22 September 2009

I'm a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM)

I had a lovely night out tonight at Word Soup, Preston's premier live literature event. Well, that's what they call it, and it's true!

In the interval a young woman at the next table turned her chair round to say hello. She didn't want to be sat on her own. Mel was a journalism student, 20, who was live-tweeting the event.

She was very friendly, although I guessed we didn't have a great deal in common. Then she asked me a question. A question I'm still not used to answering.

She asked me 'what do you do?'.

In the past I would usually say 'I'm an accountant', sometimes I would say 'I work in accounts'. I would use the latter when I suspected the questioner would ask me if I would prepare their accounts. 'I'm not that sort of accountant' I'd say. 'I work in industry' I'd have to explain. 'I manage an accounts department'. It's easier not to say 'accountant' sometimes.

More recently I was able to say 'I'm on maternity leave', then 'I'm an accountant' or whatever.

Now I'm a stay at home mum. That's what I am. It's what I've always wanted to be.

So why do I feel awkward saying it out loud to people? I'm not ashamed, or am I?

Perhaps I associate 'stay at home mum' with 'housewife'. It's a connotation that makes me uncomfortable because of the negative way these roles are portrayed by the media. The stereotypical stay at home mum sits on her lazy fat backside all day watching Jeremy Kyle.

This is not what I do. Unless Presley and Cash are both asleep, I am looking after them. I'm feeding them, washing them, reading to them, playing with them and cuddling them.

I'm doing an important job. There's no job more important than raising children. What I really mean is there's no job more important to me than raising my children.

Back to tonight. I said 'I'm a stay at home mum'. I followed it up by saying that my boys were two and one so I had my hands full. I think I said this to justify my existence. Mel, as it turned out, loves babies. She also looked genuinely surprised when I said I was 39. She said I was the youngest 39 year old she had ever seen.

I knew we'd get on.

Am I on my own in feeling slightly strange when I have to say out loud that I'm a stay at home mum? How do you answer the question 'what do you do?'?



  1. No you are not the only one at all. I went through that phase of not knowing who I was when in between maternity leave and starting my life coaching business. I remember once being asked the same question and the first answer that came to my mind was "nothing... I do nothing". Craig was with me and straight away corrected what I just said by saying something like "she cares for our children which is a lot more than nothing". I felt so awkward. Be proud of who you are, you are doing a very big job especially with their age gap!

  2. I haven't been asked that questions yet, but its a hard one isn't it. I'm looking for work so do I say I'm looking or a SAHM?

    Being a SAHM is something to be very proud of, esp looking after two little ones

  3. I have the same problem. I say "I'm at home with the kids" generally. It's the reaction I get that makes it problematic. People just don't know what to say - it's an awkward situation. I agree with you it's important, though.

    I also find myself justifying it - saying I will go back to teaching when they're bigger, saying I have various functions in my choir, etc. It shouldn't be like that.

  4. I think the trouble with SAHM is that people think it implies a lot of sitting around doing nothing or a 1950s housewife when we know the reality is actually that you are wearing many hats - children's entertainer, domestic organiser, cook, cleaner, driver and so on

    Would be nice if there was a label that reflected the sheer all encompassing nature of the job - full time mum?

  5. Oh I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes when I'm asked that question I say 'Well I used to work in television, but now I'm at home looking after my two children which is an even harder job'. I find that covers all the bases. But my eldest is 5 now, so I have been saying it for a while!! Not sure how much longer I can carry on saying it for though :-))

  6. Hey. I really identify with this post. Since I walked out on my (awful) job, I really don't know how I ever managed to fit the darned job in! I'm exhausted, what with cooking, cleaning, sewing, ironing, looking after my son etc etc. I agree that being a stay at home mum is the most important job you will ever do, and I don't regret it for a second. :-)

  7. I'm struggling with this too - and it seems that not only is it a question you still can't get used to - but there doesn't seem to be a correct response once you've said it! More often than not I'll say 'I'm a SAHM' and the person I'm having a conversation with will start going on about how it's the most important job in the world, etc... as if THEY need to justify my existence! It's all very awkward.

  8. I don't know how tot describe myself and probably launch into an extended explanation that the person I'm talking to isn't interested in e.g. "I went back to work full time when CJ was 6 months, and I thought I was up for a promotion but that didn't work out, then I asked to go part-time but that didn't work out and there's no other part time jobs around, so I thought I could do supply teaching 2 days a week and have more timewith CJ, but I haven't got any work yet because my CRB check took a while and teachers aren't ill yet, it's only September" etc, etc. Cue vague smiling and nodding. No idea how to describe myself and I laughed out loud when a mortgage advisor out me down as a "homemaker" last week!

  9. I completely agree - I feel I always say something to back-up my new role - how silly really. I think it boils down to the fact that the job we do, isn't seen as a 'job' by many, many people. I personally don't care what 'label' I'm given - housewife, SAHM, yummy mummy - I don't really like any of them - I just want to be respected for the job I do.

  10. Seems like we all struggle with that question, but we all KNOW that really it is a full time job and at times so much harder than a 'normal' job. I find if I say it matter-of-factly instead of trying to justify it, it is much easier to accept. I think we're only putting these doubts in our own heads whereas the people who matter know how hard it can be.

