YDU: Being a Stay at Home Wife is a Job

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Being a stay at home wife is a job. It is a job without pay, and sometimes a job without thanks, but it is a job. From dusting to laundry to grocery shopping, there is always something to be done. Anyone who says it isn’t work has never cleaned bunny diarrhea off the floor while making a shopping list and running a load of clothes.

Recent attacks on stay at home wives have slammed women that stay at home as rich women who don’t do anything. In fact, most stay at home wives and mothers are not rich, and we definitely do something! As my husband tells me, I contribute something valuable to our family. I decrease his stress by being at home to take on errands and housework so that he doesn’t have to do it when he gets home. If I was also out all day, more of the burden of housework would have to fall on him when he got home.

Military wives have extra reasons to stay at home. I am a Navy wife – a fact that strongly impacted my decision to stay at home. I want to maximize the time I have with my husband, because unlike most civilian men, my husband will periodically be at sea for months at a time. If I held a job outside my home I would not be able to be home whenever he is, take time off with him whenever he can take time off and even see him at lunch once a week. Military wives have a special appreciation for time with their husbands because they know that time is limited.

Staying at home is work. It takes forty hours a week, a lot of dedication, and it provides a valuable service to my family. It enables my husband to relax in the evening, keeps our home in tiptop shape, lets me create a comfortable atmosphere where family and friends can be welcomed, and enables me to be there for family and friends in times when many people who work outside the home cannot be there. All this means I work as many hours a week as my husband, doing work that both he and I agree is just as valuable as his job.

If you stay home with children, your workload more than doubles. Doing housework and child care is more than forty hours a week of work. From arranging play dates to taking sick children to the doctor, a stay at home mom always has a packed schedule.

Being a military wife also adds to the housework and childcare work load in this way. When you husband is gone, everything falls on you – from mowing the lawn to taking the car in for repairs. You have no one to help. If you are working outside the home during your husband’s deployment, you essentially have two full time jobs. If you have children to care for on top of that, then you have three jobs. No one can do three jobs perfectly, so for military wives who can, it often makes more sense to stay at home.

Even when the military spouse is not on deployment, duty days, long hours, and the chance to support her husband’s career often impact the military wife’s decision to stay at home. From being able to attend command functions with my husband, to bringing food in for his conferences, being at home has enabled me to support my husband in his Navy career.

Housework and child care are time consuming, sometimes back breaking work. If they were not, you would not have to pay other people to do them. If I asked another woman to come over and do laundry and vacuum and mop, I would have to pay her. Why? Because it is work. If I asked her to come over and play with my bunnies, I would not have to pay her. That is because while cleaning floors and clothes are work, playing with bunnies is not. It costs many mothers who work outside the home hundreds of dollars a month to get childcare for their children. Why does it cost so much? Because daycare providers know that caring for and taking responsibility for children all day is a lot of work. The work is not any easier when the mother does it herself.

A paycheck doesn’t determine what is and isn’t work. The time and investment required by the task, as well as its value, determine whether or not it is work. If cleaning my home is a job for someone else, then it is also a job for me. I am simply deciding to make homemaking my full time job.


Lisa Minner McLemore is a stay at home Navy wife and writer. She lives with her wonderful husband and two rabbits.She blogs about being a stay at home wife at http://stayathomewifeandwriter.blogspot.com/ .

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  • Isabella

    Amen, sister. I was a stay at home mom for many years. It wasn’t because we were wealthy. One of us went out and made the money and the other one did most of the work at home. And work it was!!!! My husband at the time wasn’t in the military but he worked long hours and was rarely home. I made the best of it for my children. Kids DO grow up and move on and life changes. I don’t regret being there when my kids came home from school and we got to do a lot of fun stuff in the summer. As they got older it got easier for me.
    Now I’m about to marry a military man and do exactly what you are. For me it feels like an opportunity. When he’s gone I can pursue activities of interest to me and when he’s home I’ll get to be there 100%. He appreciates what he sees as me sacrificing a job. I have years of experience taking care of my home, fixing all the broken stuff (or knowing when to call an expert!) so he knows I can handle all of it. He’ll never have to worry while he’s away and can focus on his work. When he gets home, our home and I will be waiting so he can have sanctuary instead of more stress and we can just enjoy each other’s company. What more could either of us ask for?

    • Kim

      How is it then that you explain the women who work and do everything at home since you all are so busy? Everything in life is a choice. Don’t whine when something goes wrong in your marriage and you want out, but have no education to back it up. Or when your husband is injured or god forbid something worse happens. Furthermore, dont whine when you can’t afford extras because you sit at home. Let’s face it military members do not make a huge income. It would be hard to make it on this amount and save money for kids to go to college or play sports or have tutors in school. It’s 2012. America is no longer patriarchal. Get an education and career of your own instead of making excuses.

      • Sandy

        I had/have a Masters degree before my kids were born. I then stayed home for almost 20 years to raise my kids. I am not whining, but you try being 50, and Masters or not, noone wants to hire you becuase you have no experience. And you are old. Let’s not judge each other. We all work very hard.

