Whether or not to stay home is a tough choice many moms have to make, and women who opt out of jobs to raise kids often face a mix of curiosity, jealousy and even disdain in comments that range from silly to downright mean. "You make this personal choice, yet people feel they have the right to weigh in," says Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of . Here are nine things that stay-at-home moms say they'd be happy never to hear again.
"What do you do with all that free time?"
"I sit on the couch and eat bon-bons, of course," jokes stay-at-home mom Kimberly of Westborough, MA. As anyone who's spent a day alone with a child under age 3 can attest, there's hardly time to use the bathroom, let alone lounge about. "Questions like this come from people who don't know what it's like to scrub off the high chair, change diapers, put toys away and fold laundry again and again," says Steiner. "Plus, depending on the kid's age, there are times when a mom hardly has a second to herself because her child could choke on a penny or fall in the toilet if she looks away for a moment."
"If you're tired, why don't you nap when the baby does?"
The only thing worse than attempting to function on three-hour spurts of sleep? Hearing the old "nap when the baby does" suggestion again. It's a smart plan in theory, but people who haven't stayed home with an infant overlook the downsides to mid-day siestas: The dishwasher doesn't get emptied, the mail doesn't get sorted, emails don't get answered and more. "Also, even if a mom is blessed with a baby who sticks to a schedule, she might not be able to keep her own sleep clock in sync with her child's," says Margaret Usdansky, assistant professor of sociology at Syracuse University, who co-authored a about depression in stay-at-home and working moms.
"It must be nice not to have to work."
Being an at-home mom definitely qualifies as a full-time job. "Parents now are spending a lot more time interacting with their kids than 1970s parents did," says Usdansky. "In fact, that today's working mothers are spending as much time with their children as the last generation's stay-at-home mothers did." So while there may have been room in the schedule for Tupperware parties and Days of Our Lives back then, modern stay-at-home mothers spend plenty of time reading to their children, helping with homework and exposing them to music classes, sports, language lessons and more.
"Your husband must do really well. I couldn't afford to stay home!"
However hefty a couple's savings account balance is, a comment about the family's cash flow can rub someone the wrong way. Besides, that assumption might not even be true. "People now make calculated and tough choices," says Usdansky. While many of the highest-earning men have wives who stay home, so do just as many of the lowest-earning ones. And in a lot of cases, not only does the man earn a small paycheck, but the woman's own earning power is low compared to the cost of childcare—which means that working hardly pays off, especially with the time and stress involved. On the other side of the coin, many women earn as much as (or more than) their husbands, so choosing to stay home means sacrificing major bucks—and living a more frugal lifestyle. "They say to themselves, my house might not be as big and my car not as fancy, but staying home with my kids is more important than those things,'" says Steiner.
"When do you plan to return to your career?"
This implies that one should have a solid plan mapped out, when in reality, this economy leaves many people struggling to figure out the immediate future. Moms who've put their careers on hold worry about whether they'll be able to get a job when they're ready to return to the workforce—and they don't need someone reminding them that the future's uncertain. "Asking when also implies that staying home is a temporary detour, when it might not be for that person," notes Steiner. It's better to ask if a woman is interested in returning to her previous career, not when.
"Do you feel like getting your Master's was a waste of time?"
Nothing conveys a lack of respect for the job of mothering more than this jab. "As one of the moms in my book says, 'I'd get more respect if I said I was raising chinchillas instead of human beings,'" says Steiner, who notes that this comment also presumes that the ultimate goal of getting more education is inflating one's paycheck. "Raising children well is hard, priceless work, but our capitalistic society places more value on entrepreneurship and money-making," adds Steiner. And as Usdansky points out, "Lots of stay-at-home moms aspire to do interesting part-time work, but what's available is usually a step down, not in a professional area or not challenging." Besides, many women hope to resume their careers once their kids are in school.
"You'll never read a book again. Or travel. Or shower!"
This type of comment, often aimed at the new stay-at-home mom, comes from fellow mothers who are home all day with infants or toddlers. Usually, they're trying to commiserate, not terrify, but sometimes the remarks come off as discouragement rather than camaraderie. "It's that old 'I suffered through it and now it's your turn, so I'm going to let you know how tough it is' thing," says Usdansky. "Parents are almost afraid to emphasize the great things about having children, but if there weren't incredible joys, those same people probably wouldn't have multiple kids!" A gentler way to bond over the shared challenges ahead? Lead in with a simple: "Oh, you have a four month old and are staying at home? How's it going for you so far?" suggests Usdanksy.
"I could never do what you do. I'd die without adult conversation."
"This implies, 'You must be simpler than me, so you can tolerate it,'" says Steiner. One stay-at-home mom, Heather of Charleston, SC, has even been referred to as Mary Poppins—to which she responded, "Um, Mary Poppins got paid." Whether intentionally condescending or accidentally so, these kinds of comments sometimes stem from someone else's insecurity about her own role as a parent. "There's a lot of jealousy on both sides—from working moms and stay-at-home moms, because honestly, neither situation is easy," Steiner points out. "It's like what we all went through in seventh grade—if you can't feel great about what you're doing, the next best thing is to feel better than someone else, so you put her choices down."
"Does your husband give you an allowance from his paycheck?"
Unless a stay-at-home mom views herself as a salaried employee of her husband's (unlikely!), this comment isn't going to go over well. And it's common for the woman to be in charge of the budget and bank account, whether or not she's contributing funds. "We've always had a joint checking account, even when we first lived together," says stay-at-home mom Rachel of Albany, NY. "Now, I pay all the bills, do all the grocery shopping and decide when the big purchases can be made. If anything, he asks me for money!" Of course, not all relationships work that way; when it comes time for a couple to negotiate how money is spent, some non-working women feel they've sacrificed some of their decision-making clout. "Lack of financial independence can be scary, especially for a woman who worked hard to be financially independent in the first place," says Steiner. Either way, it's wise not to pry unless you're a good enough friend to broach such a touchy topic.