My mother hates the term “working mum” so you can imagine my concern and her unease when I unveiled my business to her, one that was based around the concept of “Coaching for Working-Mums” and by that I mean coaching for women in paid employment. My choice to coach this niche doesn’t mean that stay at home mums are not welcome in my practice it just means I have chosen to target my marketing efforts towards “working mums”.
This got me thinking about the term “working mum” and the fact that my mother, who has been ‘stay-at-home-mum’ (SAHM) most of her adult life, hates the inference that SAHM’s don’t “work”. As an aside I could also dissect the implications of the term “SAHM” but I will leave that for another time!
My argument to my mother was that:
1. Given “working mum” is the recognised term for mothers who return to paid employment sometime after having a child; and
2. Given that so much of online business and marketing is based around ‘key words’ and Google searches that I had to use the popularly accepted terminology whether I agreed with it or not.
However, the recent release of the book “Career Mums” by Kate Sykes and Alison Tait really got me thinking about how the term “Career Mum” may be a far more appropriate term to move forward with in my business.
Let us for a moment consider a few definitions:
According to Dictionary.com the word “work” is:
1. Exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labour; toil;
2. Something on which exertion or labour is expended; a task or undertaking;
3. Productive or operative activity;
4. Employment, as in some form of industry, especially as a means of earning one’s livelihood;
5. One’s place of employment.
So based on the above definition SAHM’s would certainly be considered to use exertion or effort to accomplish a task and certainly undertake productive activity even though it may not always feel like it!
It does get a little tricky when considering that the word work relates to ‘employment’ which typically relates to earning a living rather than non-paid work. However despite this I would certainly agree that SAHM’s do “work” and so the term “working-mum” is certainly problematic.
When considering the word “Career” Dictionary.com defines it as:
1. An occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework;
2. A person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking;
3. Success in a profession, occupation, etc.
I feel more comfortable with the term “career mum”, however, I personally feel that having a career (requiring special training and it being one’s lifework) and having a job can mean quite different things and this is the advantage to the term “working mum” which encompasses both.
So consider whether a SAHM has a career by asking the following questions:
- Is being a mother a profession (definition: a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science)?
- Could being a mother be conceived as one’s lifework? and
- Isn’t being a mother a progress or general course of action through a phase of life (i.e. your children’s childhood)?
It would seem at least two elements of the word career could apply to SAHM’s, As I hope I have demonstrated here, there really is no perfect terminology for the mother who spends time in paid employment either working from home or in a specified workplace (what a mouthful!).
I personally think the core of the issue is not about terminology but gets down the lack of respect, or perception of lack of respect, that SAHM’s feel they receive in comparison to “working mums” or “career mums”.
Being a full-time working mother or career mum myself I have come to realise that this lack of respect is not one-sided. I have seen many instances of SAHM’s not respecting and out rightly judging working mums as bad or selfish mums who are damaging their children permanently and on the flipside seen career mums disrespecting SAHM’s thinking that they are unmotivated, unintelligent or lazy.
There seems to be a lack of respect of the choices that women in Australia are lucky enough to have combined with a lack of support among women about the fact that everyone must make this choice based on what is best for them and their family.
While out to drinks with a large group of women recently (incidentally I was one of only 1-2 full-time “working mums” in a group of 15) a friend said to me when I asked her about her job:
“I’m only working part-time because I am choosing to put my child first”.
Now as someone who works full-time because:
• Firstly, one income doesn’t cover our mortgage and bills;
• Secondly, I am trying to build a more flexible long term future for my family; and
• Thirdly, because I really enjoy having a career
I could have taken this statement to mean that I do not put my child first and been extremely hurt, however, considering her a friend I gave her the benefit of the doubt and respected her position despite the fact her words were poorly chosen. Interestingly this shows there is even a divide between mums who work 1-3 days a week and mums who work 4+ days a week!
My experience to date has been that women are quite divided on what is best for their kids and quite judgemental of mums who make a different choice to theirs.
I think we should stop getting hung up on the terminology, and start supporting each other to make the choice that is right for them.
I know for a fact that I am a happier, less stressed and more loving mother when I am undertaking paid employment than I was when I was at home full-time.
At the end of the day my family benefits in many ways from my participation in the paid workforce yet I have the utmost respect for my mother who was an amazing SAHM and I have many memories of outings, craft projects and creative games with her.
My daughter may not grow up to have as many of those types of memories but I hope she will grow up with a sense that she can be or do anything she puts her mind to, that she can pursue her dreams and that she can have a career and still be a great mother if she chooses!
I am, however, considering changing my programs to “coaching for the career mum”…..
This article was a guest post on the Career Mums blog on the 7th February 2012 and my thanks go to Kate Sykes for taking an interest in my article, http://familyandworkflexiblity.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/if-not-working-mum-then-what.html