Working Mama Mondays: Responding to The Reluctant SAHM

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been someone who “responded” to other people/organizations/publications in print. I can’t remember one time in my life where I submitted a letter to the editor or even participated in the comment thread of an online article.

After this weekend, I can proudly say that I’ve done both. Today I’m going to talk about my letter to the editor. Now, before you get all excited about my newfound empowerment, let me assure you that this publication is of no interest to, well, anybody. Also, I will admit that the subject matter could be considered less than compelling. Still, I find it fascinating that I read this article and was so frustrated by it that I had to get out my computer right then (at almost midnight on a Friday) and construct a response. I would never have thought to do something like that, and I absolutely would not have actually done it, before I started blogging. But that is for another post.

Anyway, the publication was Golden Gate Mothers Group (GGMG) Magazine (which is distributed only to it’s few thousand members) and the article was called The Reluctant SAHM. (I must pause for a second here and mention that GGMG is such a strange and insane presence in my life that I’ve always found it too big to tackle in a post. I promise I will suck it up and write about it soon, for now just know that it’s a mother’s group that requires a $75 yearly fee and consists mostly of message boards that can be helpful but are regularly drama filled and ridiculous). The offending article was part of an issue focusing mainly on SAHMs that included tips on how to survive being home alone with a small child all day, suggestions on how to banish your “dowdy” and a piece on postpartum depression. The final contribution was a two page editorial of sorts by a self-proclaimed “reluctant” stay at home mom.

I would describe the article to you but I feel Jjiraffe does it so much better than I ever could (I asked her to read the article for me this weekend) …

That article was everything I TRY not to do on my blog: say some cringeworthy, shit-stirring stuff, throw in some smug, go-me! cheers and temper that with enough self-depricating remarks to convince you I’m not an asshole. I think she wrote that article to get a response, is what I’m trying to say. I also think she doesn’t like being a SAHM and is trying to convince herself otherwise.

Also, if you want to see the article, you can do so here. If you actually want to finish it, you can do so here. (They are JPEGs – you will have to zoom in).

If you don’t want to read the whole article, I can tell you that the piece is separated into questions people ask about being a SAHM but instead of answering for herself she makes sweeping generalizations via rhetorical questions and vague metaphors. The questions that most frustrated me were But what about your career? How do you do it all day? and But how long do you think you’ll actually stay home.

To the career question she responds:

Career is a man [in] a black suit, scuffed briefcase in hand, entering and leaving the same revolving door for 25 years. Are there careers anymore – working your way up from the mail room, leaving wiht a nice pension and a gold watch? Don’t we all have to move around to be successful? I have already had experience with sabbaticals: in my early 30’s I took a backpack and the money I’d saved around the world for two years. Returning it never crossed my mind to be ashamed that I hadn’t been working, and the people I interviewed with, impressed with my gumption, offered me the job.

Um, what?! First of all, her metaphor makes no sense. Second of all the rest of it suggests that not only do women’s careers not suffer from the time taken to be a SAHM, but that employers will be as impressed by that resume gap as they would the time taken off work to travel around the world. Later, when asked how long she’ll be out, she answers with these questions: How many times have I spent three years on a job that led nowhere? How many failed relationships have I been in over the years? Enough said.

You’re probably thinking, who cares? This woman is obviously daft and a poor writer to boot. Fair enough. She is both of those things. And I don’t know why this got me so up in arms (that too is for another post, I hope). For some reason I felt very upset by this piece. So upset that I actually wrote the woman an email, and sent it to her.

Here was my response:

Dear Ms. Silvers,

I just finished reading your article, The Reluctant SAHM and I have to admit, I felt it was quite ill-informed and somewhat duplicitous.

I suppose I have two general comments. The first is in response to your blasé non-treatment of the truly important considerations that women need to make when determining how being a SAHM will affect their careers – because for the overwhelming majority of them, it absolutely will. To answer the question “But what about your career?” in one short paragraph where half of it metaphorically compares a woman’s career to a man in black suit and the other half rhetorically questions whether or not women’s careers still have upward trajectories (which they do) is blatantly incomplete and ill-informed. Many women’s careers would absolutely be derailed or at least hindered by taking an undetermined number of years off. To suggest, without any research to back it up, that it wouldn’t is careless. Many articles have been written documenting the dramatic earning potential lost by mothers who choose to stay at home for an extended period of time.

You also fail to address the fact that while you are a SAHM you are also the Editor-in-Chief of GGMG magazine, which may not pay well (or at all, I have no idea) monetarily, but surely provides you with a creative outlet and professional experience that will undoubtedly appear on your resume when you do choose to work outside of the home again. It seems disingenuous that you don’t mention your involvement in this well-respected organization at all, when that sense of purpose is surely important to you even if it comes second to your job as a SAHM. Many women choose not to stay at home because they need to challenge themselves intellectually and professionally to feel fulfilled. You suggest that you don’t need that outlet by not mentioning your creative involvement in this publication and by doing so you nullify your repeated declaration that being only a SAHM is fulfilling enough in and of itself. The fact that you wrote this article at all, instead of just immersing yourself completely in being a SAHM, assumes otherwise.

