Staying Home: Unpacking the Concepts of Privilege, Luxury, and Sacrifice

STAYING HOME_ Luxury, Privilege, Sacrifice

It was always my plan to stay home with my children, not just when they were babies, but always.  But Emily was born when John was just starting law school, so I worked 20 hours a week from the time she was four months old until she was three-and-a-half.  There were a couple of breaks in there–two months between jobs, five months when Jake was first born.  I finally came home for good when John graduated and got his first job as an attorney, when I was about five months pregnant with my third child.

So I’ve never worked full-time outside of the home since having kids–although I did right up until a few days before Emily was born.  And I’ve been at home full-time for a little over 21 years (although I have worked at home for many of those years, more and more as time has gone by).  I have no doubt that this has been the right choice for our family.

But financially, it hasn’t been easy, and that’s why I sometimes question society’s assumptions about stay-at-home mothers (which I will now abbreviate as SAHM).

Some people say that being an SAHM is a privilege, a blessing, even a hobby:

No, Stay-at-Home-Mothers, choosing to create your own little person upon whom you’ll spend all your time and energy is a hobby. It is a time-consuming, sanity-deteriorating, life-altering hobby — a lot like a heroin addiction, but with more Thirty-One bags. Whether you call it a “blessing” or a “privilege,” the fact remains that having someone else foot the bill for a lifestyle that only benefits you and your close family is by no means a “job.”

“I am so blessed. I have a faithful husband, gorgeous and healthy children, a beautiful home, and I am fortunate enough to stay home and enjoy my blessings.”

Others call it a luxury:

[T]he ability to stay home is, indeed, a luxury. Not in the sense of being some “nonessential” merchandise, but in the sense of having a choice.  A Chanel bag may be thought of as a luxury, but really it’s the ability to buy the Chanel bag in the first place — or an iPhone, a TV, a fancy car — without forgoing, say, food or shelter that is the true luxury. The luxury is in having the choice.

There are those who say it’s a job.  They give it titles like CEO of the household or domestic engineer, and even assign an economic value to the services a SAHM provides to her family:

Is parenting, and in particular mothering, a job? I’d say it most certainly is, but not in the same way we think about a career. It’s one that goes unpaid, for sure, but it’s a job nonetheless. After all, when we can’t do it ourselves, we actually pay people to do it for us, whether that’s a babysitter, nanny or daycare.

Other people describe it as a sacrifice women make, trading financial security and career success for the domestic trenches:

Yes – some women are able to stay home because they are just rolling in dough. But I don’t know any of those people. All the stay at home moms I know sacrifice every single day to do what they do.

No matter how you describe it, someone is going to bristle.  For those of us who have endured significant financial insecurity because of staying home, calling it a privilege or a luxury feels insulting.  Luxury implies something unnecessary and who wants to feel unnecessary?  Privilege makes it sound easy when it isn’t.  We lived in a small house and drove one car and fell behind in our bills.  But at the same time I know that there are other mothers who want to stay home and can’t because they would have no house and no car at all, women who are single mothers or whose husbands work full-time minimum wage jobs.

If it’s a job, then we are all working for free and no one takes our choice of career very seriously!  It IS hard work being at home all day long with kids and doing all the thing SAHMs do, but what about all the mothers who work outside the home and then have to come home and do most of those things too, without having had the (dare I say) privilege of being with their babies all day?

And if we call it a job and complain about how hard it is, aren’t we being ungrateful for the very fact that we have kids at all, let alone that we are lucky enough to get to spend all our time with them?

And if we call it a sacrifice, that implies there is a good reason to make that sacrifice, that somehow it is better for kids to have their mother at home with them full time than not.  But that comes across as offensive to some women who could stay home but choose not to make those sacrifices.

Finally, if we assign value to women being home with their kids, then why is it a privilege or a luxury reserved for those whose husbands have a job that can support the family? Why should it require huge financial sacrifices? If it’s good for kids in privileged families, isn’t it just as good for kids in poor families? Why do we demonize women who receive welfare payments in order to stay home with their kids, and applaud those same women if they leave their kids to go work at a minimum wage job?

What do you think?  Is staying home with your children a privilege, a job, a hobby, a sacrifice, none, a combination, or something else?  Should it be a choice that is available to everyone?




