I’m going to be a WAHM. What does that even mean?

Today on Slate, my editor Dan Kois has a thoughtful, revealing and multifaceted piece that expands upon the veritable shit-storm of critique he faced when he admitted on air (during the legendary Mom and Dad Are Fighting podcast with Allison Benedikt, where I get all of my parenting advice) that he harbors a “secret disdain” for stay-at-home parents. Of course, his feelings were not as simple as that. (I’d recommend a full read of the piece, or you can just jump down into the comments and have a shit-fit like most Slate commenters do; that’d be fine too).

Anyway, my precious 38 years of passively observing the “mommy wars” are over. Simply by lugging this 9,000-pound fetus around for a few more months and then (all deities willing) shoving her out into the world, I will be a “mommy wars” soldier, and that shit’s going to be weird. Because first of all, where do I even fit on this spectrum? (And does this singular post now make me a “mommy blogger”?)

Once I finish my November columns at Slate I’m going on a reduced publication schedule, and I’ve been shedding dissertation clients since October. Beginning in about a week and a half, I will be on self-sanctioned, unpaid “maternity leave,” end unknown (I am, even as things dwindle, already going a tad stir-crazy. Today I cleaned my apartment unprovoked; I even spent 45 minutes outside raking leaves in my Delicate Condition.)

Since I am a full-time freelancer, I “get” to stop working whenever I want, for however long I want — provided that I can support myself financially, of course. But that’s just the thing. Since I’ve been living in St. Louis for nearing on the last two years, the staggering affordability of the area — and the fact that until I got pregnant, I worked three jobs — has enabled me to sock away some savings, for precisely the purpose of self-funding my “maternity leave.” That, combined with the incredibly fortuitous fortune (redundant!) of selling a book to a major publisher last week, means that so long as I continue to live my cheap lifestyle, I can support myself and half the baby for at least the first few months of her life.

Of course, I’ve also got a book to finish now (and it is, indeed, Book Tunnel Vision City around here until she comes), so even if I keep publishing columns at a reduced frequency and don’t go back to dissertation coaching, fairly soon after the baby arrives I will be going back to work. It’s just that I won’t be going anywhere when I do.

I will, provided that fortune continues to smile upon me amidst all of my failures, work largely from home for the rest of my working days. The disadvantages of this are many: If my husband ever leaves his current job, we will have to pay for our own health insurance, which for a family of three will be pretty substantial; I have to pay quarterly taxes and I NEVER get the amount right because I am an IDIOT, but I’m scared to hire an accountant, though now that I’ve sold this book I probably should — anyone know a good accountant? I also get no sick days and no vacation; every single day I miss of work with my clients is a day I either have to discount them for or make up; this “maternity leave” is the first time off I have had in over a year — I did not even take Christmas off last year; I spent it writing this book review for Slate, and on and on and on.

But the advantages outweigh the perils considerably: My work is flexible and it can be done in spurts — if all I’ve got is two hours between 11 and 1 a.m., that’s when the writing gets done; I have no boss; I can sexually harass my “officemate” as much as I please; I can wear whatever I want to the “office”; I can take naps or clean the house between appointments (as I have done this week); I get to claim our second bedroom as my workspace on our taxes (though that will change once the little fucker is here). I love working from home — in fact, I’d even go so far as to say that once you start working from home, it’s PRETTY TOUGH to go back to any other way — especially if, like me, you don’t really like being around peers, which I don’t. My mom keeps asking me disapprovingly if I’ve made any friends at prenatal yoga yet, as part of her long-game harping on me for being a loner, and I answer her EVERY TIME that no, I am a loner, and very much prefer it that way, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy hanging around with my own kid because people generally do, but I have absolutely no need or desire to take up with some sort of St. Louis mommy group (also, am I even allowed to? See below).

Which brings me back to my original point: How can I even know what sort of “mommy group” will have me if I don’t even know what the fuck kind of “mommy” will I be? I’m taking a few months off from all work but the book manuscript, and I will be our daughter’s primary caregiver while my husband continues teaching. So, since I’ll be at home, parenting, I’m a SAHM, am I not? And yet, I am a professional writer who is, and will continue to be, remunerated for the writing that I file to the various outlets that publish me; I support myself fully with this money, and writing is work — so I’m a WM, am I not? What do I get? Secret disdain from my beloved Dan Kois, or open disdain from the SAHMs who run the “hip mamas” St. Louis Meetup, which is openly unwelcoming to parents who work? Whose ire am I supposed to be provoking, and what cause should be the recipient of my pitchfork? SOMEONE TELL ME PLS.


29 thoughts on “I’m going to be a WAHM. What does that even mean?

  1. I’m a father of seven, so I’ve viewed the Mommy wars as an outsider (there are no Daddy wars to my knowledge). The problem is not what category you fit in to. The problem is that no matter what you wind up doing, if you’re not doing it exactly like Them, you’re doing in Wrong, and they Have to Think that otherwise, you know, that means they’re not good mommies.

    That’s the real problem: there doesn’t appear to be any room for the idea that different choices fit different women in different situations better than others. All good moms must somehow be exactly alike.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes 🙂 I have four grown ones and then a ten year old boy, eight year old girl, and a four year old girl from my second marriage.

        Congrats to you. You do whatever is best for your kid. Listen to everyone’s ideas, as they may help, but you do what you think is best and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. You’re the mommy.


  2. I’ve been an SAHM, a WAHM, and worked outside the home at different points with my three children, and it is all pretty difficult, to be honest with you. There’s guilt with all of it and someone will always find some reason to judge what you do and find you lacking as a mother or a woman or a feminist or a human being. Interestingly, my husband never feels any guilt at all for his choices! So do what you need to do and don’t worry.

    Mommy groups are kind of bullshit and are full of the type of people you never wanted to hang out with anyway. If you had anything in common with them, you’d be friends with them already. That said, there is something to being friends with people who have children, they’re in the same boat and get what you’re dealing with, but you’ll find them out in the real world.

    My advice for you (sorry, can’t help it) is to NOT to get sucked into any of the new-mommy stress. There are endless debates about how to get the baby to sleep, or how/if you should be breastfeeding, or what you should be doing to provide the optimal environment, and no matter what you do, there will always be someone who thinks you are damaging your child. If you are a competent person and you love the baby, then all will be well. Most of the things that new parents stress about really don’t matter all that much. (I’m saying that as a person who stressed out over everything…) The worst is the sleep deprivation and perhaps the first few weeks of breastfeeding, and then you’ll be OK!


  3. My experience has actually been super positive with other mommies. I joined a “new moms group” (in Canada, sponsored by the public health system, so that could be part of it…) and have stayed in good touch with a group of them and they are awesome, a mix of stay at home, working part-time, and back to full-time work (and a mix of partner situations: married, divorced, lesbian, etc.) There are never ANY nasty in-fights about which is the more virtuous route, they are nice and kind and we take a lot of pleasure in watching these teeny little people we’ve known since they were babies turning into their own little persons – our own and one another’s. And the other moms I’ve met sort of randomly (at the playground, at daycare): same deal. Super nice. Not judgey. Funny. Since being a tt prof I have made 2.5 real friends at work? Rounding up? And twice that through my kid. I’m not saying the mommy wars are not real, but I do think — don’t be scared. Most of the parents you meet will be quite reasonable and kind and have a good sense of humour about the whole thing, for reals.


    • I don’t know if they do, but on their home page they specify that they are SAHMs and seem very unwelcoming to anyone who isn’t. Which is their prerogative, but it makes me feel like I shouldn’t even try to join their group.


      • Yo, your faithful reader with postpartum depression here. So shocked to hear this about the St. Louis “hip mamas,” since the Chicago Hip Mamas, who have basically saved my life, call themselves that after the Ariel Gore book about feminist parenting and saying no to family values. But whatever. The thing I think about mommy groups is that I totally didn’t realize that parenting is a thing that you do 24/7 and that stuff like your kid’s eating and sleeping habits, and how to bottle-feed and breast-feed and hold the bb and the laptop at the same time are suddenly very, very concretely urgent and interesting to you as a new parent. So for that reason I think not meeting other parents would be, for me, as crazy as a new grad student not wanting to hang out with other grad students. They are the people who are in this thing with me. And that’s how, even though I am not much of a “mommy” by personality, I ended up hanging with other mommies.


      • See, I am kind of a weirdo. I fucking LOATHED other grad students as a grad student and could not stand to be around them, with few exceptions (my husband, who finished soon after I started so we were not co-grad-students together long).

        It was actually grad school that turned me into the loner I am now (I was HUGELY social back in NY before I moved to Irvine to start grad school).

        I truly and honestly have no desire to hang out in groups of any kind, ever. Really, never. NEVER. Dinner parties? Hate them. Hate hate hate hate, only attend under serious duress, try to get out as soon as possible. Party-parties? In, very short appearance, don’t drink, out without saying goodbye. Baby showers? Oh fuck that shit, I’m not even having one of my own, and if anyone throws me one as a surprise I will turn around and walk the fuck out the door. Meetings? Sit there quietly and politely and wait until they’re over. Protests? Well, protests are all right; I like protests.

        But otherwise, group things give me severe anxiety and depression, and make me feel far, far more alone than I do when I’m actually alone, or hanging out with my family, or one or two other people who truly know me. This might change after the baby is born, it might not. I’ll do whatever I feel is right at the time.


  4. There’s better battles to fight than in the mommy wars, so I plan to bow out although I am sure many would take issue and say I can’t just do that. Screw ’em, as my own mom would say. Just take the kid to library story hours and call it good.


  5. Just saying, I grew up as the daughter of a WAHM and it was AWESOME. Most of my friends had SAHMs and I was so thankful to just be left alone sometimes. Also, I think I’m a better partner for it. Maybe you can establish a third camp in the war. (Kidding, mostly.)


    • I LOVED being left to my own as a kid. I very much hope our kid has a similar independent streak — though hopefully she won’t take it to my extreme, where (despite my lovely parents) I often fantasized about being an orphan (it was those goddamned Boxcar Children books).


  6. You’re already good at making your own path, so now you’ll do it again. It’ll be good. I say, skip a group with a published doctrine — that’s a bad sign. If you want a group to join, see if there’s a Mother and More chapter in your area. They aim to be flexible and welcoming. I made up my own group, by being friendly to likely-looking parents at free classes around Berkeley (I was at home with a kid, married to a grad student, so “free” was key). You can find some cool people at the public library story time. My informal group met weekly, sometimes more, because i’m very social and I needed that. My group had parents who were currently at home, parents who were grad student eking out hours when they could get childcare, parents who were headed back to full time after maternity leave, you name it. More recently, we landed in NJ, and I found a great preschool that had a lot of parents working on a variety of part-time schedules, so that was also a great network. Now my kids actually go to school 8:30-3, so I have more time to write. I’m an “independent scholar,” and I’ve had some years as the full-time at-home parent, and now I’ve got some freelance editing income. We were lucky that I could publish a book and write much of another while my husband supported the family in the years I didn’t have a postdoc or adjuncting, and that it worked reasonably for all of us. I’ve also made it a priority to hang onto and nurture a great writing/working group of independent scholars. If you want to talk off-line, feel free to reach me through http://www.larafreidenfelds.com/contact. I enjoy your work a lot, and I want to cheer you on!


    • Thanks.

      Great suggestions too, but honestly, I really don’t see myself being very social, even with a kid. I am simply not a social person. I prefer the company of my immediate family and a select few very close old friends, and that’s about it. Don’t see that changing anytime soon, and don’t see a problem with it. That’s just the way I am. I would really rather be alone (or alone with my own kid) in almost all circumstances. Once the kid’s old enough to recognize that other people exist she’ll go to preschool and get enough socialization (and whatever bugs are going around).


      • Absolutely. I have friends who did it that way, and it worked great for them. Now I live close to my parents, and I have a lot more kids/grandparents time, which is fantastic. If you like being by yourself, you may find hanging out with a baby to be just the thing! It’s all about feeling good and supported doing whatever you’re doing, and not getting isolated, whether that’s in terms of company, or work, or other connections to people you care about. it certainly doesn’t mean turning into a social butterfly if that’s not your thing. As you know, it takes a bit more conscious effort to stay connected and supported when you’re “independent” or freelance, and having a baby adds another element to that puzzle. For myself, I have found it more isolating during the times I’ve spent the bulk of my day taking care of babies and small children, since my kids have been fairly high maintenance (“eyes on me, please, we’re not done with peekaboo!”), but that’s not the same experience for me as talking with adults. Or going on twitter with adults, or reading blogs. I did more face-to-face socializing than previously or since, because I can entertain a baby and have some adult exposure at the same time if I’m at a cafe or playground. I never had much luck with having a kid hang out while I sent emails.


