What’s a Stay-At-Home Mom?

By , May 6, 2013 12:41 pm

A reporter from the Toronto Star interviewed me a couple weeks ago for a story about mom bloggers and Mother’s Day. The story was printed on Friday and it’s a pretty innocuous Q and A piece with four Toronto-area bloggers. But this is how I’m introduced:

Rebecca Cuneo Keenan, a 34-year old stay-at-home mom, blogs about motherhood at Playground Confidential.

I’m the only blogger who is described as a stay-at-home mom even though I did talk about the other freelance writing I do in addition to blogging. The reporter even asked me about being a stay-at-home mom and I launched into a spiel about how I don’t think I know any stay-at-home moms. There are some, I’m sure, but everyone I know who is at home is working some kind of side angle. I said, paraphrasing myself, that, “It’s less about staying at home and more about trying to work in some flexibility.”

This article in The Star isn’t a big deal and I’m not actually upset or put off. But I can’t help but feel like my childcare costs are unnecessarily high for a stay-at-home mom. I mean, I would have booked a pedicure if I knew I didn’t have to work.

The truth is that I didn’t come right out and say, no, that’s not right, I’m a “work-from-home mom,” like Lena did. I didn’t clarify that I’m only home with the kids part-time or that I’d really rather be described as a writer.

Why not?

Partly because I was being interviewed as a mom blogger. Mom blogging, in fact, has been a great platform for my writing and has helped me secure a lot of other, non-blogging work. (See this Mom-101 post for an excellent discussion of what kinds of doors blogging can open.) Insofar as this was an interview with mom bloggers about Mother’s Day, I didn’t want to diminish the fact of my motherhood. I am home with my kids a lot. I write about being home with my kids  and I identify, at least in part, as a mom blogger. Sure, fine.

But I also can’t help but feel like an impostor.  Does the fact that I work from home, with only part-time childcare, around nap schedules, late into the night and on weekends somehow make me less of a professional? Is there a reason someone who knows that I maintain a blog and write for other publications still calls me a stay-at-home mom? I feel like I’m just a mom who is managing to do this cute little writing thing on the side and that’s nice dear.

So the question remains. What exactly is a stay-at-home mom? Do I qualify? And if I do, why does the term rub me the wrong way? Not that there’s anything wrong with it!

I’ve talked about this before on the blog and on Facebook.  I never know what to say when people ask if I work outside the home. I mean, no, I work from my basement for the most part. Is that what you mean? Or do you mean to ask if I do other work than (the all-consuming and exhausting, yes) job of raising my three kids? I do. But is there a threshold where one crosses over from stay-at-home to work-at-home to plain old working? Is it hours logged? Or number of invoices? Or how much I get paid?

This much I know. For four months, when Colum was just over a year, after my mat leave ended and before I picked up a couple serving shifts, I earned no money. Other than that, I have always contributed a part-time income to the household. You know, mad money! Like the kind you use to buy groceries and shoes for your kids and to pay for hockey, swimming, t-ball, chess club and piano.

I also know that I don’t work full-time. I did hold a proper office job for a brief stint right before Irene was born and I still fantasize about those peaceful lunch breaks. Notwithstanding the lunches, though, working part-time from home is definitely not nearly as demanding (on the work-for-pay side of things) as a full-time position outside of the home. I get that. But isn’t it still work?

It’s hard for any parent who is home with the kids, fitting in work where they can and trying to make things happen. But I also don’t think anyone called my dad a “stay-at-home” when he was our primary caregiver and writing his PhD dissertation. Members of our working class family might not have understood exactly what it was that he was doing but they were pretty sure it didn’t involve homemade bread and paper mache crafts.

The image of a housewife or stay-at-home mom is still culturally ingrained. And like the off-the-mark description of Rebecca Woolf and her blog Girls Gone Child in the New York magazine Retro Wife article illustrates, mom bloggers are even harder to figure out. Woolf is obviously a full-time working mom with a nanny and a top-ranked blog and a gig with HGTV. But because she blogs about motherhood, because she documents the precious moments of her children’s lives, she is depicted as a throw back housewife.

