Stay-At-Home vs. Work-At-Home: Enough With The Mom Labels

Too often, this topic relegates women to one side or the other. Isn’t it time we recognize the dignity of each other’s lives and stop with the misnomers and judgment? 

Show me a mom who doesn’t work and I’ll show you a unicorn.

Every. Mom. Works.

The defining difference is whether a mom earns money for the work she does. The terms “working mom” and “stay-at-home-mom” are misnomers. They are labels that have outlived their applicability.

Earlier this year,, an online design company, videoed job applicants being interviewed for a position where they were asked to perform the many tasks that a mom typically performs. Not surprisingly, none of the job seekers were interested in a position that required so much work, with such long hours, with no monetary compensation.

Some of the tasks moms perform include: Personal Shopper (clothes, shoes, school supplies, groceries), Event Planner (birthdays, holidays, vacations), Laundress, Seamstress, Home Healthcare Aide, Maid, Chef, Nutritionist, Chauffeur, Early Childcare Teacher, Tutor, Project Manager, Accountant, and yes, Childcare Giver. There’s also the task of Scheduler—scheduling doctor and dentist appointments; and a myriad of other commitments depending upon the child and the situation. Few recognize the sheer mass and breadth of work performed by moms. (It’s important to acknowledge that plenty of dads also handle these tasks, but that’s another article for another time.)

Many moms would love to attach the title of SAHM to their person; a great number of moms must work to make ends meet (this has described most of my 30-year experience as a mom). There are equally as many SAHMs who would like to shed it; those who would love to have a good job, one with insurance and wages high enough to afford quality childcare.

Acknowledging that not all moms have to work, or that not all moms are able to work outside the home for wages is important. Too often, this topic relegates women to one side or the other. Isn’t it time we gather in our Sisterness? Isn’t it time we recognize the dignity of each other’s lives and stop with the misnomers and judgment?

If you feel that this is just one more politically correct-themed diatribe, then please examine the following list of politically (or morally) incorrect terms that have gone the way of the Woolly Mammoth: Indian (it’s Native American unless you’re referring to someone from the country of India), Girl Friday (Office Assistant, female or male), Bastard (a child no matter the marital status of the parents), Mongoloid (person with Down’s Syndrome), Retard (person who is Developmentally Challenged), Fag (Gay Man), Dike (Lesbian), Transvestite (Transgender); plus the long list of ethnic slurs that will not be enunciated here—slurs meant to demoralize by using ethnicity as a verbal slap.

“Stay-at-Home-Mom” is the label for moms who do not earn money for the work they do. When you say, “Stay!” to a dog, what happens? Does the dog stay put? How often do you observe a motionless mom? When you have, it’s probably after 14 hours spent performing many of the tasks listed above. Using the word “stay” is misleading in the sense that moms spend very little time “staying.”

I left my last paid position a few months ago. Over a period of six weeks, during a time when many were referring to me as a SAHM, I was called upon to take my daughter to the orthodontist, the doctor, a haircut appointment, prom dress shopping (plus shoes and other accoutrements), to the picture-taking extravaganzas for two proms (her boyfriend goes to a different school), I attended three out of four performances of the school musical in which she performed, I shuttled her to and from musical practices, and when practices ran until 8pm (amounting to a 12-hour day for her inside those school walls), I delivered dinner to her. I attended my daughter’s choir concert, band concert, took my daughter on “learning-to-drive” excursions (her, not me); and somewhere in there, I kept an ongoing discussion with three of my daughter’s teachers because she had fallen behind in her studies because she was so busy with band, choir, and musical practices.

Someone please explain exactly what it is about my life that qualifies “Stay-at-Home-Mom” as an accurate descriptor?

When we wish to differentiate between moms who earn money for their work and moms who do not, if you insist on using labels, why not say “Mom-as-Money-Earners,” (MAME)—pronounced “ma’am”—and Work-at-Home-Mom (WAHM)?  They’re much more accurate labels.

As for mothers who work outside the home for wages, we can call them accountants, managers, CEOs, teachers, etc. Or, we can say, “She’s a mom who is also employed outside the home.” More of a mouthful, yes. But far more accurate and fair to all moms.

Melanie Holmes is the author of the newly released book, The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate. Follow her on Facebook.

Related Links: