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Myth vs. Reality: What Are At-home Moms Really Like?
by Darcie Sanders and Martha M. Bullen
Excerpt from Staying Home: From Full-time Professional to Full-time Parent

The new at-home mom is not only out of the office and into the nursery, she is also out of her old self-image and into a new one. For a professional woman whose self-image may be tied to her job description, this change can be devastating. Besides the usual stress that comes with any new job, she knows that our culture does not put much value on the job of homemaker or child-care provider. This negative climate can make the at-home mother's task of creating a new self-image, which should be a joyous work of personal transformation, more stressful than it need be.

Messages about what others think of us--either personally or as members of society--can help or hinder our self-image. Of course, the final touchstone is always yourself, but it would be naive to assert that you can ignore cultural and interpersonal messages. Professional woman and businesswomen, who define themselves by their job titles, may be particularly affected by the larger culture's perception of their new career.

At-home mothers, as portrayed on television, are stuck in the 1950s mold of small-minded housewives. They may not wear aprons and pearls anymore, but they are usually presented as women who are more concerned with lavishing attention on their houses then on caring for their children. Modern mothers who have left successful, established careers to nurture their children find it very hard to see anything of themselves in this picture.

What are at-home mothers really like? Results from our survey of 300 women across the country reveal that they are neither idle and pampered nor perfect Betty Crockers of the home front. They do work hard -- 42.2 percent said that they care for children fourteen hours or more per day -- and they're on call twenty four hours a day. Almost one-fifth said that they don't get time off during the work week. Things are only a little better on the weekend, as more than 36 percent of the respondents reported that they don't get any time off then, either.

The image of the decorative country club wife is also very far from the truth. While the economic profile of these families is solidly middle class, they definitely are not rich: half of them are supporting three, four or five people on less than $40,000 a year and are constantly searching for new ways to economize.

Most mothers at home are neither youngsters, inexperienced, nor unskilled. They are not at home because they have failed to make a go of it in the business world and have no other career options. Half of them have undergraduate degrees, and nearly 40 percent have advanced graduate, professional or technical educations. More than two-thirds fall into the thirty- to four-year-old age bracket.

What's more, as a group, these women are overwhelmingly positive about the choices they have made. More than 97 percent said that they have no regrets and that if they had it to do all over again, they would make the same decision to stay home with their children.

What Do You Call Yourself?

We were surprised at how many different answers there are to this question. Here are some of the responses from our survey:
  • "I usually say 'full-time mother' instead of 'at-home mother' because I'm never home, but a lot of my life revolves around being a mom."

  • "I say, 'Right now, I'm at home full-time with my kids.' I preface it with 'right now' because this isn't a terminal condition."

  • "I say 'domestic engineer.' 'At-home mother' doesn't cover enough. If I have a few minutes, I say, 'I'm a nurse, a cook, a social secretary, family accountant, etc.'"

  • "For a long time, I said an editor because that's my former profession. I like the term 'at-home mother,' but it doesn't encompass all that I am. I feel it's limiting. I want to say, 'I'm that, but I'm also this.' It's because of the stereotypes attached to the term. I tend to rebut them before anyone says anything."

  • "I say, 'I stay home with my children.' I don't have an identity problem with the terminology of staying home. I don't need to say, 'I'm a working mom--but I work at home.' But I am also happy to say that I do freelance work and that I'm not exclusively a mother."

  • "I say, 'I used to work in an office, and now I'm fortunate enough to stay home with my daughters.' When I say it positively, I find that people don't bug me about it."

  • "I taught my son to say that he and I work at home, and Daddy works at the office."

Click here to enjoy our informative discussion with both authors.

2001 by Darcie Sanders and Martha M. Bullen. Reprinted with permission from Staying Home: From Full-time Professional to Full-time Parent. Staying Home is available from bookstores, amazon.com and bn.com. It can be ordered from Spencer & Waters at 1-800-711-3627 or http://www.spencerandwaters.com.

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