My Own Personal WOHM v SAHM Debate (An Introduction)

I’ve been thinking about writing a post about my experience as a WOHM and how I think it compares to what my experience as a SAHM would be (in my specific set of circumstances), but I’ve always held off because I worried I’d say something that would upset someone and start some kind of flame war on my page (I know I could manage it–I’ve done so before). But I’m hoping that if I stick to my own personal experience (which is unique enough that it’s probably only tangentially relevant to others), I can manage it without ruffling too many feathers.

Why write the post at all? you might wonder. Especially if your situation is not relevant to others? That is a good question (and an even better caveat), one I’ve asked myself a lot. Mostly I want to do this for myself, because every month or so I start to consider my life and its circumstances and I wonder if I would be happier “doing something else,” as they say, and of course an easy “doing something else” scenario to consider is being a SAHM, because I know a lot of women who do that and, as a teacher, I’ve had enough time at home with my kids that I can kind-of imagine (but definitely not understand completely) what it would be like (for me).

Of course me being a SAHM is totally and completely impossible for my family for a lot of reasons, which might lead one to assume the exercise is futile (which it is), but actually, I think the impossibility of being a SAHM is exactly why I consider it, because it’s easy to covet something you know you can’t have, and because it’s easy to inaccurately image the impossible scenario, for no other reason than it’s impossible. But mostly I do this because in the end, I generally abandon these little mental exercises when I arrive at the same conclusion my mother does, that I am happier as a WOHM than I would be as a SAHM. It’s really helpful for me to remember that, because not having a choice can make one feel trapped enough that they resent their circumstances without ever realizing that they would choose those circumstances if they did have a choice. It’s almost as if the lacking of a choice forbids a person to recognize they would make it anyway. Or maybe only I do that.

I think a lot about the SAHM v WOHM debate and why those fires rages so fiercely and uncontrollably. I think in the end it comes down to a deep need to be seen. For our efforts to be recognized and our struggles validated. I’m not quite sure why we need others (who are so far from us and so irrelevant to our own lives) to judge us and our daily pursuits as worthy, but it seems deeply ingrained in the human disposition. I know I do it. Recognition and validation are two things I would basically prostitute myself for, I’m so desperate for them.

I think this pursuit for recognition and validation is especially important for mothers because motherhood is, for the most part, misrepresented by our society. The general message presented is that motherhood is this amazing apex in the human existence and we should all be elated and endlessly grateful to join the ranks of those who respond to the moniker “mommy.”

Which would be all fine and good, except that parenthood is fucking hard. And women are generally relegated to the position of primary caregiver, and it’s an intensely demanding and mostly thankless job 99% of the time. And of course there is the history of women’s subjugation and the general attitude that women are less than men and the parallel belief that the ways women have historically contributed to society (cooking, cleaning, ahem, raising children) aren’t very compelling or important or require much skill (beliefs which are reflected today in how little we pay the people who do these jobs for us). Basically women have been told for the entirety of humanity that they are less than, that their contributions are less than, and that their abilities are less than. So it’s no wonder that now, in the age when women are supposed to be free of these societal limitations (bwahahaha!) and able to achieve everything they’ve ever wanted (bwahahaha!), we are desperate for someone to recognize all that we accomplish honestly and without prejudice.

And now that I’ve written 750 words before I even started my actual post, I’ll have to stop and add a “Part 1” to the title because clearly I have a lot to say on this issue. Tomorrow I will try to present the dialogue I have with myself when I come back to the (non)possibility of being a SAHM and what it would look like for me. In the meantime…

What are your thoughts on the SAHM v WOHM debate? Why do you think it gets so heated?

20 Comments

  1. I love how you say that when we don’t have other options, sometimes we forget that we wouldn’t choose those options anyway!! That’s such a great insight.

    I think a lot of times we have chosen, by small decisions along the way, to end up where we are now. And then we feel stuck – but there’s a reason we got ourselves into these situations to begin with, whether it’s our career choices, our homes, our spouses, our kids. It’s a really good reminder. Thanks!

