parent opinion

'I'm a stay-at-home mum and I feel like I've been erased from the parenting narrative.'

Before I had kids I fully expected I would be a working mum.

Working mums were pretty much the only kind of mums I noticed on TV growing up. The women on the radio weren't looking after kids and public figures were seldom portrayed in care work. The ladies with babies were behind closed doors for the most part, I never saw a baby latch onto a nipple until it was my own. I knew I wanted to get in on the 'girls can do it all' moment, but as far as I could tell 'it all' meant mainly individual, professional success. The job of caring for others was 'out of sight, out of mind'.

My profession became my absolute focus and having a family one day was something I assumed would just happen. I used to belt out a very loud, animated rendition of Beyonce's Independent Women, "All the mamas who got the dollars, throw your hands up at me." The finer details of how the mamas got the dollars would not become clear until I was in the thick of letdowns and nappy changes. It was a brutal realisation that I couldn't parent the way I wanted to and be in paid work at the same time.

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

Video via UN Women.

I was naïve, granted, but the media has a lot to answer for when it comes to negative portrayals and outright omissions of unpaid caregiving. For such a vital contribution that every single person needs at some point in their life, it really does not get enough airtime. It seems to have been reduced to a 'burden' and something people need to actively disengage from to protect their personal wellbeing. 


I feel that the underrepresentation of the realities of caregiving in the media and public life, and failing to recognise the importance of care, made for an extremely disorientating transition into parenthood. It also directly contributed to feelings of being invisible and undervalued once I was immersed in the work of care.

This distortion in the media arises from the simple fact that few people who are creating content and writing stories are stay-at-home parents. The issues working parents face will naturally be front of mind for working parents, and those issues are equally worthy of coverage, but there is often little or no effort made to seek out the perspective of stay-at-home parents. They are outside the public domain, often discounted as irrelevant, and can be difficult to track down or media shy. 

Diversity of perspectives to highlight the reality of unpaid caregivers is sorely lacking.

When stay-at-home mums do make it into the media, it's often an unhelpful characterisation that makes the needs of caregivers easy to dismiss. We either fetishise them as angels for whom care work is effortless and a natural choice. Or we create less palatable versions of SAHMs that are portrayed mostly as welfare bludgers in track pants or wealthy Stepford wives stuck in some kind of gross servitude. Either a drain on society, someone who doesn't ask for support, or someone who has so much money they don't need any social support.

It's easy to marginalise people who we deem unworthy of support. If SAHMs are educated, middle-class women of substance we don't know quite where to place them.


Sometimes stay-at-home parents, having been immersed in a culture that considers them kind of superfluous, struggle to articulate the value in their contributions. It can be hard to put into words why we engage in care work for fear of offending parents who have made different choices. Sometimes we feel unworthy of support or can dismiss as our own needs because so often we are told that our role is a privilege.

After I became a parent, I was soon stuck in a void between not identifying as a stay-at-home mum but also not re-entering paid work. I still struggle to identify as a stay-at-home mum because I sense the stigma attached to this role and on some level I still associate unpaid care work with being a 'lesser choice' or kind of like giving up. I feel like I've internalised the negative narratives about care work to the point that I don't value the work even when I am the one doing it. I now realise that not assigning value to my time and my contribution makes me part of the problem.

Not having your experience reflected back to you by the media can be incredibly alienating. It creates the sense that you are alone in your experience even though many people have experienced the same frustrations. The frustration of having kids and realising the value of care, realising how much they need you and want simply to be with you, but that need being largely ignored. The disconnection between knowing how important parenting is but also knowing how under resourced and under supported that role is.

Listen to This Glorious Mess where Leigh and Tegan talk about the mental load of unpaid labour. Post continues after video.


The same biases emerge in science and popular culture. People running research projects would usually not be stay-at-home parents, and issues affecting people in unpaid caregiving roles would have less salience in their lives. The people making music and movies are often also less exposed to the day-to-day reality of caring for others. The same can be said for people in leadership roles.

Stay-at-home parents may even trigger working parents, as it might threaten their own choices and make them less likely to prioritise issues that affect unpaid carers. Working parents may subconsciously choose to cover stories and conduct research projects that reinforce their own belief systems rather than experience the discomfort of having their beliefs challenged.

Social media has gone some way towards democratising media content in relation to parenting because so many stay-at-home parents now have access to social media. We have seen the rise of influencers that are stay-at-home parents or maternal feminists or care advocates. We are seeing the experiences of caregivers entering the mainstream and parts of the public domain they were previously excluded from. 

We are hopefully creating a generation of stay-at-home parents who feel valued and heard.

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Feature Image: Supplied.

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