The Semantics of Motherhood

There was a post on Heir to Blair recently that discussed the terminology we as mothers use to label ourselves. My takeaway from the post was that the use of the term “full time mom” by “stay at home mom” made working outside of the home (WOHM) moms bristle, my attempts to comment on the post spiraled out of control and, well, here we are. In a nutshell, this is an argument no one is going to win.

Let’s start with the terminology
SAHM: indicates a mom with no outside employment, usually the family is supported buy income from a spouse/partner.
SAHD: the male version of the SAHM
WOHM: used to indicate a mother outside employment. Used whether the she is the sole provider or not
WAHM: moms who work at home, child may or may not got to daycare she may or may not be self-employed

So, who hates what?
The term SAHM developed to take the place of housewife or homemaker. Many women hate the implication that they are chained to their house or spouse and that as terms, housewife/homemaker seem a bit antiquated and have negative societal implication. And so the term full-time mom emerges. Also, technically a housewife/homemaker may or may not have children, so it is not a particularly accurate description of a mother.

WOHM dislike the term full-time mom because they feel it implies that the WOHMs are part-time moms. I, personally, don’t think that’s the intention of the term. It is a descriptor of how they spend their time and they spend all of it being a mom. So, I suppose that “full time caregiver” could be a term that the WOHMs would have less of an issue with, but it isn’t particularly appropriate because it cuts the cord, if you will. It could also be used by a full-time nanny.

One could argue against the term full-time-mom being used by the WOHM, by stating that while she is a mom all of the time, she does not spend all of her time (actively) being a mom. Or maybe that was just me. When I was at work, I was working. I was aware of my baby, but barring an urgent phone call/pumping time, I focused on work. I spent much of my “care-giving time” at home focused on work too, which is one of the reasons I stopped. And also – did you know I was asked to reset a computer password while in labor? Oh the joys of delivering at the hospital that employed you.

So what is a mother who likes to label herself to do? Well, a blogger who makes even a nickel from their blog, could make the WAHM argument. So could an extreme couponer,  but then that would probably offend the “real” WAHMs. I think I am going to start using personal assistant. Or maybe intern. Long hours, little pay, seeing to every need of my pint-sized boss.
Let’s run the options:
MWOE – Mom without outside employment
MWPOE -Mom with part-time outside employment
MWPHE -Mom with part-time home employment
MWFHE – Mom with full-time home employment
MWPOE – Mom with part-time outside employment

They just aren’t as catchy. Also, forgot about the student moms, the working student moms, the online student moms, the moms who help run their husband’s business, but get no credit, the lazy bon-bon eating moms…

As someone who has been a SAHM, WOHM and a WAHM, all while being a “full-time” mom. I think labels are just that – labels. Call yourself whatever you want. Its roles vs occupations vs labels. I just filled out a form and called myself a freelance writer. Technically, it is true.

My closing though is this: take care that when objecting to the way someone chooses to label themselves, you don’t devalue their choice. And there is probably a reason you don’t see this argument about dads, but I really don’t feel like putting on my feminist panties today.

Disclaimer: I did not read all 150 comments on Blair’s post. If these points were made therein, I didn’t steal them, we just think alike.

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5 Responses to “The Semantics of Motherhood”

  1. Andie says:

    I say as long as you don’t ask me if I work, I won’t hit you. When you ask me if I work while simultaneously trying to keep track of three little kids and a pregnant belly, then you better duck! :)


  2. Elle says:

    I’m a stay at home but would like to work outside the home because my daughter’s 2 and can sometimes drive me batty. So I guess I would be a SAHMBWLTWOTHBMDS2ACSDMB. Whew! ;)

    I’ve never gotten the fuss with these labels since that’s all they are. They’re not who you are when it comes to being a parent. Once you’re a mom, you’re always a mom whether you leave the house to work, work at home, or work for your tiny dictator, I mean child. What I’m trying to say is great post.


  3. Elle says:

    Oopsie. I’m not sure what a “stay at home” is. *Mom.


  4. Suzanne says:

    I think this is extremely well said. I want to have the bit about “don’t devalue someone’s choices” printed on a t-shirt.

    Also, I think if SAHM’s use the “full-time” label they might actually be selling themselves short. If you are a ( “full-time” banker, you are probably working 40-50 hours a week at your job and then you come home and stop being a banker. I’d KILL for that kind of schedule – and you aren’t expected to do the janitor’s job too.

    You know what’s silly? I hate the term “housewife” but still check the box for it on official forms. I’m scared to write “freelance writer” or especially “blogger”, as if the Official Form Occupation Box Checking Police are going to come to my house and demand to see my bank statements PROVING I get paid (sometimes)(a little bit).


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