I heard you use that word the other day. It fell out of your mouth the way it used to fall out of my mouth — with little thought and fanfare. We’ve become so accustomed to hearing it out of our own mouths and the mouths of others, that we don’t even realize we’re saying it anymore, much less realize the weight of that word.
I’m just a stay-at-home mom.
I heard the apology in your voice when you said it, and I could feel your doubts. Within that tiny four-letter word, there was a mountain of fears, worries and insecurities. I know this because I’ve been where you are; I’ve shared those fears, worries and insecurities. I’ve said those same words: I’m “just” a stay-at-home mom.
You worry you are failing at your “job.” You wonder if your college degree was a waste of time and money. You compare yourself to all the other women out there doing exciting work, accomplishing things, and climbing the corporate ladder. You worry that because you are at home, you are less worthy, less capable, less interesting. You worry that, even though your spouse supports your decision to stay home and appreciates you, one day the appreciation will be replaced with resentment. You worry you aren’t feminist enough, you aren’t interesting enough, you aren’t whatever enough. You worry that you are just a stay-at-home mom.
Listen, mama, there is no “just” in being a stay-at-home mom.
Because there is no just in motherhood, regardless of what motherhood looks like to you. Whether you spend your days wiping butts and coordinating playdates, or negotiating deals and coordinating meetings, we are all mothering. We are all doing hard and good work. We are all raising children. And there is nothing inconsequential, uninteresting, or simplistic about that. There is no just in being a mother.
You aren’t just a stay-at-home mom; you are a nurturer, keeping a human life alive and growing and thriving. You are feeding babies from your body or a bottle, holding heavy sleeping toddlers in your arms, and wiping tears from preschoolers who fall on the playground.
You aren’t just a stay-at-home mom; you are a caretaker, changing fifteen diapers a day, doing twenty loads of laundry, and preparing three different meals for dinner (one for the baby, one for the picky toddler and one that won’t be eaten until it’s cold because you were busy feeding the baby and cleaning up after the toddler).
You aren’t just a stay-at-home mom; you are a multitasker, reading to your preschooler while nursing the baby and checking your first-grader’s math homework. You wait on hold with the pediatrician’s office while helping your preschooler brush her teeth. You stir a pasta sauce while listening to your son ramble on about Minecraft — even adding “wow” and “cool” at the right moment.
You aren’t just a stay-at-home mom; you are a peacekeeper, breaking up fights over who gets to drink out of the red cup and calming tantrums after the juice in the red cup spilled all over the kitchen floor. You can cut a singular fruit snack in half, giving one to each child. And you negotiate the resolution of stand-offs over naptime and whether to watch Caillou or anything else.
You aren’t just a stay-at-home mom; you are a healer, kissing scrapes and putting Band-Aids on boo-boos (both the real and imaginary kind). You hold puke buckets for sick kids and wet washcloths on feverish foreheads. You comb out lice nits. More than once.
You aren’t just a stay-at-home mom; you are a teacher, showing your children how to tie shoes and sing the Alphabet Song and to say “please.” You teach your children how to try and fail and try again. You help your children be the best version of themselves that they can be.
You aren’t just a stay-at-home mom; you are an advocate, showing your children that true feminism means equality and choice. You volunteer with and for your kids, spending hours copying papers at their school and baking cookies for the PTA bake sale. You volunteer to chaperone the class field trip, even though it means riding on a non-air conditioned bus with fifty loud third-graders.
Listen, mama, you aren’t just a stay-at-home mom, because you aren’t just a mother. You are a Nurturer-Caretaker-Multitasker-Peacekeeper-Healer-Teacher-Advocate.
In other words, you are a Mom.
You’re doing hard work; you’re doing good work. As are we all. There’s no just in being a mom, regardless of where and how your momming is done.