Stay at home motherhood isn't a "hobby"

An "unpopular opinion" on SAHMs goes viral

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 16, 2015 2:31PM (EDT)

Liz Pardue-Schultz           (YouTube/Liz Pardue-Schultz)
Liz Pardue-Schultz (YouTube/Liz Pardue-Schultz)

Liz Pardue Schultz doesn't want you to be "angry" with what she has to say. That's why the first sentence in her totally calculated to rile you up essay entitled, "Being a Stay-at-Home Mother Is Not a Job" is, "Alright, calm down."

Pardue Schultz first shared her story earlier this month in aptly named the "Unpopular Opinion" section of XOJane, but since appearing this weekend in Time, it's taken on off as the latest and loudest shot fired in the mom wars. In it, she explains that she was a stay-at-home mother herself for five years, and that "I understand a stay-at-homer wanting to validate her or his life choice by calling it a 'job.' We get a lot of grief from academics and professionals, and we’re very often belittled by our society for not contributing anything 'valuable.'" But, she continues, "Getting to do nothing but raise a person you opted to bring into the world is a privilege, and calling it anything else is ignorant and condescending." Bam!

Pardue Schultz goes on to tell her own tale of how she came to stay-at-home motherhood, a decision made after she'd initially reentered the workforce as a freelancer, and how she and her spouse ultimately made a choice that was not easy financially, but felt satisfying emotionally. But then, she says, she quickly surmised she didn't quite fit with other members of her crowd. "I tried joining mommy groups and was constantly astounded by how many women reveled in bemoaning our apparently torturous conditions," she says, explaining, "The negativity that comes behind SAHMs' unabashed martyrdom is belittling to the entire parenting community." She criticizes "the unemployed, self-righteous idiots who love to proclaim it after spending all their energy harping on their children or bitching about their spouse’s ineptitude" and says that "choosing to create your own little person upon whom you’ll spend all your time and energy" is not a "job" but "a hobby." She concludes, "The people out there who actually have jobs will appreciate you much more if you’re not going around whining about a way of life that is most parents' dream." Aaaaaaand, 1,400 comments and counting.

I am entirely in agreement that motherhood is not a job. Like Pardue Schultz, I bristle at the suggestion it is, as if parenting somehow requires the validation of equating it with career. A job is a job. A family is a family. And when we repeatedly tell women, whether they work outside the home or not, whether they have children or not, that motherhood is the world's greatest/toughest/most important "job," we make it a competitive act, one that simultaneously sanctifies and minimizes the work women do everywhere, on all fronts. That's why I dislike the false equivalency of the word, not because I think taking care of one's children full time is a hobby. Scrapbooking, now that's a hobby.

In my fifteen years of working motherhood, I've come to accept that the mom wars are real. I understand that pitting women against each other is a boon to advertisers and TV talking heads and people with terrible opinions and fragile egos. I've absolutely come across the kind of endlessly self-martyring SAHMs Pardue Schultz describes, the kind who seem to define themselves entirely in opposition to women who draw a paycheck, and yes, they are tedious and judgmental. But I've also met plenty of unpleasant working moms. That's the thing about being a mother – you can still be an arrogant jerk, just like everybody else, no matter what your circumstances or choices.

What Pardue Schultz fails to recognize is that just because you've had the privilege of a choice, it doesn't mean you're not allowed to struggle with it. She complains that "I listened with real compassion to one woman I befriended who spent a year (and thousands of dollars) on fertilization treatments to conceive her second child, only to begin whining about how much it sucked being pregnant once it finally happened," essentially shaming the woman for sharing that she was having a difficult pregnancy. Unfortunately, I know too many other parents who've gone through intense effort to conceive or adopt, who admit they feel judged when their pregnancies are rough or their babies are colicky or their kids drive them crazy. They feel they're not allowed to say anything because everybody knows how badly they wanted it. As if they've forfeited the right to have a bad day because they worked harder to have their children.

Pardue Schultz also mistakenly assumes that staying at home is "a way of life that is most parents' dream" – a scenario I'd argue that plenty of mothers and fathers would not, in fact, dream of. Lots of us are capable of devoting ourselves to our careers and our children, even as we grasp imperfectly for balance. And when we set up staying at home as the dreamed for ideal, we tell women who happen to freely choose to pursue their careers while they're raising their kids that they're either liars or somehow less loving and effective. That's not an "unpopular" opinion; it's an incorrect one.

All of us raising families, and moms in particular, make trade offs. Many of us have harder choices than others but that doesn't mean that anybody's are so easy and effortless, or that they don't have the right to acknowledge how hard pregnancy and parenting can be. Guess what, you can be blessed and grateful and still have really hard, painful experiences. You can adore your children and complain about your day. You even can be satisfied with your choices and not feel threatened by anybody else's. And motherhood doesn't have to be a job or a hobby. It can just be motherhood.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Liz Pardue Schultz Motherhood Parenting Sahms Xojane