I am sick and tired of people saying stay-at-home motherhood is a sign of class privilege.
When my husband and I got married, I was 23. I had just graduated college and started my freelance writing career. My husband was a full-time student and line cook. Together, we made less than $20,000 a year. We got pregnant shortly after getting married, and I had no intention of giving up my budding career. However, once we took a look at the cost of daycare, we realized we would have to find another solution.
Our low income determined many of our parenting choices. There was no way we could afford a decked-out nursery, so we decided to co-sleep. Diaper service? No way—we’d have to go with disposables. Furthermore, we’d discussed my husband being a stay-at-home dad. However, I wanted to breastfeed, and we couldn’t afford a fancy pump, so logic told us I’d be the one to stay home. Plus, I was already working from home. I thought while the baby napped I’d try to sell an article here or there, but I had no delusions: I would spend the next couple of years being, first and foremost, a stay-at-home mom.
We paid for a $3000 home birth out of pocket over the course of my pregnancy instead of opting for a free hospital birth through Medicaid (take that, you who think poor people are all freeloaders). When my daughter came into the world, I was honored and delighted to be a SAHM. At first.
My husband went back to work after his two weeks of unpaid paternity leave, and suddenly I was responsible for this constantly crying newborn. She was the kind of baby who needed to be held every second. Just showering or making lunch was tricky—so doing anything work-related was laughable. Things gradually got better. Now that she’s 10 months she can keep herself entertained long enough for me to put a bra on in the morning, but my work time is still limited to when my husband or a friend can watch her. My husband has had two promotions and raises since the baby was born, but my income has catapulted in the other direction. This isn’t ideal. What we’re really experiencing is a rut.
So when I hear claims that SAHM culture and natural parenting are becoming status symbols for the wealthy, I can’t help but roll my eyes. I wish I was staying home because of our abounding riches, but that’s simply not the case.
Perhaps I’m being the dreaded sanctimommy right now, but I would love to be the SAHM that my culture thinks I am. I would love to have enough money to buy all new clothes instead of secondhand ones. I would love it if my husband’s job offered benefits like a 401(k) and health insurance. If money weren’t an issue, I would spend my time making art and writing novels instead of, oh, thumbing through pennies in our coin jar to see if I have enough to put some gas in my car.
But I also get the feeling I’m not the only one offended at being lumped in with The Real Housewives and Dance Moms of the world. Many (dare I say most?) SAHMs I know here in Missouri are low-income like me. Many work part-time and stay home the other half of the time because daycare is just so damn expensive.
And many of us truly miss the social interaction a job provides, as well as the confidence boost and the excuse to do our hair and wear fancy pants. You don’t have to call me out on it, I know I’m bitter. When I hear working moms talk about their promotions and wonderful nannies, a little piece of me dies inside.
But I’m also tired of hearing these same middle class working moms complain that they “have to” work, and that they envy SAHMs like me who “get to” stay home. Where I live, many working women who live in two-income households don’t work out of necessity. They work because they can’t fathom downgrading their comfortable lifestyles. They have nice three-bedroom houses. They take vacations. I say if you really, truly wanted to be a SAHM, you could do it. Sell your house, move into an apartment like mine, stop buying organic toilet paper and forego that daily latte. Give me a break.
I don’t mean to say all women should stay home. Children need to see that women can have a strong presence in both the private and public sphere. And happy parents will, by the transitive property of happy, raise happy children. So if you’re the SAHM who drinks her days away and reflects longingly on her cashier days at the Gap, go out and get a job. But, on the other hand, if your office job is killing you and you feel like your kids’ lives are passing you by, maybe it’s time to downgrade your lifestyle and join me on the other side.
Poor people do have fun, I promise. Just watch the third-class dance party scene in Titanic and you’ll know what I mean.