penelope “What women try to do today is give up nothing.
    Which is impossible. Because look, we can't even find a word for it. ”

    There IS a word for it: OMNIPOTENCE.
    To be, do, and have everthing, one should be omnipotent.
    But since nobody is, trying to give up nothing is delusional at best, and pure madness at worst.

    And it seems to me more and more people (and especially women) are prone to inflict on themselves that madness: “I should be smart, beautiful, successful, a loving parent and a top-notch worker”; “I should be able to do everything”. They try to be “perfect”… and they fail.
    As a consenquence, they feel terribly inadequate.

    OTOH, when we acknowledge our limits, we feel a deep relief and we can choose what’s most important to us.
    Because “choosing” something, means “giving up” something else. And (adult) life is all about making choices.

  36. Sally
    Sally says:

    This issue has tortured me for years. I have impeccable timing. Instead of getting a"real"job, I ran a restaurant, before it was cool to be a chef. It was nothing to write home about for a college graduate. Then (by cultural standards) it became more interesting to be a chef, but it was still a man's profession. Just as women were being more accepted into that world (a highly overrated one, I might add) I became a parent. I was already in my early forties, with a history of 90-hour-plus work-weeks. Simply untenable with a family.

    So there I was. Relocated to a new part of the country with high-powered boomer friends who were doctors or lawyers or worse, shrinks. These ladies would sometimes ask me to do extra things for them (carpools, etc.) because I wasn't "doing anything" and it would be easier if I picked up their kid (easier for who??) My husband traveled all the time, so I needed to be home. I couldn't imagine giving up being with my son and restarting my old demanding career.

    So I really suffered and most of the torture and criticism were self-inflicted. I ask myself now, how am I looking at this? From the outside in, or from the inside out? I have produced an amazing kid and I know a lot of it was the attention and care that went into raising him. I agree with one of your commenters, you need to surround yourself with free spirit types who are not into labeling. And you need to stop comparing yourself to other people.

    One of my – €˜friends' recently announced she had gotten a book deal and was complaining (subtext similar to easier if you do it, above) about now having to write the book. First it pushed my buttons. Then I thought, wow, this is so transparent! This is her first book. I wanted to say, get back to me when you are trying to sell your third book (that would be me.) But I zipped my lip. The lesson for me is, it is relative. I need to look from the inside out, I need to stop buying into the labels and find my people (that is not so easy). I want to end this stupid, boring discussion with myself and live my life and be thankful for what I have. I'm still trying to grow up.

    Sorry this is so long.

  37. Glenda
    Glenda says:

    I have been completely torn – I had to let another couple adopt my 2 little grandbabies, because there isn’t enough time in the day – I’ve already been downsized at my “day-job” & so I am putting in a lot of night & weekend hours working at getting my own business going.

    I always had to work away from the home with my own kids because money has always been tight…No 6-figure income in my household. Maybe that’s why 2 out of 3 turned out the way they did…??? – Who knows…

    I have great respect for all the moms of the world whether you work at home & out of the house or whether you work at home & not out of the house. Being a parent 30 years ago, or being a parent today is one of the toughest jobs there is…So, hang in there and do NOT give up…

    So, before I start crying…I think I’ll hang up now…j/k

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      People like to hire people who are more committed to their work than anything else. It’s easier to manage that type of person and it’s easier to get an elastically expanding schedule from that person.

      Penelope

  38. Emily Van Metre
    Emily Van Metre says:

    I love reading the comments, so many added voices to the discussion.
    P – your blog is great because you pick an interesting topic, share your own personal stories about it, and then open up the comments where readers jump in and double the post by adding their stories and insights.
    Great readers, yes, but I think this is largely to your credit for the community you’ve built here and the way you invite and nurture the feedback. I think you’re really doing something right – as I read I try to take away all kinds of little social media, networking, and business tips!

  39. keva marie dine
    keva marie dine says:

    im pounding my fist on my desk and saying outloud (or maybe its in my head, who knows with all this alone working anymore…) while #2 / 2 naps and #1 / 5 is at kinder. and i work and eat.

    can feel my affirmation in the form of fist pounding? I hope so. loved this one. thank you!

    – keva

    • keva marie dine
      keva marie dine says:

      apparently it WAS in my head since i never even bothered to type what it was i was pounding my fist to and saying outloud…

      oh well

      meant to say… something like “YES” or “right on!” but im sure you got the drift. :)

  40. Jenny Vaughn
    Jenny Vaughn says:

    I like one poster’s term “Do-it-All-Mothers.” Because whether one has paid employment or not, we are each doing everything we can to make our family life function for all of our family members. Because really, how would our spouses or kids manage without us?

  41. Hazel
    Hazel says:

    I’m not sure that this is a phenomenon that affects only women.

    My kids’ dad stayed home for 4 years when our first son was born back in the 1990s. He had ambivalence about both what to say about what he was doing and what his goals were in terms of work and parenting similar to yours.

    Has something changed since then so that now men are less likely to choose to stay home with the kids? Was he just an anomaly, or does your generalization need to be amended?

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      Hazel, my husband had the same experience staying home with my son in the mid nineties. Both men and women kept asking him when was he going to go `back to work`? This irritated him to no end. There were no fathers at home with the kids at that time. I cannot agree that this is merely a women`s issue. As a society we simply do not value anyone not out there earning an income in a traditional way.

