Stay at Home Mom Shaming

On Stay at Home Mom Shaming: How is this Still a Thing?

In Motherhood by Punita Rice

Did you know stay at home mom shaming is still a thing? In ~the olden days~, women were expected and pressured to be stay at home moms, and many had no choice, regardless of what they actually wanted. And luckily, that did change! As we know, in much of the Western world, things have been changing for, like, half a century. In more recent decades, most women haven’t felt “forced into a life at home,” especially if we happen not to want that. But… if I think back to the pop culture I was exposed to growing up (sitcoms in the 90s, for instance), I think that pendulum started swinging a little too far in the opposite direction: I feel like I came of age watching and absorbing a lot of pop culture in which women who didn’t choose to be stay at home moms became the new normal. As a natural consequence, it seemed like the women who still wanted the “traditional” (and apparently, now unfashionable and outdated) life as a stay at home mom were no longer keeping up with the new times. The women who wanted to be stay at home moms might even have experienced some stay at home mom shaming. And that’s fine, but I thought we’d have processed all that, and come out the other side having reached some kind of a more mature middle ground, whereby there would be “room” for both preferences. We’d be fine whether a mom wanted (or needed) to be a full time working parent, or a full time stay at home parent, or whatever else she chose. What I’m saying is, I guess I thought by now, in 2018, in this seemingly more open-minded and post-judgey era, we’d have moved past the ~this way is the only way~ mentality, and we’d have come to a place where we’d be supportive of whatever a mom chose to do (work, or stay home with her babies). But we’re not.

Which leads me to this: Today, many moms feel pressure to hire childcare and go back out into the traditional workforce after having a baby (um, right after having a baby). And if she doesn’t, she’s probably going to be shamed for it.

In fact, even if a mom wants to stay at home (rather than taking a maternity leave and returning to work after it’s over), there is now “a cultural expectation/reality that [moms] should/must work,” as says writer Julia Pimsleur for Forbes (e.g. when my sister-in-law Kelli was pregnant with her twins, and shared with her supervisor that she was expecting, she said she was “immediately” prompted by her boss to look into childcare). And those who stay at home anyway wind up contending with stay at home mom shaming from peers.

I know — I’ve been there. In the past few years, while home with my kids, I’ve finished a doctorate, written, two books, and started and now run an outreach organization; yet though I work from home, because I am, first and foremost, a stay at home mom to my boys, I’ve experienced some stay at home mom shaming myself. Sometimes this has taken the form of seemingly harmless remarks from well-meaning friends who can’t hide their biases, and other times, it’s been through overt criticisms from people who just can’t help themselves. I’m not at all alone in having this experience.

When I started chatting with friends about their experiences with choosing to be working moms or stay at home moms (or hybrids of the two), I realized that while all moms end up feeling some form of shame or guilt for their choices (here’s a post all about “mom guilt”), amongst moms who stay at home, any existing mom guilt seems to be magnified by the sensation of feeling judged, or shamed, by others.

In an era where we as women are supposed to be feeling empowered to forge our own paths, some women are feeling more judged than ever. Read on for more on the annoying reality of stay at home mom shaming.

On Stay at Home Mom Shaming

Stay at Home Mom Shaming is Still a Thing in 2018.

In a recent post (published last year), writer and stay at home mom Michelle Zunter talks about her experience with stay at home mom shaming — she describes feeling judged for choosing to leave her job and stay home with her kids:

“There are always the unsolicited comments from moms who go out to work about how I must have so much more time to do fun things with the kids, how lucky I am to stay home, or how nice it must be not to have to get up and work every day like they have to.

Then there’s my favorite comment that goes something like, ‘I wish I could stay home like you but someone has to work and pay the bills!’

I feel bad when I hear things like this. Is that the intention? Should it be my burden to feel guilty because someone else is unhappy with their own life choices?”

(Read the rest of her post here.)

In another recent post (also published last year), writer and stay at home mom Yasmine Singh also has experience with stay at home mom shaming — she describes feeling shamed by family and friends for choosing to stay home:

“I didn’t necessarily expect anyone to praise me for my decision to become a SAHM, but I also didn’t expect anyone to shame me, either. A few months after I gave birth, my in-laws and friends started bombarding me with the question: ‘When are you going back to work?’ When I explained that I wasn’t going back to work anytime soon, people were shocked and disgusted. If I posted articles, quotes, or memes in support of SAHMs, I received negative feedback. If I said I was tired or stressed out, people were baffled. They assumed that because I was at home and not working, that I was on some kind of vacation.”

