9 Things Never to Say to a Stay-at-Home Mom
For those who don't spend all day, every day with their kids, the job of a stay-at-home mother can be mysterious. Jacquelin, from Mesa, Ariz., says even her husband doesn't understand why it's challenging for her to help him with work tasks during the day. "He says, 'It's a simple phone call, I don't understand how can't make time for that,'" she explains.
She describes her days littered with interruptions-boo-boos, making lunch, disasters with water, pet accidents, naps, teaching opportunities. "There are days when it's a miracle I even accomplish a bathroom break for myself!"
Whether a mother can afford to choose to stay home or is doing so because her salary would barely cover childcare expenses, most SAHMs moms know how it feels to be on the receiving end of an insensitive comment. We asked moms on the SAHM message board what kinds of insulting questions they've heard since deciding to stay home with their kids; here are the top responses, along with savvy retorts from Melissa Stanton, author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide, and Kuae Mattox, national president of Mocha Moms, a support organization for African American stay-at-home mothers.
1) What do you do all day?
What you want to say: "Nothing much. I eat bonbons and watch soap operas mostly."
What the experts suggest you say: You're working your butt off. Staying home doesn't leave you with a break, as some moms in the office environment might receive (but don't let them hear you say that! See the 10 Things Not to Say to a Working Mom). Mattox responds to this question by saying, "I do a wide range of things during the day, from housework to working in the community to working on my own career and helping my kids experience the world, and before I know it the end of the day is here."
2) Being a stay-at-home mom must be so nice [note: when nice means easy].
What you want to say: If you think enduring endless messes and never-ending whining of little people whose moods change on a whim and who may or may not throw food at you is easy, then yes.
What the experts suggest you say: "There is no scale that weighs which is easier and which is harder," Mattox says. She suggests focusing on the wealth of work that all mothers have to do by saying something like, "We all work really hard. Whether you're home or at an office, kids are work and we Moms wear many hats."
3) What did you used to do when you worked?
What you want to say: "I still work, and I work harder than I used to."
What the experts suggest you say: Stanton doesn't mind answering this question when it's phrased with a little more tact. She prefers to ask people, "What did you do in your past life?" "I think it's important to acknowledge that many women who are home with their kids had a different life before they had kids. And they might go back to it," she says. "It opens up the opportunity to learn about the other person." But if you are at the receiving end of this inappropriate question, respond with an upbeat informative answer like, "Before I had kids I was a [NASA engineer, defense attorney, 3rd grade teacher] and I have to tell you, it was a lot easier than the job I do now!"
4) I don't understand how you didn't get it done (meaning a phone call, house chore or errand).
What you want to say: "Are you kidding me? I can barely get myself dressed in the morning."
What the experts suggest you say: "Every stay-at-home mom knows that it's impossible to get on the phone or do anything that requires much concentration when you have young kids awake at home," says Stanton. "You're constantly doing stuff all day-and you're constantly interrupted." It can be overwhelming to be left a list of chores with high expectations that they can get done without hiring a babysitter to give you peace and quiet.
People who don't take care of children all day long might not understand how much time and energy is involved. Whether this comment is from a partner or family member, Stanton suggests challenging them to try it out for themselves. "I'd say, 'I'll leave you home with a big to-do list and a baby and see how much you can get done.'"
5) Why don't you ask one of the stay-at-home moms to do it? I work.
What you want to say: "Good idea. We SAHMs have unlimited time!"
What the experts suggest you say: "I think that people have to recognize that depending on the age of the kids, that the ability for stay-at-home moms to do volunteer work is really going to vary," says Stanton. And Mattox points out that stay-at-home moms do have flexibility, but that doesn't mean they have unlimited time. It's unfair for anyone, regardless of employment status, to make others feel guilty about not participating. Mattox suggests taking the high road in this situation by saying, "All of us are very busy in our lives, so if you can find the time to participate, we would appreciate it."
6) Do you have to ask your husband for money?
What you want to say: "No, do you?"
What the experts suggest you say: First of all, says Mattox, this gauche question implies that stay-at-home moms don't make any money, which just isn't true in some families. Many moms still have a hand in something that brings in some cash. But rather than stammer through an explanation of your family finances-which is none of anyone's business!-Mattox would say, "We all make choices and financial decisions in our lives, and the decisions we've made for our family work for us."
7) "You don't work, so you don't understand."
What you want to say: "Oh, please. This again?"
What Mattox suggests you say: Yes, if you haven't walked in a working mom's shoes, you may not know what it's like. "But I don't know too many who never worked at all," says Mattox. "Many see both sides of the coin." She suggests responding to this sentiment by saying, "We all work hard on behalf of our families and we all want the best for our children. The best thing we can do is respect and support each other and value all of our hard work raising children in this world today."
8) When are you going back to work?
What you want to say: Why? Are you afraid that I'm wasting my education?
What the experts suggest you say: This question might be just an innocent inquiry, or it could be asked with an underlying when-are-you-going-to-do-something-worthwhile message. Answer honestly, says Mattox, but try to focus on value of what you're doing now. She would say, "For now, I'm feeling really blessed to have this time with my children, and I believe they're benefiting from it too."
9) "I could never be home with my kids all day.
What you want to say: You're missing out then.
What the experts suggest you say: "That's a tough one," says Stanton. "They seem to be saying, 'You're so domestic and simple -- staying home with the kids is satisfying for you, but me, I couldn't do it,'" She suggests turning it into a positive by saying, "I thought that way too until I started doing it. It's best for my family right now, and I'm glad I can do it."