Let me say this. No blog that is worth mentioning is mainstream media is going to be written by a stay-at-home mom.

There are blogs that are merely hobbies, for sure, and they can also be lovely and brilliant. (Or, as often as not, they are unbearably self-involved, meandering and boring.) But they are inevitably intermittent or short-lived. Nobody sits down three to five times a week for years on end to write consistently top quality posts if they are not treating it like a job.

I write something every day. These days, I typically publish three or four posts on this blog and write one or two op-ed posts on a wide range of topics for iVillage.ca every week. I also like to have at least one other freelance project on the go for Today’s Parent or some other publication. Then I have the entire other job of dealing with the administrative and technical tasks that are part of running your own blog and freelance writing business. I also attend PR events when they are relevant, spend hours scouring the internet for relevant topics and attend “mommy” business trips (aka blogging conferences).

So what do you think? I guess I can start losing the stay-at-home descriptor. Fair enough?

Image credit.


“What’s a Stay-At-Home Mom?”

  1. Laura says:

    Fair enough! It took me a while to be able to say “I have work to do” with reference to my blog without feeling weird about it. I think it was once the (very very little) money started coming in for it. Until then, even my husband saw it as a cute little hobby (that he thought I should give up in preference of better writing gigs… not sure where those would come from though).

    I think on one hand, the question from other adults: “Do you work outside the home?” is more to create conversation more than anything. That’s slightly different than being labeled a SAHM when the reality is you are very much working from home. I think you have earned the right to be described as a Work-from-home-Mom.

    I do thank you for writing this. People have very little idea how much work we put into things like our blogs and other writing ventures.

    • rebecca says:

      Thanks Laura. Conversationally, you’re right, it’s easy enough to explain that I write from home. It’s these labels we’re all supposed to wear that are so much trickier.

  2. melissa says:

    As a longtime hobby blogger, I have always said that I would love for my writing to lead to other opportunities. I fully realize that I am not working hard enough for those opportunities to come (let alone actively seeking them out myself). I admire everyone who is working hard and seeking those opportunities.

    Location should be irrelevant. It is a real job, and real work. Your site is a living portfolio of what you’re capable of, and links out to what you’ve done for paying clients. You’re not playing around. You’re running a freelance writing business. That’s a big deal and should be treated the same as any other freelancer or entrepreneur.

    • rebecca says:

      Thanks Melissa. I have had long hobby blogging stints myself and there is a real difference between writing when you are inspired/feel like it/have the time and posting several times a week.

  3. I always just say I’m a freelance writer. That I work from home, and that my kids are also there some during some part of my ‘work’ day does not diminish that. On the other hand, I completely changed my life around to be able to – yes – stay at home with my kids, so I’m completely fine with that moniker as well. Somebody’s perception of you won’t change the reality.

  4. HA! MOMD asked me the other day if there was anything I missed about my office job and I said “The cafeteria”! LOL True story! We all miss our quiet times.

    I think you would agree that I am not what you would think of when you think of SAHM. I mean, I have 3-4 businesses on the go usually and all of them doing very well. And yet, I self-identify as SAHM. Initially, it was a hard pill to swallow. To me, it felt like a term of “privilege”. And really? There ain’t no privilege around here! I think I chose that grouping because (a) I like having ‘a tribe’ and (b) I *do* stay at home, and my primary job is raising and organizing my family.

    Ultimately, labels be damned. My philosophy is just do what you love to do, and be good at it.

    • rebecca says:

      I guess my problem with “stay-at-home” is partly to do with privilege. The idea that you don’t have to work or that any money you bring is gravy instead of absolutely needed to make ends meet. I would definitely agree that I stay home and/or work part-time. But, as you say, labels be damned.

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