parent opinion

VIRGINIA TAPSCOTT: What I really hear when you say 'I could never be a stay-at-home mum.'

"I could never be a stay-at-home mum," is usually how the comment starts, followed by a line of reasoning that looking after kids is boring or not mentally stimulating enough.

Surprisingly, it's often said directly to a stay-at-home mum. It's kind of like stopping the postie on her bike, looking her square in the face and saying "Oh I could never do your job look how boring and unfulfilling it is, don't the mailboxes do your head in?"

It's a direct insult which in almost any other circumstance would be considered fairly rude but somehow it's socially acceptable when it comes to justifying our reasons to not be a stay-at-home mum. It often makes me question the value of my contribution and feel like I'm not doing enough. That I'm simple or less intellectual or just not as ambitious as working mums.

Watch: What is unpaid care work? Post continues after video.

Video via UN Women.

When it happens all I can do is stare blankly back, because if I were to respond with my reasons for being a stay-at-home mum it would be seen as a direct attack on working mothers everywhere. And then I'd be told to check my privilege. So it's this weird one sided conversation I'm unable to participate in.

I'm most uncomfortable with the suggestion that carers are mentally or physically idle. I don't see how anyone who has actively cared for children could think this. Navigating the care of others is one of the most intensely cerebral and physically demanding things I've experienced. I've had buttons pushed I didn't know were there, I've reached peak exhaustion. When the efforts are so intense the rewards are huge too, but they're harder to quantify and pin down. It's something like the satisfaction of watching a child slowly master a new skill. When they actually eat what I cook them. The way my heart feels when my three-year-old initiates a spontaneous group hug. The feeling of her soft cheek smooshed into mine.


Caring for kids can be boring at times, but all jobs have boring bits. Feeling valued or having funny colleagues or knowing we're still getting paid at the end of the day normally gets us through a 'boring day' in our paid work. In unpaid roles we rely more on the sense that even boring or yucky jobs have intrinsic value. The rewards aren't instant, but they're still there.

Care work gets a bad rap across the board, and comments that suggest it is somehow a lesser role or just 'not enough' contributes to the devaluation of this work. So often it's referred to as the 'burden of care' and something that 'holds women back', like an inconvenience to be minimised and eschewed. It's really an honour to be entrusted with the care of others, being responsible for the wellbeing of another is huge, but you wouldn't think this based on the discourse.

Care work, paid and unpaid, does present financial disadvantages for those who do it, but unless we improve public perception of care work, we will continue to see underpaid care workers and under supported parents. The only way to improve conditions for those who engage in care work, and also to attract more men to this work, is to recognise the value in it.

The problem is how do we recognise the value of caregiving, as vital work but also as a fulfilling and intellectual pursuit, without triggering parents in full time paid work, often out of financial necessity? We have to get comfortable with accepting the inherent value of each contribution, rather than looking at the value of our contribution as relative to others. Replace 'being a SAHM is boring' with 'my job is exciting and I love it' or 'my job is my way of providing for my family and I love being able to contribute financially'.


Listen to This Glorious Mess where Leigh and Teagan talks about the mental load of doing unpaid labour. Post continues after podcast.

Entering the workforce will always be great for women's economic empowerment and representation in the labour force and leadership roles. Caring for others will always be valuable for raising resilient, well adjusted and productive future generations. We can't be in two places at once, if we accept that our contributions come with different values we might feel less compelled to explain our choices.

It's also about recognising our inherent value as individuals, rather than seeking to feel superior through comparison. One mother justifying her decisions by degrading the choice of another is not in the interests of women broadly because at the end of the day most of us will still need to engage in care work to some degree. We need our care contribution, whatever it may be, to be valued highly in order to reduce remaining inequalities.

Did you know we have a whole family focussed community you can join on Facebook for more discussions like this? Join the Mamamia Family Facebook group and follow Mamamia Family on Instagram and tell us what #parentinglookslike for you!

Feature Image: Supplied.

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