The Myth of the Stay at Home Mom

An editorial piece from the Daily Beast about the Myth of the stay at home mommy:

When Rosen said that Ann Romney had “never worked,” it was perfectly obvious that she was referring to the classic definition of work as something one does for pay: “the labor, task or duty that affords one his accustomed means of livelihood,” as Webster’s dictionary puts it. All mothers know that motherhood involves a lot of hard work, but let’s stop pretending that that’s the same as working for a living. It isn’t. When you’re a stay-at-home mom, somebody else is bringing home the paycheck.

Equally misleading was Mrs. Romney’s retort that her “career” was being a mother. Again, Webster’s defines “career” as “a field for or pursuit of a consecutive progressive achievement, especially in public, professional or business life,” and also as “a profession for which one undergoes special training and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.” Motherhood is many things, but as a matter of pure semantics, it’s not a career. It’s also not a “permanent calling,” since kids grow up.

Whether you’re a father with a stay-at-home wife, a working mother with a partner, or a single mother on her own, the buck stops with you if you’re providing the primary financial support for your family—and that responsibility is often terrifying. We all have our wide-awake-at-3-in-the-morning nights, and no doubt Mrs. Romney has endured her share. But her worries, however grave, have never included the ability to feed her kids or keep a roof over their heads—and those are problems that regularly torture countless American women.

For most of them, working for pay is a necessity, and staying home to raise their children is not an option, despite the constant blather about “choice.” Whether or not we want to do so—and many of us do—the majority of us work because we have to, and our children depend on us to bring in a reliable income. No one who has never shouldered that responsibility can ever really know what it’s like—how scary it is, how hard it is, and how lonely it can feel.

The self-appointed defenders of the American family love to exalt motherhood and extol the virtues of women who make the “sacrifice” of staying home with their children, as Peggy Noonan put it on Friday’s Morning Joe.

It’s long past time to acknowledge the heroic sacrifices of the working mothers who do everything that stay-at-home moms do, but who also provide the crucial financial contributions that enable their families to stay afloat, even when the dads drop dead, lose their jobs, run off with other women, or otherwise default on their parental obligations.

When it comes to motherhood, there’s no shortage of heroism or sacrifice no matter which role you play. But for all too many families, if mom didn’t bring home the bacon, there wouldn’t be any food on the table.

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