Mowing the lawn, cooking, folding laundry, running a business — where does the job of a work-at-home mom end? In this issue of Working Mom 3.0, Stephanie Taylor Christensen explores where and how working stay-at-home moms can draw the line between professional work and the equally important work of managing home and family.
When I became a stay-at-home working mom, I eased my fears of lost income by dedicating myself to all the other household “jobs,” in addition to my professional tasks. I rationalized that we could save money and eliminate expenses, because I would handle child-rearing, cleaning the house, cooking, mowing the lawn — and whatever else came up. My thought process was not ground-breaking — it’s essentially the value that traditional stay-at-home moms have brought to the home for years.
Though we still commonly refer to anyone who stays at home to raise kids as “stay-at-home mom” regardless of their career commitments, the traditional sense of the role has changed entirely in the last few decades, now that so many professional moms have opted to pursue their own endeavors, or take jobs that involve remote work with a flexible schedule. According to Pew Research Center, a large majority of mothers with children younger than 18 (71 percent) are now in the labor force. Compare that to 1975, when fewer than half of all mothers were working. So when you add “working” into the job title of stay-at-home mom, how do you choose what tasks are most worth doing and what should be “outsourced”?
Look for cause and effect
One way to determine value in domestic tasks is their value in the big picture. For example, cooking nightly meals for the family is typically a healthier, more cost-effective alternative to eating out, but it can be time-consuming for a busy mom trying to work from home while raising kids. However, family meals have long been credited with a positive effect on a child’s outcome and development. Pew Research Center data reports that “among parents of children under age 18, half say they have dinner every day with some or all of their children, 34 percent say they have family meals a few times a week, 11 percent say they do so occasionally and 3 percent say they never do.” Though some recent research has indicated that “there is little or no average effect of [family meal frequency] on child cognitive and behavioral outcomes during the period from kindergarten to eighth grade,” it’s also worth noting the researchers acknowledge the validity of earlier findings suggesting that family meals can be a sort of “vaccine” to help drug and behavioral issues in older teens.
In her essay “Am I the Manager or the Maid”? Janet Dittmer has a different viewpoint on household tasks, using them as an opportunity to unite as a family and teach some valuable lessons. She explains that by involving all of her kids in household chores, just as a professional manager would lead a teambuilding time in the office, “we’re learning about family cooperation — responsibility, and pride in a job well done — long-range benefits that are well worth the short-term inconveniences.”
So the question of where to draw the line between traditional stay-at-home mom roles and those of a stay-at-home working mom may in fact, have little to do with saving money or cutting expenses. Rather, the true value may lie in realizing the big-picture impact that the tasks you do and those you choose to outsource have on your entire family.