      • Hazel
        Hazel says:

        Traditionally men had no choice but to be breadwinners in order to be sucessful. Women fought for equality in the workplace, but ended up just adding the responsibility for making money to the work of having to make a home, unless they could make enough to hire other women to take care of their kids and the house.

        With more opportunities for women in the workplace, some men took the opportunity to try out a non-traditional role caring for children. There seemed to be a time when house-husbands were something fresh and exciting. I wonder if it is the economic crisis that made it less trendy–when it was a choice to stay home it was OK, but now you have to earn money to show that you are successful, since it is not easy to find a job.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Men who want to stay home with kids are anomalous. This seems like a fair assumption given millions of years of evolution that selected for men who hunt and women who take care of kids.

        It’s not a societal pressure thing. Because right now women earn more than men in big cities, and more men lost their jobs than women, and still, women are much more interested than men in staying home with kids.

        I’m bored with the nature/nurture argument. My sons make weapons our of every toy they have. Men and women are different.

        Penelope

    • Snowmama
      Snowmama says:

      Stay at home Dad’s are an anomaly, but an anomaly that garners kudo’s that stay at home Mom’s rarely receive. My husband stays at home with our child, but not by choice right now. However, people are impressed by what is perceived as his decision to be there. I am told constantly how ‘lucky’ I am that he is doing this. We would both prefer he be working, not only for financial reasons, but pyschological reasons as well. It is strange to me how it is almost heroic when a man does it, but not when a woman does it.

      • Hazel
        Hazel says:

        In the spirit of the mantra “it’s all relative”, I’ll say that different individuals and groups give more or less approval for people who act outside of the norm.

        In my case, it was definitely true that my husband and I each had much more social status when he was home with the kids and I worked in an office, than we we traded places later on. But that is probably because we were hanging with the bobos.

        To his dad, his lifestyle was a total disappointment. (I was supported in either choice–to work in an office during the day or to take care of kids full-time–with just some slight pressure to find a way to do it all.)

  42. Polly Squires
    Polly Squires says:

    In my neighborhood, the dividing line between the stay at home moms and the working moms is who is making time to help out in the school and community.

    These moms are working every bit as much as someone who shows up to an office. There is definitely a hierarchy, skills and career path that rivals any corporation. At the office I have moved up but here I am at the very bottom of this ladder, offering to do the very lowest manual work like scoop ice cream at an occasional school party, or cleanup crew.

    I think what we need to strive to achieve is an understanding of where people are making their big achievements.

    For questions, I like, “What projects are you working on now? ” It acknowledges that everyone is doing work.

    –Polly

  43. Yvonne
    Yvonne says:

    I started ‘working from home’ when my son was 17… he is now 23! I hardly see myself as a stay at home mum! A home based business was what I use to call it but not now.

    Like you Penelope, I am a woman who has chosen to do what she loves. I travel across the UK & into Europe and I thoroughly enjoy the diversity of my work. I’m an advocate for women who want to create the life they desire, whether it is from home or otherwise… we are women with a passion!

  44. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    In summary, SAHMs work hard; they don’t get a salary; nor are they necessarily appreciated; there is slippage with respect to their career, now on hold.

    I am missing a list of things to recommend being an SAHM. To me, the responses are extremely unbalanced with respect to what this ‘job’ has to recommend it . . .

    I have no money saved from doing the SAHM job. I have a gap in my resume. But what I gained is that my kids were raised with my own personal values, the stamp of my style upon them. For a time, I was their teacher–and then I got smart and let them become my best teachers. I had their backs and now they have mine.

    I am a dinosaur–I like this old fashioned approach, where we got to stop the world (or at least slow it down) and get off and we took our time
    with everything we did.

    Being an SAHM evolved into home schooling, and we followed the kids’ leads with respect to what they wanted to learn about–curiosity being our guide, at least in the early years. Learning was fun.

    I had some part-time jobs during that time. In fact, I always worked part time, when I resumed a career. I sensed that my full-time colleagues had total immersion syndrome–their best energies were going to their jobs/careers day after day. I never wanted to be sucked in to that degree. Part-time was the only way to be true to keeping my family as my first priority. This was true for me, though it may not be true for everyone.

    We’ve always lived hand-to-mouth and paycheck-to-paycheck. I just wanted to earn enough money to get by. I am near retirement age now, with a smallish pension, but I have no regrets at all.

    I got a big psychic paycheck if not a big monetary paycheck.

  45. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    A stay-at-home mom is someone who doesn’t have her family’s income resting on her shoulders. And THAT difference, the power difference between women who HAVE to work for pay, and women who CHOOSE to work for pay, is what’s behind all the politics around the labels.

    • Barbara C
      Barbara C says:

      So, what does that make a woman who is currently unemployed and the wage earner in the family? She is a mom, and she is staying at home, for the moment.

    • rb
      rb says:

      I completely agree with your assessment Tzipporah. I’m so tired of reading about the “choice” to be a working mom or a stay at home mom when it’s not really a viable economic choice for many of us. No trust fund, unemployed husband. Short of living on welfare, I have to work. And I’ll be happy to drop the labels when the SAHMs at my kids’ school stop being so damn snarky to me because I work outside the home.

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