Family

The Dreaded Stigma That Sticks To Stay-At-Home Moms

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woman working at home with 2 kids around

“So, 9 years, huh? And... you were home that whole time?” is a typical response when I explain my employment gap at an interview.

And then comes the shifting in the seat, the avoidance of eye contact, and the unnecessary shuffling of papers on the desk. Never mind the fact that I spent those years raising two healthy, happy young children, being a secretary for my husband’s construction business, maintaining a household, and gaining a Master's degree.

In the eyes of the world, my label is “a stay-at-home mom.”

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Rarely do I get a positive reaction when I tell someone that I was home with my kids for 9 years. I’ve noticed the only positive reactions I’ve had are from much older women who say things like, “Isn’t that just a gift?” or, “Oh, how lovely! Cherish that time, honey.”

People my age or younger, even friends, usually say things like, “OMG. I don’t know how you do it,” or they just blatantly give me looks of pity and say something generic like, “Oh, wow.”

Interviewers are a whole different story. Not only do some of them openly judge me, but I usually don’t get the job after this piece of info is revealed.

A standard visual of a SAHM is usually something like this: a mom in a robe with a messy bun eating bonbons under a blanket on the couch watching soap operas and scrolling on her phone while babies nap in a beautiful bassinet nearby. Maybe she’s folding laundry (peacefully, of course).

Let’s level up and picture a tougher version. Mom is struggling to make lunch with two crying toddlers hanging onto her legs. The dog is barking, the cat just pooped on the floor instead of the litter box, the phone is ringing, and the delivery man is knocking at the door.

What a SAHM situation looks like depends on so many factors — number of kids, kids’ ages, kids’ abilities/disabilities, household chore load, pets/no pets, level of support, mom’s responsibilities outside of being a mom, income, resources, and the list goes on.

Some of the busiest days of my life so far were when I was wrapping up my Master's degree online and being a SAHM to my then 1-year-old and 4-year-old. More times than I can count, I completed strenuous homework on my laptop while breastfeeding my 1-year-old and simultaneously entertaining my 4-year-old.

My life consisted of childcare, chores, appointments, transportation, feeding, diapering, schoolwork, and helping with the logistics of my husband’s business.

It seems inaccurate (and honestly a little hurtful!) that some employers will view my employment gap of being a stay-at-home parent as “not working.”

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I was definitely working! Feel free to ask my professors about the consistency of my completed assignments and my 4.0 G.P.A, my kids’ doctors and dentists about whether we ever missed an appointment, my husband about whether or not our home was cared for, or my husband’s customers about the efficiency and accuracy of their invoices that were constructed and delivered by yours truly.

It turns out, I am not alone in this feeling. Statistics overwhelmingly support the notion that SAHMs feel judged and inadequate when they try to find work after being home for a long duration.

In the media, many celebrities have talked about the struggle of choosing between being a SAHM or working. Also, about how difficult the return to Hollywood was after having a baby or being a SAHM.

Celebrities like Jennifer Garner have spoken out on the struggle of choosing between work and being a SAHM. She explained, "I live my life at these two extremes. I'm either a full-time stay-at-home mom or a full-time actress."

A psychologist from the UK named Aric Sigman coined the term “Motherism,” which means: prejudice against moms, whether they are working moms or SAHMs.

He explains that our society is focused on high performance and professional achievement and although the majority of people agree that children having a parent at home to raise them is beneficial, moms should ultimately be working while parenting.

It’s definitely a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Each time I interview, I hold my breath as we work our way down the resume to the employment history segment. I always list the things I did at home besides parenting as if parenting alone wouldn’t be enough.

Although I feel amazingly proud of the years I spent at home with my kids, the negative view from the interviewer makes me question my value.

I am absolutely privileged to have been in a situation where our family could safely live on only one income. Also, we avoided the massive costs of daycare for two children for years by my staying home.

Even with all that, I still feel absolutely insecure and guilty about my years at home. Justifying it every time doesn’t feel like you’re explaining what you actually did as a SAHM, it feels like you’re just fighting to prove that you aren’t lazy.

The statistics on SAHMs trying to rejoin the workforce are heartbreaking. Harvard Business Review relayed the results of an experiment in 2016 where an applicant sent out over 3,300 applications to businesses all around the U.S. portraying themself as a SAHM. The response rate was a mere 4.9%.

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Luckily, there are some great resources out there for SAHMs when they are readying themselves to reenter the workforce. LinkedIn actually gives the option to mark being a mom or being on maternity leave on a resume. They created a company called The Pregnancy Pause that can be used when accounting for a gap in employment.

Other general tips on getting a job after a period of being a SAHM include:

1. Be direct. Don’t shy away from the SAHM gap. Relay that being a SAHM was the best decision for you at that time, but now you are ready and committed to reentering the workforce.

2. Make sure your resume and social media profiles are updated.

3. When you feel the judgment starting about your time as a SAHM, make sure to bring the interviewer back to the topic at hand: why you are qualified for the job you’re applying for and what SAHM skills can help you in your new position.

It is also important to ensure you aren’t being discriminated against. The pregnancy discrimination law has to do with pregnancy, childbirth, or complications due to childbirth.

There are support groups aimed at people returning to the workforce after a long run of stay-at-home parenting. There are some organizations that give stay-at-home caregivers the resources they need to update their resumes, find organizations that are parent-friendly, and provide guidance throughout the job-hunting process.

Something I tell myself when I begin to question my value is this: If I were to leave a job or a career after giving years of my time and effort, they would forget me after a little while. My value with the company would eventually diminish.

My kids had the benefit of having their mom home with them every single day until they got to kindergarten. Me being home with them has influenced their lives in a very good way.

I’m grateful I was able to do it, so is my husband, and so are they. When I finally make my way back into the workforce, it will be with a company that embraces the idea that I was a long-time SAHM, not shuns it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my kids are at school and I’m off to eat some bonbons and crawl under the blankets to watch trashy TV. I’ve earned it!

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Stephanie McCoy is an aspiring Young Adult writer. Her work focuses on motherhood, education, and other lifestyle topics.

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