The Stay-at-Home-Mom Stigma – A Study of Supermom

Things are getting real! In a really good way. I am getting really excited to say goodbye to the corporate world and hello to more time with Bruce. I have started telling friends, and I feel more resolute in my decision every day. I may be naive, but I actually feel as though I’m at the point in my career where I can take this time off to be with Bruce, and if I want to, in a few years it won’t be that challenging to return to work. I may be leaving a dream job and a company and colleagues that I truly respect and enjoy, but I don’t feel like there is a better time to do this. I just had an excellent year-end review, will be wrapping up a major milestone/career project in the next couple of weeks, and was recently honored as one of Houston’s 50 most influential women of 2014. I feel like I am going out with a bang, which really keeps my confidence up about this decision.

I recently attended an afternoon tea at the St. Regis to honor the 50 most influential women in Houston of 2014. We were invited to attend with one female guest: of course I brought my mom! My mom was delighted to attend, and I was excited for an afternoon of tea, crumpets, and some quality mom-time. At our table there was a handful of other recognized women and their guests. I was chatting with the honoree next to me, and I overheard my mom chatting with the honoree next to her about the neighborhood they both live in. Then I heard the woman ask my mom, “so what do you do?” To which my mom replied, “nothing.” She said it so casually, but in a slightly higher voice than her normal tone, paused, and then followed up with, “this is my daughter,” gesturing towards me. The honoree awkwardly smiled, and politely responded, “well that’s a pretty big something.”

Overhearing this, I was shocked, but simultaneously not surprised by what my mom said. My mom has never seemed career-motivated, and she has been a stay-at-home mom for my entire life. Even now, while I’m in my mid-30’s and my sister is in her late 20’s, our mom dedicates her days to being available to us at any moment. Growing up, she built us a secure and loving home, was at every sporting event, dropped us off and picked us up from school every day, baked cookies, and was always available for love, sympathy, and affection. Even though it’s been ten years since either of us have lived at home, she continues to be our steadfast pillar of reassurance and reason (unless it’s past 5 PM and the wine has kicked in). Although she never “worked,” she has truly built an amazing career of being supermom, and I know that my sister and I both treasure the dedication she gave us throughout our childhoods.

Supermom aside, she was never someone I could really talk to about my academic or professional aspirations. She offered constant support, hugs, and someone to cry to, but when it came to talking about college choices, which lab to take, and salary negotiations, I trusted Dad’s opinion. When I visited grad schools mom jumped on a plane and met me in Santa Barbara for long walks and ladies’ lunches, but it was Dad’s voice I heard in my mind when I spoke with professors, considered potential career choices after graduation, and made my ultimate decision. When I worried about being single the rest of my life, I called mom. It’s not that my mom wouldn’t have been happy to listen or provide opinions about “professional” topics, it’s just that she didn’t come from a frame of reference that prioritized a professional career, so I never felt like she could fully relate.

That said, my mom has always been fairly supportive of my career choices. I say fairly because while I know she is extremely proud of my professional accomplishments, she doesn’t always say the right thing simply because she doesn’t understand the context of a working person. In the past if I’ve complained about long hours or a particularly stressful time at work, her form of support is encouraging me to work less, change jobs, quit, have babies, or make unhelpful comments like, “you can’t keep working like this and have a family.” I usually get mildly annoyed at these comments and wrap up the conversation shortly thereafter. I know she’s saying these things from a place of love because they seem to her the logical course of action, but to someone who values her professional identity, enjoys her job and looks forward to a promising career path, they can be frustrating.

My mom is an incredibly insecure person. I think everyone is insecure about something, but a lot of folks hide insecurity under a blanket of confidence and bravado. My husband and sister are two of those such people. My mom, on the other hand, is outwardly insecure, and clearly can be quite awkward at times in social settings. She has voiced her discomfort in the past about being around or not being able to connect with or make friends with women who work. One my dad’s very best friend’s wife is a highly-regarded pediatric ophthalmologist. Mom has told me in the past that they have never really been friends because of her job and that she hasn’t been friendly with mom because mom didn’t work. I’ve suggested that it could simply be because she is a doctor with an intense schedule and she simply doesn’t have time to meet for coffee or lunch during the week, but mom brushes this off and insists it’s because she doesn’t work and she is looked down upon. Obviously I don’t know any of the true mechanics behind this, but I can see that my own mother, despite being supermom, doesn’t seem to value her own role as something a working woman would view highly.

Which brings me back to the tea. Mom is surrounded by an incredibly successful crop of women, many of whom are mothers who balance family and career the best that they can. And in comparison, mom does “nothing.” I know that if she was in a group of other stay-at-home-moms, she wouldn’t devalue herself like this, but in this setting, my mom is clearly racked with insecurity. Not surprisingly, she wanted to skip out early after all the names were announced, and she didn’t care to stay to converse and mingle. I humored her, but I was sad, not for missing the rest of the tea, but for mom. When we parted ways at the valet she gave me a huge hug and she seemed happy and so proud of my accomplishments, but I know I had exposed her to a world that she isn’t comfortable in.

During the drive home I realized that whatever stigmas and fears I have about SAHMs and becoming one myself very shortly is due much in part to the disservice my mom can give to her chosen profession. My mom has subtly, over many years, implied that her role in life may not be worth as much compared to those mothers who work. Oddly, I know my mom wouldn’t trade her SAHM days for anything, and I know she treasured every moment with us. In certain situations, however, she can’t be proud of that. I want more than anything for her to be proud not only of the daughters she painstakingly raised, but also of the tremendous job she did and continues to do everyday. My mom doesn’t do “nothing,” she does EVERYTHING.

Once I’m home full-time, I hope I can be half the mother my mom was to me and my sister. And I hope I can be proud of it, to everyone, in any situation. I love you mom.


4 thoughts on “The Stay-at-Home-Mom Stigma – A Study of Supermom

  1. Congratulations on your career success AND your decision to stay home! I left a pretty good sales career, not to the level of success you have had, but a great career non-the-less to stay home. It has been worth every sacrifice made! They are only young once so it’s now or never right? Good luck to you! Great read!

    1. Thanks so much for your words … I really love hearing about professionally-minded women that never thought they would be in this position! It’s such a fascinating road. 🙂

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