“Working mom”. It is a term of power, selflessness, unremitting responsibility and commitment. The words paint a picture of a modern day Atlas-ess carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. She is all things to all people but often is subject to societal pressures to pick a role – working or mom, regardless of the positive intention we place into the term.
So what do we do? If a mother wants to “have it all” and find balance between work life and family life she must assert both roles. But unfairly, the working and the mom can seem like mixing oil and water creating a dichotomy. Even though there are equal parts that hold value, they may never fit together in harmony. There lingers an expectation for moms that are rooted in traditional gender roles such as caregiver and nurturer and not the provider.
When I think of the term “working mom” I can’t help but ask: why do we fix these monikers and classes to parents? “Working mom” does not achieve what it’s intended to. In fact, I argue that it may perpetuate the gender roles that the term works so hard to dispel and does not aid in the advancement of changing roles for modern parents.
Working mom lends itself to the idea that mothers are the primary parent. It announces to the world that, “I have career goals, but don’t worry; my children won’t suffer as a result of my professional ambition.” Herein lies one of the pressures women face and work to combat – is working considered sacrifice that moms make? If so, we are right back to traditional ideas about parenting and outdated perceptions of a mother’s role.
As a stay at home dad, I feel these pressures adversely. If I don’t work or am content as a primary caregiver, am I sacrificing a profession and career success? It is rare that we hear the term “working dad” as it is commonly assumed that a man’s role lies outside of the home.
Dads aren’t able to escape the worker label just as much as moms can’t escape the caregiver label.
Working mom is not beneficial to mothers or fathers. It suggests that there is a default parent and perpetuates the idea that mothers who work lead a life out of balance. It carries an apologetic undertone to appease divided opinions about established norms in the home.
And for fathers, it downplays their abilities to be successful in a role in which their responsibilities in the home deviate from the traditional. For nuclear families working mom becomes a perceived safety net for the evolved dad – she will be there to pick up the pieces because any failures at home are seen to sit more squarely on her shoulders. When mom is absent due to professional commitments the question, “why?” is inflated and the sense of obligation shifts from dad to mom.
Working mom is a failed attempt for true and universal balance in the home. Equilibrium cannot be achieved by tipping the scale deeper the other way. Categorizing is not the answer. This prefix overshoots its target and is unnecessary to successfully highlight mothers as nurturers/breadwinners, caregivers/hustlers, and protectors/professionals. It sticks mom in a conflicted state where she feels pressure to fill her assumed role at home while working to achieve career success.
Parent is an androgynous term. We should drop the “working mom” and just let parents be parents. It’s time that external experiences cease to define the family roles of mothers and fathers.