    1. I think you’re absolutely right that we make small (or big) decisions along the way that make these choices for us, at least some of the time. We also prioritize some things (in our case living near parents) or the preferences of our partner (who refuses to live in the suburbs) and those priorities make our choices too. It’s important to remember that and I mention it in my reasons for appreciating being a WOHM.

  2. You are absolutely right about the political context within which this whole “discussion” takes place and many of the reasons that feathers are so often ruffled. I have been a SAHM for over 4 years now and my own need to untangle my personal thoughts and discoveries about this subject are actually what led me back to blogging.

    As you say, one of the most important aspects is choice. Unfortunately, many people simply can’t make the choice that they want because of outside circumstances and pretty much nobody can make their ideal choice (I would choose part-time employment if our situation were different).

    The only thing I want to add right now is that being a SAHM is not a single job description. My life as a SAHM is very different from those of any other SAHM that I know and my own “job” changes by the day. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s unbearably difficult. Sometimes it’s boring and isolating and frustrating. It is never the same job. It depends on the kid/kids you have, their stage in life, their temperaments as well as your resources, your support, your own temperament.

    Still, by writing this out, even if it is a subject that has been, ahem, written about before, I think you help the many of us who are thinking about these things.

    1. It’s a really good point that being a SAHM encapsulates many different things every day and that the tone of those things changes as kids change. I am watching my son hurdle toward toddlerhood and realizing that it’s all about to change and feeling terrified that I won’t be able to manage it all when it does. I am 100% certain that if my kids were both home all day I COULD NOT DO IT. Not now, and DEFINITELT not when my son becomes and full fledged toddler.

  3. I think it gets heated for the exact reason you listed above: “For our efforts to be recognized and our struggles validated.”

    I generally do a pretty good job creating my own happiness as a SAHM, and I may come at it from a slight different perspective than others moms, but I think both the WOHM and SAHM sides are tough. In essence, motherhood is tough. I had a career for 14 years, I battled infertility, and because of the nature of my husband’s job, it was just a better option for me to stay home. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say I thought about my past life at least once a day. And most times my thoughts lean towards envy of my previous self and her ability to escape. Some days, like last week, I also feel completely misunderstood and judged. While I would love nothing more than to have a day off to go read a book at jury duty, because that’s what I imagine I’ll spend most of my time doing, I know that I’m going to be stressing the whole time I’m there. Stressing that my husband has to take a vacation day to watch our kids, stressing his coworkers will see me as needy and unable to handle my own life, stressing that I might get pulled for a jury and be stuck for more than a few hours, and stressing that the people choosing that jury might see me as nothing more than a woman who breeds. Trying to plead my case just made me feel even worse, as the women at the court had nothing to say other than, “Childcare is your issue, figure it out.” Well, I pretty much have. That’s why I chose to stay home. I have a Master’s degree and I’ve paid a lot of dues professionally; I just chose a different path for this part of my life. I know it’s temporary, as I have every intention of returning to the workforce, but it can feel very isolating at times.

    Ack! Sorry this became so personal and a bit of a rant, it just came at a very raw time for me. However, I believe we only break down the barriers by sharing our experiences. I look forward to Part 2!

    1. I could have written this myself, as I sit in the bathroom, stealing just a few minutes of quiet before returning to the chaos.

      I think about my past life daily too, and not because I think that my life sucks now, but because at least once a day, I just want to hide in quiet time like I used to at work behind a computer screen. And I envy that WOHMs get to escape the screaming. Oh, the screaming.

    2. Thanks for writing so much! I love to hear others’ esperiences.

      I understand that staying home makes the most sense for your family; just like me working makes the most sense for my family. It allows us to have the life we (and especially my husband) want, and that is important too. (And it sounds like your choices give your husband job flexibility that he needs right now.) There are so many moving parts to family life and the choices we need to make. And as slowmama said, very few get to enact their ideal scenario.

