Being a stay at home mother is a topic that constantly shares opinions. For me, well. Want to see lightning bolt through my eyes? Well you better be attentive, as the flash will pass in a split second, but it will definitely be there. Now how I reply to such a delicious statement will depend on the situation.
There are pretty much three possible reactions I will generally provide:
A shrug of the shoulders accompanied by a heartfelt laugh and reply, “Yup, just a stay-at-home mother, no need to work for me”. And I will probably think to myself, ignorance is bliss. The second possibility is that I will give you a sympathetic wink of the eye and say “You said it sister”. The third, which only a few will have the pleasure of witnessing, is an immense explosion of justifications and self-defense accompanied by a lot of foul language to why you should never ever let such a statement escape your mouth. I’m quite proper in many ways, so if you’re not near and dear to me and we’re not in a secluded place, you will sadly never be able to participate in the show of fireworks.
I know I’m far from the first mother on Earth to rant about this, but as long as it’s still a matter of debate, it cannot be brought up enough times.
Maternity leave in Finland
As a bit of background, I live in an exceptional country. In Finland, we are entitled to stay at home on paid maternity leave for approximately four months, followed by an additional six months on paid parental leave (either parent is entitled to stay at home with the newborn – traditionally mothers have stayed, but more and more fathers also choose to stay). Paid leave to stay at home with a child is thus around ten months. The compensation will either come directly from Kela, the national social insurance institution, or as a combination of salary from your employer and Kela. If you have twins like I did, the parental leave is extended by another two months, i.e. with my first born my maternity/parental leave was around 10 months and with the twins a year.
Extended parental leave
When the parental leave period ends, the child is usually about nine months old. (Considering maternity leave usually begins a month before the due date.) After this, parents are generally entitled (as of yet, changes in legislation are anticipated) to stay at home to look after their bundle of joy until the child turns three. If you were employed when your maternity leave began, you will also keep your job during your absence. The employer needs to grant the additional leave, but this is usually already agreed upon in the collective employment contract. Child care allowance for the time spent to tend to your child at home is paid by Kela. If you were to have another child during this time, you start off with maternity leave again. The same rotation continues until your youngest child turns three, as long as the child is not in municipal daycare.
For example, if you were to have three children with an age difference of three years each, you could technically stay at home for nine years, and still have a job to return to. Granted this isn’t ideal out of the view point of an employer. It is however a way of appreciating parenting.
Now that we’ve gotten past some Finnish facts, what does the word work mean?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word work can be defined in various ways:
- perform work or fulfill duties regularly for wages or salary
- perform or carry through a task requiring sustained effort or continuous repeated operations
- exert oneself physically or mentally especially in sustained effort for a purpose or under compulsion or necessity
Depending on which country you live in, what the social security system is like, and if you’re entitled to paid maternity leave from your employer, a stay at home mother will fulfill 2-3 of the above mentioned definitions of the word work. A mother taking care of her child at home in Finland receives financial support. It’s not called a salary, but it is a monthly compensation for fulfilling duties, i.e. child care. Parenting definitely requires the person to perform or carry through a task requiring sustained effort or continuous repeated operations. And last but not least, a parent must “exert oneself physically or mentally especially in sustained effort for a purpose or under compulsion or necessity”. So tell me, how does being a stay at home mother not qualify as work in the eyes of society?
Being a stay at home parent means you work 24/7.
There are no personal breaks, you don’t clock off when your day is finished – because it doesn’t finish. If you’re in a healthy relationship where parenting is a responsibility shared by two adults, be grateful. If you’re alone, make sure you have a network to support you! During the months or years you are a stay at home mother (or father), you’re bound to make sacrifices. Forget having some privacy in the bathroom, hot meals, or even sitting down to genuinely enjoy a meal. These can all become after sought luxuries. Oh and get used to cold coffee and sleepless nights.
Multiple occupations and life skills
You do however learn multiple new occupations; your duties include among others being a cook, nurse, caretaker, taxi driver, maid, referee, teacher, janitor, handyman, party planner and circus clown. When you stay at home, you learn to juggle and prioritize and appreciate silence. At the same time, you may also often feel lonely, misunderstood, guilty and constantly judged. You neglect yourself and your personal needs, you come second very often.
There is little if any introduction to your work. Instead, you’re thrown head first into the deep end. You possibly have theoretical knowledge of what’s to come, but you don’t know what parenting will do to your emotions and your brain until you’ve been there. You worry a lot and question your entire purpose of being. The monetary compensation is small or non-existent, but on the bright side, the reward for successfully fulfilling your work is immeasurable in money. You create little people; you foster them to become amazing humans.
Combining parenting and work
Now I’m not saying that being in working life or combining parenting and work are not tough too! Especially the “rush years” when you have young children! When you spend your days at work and try to juggle everything, it can get extremely hard at times. You end up basically holding two full time jobs with half the pay and double the stress. Work may not always treat you well as a mother either. That’s however not the point. The point is that no one questions a person working outside of their home. Simply put, it’s obvious – if you work, you work. Trust me, even though a stay at home parent might not look like they’re working, they are definitely also working hard.
I just read a very provocative writing about how stay at home mothers are lazy. The text also brought up that they are not pulling their financial load. I shrugged it off as a troll or a completely ignorant person. Of course there are exceptions everywhere. Personally, I don’t know one single lazy stay at home parent. When it comes to financial input, well. Depending on where you live, daycare can cost a fortune. If you want to bring money into the picture, think of it this way: Whatever the daycare costs in your area are, that is the amount that the stay at home parent is contributing to the monthly finances of the household.
Appreciating stay at home mothers
The next time you interact with a stay at home parent, I strongly urge you to think twice before you state that they don’t work. That they’re just a stay at home parent. The job is not for everyone. It’s rough and demanding and all too often receives very little thanks. Whichever way you look at it, that person is working much more and harder than any labor law would ever allow. Take a moment to appreciate the valuable work that stay at home parents do, educate yourself on the meaning of work, and whatever you do, don’t judge others for their life and work choices!