Why being a stay at home parent isn't a job

Parenting is hard but it isn't a job.
Parenting is hard but it isn't a job. Photo: Getty

"Being a mother is the hardest job in the world." How many times have we all heard that phrase? And it's true that parenting is really, really hard. There is no annual leave, no sick leave, and the clients can be incredibly painful.

But is it an actual 'job'? Well, that is eminently debatable.

Having a child is a part of life. It is a relationship with another person for whom you have absolute responsibility. It involves work, sacrifice, time, energy, more so than any other relationship you will experience. But does that make it a 'job'?

Probably not.

I have been a Stay At Home Mum and I have been a Working from Home mum, using 'working from home' in the sense of 'freelance work for money'. In all that time, I have regarded my paid work as my 'job' and 'career', and my parenting as, well, my family life. And I have felt incredibly, profoundly blessed to have the choice to stay home with my kids, and to do the work I do from home. I see the struggles of my friends in full time work – rushing to get the kids ready before they have to leave home at 8am or earlier, arriving home late to begin the dinner/homework/bed routine, stressing about child care in the holidays, taking their sick kids to work with them when they have no other choice – and I salute them.

And so when I read this piece in Time Magazine I completely related. The author, Liz Pardue-Schultz, an ex-SAHM, argues that it does both SAHM's and working mums a disservice by referring to motherhood as a 'job'.

"Sure, parenting is hard work," she writes, "but so is going camping or throwing a party for a friend; I don't go around calling those things my "jobs." And FUN FACT: While there are obviously labor-intensive tasks involved with running a household like cleaning and cooking, those are things every person has to do (or pay someone else to do) regardless of their status as parents, and they don't define our life's work."

This is undeniably true: every parent is responsible for cleaning, cooking, laundry and child care, whether we perform those tasks ourselves or outsource it to others. But mothers with jobs outside the home are responsible for both. They have paid work on top of these responsibilities, whereas SAHM's are able to focus solely on the parenting and household duties.

This doesn't mean that being a SAHM isn't important or a valid life choice. Of course it is. Forgoing paid work in order to raise a child can be deeply meaningful and valuable. But many life choices are meaningful and valuable and require hard work but aren't 'jobs'. Studying. Volunteering. Keeping pets.  


As Liz explains, "Obviously, staying at home and taking care of people in lieu of working for wages is a valued lifestyle, but it is not a "career"; people who retire early to care for their elderly parents don't suddenly tell everyone they've gone into the health care profession. Choosing to care for your own small child is no different."

A job entails a boss. A job entails the possibility of career progression. A job entails being answerable to other adults for your time and actions. Being a SAHM involves none of those things. Being a SAHM means forgoing a job. Perhaps if there wasn't so much (seriously unfair) pressure on women to justify their roles as SAHM's then we could acknowledge being a SAHM for what it is: a valid, valuable, worthwhile lifestyle choice.

But not a job. That's something different.

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