  7. I have been a WM and WAHM with four children, mainly due to financial necessity, but also a need to be ‘myself’ with other interests, as well as a parent. I didn’t get on too well with the SAHM brigade at my local school. At a birthday party, one mother mentioned she had never seen me ‘at school parade in the morning.’ My reply: ‘oh, I graduated from grade one many years ago’ (ouch, you know when things just don’t sound right and why did I say that?) It didn’t go over very well, and my daughter later informed me that that mother was at EVERY morning parade (but said daughter assured me she didn’t want me to stay for parade, anyway). It’s not too bad in the under 5s, but I think the WM/SAHM issue really heats up during school years, especially with teachers and student peers.

    No advice from me! I think everyone else has said it: you decide what is best for you and your family, and this may change over time. Enjoy the last few weeks of pregnancy, don’t work too hard, and enjoy your ‘alone’ time 🙂 All the very best, Rebecca. I love your blog and hope that you do manage to update us on your perspective of life and academia when time permits.


      • Australia! All the grade 1s and 2s line up into two columns, boys and girls (gendered, okay) and march into their respective classrooms at start of school. It’s about Socialisation Into The World of Primary Education (indoctrination). And the mothers (some fathers) sit and watch the event… some will wait half an hour or longer, arriving early to get the best seat (have witnessed the reaction when a mother gets displaced from usual spot – now, that’s mommy wars). It’s really nice and cute the first week or so, but if you’re going to *every* morning parade, then maybe there’s a little issue over mother-child separation.


  8. –And does this singular post now make me a “mommy blogger”?

    yes. all your other thoughts and opinions are now invalid.

    –the staggering affordability of the area

    omg right? best place to live on a grad student/adjunct’s salary. I don’t know people on the coasts do it. food stamps and ramen, I guess.


  9. I was a single parent/grad student with little kids for years. I wasn’t friends with other moms then because I didn’t know very many – that worked better at the less-competitive university, where my friends just accepted my kids as part of my life and got together with all of us. At fancy-pants U, I had friends who accepted my kids, but they were harder to find. Parenting groups just didn’t exist then – and I think that was fine. I was a partly WAHM, since I graded papers and did my own work at home with my kids around. The main thing that was helpful to me was remembering that whatever is driving you crazy is temporary. I think the Mommy wars are an unfortunate distraction. There will always be people who judge you for your decisions. Unfortunately, the internet amplifies those nasty voices and makes them harder to ignore. All parents make tons of mistakes, and so will you. Most parents do the best they can. Just love your child. Everything else will work out – maybe not exactly as you want it to – but whose life does that anyway? Best of luck.


  10. FWIW, I’m a co-organizer of a local SAHM Meetup group (yeah, I am kind of a big deal) and some of our members are in fact WAHMs. So I think for the purposes of finding a “mommy group” you can totally consider yourself a SAHM. I mean, at least in the case of our group, we ostensibly limit membership to SAHMs because we want to have get-togethers on weekdays while (most of) our husbands are at work, and you’d be able to do that with your flexible WAHM schedule. It’s not like we check tax returns to make sure you have no income.


  11. Hey Bek! Just checked in here…. Congratulations on your book contract! Crazy! You’re writing your memoirs and you’re not even half-dead! I’m so proud of you. Anyway. I thought the mommy wars were over??? Still going on, eh? The great thing about a small town: no mommy wars. Our “mom’s group” has the throng of possibilities: unpaid mothers, part-time workers, full-time busy as fuck workers, kids in daycare, kids in daycare part time, kids with nannies, kids with mom full time, kids with dad part time…you name it. The only caveat is the stay-home (working or not) moms have more flexibility to get out with other kids while dads are at work. So we see each other more often. But Ladies Night Out, kid parties, etc. are attended by all. It really is helpful to find a group of people with kids close to the age of yours. Even if you don’t really like them, you are going through similar experiences. Just steer clear of anyone who compares your kid to theirs, or judges. Obviously. Also, I thought mommy blogs were over too? Aren’t we all on instagram now?


    • Ha! Yeah totally. I’ve been checking your blog religiously too but you’ve been so busy! I should check your Instagram instead!

      The book is not REALLY “my memoirs” in the “I’ve lived an important life and here it is” way, don’t worry!!!! It’s more a “here are dumb things I’ve done and I very much want to amuse you with them.”

      In fact, I JUST wrote the scene a few days ago in which we all serendipitously met up at Bob’s Youth Hostel in Amsterdam and you went with me to get my nose pierced. I maintain in the book that you insisted it was one of the grossest things you’d ever seen when the needle went in — is that a correct summation, or should I de-hyperbolize it? I also wrote about that one sex shop we walked by that had the three-foot dildo in the window. FUN TIMES.


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