0 thoughts on “Staying Home: Unpacking the Concepts of Privilege, Luxury, and Sacrifice

  1. Ugh, I relate! It’s the judgement that bothers me. No matter what label you use to describe staying at home… it is NOT choosing the easy way out. Of course there is sacrifice, and not all of the sacrifice is financial. It is all of those things… a blessing, a job, a sacrifice, all rolled into one. I enjoy being a stay at home mom, but I do it because I believe that my children and family benefit more from my being where I am, doing what I am doing than they would from the income I could be generating. The almighty dollar should not define us!

  2. This is SOO true. I am a SAHM and I have heard all those things. To me, I guess in a way it is a blessing.. but only because I get to raise my own kids. Is it hard work? Life changing and do we make sacrifices every single day, yes!! But there is no where else I would rather be. I pray daily that the Lord blesses me with the option of always being home with my kids, even when they are off to school (I want to be the one who gets them on and off the bus and be here during summers!).. Thats why I hope this whole blogging thing takes off at some point. I cant imagine not being here when my babies get home. It would break my heart.

  3. I’ve never thought about it like this before! For me, I think it’s about finding the blessing in whatever situation you end up being in, trusting in God’s greater plan. I have always wanted to be a SAHM, but once the time came, I became one not only because I wanted to but also because it was the best option for our family financially. I call it a privilege, along the lines that I know many women that wish they could stay home but can’t. Every parent, child, and family situation are so different, it’s hard to find a term that fits! Great read 🙂

  4. lydiaf1963

    I don’t know the answer. Under different circumstances (mostly a husband with a different attitude lol), I would have loved to be a stay at home mother.

  5. I would say a combination… I do stay at home. I worked full time up until the little was born. I feel it is my “job” to take care of her and the house. However, my husband doesn’t view it that way and still does a lot. I dunno, I guess we have a good “working” relationship.

  6. I am a stay at home mom and I consider it a priveledge and a blessing. Yes, we could easily use a second income. But my husband, without complaint, has been working hard to provide on behalf of us both to allow me the opportunity to be home with our daughter. I savor every precious minute of it because I know how lucky I am to have a husband who understands what it means for me to be able to do this.

  7. As someone whose family has struggled a lot with unemployment and underemployment, I think the same things could be said about having a job and working outside the home. It is a privledge, blessing, sacrifice, etc to have a job that makes it feasible (ie. though pay/benefits) to work outside the home and pay for childcare. Neither choice is easy. I would totally support any mother who would rather go on welfare and raise her babies, then leave them to take a minimum-wage job….especially since even with a minimum-wage job, she could still likely need public assistance.

    One of my biggest regrets in life is choosing to get my education and master’s degree in a field that interested me, and not in a field that would make me super employable (especially when I’ve been out of the field for a long time, staying home with children and especially when the recession hit and jobs became scarce.)

    Staying home isn’t always a choice either.

  8. Well, I am an SAHM but I would love to work outside of the home. Unfortunately, I don’t choose to be a stay at home mom it may sound crazy and selfish. I stay home because I don’t have someone that I can trust to leave my child with while I work outside the home or someone reliable to pick my child up from school. It does drive me crazy that some people can be judgemental of a stay at home mom. Not every mother chooses to stay home and not work outside the home because they want too just like not being able to stay home isn’t always a choice for some.

  9. It’s crazy how political this is. I’m no where near ready for kids but we talk about it quite a bit… At this point we both make a similar amount of money per year. It’s hard to imagine cutting our income in half, but it’s also hard to imagine spending 30% of my paycheque on day care and only seeing my baby a few hours at night. YIKES. I’ll just let the rest of you figure this out for me and let me know in 2020 😉

  10. Oh dear, I don’t know. I’ve had a mix of things being said at me. Like Kim, I didn’t want to end up spending a lot of money on a nanny / baby sitter and on a tuition centre to get their homework up to scratch (they have a lot of homework when they start primary 1 over here in Asia), so I decided that the best thing was one of us to stay at home. There are diffiult times, yes, but I don’t ask for much these days, as long as everyone in the family is happy.

  11. Wendy

    You addressed this charged topic very well. It has always made we wonder why we so often tear each other down over this issue. Blessing, privilege, job, choice, requirement…curse 😉 …whatever word we apply to staying home can also be applied to working outside the home. There are challenges and rewards to both, and every family’s situation is different. Well done! 🙂 Thank you for entering this pin in #ThePinterestGame this week — good luck! ~~ Wendy, co-host

  12. Pingback: Called by God: Fulfilling My Vocation | Life in Every Limb

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