Being a stay at home mom in 2022 isn’t the most glamorous thing in most circles. Sometimes when I am around female family members who all have careers, they ask me: “So what have you been up to?
I say: “Taking care of kids.”
And they reply with a little sigh “Oh” and move on to talk to someone else. End of conversation. No follow up questions. No interest in my job at all.
Oh well. I suppose a lot of people could complain about no one being interested in the details of their job.
If being a stay at home mom isn’t glamorized, what is? Careers. Making money. The new fabulous working mom that makes lots of money (maybe even owns her own business) and is a mom as well. The mom that does it all. She is beautiful, accomplished, has perfect kids, stylish clothes, and a great career as well. That is the current ideal. And I think this ideal hurts most women. It is too close to impossible. It is a standard of perfection in which every woman falls short.
Now, I don’t care what you do. I don’t care if you work or if you don’t work. But I’m going to tell you about my experience of being pressured and persuaded on all sides to start working – just so that I could feel more worthy in society’s eyes.
If you want to work, that is great. Some people have talents that are best used in employment outside the home. But your reason for working matters. I knew that starting to work just so that I could feel more valuable wasn’t a great reason. So I dug a little deeper to see what was going on in my brain to produce that feeling and what I could do to change that. Here is what I discovered.
Lower Income Circles
But before we get into that, I want to mention that the one circle in which being a stay at home mom is seen as a good thing is in lower income communities. If you are ABLE to be a stay at home mom, it is a sign of wealth. It means that you have a man in your life that makes enough money so that you don’t have to work. That is seen by some to be an incredible thing. So I just want to acknowledge that there are those out there that really really wish that they could be a stay at home mom. When I think about those people, I am filled with gratitude for what I have and it changes my perspective considerably.
Seeking External Validation
I’ve been a stay at home mom since 2016 when my first child was born. Before he was born, I was a PhD student. I got lots of positive reinforcement for being a PhD student. When people found out what I did, they would say things like:
“Wow, that’s amazing.”
“Are you old enough to be getting a PhD?”
“Would you come speak at our event?”
I would get a lot of external validation: grades, compliments, people wanting my opinion on things, invites, etc.
When I decided to leave that world and become a stay at home mom, all of that changed. No more grades, no more compliments, no more people wanting my advice on things, no more external validation. And instead of just any child, I got an autistic nonverbal child. Now with special needs children, you usually get more criticisms from others than you get compliments, because their behaviors can be so wild and their mannerisms very different from mainstream society.
Now add to that the isolation that often comes from being a stay at home mom. You sit at home all day doing dishes and wiping butts and cleaning and doing laundry. No one gives you an award for those things. No one asks a stay at home mom to come speak at their event. And then you get really lonely. (Though there are people trying to remedy this. Look for the free “Peanut” app to connect with other moms in your area).
And so what did I do?
I started thinking about going back to work. I wanted so badly to feel like I was useful again. I wanted to feel like I wasn’t mediocre. I wanted to CONTRIBUTE to the world. I wanted to feel special again.
Analyzing my False beliefs
When I sat down and thought about it, I realized that I had a few faulty beliefs.
- Making money = you are valuable
- Getting compliments = you are valuable
- More kids = you are more valuable as a stay at home mom
These are lies. But they were so engrained in my head that it was hard to see it. A lot of core beliefs are unconscious until you call them forth and look at them for what they are.
How much money you make doesn’t equate with how valuable you are. Antione de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, says that “what is essential is invisible to the eyes.” I first read this quote in a book by Mr. Rogers. Anyone that knows Mr. Rogers knows that HE KNEW what was most important in life.
Is money visible? Definitely. Paper money, bank account balances, all the things that money can buy. But what are the invisible things that are really important? Most people say that the most important things in life are family. Loving relationships. Connections with other people. Mr. Rogers would probably say that helping another person or child feel loved and valued is most important.
Compliments and other people’s opinions
Does getting a lot of compliments from other people mean that you are valuable? Compliments or criticisms don’t really say ANYTHING about you. They only tell you about the other person – the one giving the criticism or compliment. It tells you what they value, how they think, what their background is like, etc. What other people think about you has NOTHING to do with you at all. It has everything to do with them. So when someone compliments you, it is doesn’t mean you are valuable. And when someone criticizes you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have done something wrong. It just tells you how they see the world.
Quality vs. Quantity
Finally, something that was really hindering my ability to appreciate myself was the faulty thought that more kids equals more value. For example, if I had four kids instead of two, then it would be worth it for me to be a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM). And if I had seven or eight kids, then I would be worth even more!
I think this thought is only common among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or other Christian communities because this church values children and families and often promotes having large families. Most nonreligious people are totally content with two kids. But often members of this church feel that more kids means that you are more righteous. Again, this is a lie. (And I don’t think that the church leaders believe or teach that more kids means you are more righteous. I think that is something I picked up from the church culture or just made up myself). In the end, it took my husband calling me out on this unconscious belief for me to be able to see it and acknowledge it. Then I was able to see that it wasn’t true.
Giving myself Internal Validation
Eventually, I had to learn how to give myself the validation that I so desperately wanted from other people. I had to compliment myself on the small stuff that I did everyday.
“Nice job on vacuuming that room. I give you a 99%.”
Even on days when I didn’t do so well, I had to be my number one cheer leader.
“Yes, so you just yelled at your child and didn’t act like your best self. But at least you didn’t murder the child! You get a 100% for effort today.”
“Wow, you are really working hard on this patience test. Your patience levels are up 1% from last week.”
What I learned is the most important things in life cannot be measured. How kind you are, how loving you are towards people that are SUPER annoying or people that are overlooked and lonely and vulnerable, how patient you are – those are the most important things in life. That is what we are here to learn. And my job gives me practice at that everyday!
It starts with you – glamorize your SAHM job in your own mind
It all starts with you. If you are a stay at home mom, you need to start glamorizing that job in your own mind. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It doesn’t matter how valuable the world says you are. You need to know that you are important.
If you think you are important, then you will start acting differently. You will think differently. You will appreciate all the wonderful things about your stay at home mom job. Your thoughts cause your feelings, so if you want to feel better about your job, look at your thoughts about it! Analyze those thoughts and see how you can change them to feel appreciation and confidence about your job.
Glamorizing the job starts with you.