Most people who've read my blog for any length of time know that I'm a stay-at-home mom. Well, actually, I guess technically, I'm a work-at-home mom.
A dozen years ago we called ourselves WAHMs. Lots of books were written about us, and we were considered the fastest growing industry in the country. I was even quoted in The Entrepreneurial Parent: How to Earn Your Living and Still Enjoy Your Family, Your Work, Your Life, and for a time, I had an online bookstore with a niche focus on offering information, articles and low-cost books that focused on working from home. It was one of my many home-based entrepreneurial projects.
I was so determined to stay home with my children that I worked really hard to earn, at least, what I would have earned, minus expenses (like childcare, transportation, extra food, clothing etc.) if I had an outside-the-home job. For the most part, at least for the last ten years, I've had a pretty steady income working from home, but even if I didn't, I would still be here, because over the years, we've developed a certain standard of living that is only possible because I am home full-time.
The problem with being home full-time, however, is that society often has a fairly negative view of us SAHMs/WAHMs. I've personally experienced the insurance industry's opinion when we applied for life insurance. I've written about it before, and we were able to find an insurance company that didn't care about my income, but was more than willing to take our monthly premiums and insure me at an amount that actually reflects our need.
It's not just the insurance industry, however. Last week, our President gave a speech to a group of Rhode Island college students in which he espoused those very ideas - that legislation should be passed to allow women to be "full and equal participants" in the economy, i.e. that women should not be penalized for being mothers (maternity leave), that wages should be more even between the genders, and that "quality, affordable daycare" should be made available so that women can get out there and make money without worrying about whether their children are receiving good care.
What bothers me most about the speech is that, whether intentional or not, President Obama is espousing the exact same mistaken idea that the insurance agent expressed - mothers who choose to stay home are not as valuable to our society as mothers who work.
This morning I found this article, and from the first few paragraphs, I began nodding my head, and by the time I was finished, I was nearly giving myself whiplash.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
All of the things that the author of the article cites as being beneficial to her family, but also more.
Because I'm home full-time, we were able to explore alternative lifestyles, like suburban homesteading. I was able to learn skills I would never have thought needed to be learned if I were working full-time, or even if I wanted to know those skills, I would have had less time to work at them. Soap making? Yeah, right.
My being home also improves our personal economy, because we can heat with wood, which would not be possible if we were gone for ten hours a day, five days a week. We would not be hanging the laundry on the line. I would not be cooking, from scratch, five nights a week, and our daughter, who cooks, from scratch, the other two nights, would never have learned that skill.
All of that aside, the problem is not really about my need to defend myself, but rather this continuing battle between those who work and those who don't. Having someone as influential as the President of the United States saying that we need more programs for working mothers (so that women can be "full and equal participants" in the economy) just encourages the idea that non-wage earners are less valuable.
More of the same old rhetoric of "more money will make everyone happier" is tiresome. As a veteran stay-a-home/work-at-home Mom, I know the value of having parents be home with their children, of finding a true work/life balance, of finding meaning and value in one's life outside of the need to make more money.
My being home may well be a luxury, for both me and Deus Ex Machina, but maybe, instead of wasting time trying to force legislation that makes more workers, we should be focusing on encouraging one-income families in which one parent stays home full-time (and it doesn't have to be the "mom". Dads can be awesome stay-at-home parents, too!). Maybe the answer isn't to put six million children in day care this year, but rather to find a way to allow six million parents to be home with their children.
Here's the video of President Obama's speech in Rhode Island.
For the record, this post isn't a defense of SAHMs or a criticism of working mothers, but rather a commentary on the fact that by placing all of our emphasis on the need to work, we are stripping ourselves of our independence and choice. Independence isn't having a job, an apartment and a car, but rather the ability to meet one's own needs, and I would never have cultivated the skills necessary to be truly independent, if I had worked a full-time job and put my kids in daycare.