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Stay-At-Home Mom Shame

Mom shame is real. As a stay-at-home mom herself, Quin is talking about the shame that some women feel whether they work or stay home.

Published October 24, 2016

by Quinn Kelly

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Let me get this off my chest. I’m a stay-at-home mom and have been for the past two years. In my former working life, I was a marriage and family therapist. But for the past 24 months, I have traded in my therapy skills (i.e., helping couples manage their conflicts) for helping my four sons manage their sibling rivalry — leading me to need some therapy (of the retail nature) myself.

And to spare you the gushy details of my love for managing the crazy chaos that comes with staying at home with my four sons, I will leave you with this: I’m just crazy enough to love it. (Except for the pee on the floor…no one loves that.) But last week, I had a conversation that made me wonder at myself.

An older man at a baseball game struck up a conversation with me regarding my son’s chatter about a baseball card and asked me a question:

“So, what do you do?” And I didn’t know what to say.

Instead of answering, “I stay at home with my kids.” I found myself standing there consciously considering whether to lead in with “I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist” — the degree and job I worked so hard to get — or to just start with “I’m a stay-at-home mom” — the job that I fully want right now.

I paused as if this older man would judge me and as if his judgment of me would have mattered. And I paused as if this older man’s opinion of me had any stake in my life. I don’t even know him, for goodness’ sake. But regardless, I paused. And I didn’t know why. But it felt a lot like it was because I felt ashamed.

But his reaction is what made the whole situation stand out to me. As soon as I told him, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” He smiled as big as could be and said, “Wonderful. My wife has never worked because she was too busy caring for our boys. But mostly me. And I needed it.” When he said this, I felt relief. Then I felt guilty for feeling relieved.

The Internal Battle of Mom Shame

Right then, it hit me that the battle people allude to between working moms and stay-at-home moms is more of a sensationalized suggestion than an accurate reality. I’ve yet to experience it from friends. When I talk with my working mom friends, they highlight the stresses and the benefits of both choices. And ironically, they are the ones that seem to tell me how hard they think it is to stay at home full-time.

However, I do think there is a real battle that is going on with mothers. But it’s not among us. It’s within us. It’s a battle within ourselves. Because I have seen that same hesitation among my friends when asked that same question from both sides of the fence.

A stranger asks a stay-at-home mom, “So what do you do?” And she hesitates.

A stranger asks a working mom, “So what do you do?” And she hesitates.

As stay-at-home moms or working moms — are we bold enough to own the decisions we make with pride, whether with a friend or a stranger? Am I scared to say that I like helping a child learn to potty train while another mother says it’s mind-numbing and depressing? Maybe. Maybe not.

Am I okay when someone asks me, “Do you feel you wasted your degree?” And instead of feeling like I should agree with that assessment, can I let them know I feel good about my brain being used in other ways at the time? Like navigating how to make a toddler think they want to wear a particular pair of shorts without really letting them know I’m brainwashing them to choose the pair I want them to wear. (Don’t try telling me that doesn’t deserve a degree in itself.)

But seriously. I wonder to myself. Is it okay to be satisfied with that as a mom? Is it alright to be unsatisfied with that as a mom?

The answer is YES. We just have to believe it.

And that’s how we win that battle. That’s how we stop hesitating and start answering, “So what do you do?” without a pause. We just answer.

“I work in my home.” 

“I work out of my home.” 

“And yep. I love it.”

Because I know one day, all too soon, I will be sitting across from clients, listening to their problems and helping them navigate through them while my boys are off living life. But today, I am home with four crazies that are my job. My life. My passion. And today, I’m here to say I’ve got no shame in the stay-at-home-mom game.

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Quinn Kelly Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
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Quinn is a mother of four, licensed marriage and family therapist, host of the “Renew You” Podcast, and author of “Raising Boys: A Christian Parenting Book.” Throughout the last decade,… Read more

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