Whenever we hear the term “stay-at-home” mom or “housewife,” we picture a woman whose life revolves around her kids. We all know the stereotype.
The stereotypical stay-at-home mom or housewife is a woman whose sole mission in life is to serve her children and husband. Sadly, such a woman has no life aspirations or goals. These “types of women” are to be pitied, say the feminists, or thought of as empty and even regretting their life. Apparently once you have kids, your individuality is likely to fly right out the window.
The stereotype has been pushed by a society that would see children as monstrous vampires that suck all the life out of you until you’re nothing but a shallow, hollow shell of person. More often than not the stereotypical stay at home mom is also poor because not only do children suck the life out of you, they also suck up all the money. Shame on them!
Nowhere is this stereotype more pushed than in women’s magazines. Recently, Marie Claire magazine did an expose on women who regret having children. According to the article, there’s a growing movement of women that regret having children and are very open about it.
When Regret Hits
The article opens with a woman name Laura who laments her decision to have children. Some of the reasons she offers are quite common to any mother who has had a rough day with her kids: being overwhelmed or frustrated, crying all the time, bored, dissatisfied, or feeling suffocated.
I suppose there are some stay-at-home moms out there who perhaps missed their calling and had children instead. Making a life-changing and permanent decision and then realizing that it was perhaps the wrong choice can bring on depression. However, it’s a reality you have to face nonetheless. It’s a cross everyone must bear. It’s called living with the consequences of your decisions.
At the very end of the article Laura realizes this. She accepts her “new normal,” begrudgingly. But it makes me wonder from where this regret stems.
Is it truly the result of a woman missing her calling in life? Or, and I’d venture to guess this is more accurate in most cases, perhaps the regret comes from the at-home mother stereotyping that is so prevalent today.
The Stereotype Contributes to Regret
The article builds on the notion of the typical “soccer mom” who “fantasizes about a life unburdened by dependents and free from the needs of other.” The message is that choosing a career unburdens someone from the needs of others.
Whether you’re in a career or a stay at home mom, however, there’s no such thing as being unburdened by the needs of others. You can only temporarily escape the feeling of servitude at work when the clock strikes five. But tomorrow it starts all over again. The notion that somehow not having a family means you have no responsibility to anyone else is completely false.
As the Blessed Apostle St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Yes, brethren, freedom claimed you when you were called. Only, do not let this freedom give a foothold to corrupt nature; you must be servants still, serving one another in a spirit of charity” (Gal. 5:13-14 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation).
Our society has forgotten this truth. This contributes to the strongly held belief that success can only be measured by a career. According to society, life aspirations and goals should revolve around a paying career, not around vocation. Fulfillment, today, is only measured by how many promotions you receive at work, income, or popularity. This belief leaves no room for marriage and family. Motherhood and fatherhood, says society, should be looked at as side-jobs only. If your family becomes your center, it somehow means you’re a lesser individual than a person who’s devoted to a career.
Social pressure causes problems
It’s even worse for the woman of today who must have a foot in both camps – a career and motherhood. If a woman follows her natural calling to motherhood (not counting those women who are called to marry Christ), she must also have a burgeoning career or she falls into the motherhood stereotype of frivolity, idleness, and shallowness.
Sarah Treleaven, the author of the article, brings up the point late in the article that this contributes to regret and hardship in motherhood: “women are now expected to lean in both at work and at home, never missing a board meeting or ballet recital…The combination, for many, is exhausting.”
This exhaustion leads to regret as the mother must juggle a career and motherhood in order to prevent being shunned by society. Should she renege on the career, she would be harshly accused of putting too much into her kids and of only having one “identity.” Worse yet, she would be seen as frivolous, naive, and just downright stupid.
A Mother’s Sole Identity – Who’s Fault Is It?
Treleaven also cites an article written in 2005 in The New York Times by Ayelet Waldman who exclaims her love of her husband as being more than that for her children. According to Treleaven, Waldman was met with a wave of harsh criticism from mothers all over the country who called her a bad mom for being more in love with her husband than her children. (Does anyone else find it strange and a little offensive that there’s this constant comparison between a love for a spouse and love for children?)
However, Waldman brings up an excellent point: her children are not the center of her universe, and her husband comes before her children. In fact, marriage is supposed to be like a pyramid – with our focus on God and Heaven at the top, then our spouse, and then our children. Does the fact that motherhood does not define her make her a bad mother? Absolutely not.
This notion of motherhood as a woman’s primary identity is part of the overall stereotype most often associated with stay-at-home mothers and perpetuated by feminists. Along with being empty shells and perhaps even lazy, stay-at-home mothers are often criticized for only having “one identity” or having their world revolve around their children. Although, again, there are some mothers who fit this mold, I’d wager that the majority of stay-at-home mothers are not like this. Most have just as many “identities” or interests as the next person.
Career and Identity
No one today would accuse a doctor or a CEO of being too involved in their career (at least by society’s standards). So why do we constantly accuse at-home mothers of this? Why is being involved in your career such a worthy undertaking, while being “too” involved in your family means you’re sacrificing your individuality?
The women in the article who regret having children are equally guilty of believing and even pushing this very same stereotype. It even seems as if this belief is the very foundation of their regret. They think they can’t have any other interests or life outside family. Perhaps they are also afraid that if they do have other interests, they will be judged harshly as inattentive or bad mothers. This leads to sacrificing most, if not all, of their other interests, unnecessarily, which leads to such regret.
Granted, parenting is harshly criticized by the outside world – thank you social media – but I can’t help but wonder if the majority of these fears come from some mothers’ own thoughts. Women tend to harshly judge others, so would it not make sense that mothers would fear the very same? Multiple studies also confirm that women are more self-critical of themselves. This supports the idea that perhaps these regrets are based on women’s own oftentimes unfounded and ridiculously harsh criticisms of themselves.
Regret of Such Blessings is Unfortunate
I pity women who hold such regrets about motherhood. In a world that focuses so much success and personal fulfillment and careers or believes that having a family means less freedom, it’s understandable that some women might feel this way.
Whether or not it’s an unspoken regret, as claimed to be in the article, it’s quite clear that such feelings are contagious to society and are manifesting themselves in real time. Millennials are having less children, according to the survey sited by Treleaven. The reasons for the decline in births are selfishness and a misunderstanding of what motherhood and parenthood in general, mean. This is perpetuated by the stereotype of the stay-at-home mom.
In a society that claims to frown upon the stereotype and believes in treating each person with “equality,” it’s unfortunate that this stereotype is still so strongly believed today. The damage done by such stereotyping is clear. It fosters a false sense of regret in the mother, a feeling of having shortcomings in life, and a lack of desire in an entire generation for wanting to procreate at all. It has led to an entire generation filled with unhappiness and dissatisfaction because they have been taught nothing of the idea of vocation and that true happiness is found in living out God’s call for us.
As our Catholic faith teaches:
CCC 1723 “. . . true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.