So this conversation happened:
Husband: What do you want to be when you grow up?
5- year old daughter: When I grow up I want to be a mum.
[Serious tumble weed moment]
There was an awkward silence. (He may or may not have had his WTF-face.)
He later on that evening confessed to me that his initial reaction to this announcement was worry and disappointment. A mum? He felt disappointed that this is all she wants to be. A mum. Wouldn’t that be a waste of her talents and capabilities? Surely she would set the bar a little higher for herself?
His next reaction was annoyance at his own reaction. He was annoyed and surprised that he had felt this way. And then, when he told me, I wanted my own reaction to be annoyance. At him. And disappointment. After all, I am a mum. A fulltime mum. Hello! Why would he feel that this wasn’t enough?
I wanted to be mad at him.
But I wasn’t.
Instead, I could relate to his reaction. I even felt the same way.
There was a time when I thought just being a mum, wasn’t good enough. That that wasn’t a thing. When I looked down on people who chose this path for themselves. When I thought they had no ambition and had given up on themselves.
How wrong I was. So so wrong. I now know there is nothing wrong with wanting to be just a mum because there is no such thing as “just a mum”, my friends. Yes, you heard it here first.
But why is it still perceived as not good enough? Why is there such a lack of respect and recognition for those women who put their careers, their lives, themselves so selflessly on hold to raise the future generation?
Could it be that we are accidental Motherists?
Motherism (as defined by Dr Aric Sigman, a British psychologist) is the prejudice against stay-at-home mothers. It is the perception that stay-at-home mothers have taken a step down socially and intellectually. It is the presentation that they are less attractive, less intelligent and less ambitious than their working counterparts. When we speak about stay at home mums (SAHM), an image pops into our heads and it isn’t always a flattering one, truth be told. Perhaps messy hair, un-manicured nails, and tracksuit bottoms come to mind.
These are very real one-dimensional stereotypes.
Being a fulltime mother isn’t one dimensional. Trust me. (Find out how I got here in the first place)
And because of this, I struggle with the label of SAHM.
The receptionist at the doctor’s recently asked me about my occupation. I noticed how I started shuffling, smiling uncomfortably and blushing a little before uttering that I am currently at home with my children. I felt like I wanted to explain. Like I needed to explain that I am more than that. I felt I was being pushed into that stereotyped category. I felt the need to explain that there is more to it. That there is more to me. That I am not one of those SAHMs, you know the ones everyone imagines.
It annoyed me.
The way this question made me feel bothered me.
The label of SAHM makes me feel diminished, insignificant, and like I have deserted the girl who once was ambitious and driven. (I prefer the title Family Manager)
There was a time when I wanted my cake and eat it: work fulltime, be successful and have kids. And for a while I got my cake and ate it. I worked fulltime with 3 kids. I was in that lose-lose situation where no matter what I did I just couldn’t win. If I had stayed at home there would have been prejudice (aka You’re not very ambitious, are you?) and I would have fallen into the unflattering stay-at-home-mum mirages. If I had stayed in fulltime employment, I would have been stigmatized, too. (aka You’re too ambitious! Don’t you want to be at home with your kids?) There is pressure from both sides.
When baby #4 came along, push came to shove and a decision needed to be made. Something had to give. Giving up being a mother wasn’t really an option, now, was it! So the job got the boot, a decision not taken lightly. I had my reservations and hesitations initially. I loved my job.
9 months later I am happier than I thought I would be. I have embraced my new role despite frequent rants about the never-ending cycle of washing and the fecking raisins on the floor.
So, I ask myself, why do I, who has been both – working mother and now SAHM – feel intimidated by the label? And why do I feel the need to defend my choices? Why do I feel intimidated by the ridiculous image some people have of SAHMs?
Because sadly the negative images of SAHMs outweigh the positive, beautiful associations. This is a fact, my friends.
But here is another fact. Just because I chose motherhood over career for a few years doesn’t mean that I walk around in fleece pajamas all day with chipped nails looking disheveled. I haven’t lowered the bar for my intellectual, social, and esthetic standards, thank you very much. I know that the ambitious driven girl I was before is still alive and kicking inside me. I know this is a phase in my life that I want to enjoy with my kids and willingly chose this path. All SAHMs had a life before motherhood became the epicenter of their existence. Society is doing women injustice by painting all with the same brush, by stigmatizing and prejudicing SAHMs. What you may not know is that it takes courage, dedication, selflessness and strength to sign up for this parenting gig fulltime.
So today, I am going to take some pride.
The fact that my daughter aspires to be what I am, honors me immensely. When playing with her 3 brothers and everyone gets to choose a super power, she will choose the superpower of being a mummy. (I mean, COME ON!) She sees what I do and she loves it so much that she wants to follow in my footsteps. What I want my daughter to know is that I wasn’t always a mother. I was a girl, an artist, a musician, an adventurer, a traveler, an academic, a risk taker, a dreamer among many other things and travelled a long road before arriving at fulltime motherhood. Every experience and all the knowledge I picked up along the way made me the mother I am today. My husband and I recognize this.
Instead of being Motherists, we are pragmatists, rationalists and logicians, who know, the journey with all its teachings is essential part of how I became who I am today and will one day be an essential part in making our daughter the person she is destined to be. Through my children, I grow in love, patience and compassion every day. I wish wish for our daughter to have a journey of her own that will hopefully lead her to motherhood at some stage in her life. She was born a nurturer and a carer and she would, without a doubt, make a wonderful mother one day. And if it’s a mum she wants to be, she couldn’t aspire to be anything more extraordinary and amazing.
I am on Facebook.