  11. Something I struggle with too. I'm guilty of saying "I'm just a mum" which is a terrible thing to say really. I also try to justify not working by saying things like 'well I've been looking after the boys and there's no point going back to work because I'm expecting another one'. It's good the person you spoke to was so receptive. I have friends who while on maternity leave have said they can't wait to get back to work for adult conversation / to wear nice clothes / to be sociable again and that being at home is boring. That can make me feel a bit second class. I also have some working friends who admit they work because it's easer than being a SAHM! We should all be proud of whatever choice we make. I'm going to talk up being a SAHM a bit more when people ask!

  12. Interesting post and remarks in the comments box Sandy. I definitely went through the stage of having to justify myself, but funnily enough, in the last year it's ceased to matter what other people think about my role. It's almost as if, since I've become better at it - and put distance between myself and my 'exciting' career beforehand - I've become more at ease with it. Think I feel a post coming on (which I will of course link to yours if that's OK?)

  13. I can identify with this topic as I have been at home with my children since 1993 and still don't have the perfect explanation of what I do. I choose to be at home because I believe that is what is best for my children. My youngest is 12 and the next few years of being there for him are, to me, just as important, if not more so, than when they were young. I sometimes do some supply teaching, I am currently a part time student of an online degree course and a school governor but none of these define who I am or what I do. I am just me and if anyone doesn't like it that is their problem not mine. The time with our children is precious and if we have a choice it is our choice and no-one else's. I am happy with my life so it must be right for me!

  14. Peggy, it is a huge job. We know how hard we work, much harder than a paid job, but yet we say we do nothing. The transition from paid work to parenthood is tricky. I expect I'll get used to it!

    Carol, you're right, being a SAHM is something to be proud of. I know you're looking for a job, but enjoy being at home while you can :-)

    Mwa, it's funny how people react. We're almost apologetic for not going out to work, even though we've taken on such a demanding role. You're so right, it shouldn't be like that.

    Muddling Along Mummy, I like full time mum, it's a much more positive phrase. I am secretly hoping that as my children get older I will get a little time to sit and do nothing. Having said that, I'm always on the go anyway, so I'll hopefully be able to sit and do something instead!!

    Emily, I like that answer too, it gives more information about who you are. I should think you've got a few years of that line yet!

    Julie, I'm glad you got away from your miserable job and are enjoying being at home. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, but the most rewarding. :-)

    Domestic Rebel, isn't it strange that we all feel so awkward about being a SAHM?! I guess only people who have experienced it will know what it's like.

    Kath, 'homemaker', that is so old-fashioned. It makes you sound like you wear an apron and make apple pies and embroider hankies all day! There's no mention of children either. I suppose it depends who you're talking to whether you launch into the full explanation or not.

    Hot Cross Mum, you've hit the nail on the head there. There is a lack of respect in society for the SAHM. This is perpetuated by the media too. Just imagine if we were paid to raise our children? That's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no holiday, no sickies - hmm, would be expensive!

    Frogs&Sprogs, you're so right. We should say 'I'm a full time mum' or whatever as a matter of fact, no apology necessary.

    Whistlejacket, I hope you're not going to say 'I'm just a mum' any more. That made me feel quite sad reading that. Soon you'll have three little ones to look after, where would you find the time to work?! I respect anyone's decision to go back to work, but I worked hard all my life to be able to afford to stay at home for a few years. That certainly doesn't make me second class, but I understand what you mean. When the boys go to school I'll go back to work for a rest!

    Potty Mummy, ooh, there is hope for me yet. I'm looking forward to feeling like I'm good at my new job! I was only too happy to leave behind my 'exciting' career. Mind you, I thought 90 hours weeks were tough. Little did I know... Looking forward to reading your post and of course I don't mind :-)

    Catherine, what a lovely sentiment. I'm glad you feel happy in your role. It's a shame we feel we have to justify our existence to others. What's that old saying? Those who matter don't mind and those that mind, don't matter. :-)

  15. I think Potty Mummy has hit the nail on the head. The key is not to mind what other people think. But of course that is easier said than done. We live in a society that equates value with money, so being a non-earner is always going to be low status. It's hard not to be affected by that.

    I usually say 'I'm at home with the kids".

  16. Such a tricky one, Sandy, I always dread people asking me what I do ....even though I know I do a lot (and even get paid for some of it!). There's nothing more important than mothering, we should be loud and proud about it, but it's easier said than done .....

  17. Iota, that's so true, we're so under-valued. I'm more determined now to be proud of my role.

    Dulwich Divorcee, absolutely. I agree that it is the most important of roles. I will hold my head high from now on :-)

  18. The only problem with 'full time mum' is that it can feel like a slight to working mums, like they're only mothers when they're at home, not when they're at work.

    I just say "I look after my two children" when asked, though I am rarely asked. I've never liked that whole "What do you do?" conversation anyway. So superficial and dull.

  19. Noble Savage, absolutely no slight intended. I went to a local writing group last night, it was refreshing that no one asked 'what do you do?', they wanted to know 'what do you write?'.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin