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Rejecting the Labels of the Working Mom

Categories: Career, Working? Living?


I’m confused.

I’m in the middle of a transition with respect to the way I spend my days and earn my income. I’m not sure what label applies to me; am I a stay-at-home mom or am I a work-at-home mom? Is it even important to make the distinction?

It used to be so clear. I worked full-time as an editor at a publishing company that allowed me to work from home. When I had a baby, being a mother who worked full-time in a salaried position in a home office made me a work-at-home mom.

Later, I left that job to work part-time at the local college as an instructor while Nate was looked after by a grandparent or at daycare. The line was clear: I was a working mom.

Now, I’m leaving the college position to stay home and work two home-based businesses and do some freelance editing and writing. What can I say…I’m a woman who wears many different hats! I’ll be working for myself, in our home, while our son is looked after at daycare.  And in the middle of all of this change, I’m finding it difficult to categorize myself as either a stay-at-home mom or a work-at-home mom.

I guess I always assumed that a work-at-home mom worked at home while her children were home with her. I always envisioned women who referred to themselves as work-at-home moms somehow managed to get their work done while their children were at home with them. I don’t really know why I latched onto that image; perhaps it’s simply because I have a young child rather than a school-aged child, so my perspective is coloured by my personal circumstance. Maybe it’s the image I had in my mind of a woman like Kristen Chase, seated in front of her computer on an exercise ball, bouncing a baby on one arm while writing with the other. (Or is that simply urban internet legend?)

Image source: The Mommyhood Project

I posed the question on Twitter a few days ago, asking, “If you work from home as a self-employed person or doing freelance, do you consider yourself to be a SAHM?”

I was assured this scenario referred to WAHMs rather than SAHMs.

I asked, “Even if the kids leave for the day? Too many variables. I hate the labels.”

My friend Jen Lemen made a good point in her response:

“Especially if kids leave for the day. If you were single and a freelancer would you say you’re unemployed?” (Actually, I might, but that is another issue entirely…)

She continued, “You’d say you’re an independent contractor or an entrepreneur or a freelance writer, etc.” (I guess it’s time for an attitude adjustment!)

Ever since our exchange, I’ve been thinking about the WAHM and SAHM labels, and I’ve decided that neither of them really feels natural to me. Neither really applies. We are so anxious to use labels to categorize one another, and I don’t feel like I fit into either one of these narrow categories. Instead, I’ll focus on the descriptors that Jen so helpfully offered in her tweets to me.

Do you refer to yourself as a SAHM or WAHM? How so?

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3 comments so far...

  • It’s so hard these days to label it, hey? I guess I consider myself a WAHM, because I’m sitting here working while my kids are at school.

    I worked from home when they were pre-schoolers, too, and did my work around their naps/my husband’s hours.

    The harder question for me is when I meet somebody new and they ask what I do for a living. :)

    Angella  |  April 17th, 2013 at 12:11 pm

  • I’m one who hates the labels. I get to be with my kids all the time, I’m usually home during the day, but I have two (well, three) jobs that I do both with them and without them. So … if someone asks me if I stay home with my kids, I say yes. If they ask me if I work, I say yes.

    I’m also with Angella–it’s confusing trying to explain to someone what I do for a living!

    Jen Wilson  |  April 17th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

  • I guess the issue is why is our mom status really an issue there? You’re an independent contractor, or a small business owner, or a variety of things, that is work.
    You are a mother that is not work (or it is a whole different type of work).
    Do we really describe ourselves as hi, I’m X, I’m a WAHM for YZ company?

    Mich  |  April 23rd, 2013 at 3:11 pm