Whilst economic times have necessitated the rise of the double-income family, there are still millions of mothers out there who choose – for a number of varying reasons – to be stay-at-home mothers. However, having fought alongside their gainfully employed sisters for the right to freedom of choice, it saddens me that so many working mothers look down on their happily unemployed counterparts as though they are doing a job that is somehow beneath that which they were destined for. As much as we chortle over the creative titles of ‘domestic goddess’, ‘home executive’ and ‘CEO of the home’, the reality is that the role of the stay-at-home mother – which can have rich emotional and financial benefits for the family – is no less demanding, important, taxing or fulfilling than any other paying job available to us women.
Granted, the role of the stay-at-home mother has changed significantly over the course of time and is somewhat different today from the image of the dutiful, apron-clad housewife from the 1950s. Today’s stay-at-home mother enjoys a diversity of functions that, if analysed, cover the various functions (and more) required to manage a small, successful business. If we consider that the stay-at-home mother is indeed a Minister of Home Affairs, let’s have a look at some the functions found within her portfolio:
- Catering: The stay-at-home mother is generally responsible for providing the meals for her spouse, their offspring and any domestic workers employed by the home. The function includes effective meal planning (whilst taking into account budget constraints), grocery shopping, meal preparation, preparation of school lunches, stock-taking, stock control, catering for entertainment purposes and general management of the kitchen.
- Human Resources: As the person hiring and firing the staff employed by the home, the stay-at-home mother fulfils a vital HR function. Generally speaking, she is responsible for ensuring that a suitable domestic worker is employed to assist with household cleaning and chores. She is responsible for ensuring that a contract of employment is in place, that wages are agreed upon, that a job description exists, that duties are performed according to a pre-determined standard and that wages are paid timeously. These services would obviously extend to any garden or maintenance staff employed.
- Operations: We are particularly blessed to have our office building and our home right next door to each other. While this is exceptionally convenient, having two buildings on one large property has made us acutely aware of just how much operational maintenance is required in terms of building and garden upkeep. Leaking taps, blocked toilets, broken irrigation pipes, burnt out pool pumps, broken windows, faulty toasters and lawn mowers that won’t start – the list is depressingly endless, and tending to the operational upkeep can be particularly time-consuming, not least because it requires that many functions are outsourced to external experts. The stay-at-home mother is responsible for liaising with external service providers, negotiating prices, monitoring service delivery and arrangement for timeous payment.
- Secretarial: If nothing else, a must-have qualification for any stay-at-home mother is a set of seriously exceptional secretarial skills which, when added to her innate ability to multi-task beyond what many would deem humanly impossible, gives new meaning to effective diary management. Juggling personal appointments and commitments, as well as a plethora of school and sporting extra-murals, matches, tournaments, practice sessions and doctor appointments – the stay-at-home mother must be able to arrange nothing short of an effective military operation with nothing but a cell phone, a home computer and a family sedan.
- Logistics and travel: In terms of transporting precious cargo, any parent will appreciate that there’s nothing quite as stressful as driving with young children in the car. The stay-at-home mother is responsible for arranging the transport (sometimes outsourced to friends and family out of sheer necessity) of the kids with meticulous precision to ensure that everyone is dropped off and collected at exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, with the correct uniform and requisite accessories and the exact amount of money required.
- Corporate Social Investment: As with any business, there’s a necessary component of giving back to the broader community which stay-at-home mothers tend to embrace with open and loving arms. Most stay-at-home mothers that I know give selflessly of their time, energy and skills to an array of worthy causes including school committees, Church groups, charities, community organisations and upliftment initiatives – many quietly getting on with their humanitarian work without flashing lights, bill boards and glossy flyers advertising just how caring they are.
- Psychology: It goes without saying that the role of the stay-at-home mother can be an emotionally taxing one as she plays psychologist-in-chief, agony aunt and main-shoulder-to-cry on to her children, their friends, her husband and most likely her circle of friends as well. Stay-at-home mother or not, the emotions involved in parenting a child are indescribably huge (and rewarding), and require an enormous amount of time, energy, empathy and saint-like listening skills.
- Medical: Depending on the medical health of the children, taking care of the family’s medical needs can be financially challenging, emotionally tiresome and incredibly time-consuming. Mothers of children who experience learning disabilities or disorders, or who have more complicated medical problems, can spend enormous amounts of time during the day consulting with doctors and specialists, taking the children for tests and assessments, collecting and dispensing medication and researching alternative treatment for the child. If they have more than one child, it goes without saying that they still need to juggle and attend to the demands of their other children.
- After-hours services: Having three children of my own, I know how challenging weekday evenings can be when trying to vacillate between a spear-diving oral, a project on the lunar system, a mental maths worksheet, turning the chicken breasts, signing homework diaries and wrenching the baby rabbit from the jaws of the Labrador. Not only has the saying ‘a mother’s work is never done’ been made meaningless by its mindless repetition, the value of recognising that a mother’s role involves a considerable amount of work has been entirely overlooked – regardless of whether she chooses to stay at home or not.
- Finance: Having provided financial planning advice to many couples, our experience shows that the stay-at-home mother tends to take responsibility for the household and family finances. Being in a position to control the daily in-flows and out-flows in terms of money, the stay-at-home is generally adept at managing money matters which includes paying medical aid premiums, submitting claims, managing personal and household insurance, managing the family bank accounts, paying accounts, managing debt and overdrafts, as well as effective budgeting. Taking care of the day-to-day management of the family finances is a significant role and can great affect the family’s financial future if not performed effectively.
I have a strong sense that society needs to reflect on the vital role that stay-at-home mothers play – not only in the home but in the broader economy. Mothers, as an economy, have enormous buying power with statistics showing that they make the majority of purchasing decisions regarding family vehicles, children’s education, family vacations, household appliances, clothing, food and entertainment destinations. Stay-at-home mothers don’t receive a pay cheque in return for services – a veritable impossibility given the priceless nature of their job. Regardless of employment status or earning potential, let’s celebrate the role of the stay-at-home mother as an integral part of our communities, our country and our economy.
Have a blessed day!
P.S. While putting this article together, I had a few chuckles with some ‘stay-at-home-mom’ friends of mine who shared some frustrations about their ‘jobs’. It ended up with me putting together this tongue-in-cheek collage of what various people think ‘stay-at-home’mothers’ actually do. Enjoy!