We Need a New Phrase for Stay-at-Home Mom

Stay-at-Home Mom isn’t just an outdated term, it’s holding women back from advancing in the workplace.

We came to this urgency while researching our forthcoming book, Your Turn: Careers, Kids and Comebacks — A Working Mother’s Guide, when women told us the lengths they go to justify a career break and say they’re home mothering, because they are anything but a “stay at home,” or shut-in as the word implies.

In fact, the woman you see at the library’s storytime was once the VP of Marketing. The woman you see trying to control a toddler’s meltdown in the grocery store used to lead a team of 50 people as Director of Operations. The woman heading up your child’s PTA was once the Editor in Chief at a major magazine. She’s also likely highly educated, given that women have earned more college degrees than men since the 1980s and today earn more than two-thirds of master’s degrees.

Yet once out, these women are left with few alternatives to describe the path they’ve currently chosen—or not chosen, some being pushed out by inhospitable work structures, high childcare costs, or family norms—to focus on caregiving. Ask a woman who is on a career break what she does, and some will sheepishly reply, “I’m just home with the kids,” in a tone that implies they’re letting themselves and society down. “No, I’m Not Just a Stay At Home Mom,” one woman argued recently in the New York Times. (There’s that word JUST again).

Mom Fantasizes About Life Without Kids
Image: GoodStudio/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

The confidence drop that begins at maternity leave continues long past when a woman leaves the work world through to the time she’s ready to return. Women stumble over how to position this time away from the 9-5 work world to prospective employers and face realities like this: research shows that resumes of non-mothers receive 2.1 times the callbacks of mothers.

And while the “clunkiness” of the term “stay at home mom” (mom was tacked on to “stay at home” in the 80s, replacing homemaker and housewife) has been broadly discussed, written about, and hashed out, no one has come up with a solid replacement.

So what should we call this highly educated, highly untapped and experienced talent pool who took a break from the workforce to raise her children? What are some alternatives to the term “stay-at-home mom,” which on the surface assigns no value to their previous experience or education? Isn’t it time for a new phrase that instills confidence on both sides—both for the individual and for the employer? What’s a phrase that lets women own the mom part—that values the time women spend caregiving and positions their career comeback as an asset?

We’ve heard of sabbatical, independent contractor, choosing not to work outside of the home, former [fill in the blank] moonlighting as a mom. When we recently asked for new ideas, we heard “Head of People Operations,” “Mother Warrior,” “Slay at Home Mom/Dad,” “Family Coordinator,” “Co-creator.” The list is long!

A LinkedIn search yields even more suggestions, job titles and descriptions like “Family leave.” “Domestic engineer.” “Pregnancy pause.” “CEO of Jones Inc.” SAHM.  And, simply, mom.

It’s that last that we think speaks volumes -— mom — a term that works for those that work inside the home and out, and has the chance when added to a LinkedIn profile, like we did to ours, to normalize the caregiving years when work and parenting collide.

What if everyone added mom to their profile, whether they work in or outside the home? How would this shift the conversation?

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