May 2017

The Highest Calling

Author: Lindsey Stigleman

“I am a stay-at-home mom.”

And your reaction to this would be? Indifference? Are you compelled to read on because like me, you are a SAHM (stay-at-home mom)? Are you repulsed? It’s very possible you may have rolled your eyes and turned the page after reading this opening line—fear of another martyrdom rant from a soccer mom, maybe? In this case, you wouldn’t be reading this sentence, so let’s move on. Because in the age of third-wave feminism and mommy wars, we all have something we’re dramatically defending, right? In this country, a woman better have an activistic attitude towards something: a career and a cause. Solely raising children doesn’t count, and if you do only this, you may be labeled ignorant and lazy. Even worse, you may be referred to as “just” a stay-at-home mom.

When and how did it become almost taboo to be a SAHM? Quite a few of our mothers did it, many of their mothers did it, and the majority of their mothers had no choice but to do it. In the twenty-first century, why did “stay-at-home mom” become a negative stereotype exclusive to career-less, cisgender women with wealthy husbands? And what’s worse is that there currently exists a growing dissension within the SAHM community itself. Stay-at-home moms are bullying each other to satisfy some competitive need to be masters of the mom universe instead of dealing with the society-imposed insecurities they’ve allowed to define them. Mind you, this is a SAHM community, which not only includes career-less, cisgender women with wealthy husbands, but also mompreneurs, part-time-job moms, single SAHMs, low-income household SAHMs, and please don’t leave out our stay at home dads (SAHDs). It’s as if we are allowing ourselves to fall victim to false stereotypes instead of publicly standing up and redefining what it really means to be a stay-at-home parent. We end up lashing out at our own community and SAHM shaming each other for arbitrary things like co-sleeping and potty training technique. Oh the irony! In the age of modern feminism comes SAHMs shaming each other and women not standing for women, but hiding their own insecurities by compartmentalizing each other.

The truth is, instead of being proud and content with their choice, SAHMs are starting to fall into that dangerous realm where stereotypes and memes become a self-inflicted reality—where the jokes become the bitter truth and where people become defensive and victimize themselves instead of standing proud in their convictions. How anyone, female or male, rich or poor, SAHM or not, can downplay the utmost importance of rearing children and not respect this role as one of the absolute highest callings there is in life is beyond me. Because choosing to raise children and being able to do so is a privilege, one that comes with sacrifice and exhaustion, like anything else—one that requires consistently putting yourself second for at least 18 years, if not forever, and a societal role that can be detrimental to our future.

Teaching another human being to be confident, empathetic, self-respecting and loving (to name a few) is no easy undertaking. And believe me when I tell you that teaching them to poo-poo on the potty may very well be rocket science. If you’re going to shame women who choose to solely be stay-at-home, are you going to shame foster parents too? How about stay-at-home dads with partners who provide enough for them to stay at home and nurture the children. Any naysayers? What about nannies? Are we burning them at the stake for getting a paycheck for staying at home and raising the children of others? No, of course not. We only marginalize the women who stay at home full time and do it for free.

In the 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah said, “For the world to value motherhood, women everywhere should stand up and declare that it must be so…. We pat moms on the head, bring them flowers on Mother’s Day, and honor them before crowds. But at the end of the day, we don’t extend them the same respect we would a professor, a dentist, an accountant or a judge. Women who choose full-time mothering are often put in a box by their friends and former colleagues, a container labeled ‘just a mom’…. To play down mothering as small is to crack the very foundation on which greatness stands.”*

I can say this: I have never shamed a mother for working a full-time job, part-time job or not at all. I respect a woman’s right to choose a path that meets her needs, and I respect parents’ rights to raise children as they see fit. And as I move along my journey through motherhood, I can only hope I will receive more support and less criticism for my choices, and that I can empower other women by example. But I can’t say that I find it easy to block out the critics—especially the people who aren’t brave enough to say to my face what I hear them say under their breath. “It must be nice to have all that extra free time to have fun.” Catty comments like this are my favorite ignorance. Or, “How do you find the time?” in reaction to anything I’ve done that isn’t child-oriented. Well, the truth is, I love sitting on the couch and eating bon-bons, and when I get full, I sometimes do other things.

I’ve been labeled a SAHM now for two and a half years, and I have experienced SAHM shaming directly and indirectly from strangers, friends, family members, and other SAHMs! In my experience, the shaming is coming from the women I cross paths with along my journey—the very women that on January 21, 2017 were marching side by side for all women and our right to choose our own path, or so I thought.

I am going to restate my opening statement: “I am a stay at home mom, and a part-time photographer.”
Now, what is your reaction? Indifference? Is art not a real job now? Are you still waiting for me to make a point? Do all of you “just SAHMs” whose primary focus is raising your children feel angry at me now, feel offended, feel lied to or feel less than me, now that I am classified as a mompreneur? Do all of you full-time working moms now feel less angry at me, less offended, and less superior to me because I’m choosing to do something to contribute to society apart from “just” raising my children?

There was a time in my recent past when I allowed myself to feel humiliated in front of a bunch of women in an intimate setting where I was mockingly labeled as a “mom who takes pictures.” Yes, my ego and pride took a punch with this comment, and I had no clue why. I used to be a career girl myself—with no husband and no children, two things that I’m now proud of and adore. And though it is true that I am now a mother who also “takes pictures,” why was this portrayed by someone as a bad thing? Why was I a lesser woman in the eyes of this working mother? The confusing part was that I was truly happy in my life staying at home, taking care of my family, and working on my photography, when I made time for it, yet the comment got under my skin.
I witnessed these types of judgments in several settings before this moment and after this moment—women, both SAHMs and not, some mothers and some not, negatively challenging the choices and roles of other SAHMs. I also witnessed SAHMs making excuses to justify why they were solely raising their children and not working a job or pursuing a career. I finally realized that the root of the SAHM shaming spawned from a society that is increasingly becoming intolerant of women wanting to stay at home and raise the next generation of world changers. That is what mothering is, isn’t it? When I put it that way, doesn’t it sound ridiculous to label a SAHM as anything less than a heroine? And I’m not certain exactly where this intolerance is coming from.

Part of it certainly comes from believing in the stereotypes of SAHMs, which don’t even come close to accurately defining the majority. And the other part has to be coming from somewhere deeper. Discontent breeds judgment; it really could be this simple. The ugly result is a bunch of insecure mommies trying to defend their choices, even change their courses, to be accepted by a single group of women who believes solely in a growing popular opinion, that being a financially dependent woman who stays at home to raise her young somehow isn’t enough.

I am officially calling all stay-at-home parents to be happy with your choice, feel blessed you are making it work by the means in which you make it work, and tell the naysayers to be content with their own personal choices and respect the choices of others. Because being a stay-at-home mom can be nothing short of a brilliant, selfless way to live your life. 

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