mother guilt

The Number Of SAHM’s Is Rising, And It Has Nothing To Do With ‘Opting Out’ Or ‘Leaning In’

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5757760150_908cac03fb__1381590178_142.196.156.251-280x180The number of stay-at-home-moms is rising, and if you listened to the most popular narrative about this, it’s because women in the work force are realizing they “can’t have it all” and it’s time for them to “opt out.” God I hate the narrative that assumes all women have a veritable buffet of choices in front of them. Why is it that when most people hear the word SAHM, they think of a woman lounging around in her yoga pants, making crafts and shopping on Amazon with her husband’s credit card all day?

According to a recent Pew report, the number of SAHMs in the U.S. has grown to 29 percent of all mothers with children under 18. According to the report, the rise is “driven by a mix of demographic, economic and societal factors, including rising immigration as well as a downturn in women’s labor force participation.” These aren’t women who have decided to leave the work force to spend more time with their kids – they are women who either can’t find a job or can’t afford childcare.

I was once asked to speak on a talk show that was covering the SAHM vs. working mom debate. When they called me I said, “Well, what side am I supposed to be on?” I work – but from home. I can’t afford full time daycare and I have nothing against women who opt to work instead of being home. I also have nothing against women who opt to stay home with their kids. I don’t have a side in this “mommy war.” But I do have frustration. I’m eternally frustrated that so many moms who don’t really have a choice are left out of the conversation.

One of the most striking demographic differences between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers relates to their economic well-being. Fully a third (34%) of stay-at-home mothers are living in poverty, compared with 12% of working mothers.

Do these mothers come to mind when we talk about the SAHM? So often the image of the affluent mom who has either chosen to stay home or never had to work in the first place because she was always financially supported by her husband seems to be what we default to.

Although they are often in the media spotlight, relatively few married stay-at-home mothers (with working husbands) would qualify as highly educated and affluent. This group is sometimes called “opt-out mothers,” although some researchers say they may have been pushed out of the workforce due to work-family conflicts.

These women stand out from other married stay-at-home mothers in that they are disproportionately white or Asian. About seven-in-ten (69%) are white, and fully 19% are Asian. Only 7% are Hispanic, and 3% are black.

Maybe we need another label. There can be Stay At Home Mom, Working Mom, and Totally Screwed Mom. I always thought I was a mixture of the first two, but I heavily lean toward the third.

(photo: Flickr/ Ethan)