I’m a “work-at-home mother,” apparently. I was not aware of this phrase until recently, when I came across it at this new website. Chantal, who started this amazing little shop, sells Australian handmade children’s items made by work-at-home mothers like herself (and she stocks my products as well. Thanks Chantal!). Realizing that (a) I belong to this identifiable category of workers, and (b) there are people like Chantal who want to promote and support this particular category of workers, it got me thinking.
Of course, what we do is nothing new. Mothers of small children have, for generations and beyond, in every culture, worked inside their homes for a little extra income to help support the family. Many of us (most, I’d say, in more or less egalitarian countries like Japan and Australia) are free to work at “regular” workplace, leaving the kids to grandparents or daycare, but for various reasons, we choose not to take this path and instead to work around their children at home. It’s understood that for us, the needs of children come first, and any income-generating work we do, we must squeeze that in those “extra” time left over (more on this below).
So, it is probably not surprising that people (as in, the society) does not take those home-based work too seriously. For those in the “real” workforce, those who clock in 9 to 5 every day, what extra work stay-at-home mothers do on the side may seem inconsequential. How can you take any work seriously if it gets pushed around or delayed when a child gets sick, for example? People may call such work a hobby, even. A hobby thanks to those hard-working husbands or partners who bring in the real pay check. I myself previously didn’t take what I do too seriously.
But having a label like “work-at-home mother” changes my perspective. It is a simple yet empowering label. It distinguishes you from other stay-at-home mothers who do not work, and recognizes you as a legitimate member of the workforce — perhaps even in the same league as our office-commuting husbands or partners, or mothers who go back to employment after childbirth. And so we should be recognized because, just like them, we work to bring in income. We want to succeed at what we do, and we work hard for it. If the society does not take us seriously just because our workplace is home, just because our work hours are limited by the needs of children, that’s just plain sexism.
And therein lies the humbling aspect of having a label like “work-at-home mothers.” It is empowering, yes, but it also gives us a clarity of vision that we are the underdogs. It makes you aware of what you are entitled to (recognition that you belong to a legitimate workforce), but that you are deprived of it in reality (people think of what you do as a hobby). Whereas before, there was this image of financially secure, happy stay-at-home mothers who take on little side businesses to pass time or as a creative outlet, now there is this stark underclass of workers who labor long hours for little money and no recognition.
And it is hard work, working around your children that is. I can only speak for myself, but there is no extra time left over in a day when you are parenting and housekeeping full time. Aside from a few hours a week when both my children go to (short) daycare, I work only at night, after the children go to bed. During the day with the three-year and 15-month olds running around causing trouble and needing things all the time, it is impossible to work much. I do love working late nights because it is so deliciously quiet, but it is not ideal because I tend to get sleep deprived. Being workaholic by nature, I often can’t stop till 2 or 3 am, and it’s inevitable on those mornings that my children choose to wake up at 5:30. If coffee didn’t exist I don’t know how I’d function.
My schedule actually reminds me of my days as a litigation lawyer, where late nights were the norm. Actually, you could say it was easier back then, because when I did get home at 3 am, I could at least sleep soundly for a few hours. Now… let’s just say my children are not good sleepers.
I’m digressing. Of course I love what I do and I certainly do not have anything to complain about. I feel extremely lucky that I get to spend so much time with my children and take on my business at the same time. Hopefully though, with the help of people like Chantal, work-at-home mothers will also get the recognition they deserve, eventually.