This is one of the short essay discussions I did a couple weeks ago for the current class I am in, Social Problems in the workplace (SOC 402). Please note that for reading ease, I used the term “mom” but this would really apply to any male or female caretaker and guardian who does not work outside the home. This post is not intended to prove that this job is harder than any other or better than any other. It is only intended to bring awareness to that fact that being a stay-at-home caretaker is a difficult task which can be improved with society’s help.
A Social Problem is defined by Lauer and Lauer as “. . . one whose causes and solutions lie outside the individual and immediate environment” (2008). Although being a Stay-at-home parent is not technically a paid job, anyone who has done it before can assure you that it is a very real job none-the-less. I became a Stay-at-home-mom because I didn’t have a career job outside the home. It was not worth it for me to work because of the child-care/traveling/income differences just were not logical. I could work, but would it be worth it to have someone else raise my child, instilling their values and not necessarily able to give them the attention they might thrive in, just so I could have a couple thousand extra dollars a month I can do without (if even that much)? Although I often wish I could work part-time outside the home, I was content with this decision when we made it.
Now I am not so sure I am as content with this job. Why? Well, let’s just say if I worked for a company in this job, I probably would have quit by now. I consider it a social problem because, firstly, it is a relational job. There is great social responsibility on my shoulders including taking care of kids/spouse, managing a household in which must respond to the repairman, teachers, insurance companies, etc…, and socially expected to act in certain ways towards people I should be involved with (such as volunteering, church, neighborhood, other moms, contacting family, etc…). I am my own manager in my own start up business. This “business,” The Johnston Estate, does not make money in itself, but I keep it running smoothly so my husband, the bread-winner, can do so.
A large portion of America’s children are raised by a family member who does not work. I read an article the other day, telling mom’s to ask for help, that they weren’t meant to raise their children alone. It was kinda going with the “it takes a village” theme, encouraging mothers to not be afraid of having their parents, in-laws, relatives, friends, and neighbors take some of the load. I thought that was sweet. Sweet and totally not possible. After all, who can I ask to “take my load?” With change in the economy and business, the workforce has moved to where there are jobs, whether it be in the city or the other side of the country. Extended family and life-long local friends don’t always follow each other around, let alone life-long acquaintances like your pastor and dentist. My community has a population of 60,000; it is a community which didn’t even exist as more than a few small farms 15 years ago. Very rarely do I meet anyone is from here. East-coast Americans do not typically sit on eachother’s front porches drinking lemonade together, and neither do they ask the other neighbors for help if they have even met. I am luckily to live on a street which defies this status-quo, but its abnormal. I have a close church-family in my area too. Yet, for the typical mom in my area, there is no one.
All to say, I am aware of many moms who struggle with the difficulties of the task that is expected of them when help is just not there. Its easy for moms to become so stressed mentally and tired physically that they start to become less-than-mediocre in their childcare, and on occasion flat-out terrible parents. Or others deal with extreme depression due to being overworked, so much so they are not able to handle any other difficulties in life. I know a few moms who are suicidal because of the pressures they have on them, most which are not their fault. I also know many couples who have become separated for the same reasons, having too much to manage and without a local support network. These are not solely just personal problems, although the individual really can do more to help themselves. Yet these problems will not go away unless there is social help.
So, what makes this job so difficult? I might get help at my job from my spouse or friends, but I do not have time off (except when scheduled with my husband or babysitter for a few hours here and there). I work most of 24×7 hours a week. Although there are moments in my job I am able to sleep (like a firefighter can, still on alert for the siren to go off). Sometimes my job is very fun and enjoyable. But, can you imagine if your boss at XYZ INC. required you to work over 150 hours a week?
Monotony is another major issue. I do the same thing almost everyday. It can get very boring. I listen to my baby cry and my daughter babble mostly unintelligible words throughout the day. This is anything but stimulating. I can improve this situation by getting involved in as much as I can or trying to use any freer-time for stimulating activity. Yet still, there are days when I can’t get out or do anything I find stimulating. In general, not having goals set from outside can be hard. Days, weeks, months turn into years and nothing changes much.