(Read more from her post here.)

I asked my friend Jessie, who is a stay at home mom, about her own experiences with stay at home mom shaming, and she immediately shared that she had definitely received “lots of shade” for being a stay at home mom:

“I’ve heard ‘wow you must be so bored’ A LOT. Which is so not the case. (I go out literally 6 days a week and enjoy all of it!) People assume I do nothing all day and so I feel the need to explain how important my career was to me before I had Logan, and what freelance and volunteer things I do now.”

Jessie, on being judged for being a stay at home mom

Another friend, Lindsey, is a stay-at-home mom to a toddler, has had similar experiences. I asked her if she’s ever experienced any stay at home mom shaming, and she shared,

“I feel judged for [being a stay at home mom]. I’m often uncomfortable when I tell people.”

Lindsey, on feeling judged for being a stay at home mom

Clearly, stay at home mom shaming is definitely still a thing. (Also, here’s a thread on the What to Expect forum, from 2012, about moms who have experienced stay at home mom shaming, and/or have felt judged as stay at home moms, and here’s a post by Erin Almond, from 2014, about the stay at home mom stigma.)

In fact, it seems that the only women who don’t seem to experience any stay at home mom shaming, and instead get a lot of encouragement or support for being stay at home moms don’t seem to be immersed in an overtly liberal (and secular) society, like the one I and most of my peers seem to exist within.

(Also — it seems like stay at home dads in progressive cultures don’t experience shaming either, but rather, tend to feel praised for it. Here’s an interesting post by Billy Doidge Kilgore about what becoming a stay at home dad taught him about male privilege.)

For instance, it definitely seems like the majority of stay at home moms who blog or vlog about their lifestyles (aka “mommy bloggers” — though I hate that term) tend to come from communities where very traditional family structures are the norm, or they come from a specific religious background. While these moms likely deal with more than their fair share of criticism since they are bloggers, it does seem that they are able to dodge the shaming that some of the stay at home moms I know deal with. (I also realize that the other side of that coin is that for the women who don’t feel any pressure or shaming for being stay at home moms, especially if they come from very traditional or conservative backgrounds, may also not feel as empowered to choose paths working outside the home, as full-time working moms if they want that… so I’m not trying to paint that life as ideal either.)


When women do the stay at home mom shaming

In Michelle Zunter’s experience, it was other moms making snide comments about her choices. The same was true in Yasmine’s experience:

“Most, if not all, of the shaming came from other moms. At social gatherings, family members asked me what I did all day, and why I couldn’t just let someone else watch my daughter so I could return to work. I hated when people tried to make me feel like I was lazy, as though I was putting all of the burden on my husband. People asked us about our finances, as though me not working would cause us to go broke. It was intrusive, and I felt like my husband and I had to defend ourselves all the time.”

Again, more from Yasmine’s post here.

My friend Lindsey’s experience was similar:

“I definitely think other moms are the worst … I have actually felt the most shame at some mommy and me play groups. [Some] moms were rude and very judgmental to the fact that I was a stay-at-home mom and only had one child, like my situation wasn’t enough for them.”

And my sister-in-law, Kelli also says that moms definitely judge other moms, including those who stay at home:

“Intentional or not, there can be a passive aggressive bravado between women, conceived from our own insecurities about our parenting choices, and the unrealistic expectations we place upon ourselves. Listen moms, do you and mind your business. We are all doing our best. Your best won’t look like my best, and that is ok. (Unless your child hits mine. That is not ok.)”

Kelli Hrivnak (read more from her here)

And that’s been my own experience as well. When my son was about two months old, a working mom made the following remark to me: “Must be nice to have all that free time at home.” (And at the time, I was working on my doctorate full time while taking care of an infant. So go figure.)

Why some women judge stay at home moms

When I was trying to better understand why other moms judge stay at home moms, I came across this brief but interesting thread on Quora describing the social pressure on women to not “just be stay at home moms.” In the thread, one of the (anonymous) participants shared that before actually becoming a parent, she herself also felt judgmental toward stay at home moms. She perceived them as “outdated and regressive.” But becoming a stay at home mom actually made her realize that hiring out childcare didn’t feel right for her family:

“Before I had kids, I thought the stay at home moms… were outdated and regressive. Mind you, I also thought kids were thrilled to start day care at 6 weeks or 6 months old… [but] daycare just isnt what its cracked up to be. Neither is having a nanny. Both are fairly imperfect solutions and both have high costs, personal and monetary. I feel differently about my judgement of [stay at home moms] now. I was the one who was deluded…

…I am pretty sure that most kids need a parent at home/around (or at best working only part time flex hours) for the first 3-6 years of their lives, and probably longer. Indeed, almost the entire rest of the western world agrees and makes maternity/paternity and long term part-time work with benefits a staple of the labour market. But two parents working til 6pm or 7pm every night?”

