In my last post on this topic, In Defense of the SAHM, Pt. I, I briefly discussed the idea that SAHMs are “privileged” in their ability to stay home. I wanted to take time to explore this a little more in-depth. Whether intentionally or subconsciously, this is a straw man constructed by those with no single-income household experience. I’ve heard it said many times that SAHMs are privileged to have husbands with well-enough paying jobs to allow them their permanent leave from the workforce. Perhaps some do, but many do not.
Inability to Afford Vs. Living Above Your Means
I know there are some people that truly can’t afford to stay home. Every family is different. Some say they can’t “afford it,” but maybe that means something different to them than it does to me. Could it be that for some “can’t afford” simply means they’ve chosen to live above the means of a one-income family? Or is “can’t afford” truly rooted in a dire money situation? Maybe they were already too far into debt upon the arrival of children. Maybe one of them is sick and needs extra money for medical care. What if one is disabled and can’t work? (Privilege is a relative term, wouldn’t you say?) All of these are reasons one may not be able to afford it. For the rest of us.. is affording a certain lifestyle just a matter of choice?
If the reason one is unable to stay home is living above your means, that is a preventable scenario. If staying home is important to you, that could mean making sacrifices like driving one car, downsizing your house, or forgoing shopping and eating out.
Now, I wouldn’t dare to presume that most people live above their means. However, the average American family has way more stuff than they could possibly use.
When someone alludes that I am privileged, it makes me feel like it takes a special kind of person to stay home. It makes me feel like the person thinks I’m less intellectual, that maybe my life is mundane or lacks ambition. (I can’t lie, sometimes is DOES get mundane!) And worst of all, it implies that I took the easy way out by staying home while my poor husband works.
Privilege or Sacrifice?
Privilege is not the right word. According to Merriam-Webster, privilege means a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor; especially such a right or immunity attached specifically to a position or an office.
Privilege carries a sense of pretension. I look at some women who choose to stay home and I see that they wear the same clothes week after week; the same shoes, the same sweater. Talk about mundane. Privilege is not the word that comes to mind, but, perhaps, sacrifice.
Sacrifice: destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else. (Merriam-Webster)
Personally, I don’t feel like I have had to sacrifice anything monetarily to stay home. Granted, my family is not able to go on vacation or drive new cars, but I am able to buy new clothes every few months, go out to eat occasionally, and not be afraid of breaking the bank on date night. But the average mother who makes the decision to stay home may have to make difficult budgeting choices and sacrifices others don’t have to make.
Monetary Sacrifice Isn’t the Only Kind of Sacrifice
In my case, sacrifice has come in the form of sanity. I’m sure many mothers know what I’m talking about. Some days I would relish the chance to get away to a desk job with a nice cup of coffee for a few hours. Even if I were just someone’s secretary, a chance to have my mental capacity all to myself would be a dream. Aside from the hour-and-a-half my son naps midday, I spend sun up to sun down with my attention split and hardly a moment to just stop and gather my thoughts.
No, privilege is not the right word. Staying home is a choice requiring sacrifice as much as working involves sacrifice–albeit, a different kind of sacrifice. The choice involves deciding whether more income (and, therefore, more materials or opportunities) is more important or more personal involvement in the daily lives of your family is more important. Staying home can mean perhaps getting by with less, not going on vacations, and keeping a tight budget (and losing your sanity at times); working can mean spending less time with family. Any choice involves the surrender of something for the sake of something else.
Our One True Privilege
I think we moms need to stop comparing. We need to stop throwing the word privilege around so carelessly. We need to recognize that we are all sacrificing something of ourselves whether we are working or stay at home. Privilege is a word belonging to those who have been given something undeserved.
Speaking of which, there is one particular area in which we are ALL privileged.
Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works, lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.]” [AMP]
John 1:12 – “But to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name — ” [AMP]
Philippians 1:29 – “For you have been granted [the privilege] for Christ’s sake not only to believe in (adhere to, rely on, and trust in) Him, but also to suffer in His behalf.” [AMP]
If you are a believer, you are granted the unmerited favor of salvation. You are granted the right to become a child of God. You are given the true privilege of sharing in the sufferings (and glories) of Christ, and serving in his kingdom.
Some of us enter the workforce along side our husbands and enjoy serving for our families in one way. Some of us stay home and enjoy a different type of service. But we are all mothers in the service of our families and, by extension, Christ. Whether you exercise your privilege of service to Him by going to work every day or staying home, may you serve with an attitude of thanksgiving.