At a typical job, management gives incentives. You are rewarded with bonuses, pay-increases, have performance reviews, and often have general encouragement, and feedback. As a mom, you often only get negative feedback (Your screaming child does not say “thanks mom for changing my blow-out again” while the dirty floor and piles of laundry testify that you are a failure). Your spouse might encourage and thank you but that is not a guarantee, and it might not be often enough. There is little recognition for the countless tasks you do all day.
Awareness needs to be increased of the challenges of
stay-at-home parenting through the media, as well as encouragement for those with careers to look at us as equal members of society (besides grandma talking about it at Thanksgiving dinner). From most of what I see, being a working parent is what is glamorized. I often feel that other people think something is wrong with me because I choose to stay at home. Maybe I am lazy, not able to handle working a real job and being a mom (Which is why those who work have daycare, its not like they can do it all either). Or others just assume I am not smart, educated, and underclass. It is true that I am just shy of receiving my Bachelor’s degree yet, and it would be hard for me to find a high-paying job to make it worth me working outside the home. Yet, even if I did I know I would still be staying at home with my kids, at least until they are in school and I could work part-time elsewhere. Besides, the fields I enjoy working in the most are generally within the non-profit sector in which I would still not be able to make it worth it to pay for childcare from a financial perspective. Or on the other hand a stay-at-home mom can also both be looked at as too traditional or too hoity–toity, like a country club yuppie. Funny how all these perspectives of a stay-at-home mom of little children do not logically fit together. Can I be undereducated, poor, rich, snobby, and uber-traditional at the same time? Apparently. I don’t consider myself uneducated, snobby, or having characteristics worthy of discrimination. Yet, the Stay-at-home is often looked at oddly. I guess this is typical to encounter some prejudice, as most are partial and skeptical of anything outside of their experience.
Ways to ease this social problem can first start with the spouses. Ideally, spouses should try to balance the workload rather than just using their off-work time for their own pleasure. The mom, whether working or not generally takes care of the lump of the household and childcare for whatever reason. The more the husband can help, I have no doubt the more he will like who his wife is as relieved of burden. Also, local friends and family members can exchange favors, taking turns watching eachother’s kids. Although meeting trustworthy people is difficult when you are in a new place, challenging yourself to join a moms group, a church, and other organizations along with going out of your way to introduce yourself to neighbors and other moms at the park can go a long way. Even increasing encouragement in all forms is probably the best way to help us moms, especially moms with little children.
Communities/towns themselves, along with local organizations and churches should really go to greater effort to make support networks. Or if there already are, have ways to contact moms who are so secluded and depressed they don’t look for help themselves. Catchy yet simple mailers, signs, door-to-door invites, or even articles in the HOA magazine can all be effective. Although this seems ridiculous to even myself, could the communities provide free quality babysitting services once a week for stay-at-home parents? Yes, that is ridiculous. But I know having babysitting services in my community are very appreciated. A local grocery store offers has a childcare center in it for those who are shopping. Our HOA provides very low-cost babysitting at our gym, something which many gyms in our area do. A break from your children for even just an hour can be a life-saver sometimes. I wish there was a way I could have my children be watched long-enough to get some paperwork done, take a nap, or have some time to just breath. Or even cooking a meal, or sharing the responsibility with another family is an amazing blessing. I am so thankful to my friends and spouse who give me this on occasion. Giving moms a little more help a long the way might be cheaper than waiting until they go crazy and have to take their kids from them. This might sound extreme, but I know that this is actually a reality for some moms who are not handling the pressure very well.
In conclusion, Stay-at-home mothering is a job in itself, with challenges and difficulties. Some of these can be eased by outside help. If you have the ability to help a mom with small children, on their behalf, I ask you to please do so. Often the mom is in denial that she needs help, so don’t give her generic offers like “ask me for help sometime” because if you do it is almost guaranteed that she will not ask. Yet offer specifics instead. Offer to babysit a certain day so she can grab a coffee and read a book for an hour, ask her family for dinner a specific night of the week, or tell her you will come over at 11 a.m. the next day to talk with her while folding laundry. Do these things and you will make a very frazzled woman sigh and she will probably even give you a genuine smile.
Lauer, R., & Lauer, J. (Eds.). (2008). Social Problems and the Quality of Life (11th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.