(Read more from the thread here.)

Even though I hate that some women are out here judging or looking down on stay at home moms, I do get it: Women already have to fight to prove our worthiness professionally. So when smart, educated, otherwise potentially successful women have babies and then don’t dive back into their careers with gusto, it can almost feel like it’s a waste. It can even feel like it’s undermining everything our foremothers have fought for. Which I get.

Stay at home mom shaming NEEDS TO STOP. Painting: Jessie Willcox Smith Mother and Children Reading
Stay at home mom shaming NEEDS TO STOP. Painting: Jessie Willcox Smith Mother and Children Reading

And it’s not just choosing to be stay at home moms; anytime women makes traditional, or old-fashioned choices — like, say, deciding to change our names after marriage (or even choosing to hyphenate), there are other women who will make remarks.

(In fact, after I got married and changed my last name to my husband’s last name, a very liberal woman I knew professionally, explicitly told me she was “so disappointed” in me for not keeping my own name. This is a real thing, that really, actually happened.)

BUT, that mentality makes no sense.

As my sister-in-law Kelli mentioned in her post about why being a stay at home mom is so hard, women shouldn’t be judging women who want to, and are able to, stay at home with their own children.

We should be supporting other women in choosing their own paths, and doing what they want to do.

…And that includes supporting women who choose to be stay at home moms.

Being a ~modern woman~ should be about supporting other women’s freedom to make their own choices, even if we make different choices from them.

Separately, some stay at home moms may also feel judged for another reason: they may assume that a stay at home mom has it easy — whether that means financially, or logistically. While there are certainly women for whom this may be true, for many stay at home moms, it isn’t the case at all.

For example, for many families with a full-time stay-at-home parent, that arrangement can be hard financially. As Lindsey shared, when people find out she’s a stay at home mom…

“They assume we have money. [But for us] it’s a sacrifice to be a stay-at-home mom. I left my career behind and we moved to a different state where the cost of living is less just so I could stay at home with our children. I have always wanted to be home with my children when they were young, and feel fortunate to be able to do that … [I] don’t feel I should be shamed [for that].”

Lindsey, on people’s assumptions about stay at home moms

And my friend Jessie shares that in order to make her being a stay at home mom work for their family…

“We make really smart financial decisions, so I can stay home.”

Jessie, on making decisions to allow her to stay home

And of course, it’s really not easy to be a stay-at-home parent. In fact, it can be downright exhausting. As Lindsey shared…

“I also think there are many misconceptions about ‘being home all day.’ It’s exhausting and hard and I’m certain many people don’t understand that.”

Lindsey, on misconceptions about stay at home moms

And it’s not just the actual work of being a primary caregiver to your child that can be tiring (no matter how much you love it) — it can just be fundamentally challenging to have your entire day revolve around others’ needs (at the cost of your own). As mom and writer Chaunie Brusie says:

“It’s just hard to have our entire life revolve around everybody else… Every part of my day, from the time I get up in the morning, to the time I can go to sleep, revolves around somebody else… As a stay-at-home mom, nothing about my day is mine.”

Chaunie Brusie, on the difficulty of having your entire day be about others

The experience of having your own needs come last consistently can wear you out; you have to do things to combat SAHM burnout. On top of that, for some stay at home moms, there can also be a sense of not having enough mental stimulation (some moms even struggle with feeling like they’re “too educated” to be “just” stay at home moms) or personal satisfaction. No matter how much you love being home with your children (although here’s a great post about a stay at home mom who hates being home), being a stay at home parent is challenging. So… there’s really, really no need to also have to put up with shaming.

Dealing with stay at home mom shaming

Since being a stay at home parent is hard enough on its own, so the last thing you need to be dealing with if you’re a stay at home mom, is judgment from other moms. If you’re feeling judged for being a stay at home mom, or you feel like there is cultural pressure to not be a stay at home mom, here’s my advice (see the infographic below or scroll down):

Tips for dealing with stay at home mom shaming
(PIN / SAVE / SCREENSHOT THIS IMAGE! And if you find this post useful, you might like other stuff I write. Click here for me to send you emails when I have something new you might be interested in reading.)

