The Rockwood Files: Why the phrase “stay-at-home mom” irks me

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Maybe it’s because I was once a geeky English major, but I get irked when words don’t do a good job of telling it like it is. I like words that fit their meanings – words like “slosh,” “murmur,” or even “irked.” And speaking of irked, the title “stay-at-home mom” has always bugged me. It just doesn’t sit right. Because it’s not at all descriptive of the job behind the title.

Trust me, this is not about the so-called “mommy wars” between mothers who work outside the home versus those who devote their daytime hours to raising kids. I’ve tried on both of those roles, and now I’m a parent with a job I do from home, which some people call a “hybrid mom.” This is more about using words that accurately tell the story.

What bugs me about the phrase “stay-at-home mother” is the implication that the main part of the job involves “staying,” like a puppy in obedience school. The term “working mother,” on the other hand, makes it clear that the woman is busy doing something. Often people will ask the question “Does she work?” in order to find out if a woman has an office job or spends the day raising her kids. But when we pose the question this way, it makes it sound as if raising kids is the opposite of work.

After I resigned my office job to be with my firstborn full-time, I hated that “Does she work?” question because it made me feel as if I’d somehow checked out of the working world and was no longer a productive member of society. Even though it’s truly a blessing to have the option to be with your kids full-time, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy, and it doesn’t mean it’s not work.

The truth is that most “stay-at-home” mothers (and fathers) do a whole lot more going and doing than simply staying. Today I didn’t do much work for my paying job because the mom workload got extra busy, and it took me all over town and back again. We shuttled around to basketball class for the boys and then gymnastics class for the girl. Then I did some babysitting for a friend. There were three different errands, and then there was an afternoon karate class and a trip back and forth from Vacation Bible School for the kids. Oh, and I squeezed a haircut in there, too, which was like a little slice of Heaven.

There was very little “staying” in the day’s agenda. Even the times when moms are at home are rarely spent “staying” in any one spot. They’re spent unloading the dishwasher, loading it again, folding laundry, starting another load, tying someone’s shoelaces, making snacks, investigating the dead bird someone found in the yard, and finding the missing video game.

I say all this not to whine or imply that I’m the busiest mom on the planet because I’m not even close. There are single parents out there doing all of this and more every single day without any help from a spouse, and I have no idea how they pull it off. I just wish the so-called “stay-at-home” parents had a better name, something that does the job justice. Maybe full-time Chief Development Officer? Maybe home-based mother? Or maybe just plain old “Mom” should do the trick. Because, as it has been srockwoodheadshot2010compressed.jpgaid before, “every mother is a working mother.” The rest is just geography.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.