  4. Looking forward to part 2! I think alot of the mom wars on this stem a bit from the fact both working at stay at home moms want to explain/justify that their choices are right, just like what you said about validation. I also think that when women pushed for equal rights as men (to work, vote, etc.) our worlds perception of motherhood changed too. Instead of nurturing, supporting, and embracing SAHMs, it became a war to do and be better than other mom’s. Pressure was placed on mom’s to work as hard as men, and “having it all or the best of both world’s” language began. Mom’s who didn’t work were made to feel inferior, like they weren’t good enough. And thus, the mom wars began. Just my thoughts.

    1. I appreciate you bringing up the wanting to explain that a situation is “right.” If one mom believes it is of the utmost importance to be home with her kids, how can she not judge me for not being home with my kids? That is the question that inspires the inflamed response. We feel the need to defend our decisions. That is an important part of it and I didn’t talk about that at all in my post. Thank for adding it to the conversation.

  5. I still wonder if the debate is as intense as it is made out to be in the media. I’m not saying that there isn’t some judgement between the two camps, but on a personal face-to-face level, I don’t think the judging and finger pointing is as black and white. However, I do hate it when people say they’re staying home because they don’t want other people “raising” their children. I know many parents with kids in daycare or nannies. These valuable caretakers have a huge influence on children. However, at the end of the day, I still believe the parents are raising the kids.

    1. I feel like I mostly feel the “debate” through judgey “advice” given to me by others, things like, “you could be home with your kids if you really wanted to, anyone can find a way to make it work, and these early years go by so fast, you’re really going to regret it later if you’re not home with them now.” I get this line A LOT more than I ever expected to and from a surprising array of people. The rest of the time I see it on social media, where people feel emboldened to say whatever fool thing crosses their minds.

  6. You nailed it on the need for validation. You know I’m struggling with this lately. I’m losing my mind with a newly weaned, needy toddler and a very head strong 3.5 year old. I’m hit and screamed at almost hourly between the two of them, and I just wonder sometimes, “why did I choose to do this?”

    My main complaint, as you know, is the working mom complaining that certain situations (like blow outs, sick kids, no sleep) are harder for her because she works outside the home. Those comments on FB will get a response from me every single time. It’s like, “because I have somewhere important to be, this sucks more for me.”. Give me a break. Puking, oozing, screaming kids just plain sick, if you have to be somewhere “important” (isn’t my kid being to be at preschool on time important?) our not.

    1. Oh my god. I don’t know how you deal with getting hit all day. That sends me into the worst spiral of demoralization and depression. I would lose my mind.

      My son is flailing headlong into toddlerhood and I can tell he’s going to have the strong will of his sister. This summer I’ll have two months with both kids home ALL DAY LONG and I’m already panicking. I have had one legit panic attack about it and I’m sure more are to come. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to survive. It’s going to be so hard. I wish I could afford some camps for my daughter but with my credit card coming due (it starts accruing interest next month) I just can’t register her for anything. And by the time I might be able to, they will all be full up. I’m going to lose my mind this summer. Lose my mind.

  7. GREAT post! I have been thinking a lot about this and was going to write one myself after my experiences last week.

    I play both WOHM and SAHM as I am a part timer worker. I would definitely say my SAHM role is definitely undervalued and under appreciated. I think your comment “I think in the end it comes down to a deep need to be seen. For our efforts to be recognized and our struggles validated.” completely nails this.

    Too often the role of a SAHM is boiled down to coffee and cake rather than tedious, stressful permanency of it. There is never any escape. It is ongoing and no one is there to help you. You can’t escape for five minutes for coffee and cake because they follow you everywhere and sure it is nice to not have to rush to work but as a part time worker my “days off” are usually my “get shit done days” and I am crazy busy anyway. As they get older and drop the day sleep and before they go to school and learn a measure of discipline KIDS ARE FREAKING HARD.