My advice from the (pinterest-friendly!) image above:

  1. REMEMBER why you’re doing this — for you and your family.
  2. REMIND yourself how much your engaged presence benefits your child(ren).
  3. REALIZE that your willingness to stay at home benefits your partner greatly as well.
  4. IGNORE the naysayers who engage in stay at home mom shaming (and develop thick skin).
  5. KNOW you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy — other women and moms have experienced stay at home mom shaming too.
  6. DO what you and your family ultimately want.
Ignore people who engage in stay at home mom shaming. Twirl on them haters.
Don’t let society stop you from being a stay at home mom if it’s what you and your partner want. Twirl on them haters.

And regarding my advice to just ignore those who do the stay at home mom shaming — I know that’s easier said than done. Yes, stay at home moms who are feeling judged should just ignore those who judge them. But it is easier to say other people’s opinions shouldn’t matter than it is to really buy into that sentiment. We’re all human beings, and when we feel judged for our life choices, it doesn’t exactly feel… nice. (Here’s a mom wondering if she’s feeling embarrassed about being a stay at home mom. Here’s another one who knows she feels embarrassed.)

People, it’s time to stop the stay at home mom shaming.

STOP the Stay at Home Mom Shaming

As Yasmine Singh wrote in her post demanding we all stop shaming stay at home moms…

“I’m here to tell you that the SAHM-shaming needs to stop. SAHMs are not lazy; we have hopes and dreams. Perhaps we had careers, or will have careers in the future. We never get a break or even a few minutes to eat, and sometimes it gets incredibly lonely. If I’m being honest, being a SAHM is the hardest job that I have ever had in my entire life. And the shaming doesn’t make it easier. I’m not asking for recognition, but simply for the bashing and shaming to stop. I may not be a traditional working mom, but I work my a*s off, and I’m a mom, and that’s enough for me — at least for now.”

(Again, you can read more from that post here.)

It’s ridiculous that it’s 2018 and I’m insisting we need to stop pressuring women to do things they don’t want to do, but here we are. BUT, since we can’t stop all the judgers/haters right this second, I still want to advise moms dealing with judgmental people to IGNORE them, because you are doing the right thing if it feels like it’s the right thing for your family. And for the record, there is a lot to be proud of for stay at home moms, who are able to be home with their kids and help them to become great people.

By the way – here’s a great article about “lies” stay at home moms tell themselves. It is from a Christian/religious site, so there are a lot of references to God, but even if that’s not your thing, the main takeaways are still really valuable. The gist of the article is this:

  1. Stay at home moms don’t have to ~prove their worth~ to anyone. (The article contextualizes this in saying you’re only answerable to God, but even if you don’t want to look at this from a religious perspective, you can read it as: you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.)
  2. Stay at home moms don’t have to explain themselves to anyone else or worry about others’ assumptions. It’s also helpful to remember that people will always find something to talk about.
  3. Stay at home moms don’t have to be perfect or try to be supermoms.
  4. Stay at home moms should remember: Everyone isn’t watching you. It CAN feel like it, but really, other people aren’t really that worried about you and your choices (people mostly worry about themselves and THEIR own choices), so really, it’s best to just try and worry about what’s right for you and your family. (You can read more from that article here.)

If you’re a stay at home mom, do you have any advice for stay at home moms struggling with stay at home mom shaming?

P.S. – The most important reminder for all moms. Also, if you’re interested, here’s a post about the challenges associated with being a stay at home mom, and here’s a post about the transition of going from being a working mom to being a full-time stay at home mom. Also, here’s why being a stay at home parent is a luxury for your partner. And finally, a big shout-out to all the default parents (“if you have to think about it, you’re not the default parent.” A hilarious read btw.) And if you liked this post, please sign up for my tinyletter.

About the Author
Punita Rice

Punita Rice

Punita C. Rice, Ed.D is a mother, educator, writer, and founder of ISAASE. She is the author of Toddler Weaning: Deciding to Gradually Wean your Toddler & Making it Happen, and the forthcoming South Asian American Experiences in Schools: Brown Voices from the Classroom, and blogs about motherhood and being intentional about being a happy mom at Happy Mom Guide. Her education work centers around multicultural education and equity, and South Asian American experiences in school. You can read more about Punita and her work here.

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