The Roles of Stay-at-Home Moms (SAHMs)

A picture of a SAHM with her children

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SAHM is an acronym for a stay-at-home mom. The term is often used in online mom groups and on parenting websites to describe the mother's role in the household. Traditionally, SAHM refers to a wife staying at home with the kids while her husband works to financially support the family. Often, society has a different understanding of the role of a SAHM as compared to what the role actually entails for most who are actually in it.

The Role of a SAHM

SAHMs play many roles, meaning there's not a single task that defines her. She actually handles many different tasks to keep the children engaged, fed, clean, active, and hitting developmental milestones. While also acting as the family's social planner, treasurer, personal shopper, and chauffeur, among a myriad of other roles.

And while she's vital to her family, many outsiders often don't understand her importance. Others question why anyone would want to be an at-home parent and debate a SAHM's significance and contributions to society as a whole. This negativity fuels "mommy wars," where mom-shaming and judgment for how moms "should" act has people blasting moms publicly on the Internet.

What Society Tells SAHMs

Unfortunately, our society often has a cruel understanding of what being a "good" SAHM entails. Instagram, Pinterest pins, and even some scientific research push for unrealistic expectations (some of which are contradictory), including:

Kids Come Before Your Wellbeing

SAHMs are expected to put their kids first, ahead of their mental or physical health—and above all else, really. Taking any time for yourself to exercise, eat a proper meal, hang out with friends, or even get a haircut can be seen as selfish to judgmental outsiders who believe the kids should be your sole focus.

Anything Less Than "the Best" Isn't Enough

There are some who believe that "good" SAHMs feed their children homemade and healthy unprocessed foods at all times, limit screen time, and spend their days engaged in play with the kids. While these goals certainly have their merits, it's simply unrealistic to expect any parent to uphold them every minute of every day. What is fair is to expect SAHMs to do the best they can—and to assume that they are doing just that.

You Have Ample Time for Housework

Since SAHMs are thought to be at home all day long, it's often also assumed that it should be easy to do all the laundry, cook all meals, dust, vacuum, and keep the house in tip-top shape every day. Watching children is time-consuming and a non-stop job. Many SAHMs note starting a task only to be pulled away, or picking up a mess only to have it return the minute a child gets up from a nap.

It's Not Really Work

Many mothers note that they feel society expects them to quit their jobs once kids are in the picture while simultaneously holding them to a standard that they are not contributing to the world if they do not work outside the home. This discredits all of the hard work stay-at-home moms do, and the value of it, and sends the message that it's not "work" if an exchange of money is not involved.

Today's Challenges

Some of society's expectations rely on outdated misconceptions about gender roles; others have to do with long-held beliefs not catching up to today's realities.

Unfortunately, the role of the stay-at-home dad also suffers from criticism and isn’t safe from judgment either.

It's Not the 1950s

If you have fond memories of the sound of the vacuum humming as your mom cleaned the whole house from top-to-bottom every day, washed, sorted, and ironed all the laundry, and made you and your siblings a glorious meal to enjoy around the dining table once your dad came home, then you may also remember that your mom may not have actually spent many quality hours a day with you.

This doesn't apply to everyone, of course, but there is a notable departure from this dynamic.

In the past few decades, child-rearing best practices have changed. Research has now found that children learn best through play, and so SAHMs are expected to provide environments for kids to engage in unstructured play to develop their young brains. From attending story time with the toddler to driving the kids to soccer practice and watching them play, and setting up play dates between grocery runs, today's SAHM may actually spend a few hours a day in the actual home.

The "mom" role has also changed with time. While a mother in the 50s may have managed the inside of the home and the kids, while dad took care of things like yard work and finances, may SAHMs now have these responsibilities and more.

The "Village" Has Disappeared

The saying goes that "it takes a village to raise kids." Unfortunately, in today's society, many moms have very little help or support.

In the past, it was common for families to be larger than they are today and for everyone to live within a short distance of one another. This guaranteed "back up" could help moms get an hour or two a day to run errands (or get some respite) while their kids were being watched. Today, families tend to be smaller than in years past, and it's more common for relatives to live too far apart to make this arrangement feasible.

Women also had children at a younger age and tended to have many more kids, which meant that their preteen could help with a new baby. That type of situation is quite rare today.

Moms nowadays often spend all waking hours with their children, ensuring their supervision, all day long. Aside from the occasional mommy-and-me meet-ups and Facebook moms' groups, most SAHMs do not have any daily interactions with other adults. This makes it difficult to connect with others that they, perhaps, could lean on.

Furthermore, due to packed, varying schedules and more parents who work outside the home, many moms are unable to rely on neighbors the way they might have been able to in the past.

Opportunity Loss

Most families weigh the pros and cons of placing their new baby in childcare, and many decide that the mother will stay home from work and give up her salary when it means that daycare costs, transportation, and after-hours care may add up to more than half of what mom makes at her job.

Choosing for mom to stay at home means that the SAHM will have no outside income and will need to rely solely on her spouse for support. This can create difficult new dynamics for many moms and couples, but it can also lead to long-term sacrifice.

It's important to remember that when women leave the workforce to raise their children, more than just paychecks and promotions are given up. Maintaining valuable contacts, attending networking opportunities, and the ability to evolve with workplace technology all become very difficult as well.

The amount of salary you are sacrificing and the value (in actual dollars) of the childcare you are providing is roughly the amount of money that your role as a SAHM brings to your family, if not more. This concept has led to the creation of online SAHM pay calculators to give you a better idea of the monetary value of the work you do as a SAHM.

Is Being a SAHM Right for You?

While the SAHM life is not for everyone, and there are some downsides, there are also many pluses.

Talk openly with your partner about the role you hope to take on if you become a SAHM. Do your research in terms of the opportunity cost of leaving your current paid work and consider how much support you will have. Doing so will help you prepare for a completely different world than the one you're probably used to.

When it comes down to it, only you know what is right for your child and your family. Push aside what society may think about the SAHM role, if you already feel that pressure, and trust that you will make the role fit the guidelines you set for your family.

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