    I know on some of the really hard days such as last Friday which had me staring into a goblet of wine at 4.30pm after Molly had pissed deliberately all over my couch and was so strung out from not sleeping that she out.of.control I just wanted to be at work. I didn’t want to be at home and Ryan was taking his sweet arse time to get home and I just sent him a text and said are you deliberately trying to upset me? He just couldn’t get how rag tired I was, how utterly exhausted I was from the day that never seemed to end. However on my work days he is instantly there picking up any slack as if I need it more because I have been working. He often wonders on my day’s off why I haven’t done paperwork in the office or baked a cake or walked the dogs. He doesn’t say it but you can see it in his eyes.

    I wanted my really long horrible day to be a valid as a long day when I am earning actual money. But it wasn’t. It was brushed off as a nothing day. I just wanted him to have an entire day at home alone when she is being this way!

    Then on flip side you have WOHM and she misses really important milestones and events. Like my poor gorgeous friend Claire whose son started school last year and some bitchy mother said to her one day when she was able to get out of work early to pick him up “oh hi, we were wondering who H’s mum was we never see you” she felt like the worse mother in the world. As if she only cared about work rather than her son’s and I know that on her days off she is the most committed adoring mum in the world. That stuff really upsets me as well. she is not validated for doing what she has to do.

    All up I am incredibly fortunate to get the best of both worlds. In the interest of a debate I do think a real SAHM has it harder for recognition of her work load – there are definitely some parents out there that dump the kids and go shopping but those people exist in work life too. They are always going to free load and look for the best short cut.

    Ok. I haven’t even answered your question. Why does it get so heated? I guess it gets heated because no one wants to feel like the work and effort they put in is for nothing and sometimes there are some real arseholes out there that have no idea and say things that inflammatory because they think they know best. And sometimes people just want to think their way is best. Most people feel guilty that they want more and so to cover up their guilt they try and make the other people feel as shitty as they do instead of just supporting them. I also think there are just some really horrible people out there that have outdated ideas an they love to push buttons. I just wish women would join together instead of cutting each other down all the time and support one another for the choices they make.

    1. I like seeing your viewpoint on this, Chon, given that you do both. I am struggling so much right now, just tired of the whining and fighting and isolation. Right now, I’d give anything to go to work a couple of days a week. I did work 4 days a week when Matthew was born but 3 days a week with him was not enough. When they’re little tiny babies, I think it’s so hard to leave them. Now that they’re opinionated and could use some classroom structure and rules, I think I’d be OK leaving them a few days a week. Did I just say that? šŸ˜‰

    2. I really appreciate hearing your take on this because you are “living the dream,” as they say. At least, you’re living a lot of people’s dream. I have thought for a long time that part time work would be my dream, but now I’m not so sure. I hope to write more about it later, but the short version is I think it would alleviate many of the stresses of being a WOHM, without causing as many of the (financial and emotional) problems as being a SAHM. I guess I’d like to think I could handle my kids alone a couple days a week, but maybe I couldn’t… šŸ˜‰ (I put a winky-face emoticon there, but I’m being totally serious.)

  8. My friend and I are perfect examples of the SAHM WOHM debate. I adore staying home. I revel in tackling my to do list, cleaning, exercising, cooking for my family. Which is not all that surprising given my longest running job, which I most closely identify with; group home staff, is essentially a SAHM that gets paid. Kids, homework, cooking, cleaning, appointments, bedtime tuck ins. I got this. My friend however feels stifled, and judged for her household upkeep lacking. She does not feel fulfilled staying home like I do, but she feels like she SHOULD. It SHOULD be enough. She SHOULD be able to keep the house clean. And I feel faulted with my entire lack of ambition in pursuing a successful career outside the home. I SHOULD want to contribute to the paying of our bills. Providing food, electricity for my family. I SHOULD want to move up in the ranks of my chosen field. Yet to be chosen.
    We all have our strengths and weaknesses, if only we could concentrate on them. Without feeling less then no matter what they are.

    1. I think I relate more with your friend. If I were a SAHM, I’d have those same issues and put those same pressure of myself. I don’t think I’d be very happy, or feel very fulfilled, if I were a SAHM. More on that soon…

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