Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The "SAHM": Time For An Upgrade

As I sit here on day seven of The Worst Cold I Have EVER Had, it's hard to appreciate that I have the "luxury" of being a Stay At Home Mom.  I haven't stayed home a single day in years - whether I was sick, pregnant, postpartum, snowed in, or anything else.  And I don't just mean that my childcare duties continue without respite.  What I mean is that my "job" as a "stay at home" mom doesn't permit me to stay at home.  I have a wildly active toddler and we live in a two-bedroom apartment; you can do the math.  Barring complete physical incapacitation, which thankfully hasn't happened, getting him out of the house has always been the lesser of all evils.  The "Stay At Home Mom" title really seems to me to be the antithesis of my daily goals, almost all of which revolve around getting the hell out of the house!

And yes, staying home is a luxury, but it's far from luxurious.  It's also far from passive so it's really unfortunate that we've chosen an acronym starting with the word "stay."  The first two definitions listed for the verb "stay" in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are "To stop going forward" and "To stop doing something."  I can't think of a less accurate way to describe what I do with my time.  And while it's true that I did "stop" practicing law, I hardly think my current vocation should be defined as not doing whatever I used to do.

The passivity of the word "stay" also contributes - in no small part - to the dreaded Mommy Wars.  There's an ongoing, ludicrous debate about whether kids who "stay home" lack socialization; again, as if anybody is actually literally staying in the house!  And take this meme that popped up a few times in my Facebook feed awhile back:

Fifty Shades of Hell were raised over that.  Maybe even sixty.

But even working moms and the staunchest of feminists can get behind a remake of my least favorite acronym.  Why?  Because of the gender exclusivity.  Our language shouldn't imply that whether one works outside of the home makes them a definitive type of "mom."  It's needlessly polarizing.  And we're not doing our daughters any favors either.  My brother plans to be a SAH*D* - his wife's career is really taking off in amazing ways, but as with so many such careers it promises to be incredibly demanding.  In my humble opinion, we're not going to see equal numbers of women "breaking the glass ceiling" until we see equal numbers of women with spouses who enable them to go all the extra miles at work.  Continuing to linguistically reinforce the idea that mainly "moms" are the parents who occasionally choose to take on all of the domestic work is simple sexism.  As the "feminist housewives" that so many of us are, we should demand a better title.

I'm not the first to call for an upgrade here.  Slate ran a piece back in March that followed the evolution of "SAHM" from its original "housewife" roots, and suggested "primary caretaker" as a potential replacement.  Others have suggested "full-time parent."  I would reject both of those as rightfully offensive to working parents, though.  Nobody forfeits their status as their child's primary caretaker simply by working outside of the home.  And parents who do work outside of the home are still parents - not part-time parents.

I'll offer up as our next iteration either At-Home Parent (AHP) or Full-Time Caretaker (FTC).  Either of those would alleviate the passivity, borderline-cutesyness, and "This Is The Kind of Mom I Am" statement I feel forced to make when I tell people I'm a SAHM.  And just imagine if the next generation of boys could grow up hearing about FTCs or AHPs instead of SAHMs... it might sound trite, but we could really change the world.

UPDATE:  Two days after I posted this entry, check out this NYT article:  "Wall Street Mothers, Stay Home Fathers:  For growing numbers of women on Wall Street, stay-at-home husbands are enabling them to compete at work with new intensity."  LOVE!!!


  1. I am a full time Mum/Carer (as we are defined if we have kids with additional needs) and a part time Social Entrepreneur. Only one of those jobs get recognised and applauded.
    My husband had to reorganise his work life as a result of the recession and took on more of the caring role in order to let me travel for my work. But he has to hide that when preparing his resume or updating his LinkedIn. It's not okay to prioritise family, even if that family includes 2 people who need a lot more parenting. Instead he says he is in charge of "Business Development" in my one woman company - because the men who may interview him will respect that.

    We could conceivably switch roles as I he is more than capable of keeping our children alive, clothed and reasonably clean and nourished in my absence but I couldn't do it. As much as I love standing on a stage giving a Ted Talk or collecting an Award, I get way more satisfaction from going for a walk with my teenage son while scripting his latest movie obsession or cuddling up to my teenage daughter and drawing Teletubbies on the iPad.

    One job enables me to appreciate the other, but having both jobs is dependent on a supportive partner. And I am allowed to be recognised for both, my partner isn't.

    I guess it goes against the laws of mathematics but I think I am a full time parent, part time anything else. I won't make or accept judgement from anyone who wants to criticise the mother working full time outside the home because that is what she is best at, or the mother devoted to staying at home with teenage children who don't need them that much. Its about what is good for your mental health because that ultimately is what makes you a good parent; being happy in yourself.

    And the Key Productivity Indicator should be "Do your children like you?"

    xx (and I define myself as a Snumpreneur)

  2. I am not a stay at home mom, and I hate the term, with a passion. Whenever I hear people say "My name is, and I'm a SAHM" first, it puts me on guard and makes me wonder, Oh, is she going to be THAT kind of mom who needs to be praised for every little thing and told that she's doing it better than those of us who are working and trying to raise our kids? I really enjoy the intelligent perspective that is offered by your blog.

  3. I found your blog through a link to a vaccination post a friend put up on facebook. I just wanted to send you a note telling you I've loved your recent posts. I've also struggled with society's attitudes about the SAHM. I like the "At-Home Parent" term so much better.

  4. I like "full-time caretaker." So much of taking care of kids goes beyond the home -- it's running around doing all kinds of chores and activities in and outside the home. I also like that "FTC" goes beyond just kids -- it could include, for example, those who take care of aging parents or a family member with a disability.

  5. I don't believe the issue is the label itself, its what each of us hear when it is stated. I personally don't like caregiver as it makes me feel like one of the many LPNs that has been through our home to help with my special needs daughter. Since I am pretty sure we will never find a label that will represent what each of us sees our self as, maybe we should stick to the title we give ourselves and remember that when someone addresses themselves in the same manner we give them the one thing we all seek; respect. Acknowledgement for our contribution. Let each of us be proud of what we do and support each other.

    -mom of six, small business owner, girl scout leader, home school teacher, special needs crusader

  6. Oh Yes! I like Full Time Care Taker so much better. Because despite the fact that I'm watching my child, I also have a career which I am balancing at the same time...and that shouldn't negate the fact that I'm with my son for all but 4 hours out of the working week (when I'm teaching), trying to help run a theatre company, running an etsy shop and usually working on a production in one way or another. SAHM totally sounds lazy. I wish there would be an easier way to explain I'm a busy mom and anything but lazy. great post Lisa!

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