By: Irene Azoulay
Cross Cultural Coach, FRANCE
Whether a first time parent or a parent with older children choosing to give up their job and stay at home with their children, the road can be bumpy and challenging. In this paper an explanation will be given around the difficulties a mother can face when transitioning from her professional career to her stay-at-home mother role. It will then go on to explain how coaching can help the mother with embracing and enjoying the path she has chosen.
The history of the stay at home mum
The stay-at-home mum is a relatively new concept. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the home and farm were the focus of economic activity, and the skills applied in the home were acknowledged. Cooking, weaving, spinning, education and rearing of children and animal husbandry were all recognized as being essential to the economic vitality of the family unit.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, people moved away from the farm to more urbanized areas. The center of economic activity moved out from the home and the work the women continued to do became invisible. Today the nature of the work in the home has changed, moving away from production to more about arranging for goods and services. The basics of child rearing haven’t changed.
The number of stay at home mothers has decreased steadily over the last 40 years. The statistics in the US show us a decline from 9.8 million in 1969, to 7.2 million in 1979 and to 5.0 million in 2010. 5.0 million represents 23 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15. (Census 2010). The decline is linked to feminist movements rallying for equal rights and equal pay for men and women. There are more opportunities for women outside of the home.
The decision to stay at home
There is much debate over the reason the professional women are deciding to stay at home. It has been argued that it is a choice being made by these women, and that they are opting out of the workforce to stay at home to raise their children.
They abandon the high pressure sphere of paid work in order to stay at home to raise their children. (Belkin 2003). More recent studies are showing that the women who leave the workforce are not necessarily doing so by choice, but rather they are faced with a career which does not allow for the challenges of a family, and it becomes a struggle to have a career and a family. (Stone 2007). “One of the worst-kept secrets of the past two decades is the quiet exodus of highly trained women from corporations and the leading professional firms. Faced with institutions that have no tolerance for anyone with family responsibilities, many women have taken the only available option – just say no.” (Crittenden, 2001 pg. 28)
Challenges of the stay at home mum
Transitioning from the professional world to the home is not always a smooth and easy journey. The challenges can be classified as what’s being left behind and what’s being taken on. What’s being left behind
When in the office, the professional’s day is structured and has direction. In the home, the mother has the whole day ahead of her that she needs to manage herself and set her own goals. Mothers who are used to controlled environments can feel paralyzed when deciding how to best utilize their time.
The loss of financial independence can leave mothers feeling vulnerable about being dependent on their husbands and guilty when they spend money on themselves. There can also be worries around the reduced family income and staying within a reduced budget.
Professional women often define themselves by their occupation and enjoy the prestige of their corporate position. When they stay at home they may wonder if they are a viable person without a paycheck and a title. Alongside this, is the absence of tangible rewards and recognition. In the home, small babies will not be able to tell their mum what a great job their doing, and so the absence of the praise which came so readily in the office could cause their self-esteem to slide.
By stepping out of the business world, a gap is formed between the mother and her old friends and co-workers. The mother may feel that her conversation is not interesting enough for her colleagues. The times available for socializing may not coincide with the friend’s availability.
The New job
The new role as stay at home mum does not come with a job description. There are stereotypes around the role of the housewife. After years of considering herself independent, and sharing household chores with her husband, she may find herself falling into that role. It can be a challenge to not fall into the traditional role where the husband makes all the family decisions and the mother does all the household chores. Because of the repetitive thankless nature of household drudgery boredom can become an issue. It’s difficult to find housework satisfying as it is never ending, and doesn’t stay done for long. With this come feelings of non-accomplishment. The constant interruptions from children make progress very difficult. “For women who are used to seeing projects make steady progress (even if they have to cope with countless department meetings), being interrupted all the time can be maddening.” (Sanders and Bullen 2005, page 51).
The stay at home mothers can display feelings of guilt. “It’s easy to feel guilty about so many things: “wasting” your education and your potential, not contributing financially to your household, putting a burden on your husband….. Some mothers we surveyed said that they feel as though they are letting down the women’s movement: by giving up their paid employment, they are not encouraging younger women to be independent and have their own careers” (Sanders and Bullen, 2005 pg 59)
Being in the new role as a stay-at-home mum, the mother may have doubts about her ability as a mother. “Another low point is when you realize that a child who is willful, stubborn, challenging, or extremely energetic is not exactly what you had in mind when you said to yourself, “I want to have a baby”. (Schlessinger, 2009, Pg 165) The mother may find herself feeling lonely as she has taken on a new role, and does not have any peers. Because of the constant demands in her life she may find that she has no time for herself. She loses her sense of self. This loss can be likened to grief. “When mothers lose their sense of self, they often exhibit the physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms that are typically ascribed to grief. (Smollen 2006, pg 3)
The decision to stay at home is not one which is always understood by the people in the mother’s entourage, which can lead to lack of respect from family, friends and society. Mothers find themselves having to justify themselves and what they do all day. There is a lack of understanding. “In a culture that measures worth and achievement almost solely in terms of money, the intensive work of rearing responsible adults counts for little” (Crittenden, 2001 pg. 45)
Psychologist Jane Swigart who writes extensively on the emotional experience from the mother’s point of view points out: “The continuous offering of physical care, protection, and empathy can cause the care-giver to feel not simply fatigue, but acute emotional deprivation. In this country, many mothers feel such extreme impoverishment they become vulnerable to disturbing forces both within and without: depression, rage, guilt (for who can feel anger toward a defenseless beloved infant who needs you?) and feelings of worthlessness which come from our culture’s devaluation of the intensive labor of childrearing” (Swigart, 1991, p.49)
In a recent survey conducted by Gallup on more than 60,000 US women, it was found that stay-at-home mums with young children at home are more likely than mothers employed for pay to experience worry, sadness, stress, anger and depression.
The findings also indicated that employed mothers are as emotionally well off as their peers without children at home, which would suggests that formal employment or the income associated with it has emotional benefits for mothers. (Gallup 2012)