It's interesting to observe a few things about the way women who stay at home are and have been referred to. The way we talk about things says a lot about how we view them.
Maybe this seems like a silly thing to start this discussion with, but our vocabulary both reflects and shapes our culture, and in a discussion of this kind I think it's beneficial to understand the culture that surrounds us to some degree, and the label we wear in that culture. It's also of benefit to consider what things we ourselves associate with the label which may present personal challenges for us.
"Stay at home mom" is a label that would be redundant in a culture where the vast majority of moms stayed home. So it's a reflection of our culture, and our times. It wasn't something that was used until relatively recently in history.
The fact that labels and vocabulary also affect how you perceive things is worth thinking about also. People who try to affect public perception are very aware of this. They apparently think it matters enough to make great efforts to change vocabulary where they deem it profitable. Consider "swine flu" versus "H1N1" for a recent example.
What does it imply when a woman says she is a "stay at home mom?"
For one thing it suggests that she stays home. All the time. This has a negative connotation to some, who view home as boring and restrictive, or who love their homes but also have a frequent desire to be "out and about," and envision the mom who stays home as virtually imprisoned by those four walls.
Another implication comes from contrasting the label with other labels, like "working mom" and "work at home mom." In contrast to these, the "stay at home mom" sounds like she isn't doing much. It implies that the moms who leave home for paid work or do some kind of paying work from home are the ones who are really working. So it makes a stay at home mom sound insignificant, like a non-contributor. But shouldn't those terms just be interchangeable?
The passive word "stay" also may imply that it's just a default -- what happens when you don't put forth effort to be something else. What if it were something like "choosing home mom" -- sounds a little more proactive, doesn't it? Strange, yes, but maybe that's just because we aren't used to it like we are "stay at home."
Yet another thing to note is that "stay at home MOM" defines the woman in terms of her children. This is interesting from a couple of angles. First, it is possibly indicative of the child-centeredness which our culture has come to promote (please note that child-centeredness is not the same as valuing children). Second, it suggests that she is home only because of her children.
A common label before the era of the label "stay at home mom" was "housewife." Notice the difference. The stay at home mom does basically the same things the housewife did, but we tend to think of these labels differently. There were some differences in who the housewife was, perhaps. She didn't have to be a mom, but she did have to be a wife. Today she doesn't have to be a wife but does have to be a mom. Hmm.
That "housewife" from the 1950's and before was defined more in terms of her husband, and has been described as essentially a man's useless luxury by some. Apparently this is how some of them felt at the time -- one of the reasons feminism made such big headway in later decades.
And how do we think of that term in our culture today? Outdated at least, I'll warrant. I didn't think of my mother with the label "housewife" (actually I probably didn't label her at all except as being my mom, unless I was required to on some form), and I don't really think of myself with that word either. It seems to belong to my grandmother's generation somehow. Although I hear there's a show these days that uses it in a desperate context. I've never seen that show, but it doesn't sound exactly positive either.
There are those who think we should adopt other labels for ourselves and insist on referring to ourselves by them, like "Executive Home Officer" or something else impressive-sounding. Interesting thought. I've read thoughts from some who encourage moms to take motherhood seriously and treat it like a professional. They make some good points, and I think in some ways we need that perspective. And I can understand why a mom would want to make up a different label for herself. Yet I don't really think it's necessary to go that far, and I'd actually have a slight personal beef with feeling like I have to "live up" to someone else's expectation of a fancy "professional" label (am I just a rebel or does it seem weird and maybe like admitting defeat?). But I don't have a problem with it if ladies want to do that and feel it makes a difference to them.
I will say that while I don't see an urgent need for a more "professional" label, and I'm not going to insist on not referring to myself as a "stay at home mom," I do prefer the labels "homemaker" or "keeper at home." Why? They are more biblical (NKJV uses the former, KJV the latter -- Titus 2:5), while still more inclusive than the mom label. And they sound like I'm actually doing something, which is a plus -- ha. How are these labels viewed by the world? Probably not great among many. "Keeper at home" is definitely more obviously "Christian-sounding" (or another "bad" label these days -- "fundamentalist"-sounding, lol). That can be either bad or good depending on to whom you're speaking. "Homemaker" may be more innocuous. From my research, some people prefer it because it's gender-neutral. I'm personally thankful I don't recall ever hearing a man call himself either a "homemaker" or a "househusband" (seriously?), though. Why yes, I probably am sexist.
Since the discussion I was a part of was concerning the "stay at home" label, which is probably used more often in our culture now anyway, we'll go with that for this discussion.
Much more important than any label is that we are secure and comfortable with ourselves and what we are doing. I think that will come through when we relate with others, which has the potential to change how others view it, without changing or even necessarily saying any words at all.
How can we be comfortable with ourselves in a position which is underappreciated or even despised by many? By understanding and valuing how God views it.
So what thoughts do you have on the labels we wear?
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