I currently work outside the home (as a teacher, in fact) but want desperately to be able to stay at home. I suppose I’m a reluctant WOHM (work outside the home mom), so please don’t take this email as the ramblings of someone looking down on SAHMs and what they do or as someone trying to defend the choices of WOHMs. I just think parts of your article present the experience of staying at home with young children carelessly.

I recognize that your article is not presented as a definitive discussion on the merits and downfalls of being a stay at home mom. Still, when you begin each paragraph with a loaded question, the same questions that most mothers contemplate when trying to determine whether or not they can stay at home, there is a certain expectation that if your answers are not based solely on your experience, they will be productive and meaningful to the experiences of others. I consistently find the GGMG magazine to be well written and informative; perhaps you have set the bar too high with past treatments of important issues. Or maybe I am simply missing the point of your article, and if I am, I am sorry. I just wanted to present my reaction to your piece, for what it’s worth.

Thank you.

Now I know this article is not a big deal. It’s not hateful or bigoted, hell, it’s not even particularly offensive. I know there are so many other causes that are more deserving of my time, my energy and my (considerable 😉 ) eloquence. I know this. I still can’t figure out why I felt so compelled to write this woman. Is it my guilt about deciding to work outside the home? I don’t think so but I can’t be sure. As I said before, I hope to explore this more next week as I’m incredibly curious myself.

Thank you for reading all of this. If you made it this far, I commend you (and I apologize profusely).

Now for you to weigh in.

If you read the article (or feel you can express an opinion based on the part I quoted), what did you think of it? Why do you think I felt so compelled to write her a response?

How many failed relationships have you been in and how do those experiences assure you that taking time off to be a SAHM will have only positive consequences on all aspects of your life?

5 responses

  1. I’ve been reading your blog for over a year and have never posted a comment. I’m also not sure why I feel compelled to respond to this post… I agree with you that Ms. Silver’s article was not the best written one I’ve ever read, but I thought she made some pretty good points. I too am a SAHM, altough not reluctantly. I never expected to be a SAHM and I am very greatful to be, but much like Ms. Silver, there are days I fantasize about going back to work.
    I very much got what she was doing with the questions. I get asked those questions all the time, and while they are valid, they usually come off feeling more like judgement. Like if I said to a work-outside-the-home mome “Oh, how can you stand to leave your baby all day long?!?!” It’s a loaded question.
    I do think you’re missing her point, especially with the dead end job/failed relationship comment. I believe her point is that while these things did not ultimately lead to a fruitful career or meaningful relationship, they paid the bills or were fun or whatever at the time. In other words, being a stay at home mom may not further her career, but it’s working right now and it’s important for other reasons.
    I think we’re all a little sensitive on this subject, which ever path we choose to take. I can understand how I might feel differently about this article if I worked outside the home, but as a SAHM, I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of it.

  2. It bugged me too (obviously). I think it was that the tone was all over the place, offensive in some areas, defensive in others, and sometimes self-congratulatory.

    I have a theory that the “mommy wars” are most intense in NYC, here and maybe DC, and the GGMC is probably of the biggest hot spots for conflict. I know it’s lame to say this, but can’t we all just take a time-out and support each other’s choices? As President Obama says, “Now is a time for unity.” Let’s apply that to mothering as well.

  3. I see no correlation at all between failed relationships and being a SAHM. But maybe I’m missing the point. 😉

    The line about the Ergo and peering into Starbucks rankles me for some reason. She may be reluctant, but damn, she is privileged. And she also doesn’t get it that a job that leads nowhere, outside the home, is still a line on a resume, where staying at home with a child, unfortunately, is not. As much as they say “juggling multiple priorities” etc. are great transferable skills, I don’t know a single employer who has hired based on them. As someone looking at putting her career on hold right now, I feel like I’m about to jump into an abyss.

    But I do like her point about mothering being a “muscle” (bad metaphor, but whatever) … and about learning on the job. And I wish that SAHMs and WOHMs and WAHMs could see that we’re all dealing with the same challenges of motherhood, that being a mother is one of the hardest jobs there is (and no one tells you that before you start) and that a little support would go a long way.

  4. I read the article and couldn’t quite figure out what she was saying. She bounced all over the place and the poor writing and poor editing didn’t help her case. It read like an article started and stopped one hundred different times and never read as a whole.

    I was fortunate to take a year off when Nav and I got married and moved to Tucson and then jump right back into the work force in a similar job to what I had had. My yearlong sabbatical didn’t ding my resume. But now that I’m a SAHM I now that won’t be true. I’ve been out of work for 2 years and the industry has changed. My type of job barely exists anymore and only in small pockets of the country. When/if I finally do go back to work, I know that it will be in a different field altogether.

    My time as a SAHM is my job. It’s not the same job as WOHMs and WAHMs but it’s still what I do everyday. And I agree with the others that support amongst mothers would do a lot of good for all of us.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday and trying to make sense of this article (so that’s why I’m just now commenting). I feel kind of stupid (but reading the other comments maybe I shouldn’t) because I really don’t get it. It was just all over the place. And I really don’t understand her comparison to failed relationships. I agree with Jjirraffe that she doesn’t seem to really like being a SAHM but is trying to convince herself and others that she does. Anyway, BRAVO to you for your response. I wonder how many letters she got. I’ll be anxious to hear if YOU get a response!

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