    • Anonymous

      I have been a stay-at-home mom for at least last maybe 6 or 7 years if not longer. I have four children the oldest is 17,14,8,3. My last two children, one got pregnant before he deployed, one got back after he got back from doing 15 months. And I had my tubes done after 14 yr old. so, you see the Lord has given me all I can bare. If I worked who would provide for my children while my husband was deployed? It is already tough losing one parent. I didn’t have much family support, and my husband last deployment I was raped by a friends husband. Now trust no one, I enjoys living on base most of my husband career, this Dec 19 years. We have endured trial and tribulations even a regular married couple could not fathom. It has only made our 16 yr in Feb marriage stronger. I have always wanted to be his rock, his support in whatever he decides, but he knows our family is important. The last 5 years,through the MYCAA program I have been able to go back to school. Find something of my own, a purpose in life. In May 2008 I got my Associates, in Feb 2013 I will graduate with my Bachelors. So, you see we all aren’t lazy, complain over housework, wiping kids noses and tucking them into bed at night. It is a job, I’m here to tell you it wasn’t easy but I’m still here. I have to be strong for me and my kids.They partly were involved when I was raped. They didn’t see anything but witnessed the commotion night of. I thank god for getting me out of my post part um depression with last child, and Harvey Garcia of Ashford University told I could do it all online and everything would work out for me. He believed in me, even when I doubted myself. So here I stand hopefully someone will have enough belief to hire me, because that alone is strength and determination, I finally have in myself. Oh, I also will be ready next yr to take my CMBS..Certified Medical Billing Specialist exam, credentials behind my name will be all worth it, considering I got here with school and training but no actual experience.

  • anonymous

    So I have 3 jobs, yes? Wife, mother, and full-time employee. Man, I am the shiznit!

  • on the fence

    I think it depends…i can see it both ways. I have no kids, but have vacillated between working and not as we have moved. I’ve been lucky to always find a job in my career field (thank god) but those few months I’ve stayed home I cant stand it. I wasnt raised with the idea that all I’m good for is popping kids out and supporting a man, and after all this damn school i’ve gone to I better be doing something. :)

    Im happier when Im working rather than staying home. And I like a more equal relationship where chores are shared, becuase like the PP poster said, Im not a maid or a mom.

    But, no hate on those women who do stay at home with their kids. I would go out of my mind, personally.

  • mel

    What I don’t understand is why many working women look down upon stay at home wives. I am a stay at home wife/mom and I don’t think that working women are less than I am because they lives their lives differently than I do. Their working status does not have a direct impact on my life as my staying at home does not have a direct impact on their lives, so why is it an issue what other people do? Besides, my husband and I agree that our family works better for us if I stay home. I have asked him if it bothers him that I don’t work and he told me that it doesn’t and he likes that I am home.

    • mel

      Continued: I too handle everything with the kids and the house, except for the car repairs and yard work which he enjoys taking care of. The reason I handle all those things is not because I am a maid, but because I have the time to take care of these things and I don’t consider it fair to expect my husband to have to work at home every night after putting in 12 hour days at his job. He should be able to spend his limited off time with me and the kids. Since my kids are in school, I volunteer at least 2 days a week so I can contribute to my local community and it adds skills to my resume’ if at some point in the future we decide that it’s time for me to get a paying job. Volunteering works for me right now because it has a flexible schedule and if I am needed elsewhere, I can adjust my schedule accordingly. I have very few conflicts between family obligations and volunteering. How our family operates works for us and I don’t pass judgement on those who work. I do not know all the circumstances surrounding their decisions, just as others do not know all the circumstances that have led to our decisions.

  • Isabella

    You’re right, Mel, it’s the judgement that’s the issue. I’ve both stayed at home AND worked and held down a household. It’s all work. Staying home with 5 boys wasn’t exactly relaxing. Right now I forfeit the benefits of a full time job so I can adjust my hours at part time positions when i need to. Fulfillment comes from what i give to my community, not just what i earn. It’s also just waaaay more flexible if my work is volunteer and there’s no deadline when it comes to sanding and painting my front door for example. And since i HATE cleaning, I pay someone else to do it. I always have, home or working outside my home.
    If giving up my job and moving across the country with my husband works for us, why all the derision? We have very limited time together and the very real risk of him never coming home. We’d rather have quality time together when he is here.

  • Heather

    The one wife (no kids) I know who has not worked since she married (16 years ago) does work, she works planning her next vacation. Yep, while her hubby is deployed it is one vacation after another. Must me nice. lol While I envy some of that freedom, I am much happier with my weekday job outside of hte house while my three kids are at school. No, my house isnt’ as tidy as her’s, but who the heck cares. lol Eh, like I said, would be nice for a while, that life would drive me insane not having kids and not working outside the home. Let me end this by saying I was a SAHM for 14 years before heading back to work.

  • Ann

    Oh please. Not another us vs. them post with someone trying to justify their choice to themselves and the world.

    Personally, each time I add one more role to my life, I gain even more admiration for those who have figured out how to balance _even more_ work in their lives than I have, whether it be home work, child work (especially single parents!), and employment work.

  • Shee

    Only took two posts to go negative. I’ve been home on maternity leave (grin) for 16 years now. Things are a little different for me because I home educate our 4 kids and I spend about 20 hours a week volunteering. My husband has never been a home by 5:30 kind of guy ever. I would never describe my weeks as being a vacation at all.

    I worked this summer and hated every minute of it. So did my family. It was less work for me because everyone else had to do because I wasn’t there to do it. But I did’t enjoy it at all.
    My family is happier if I am available for them. I’m happier if I am there for them too. Having me home is the decision my husband and I made for our family.
    Sorry that others feel that I’m shirking responsibility by doing so.

  • Rquick

    Oh the endless battle….in the end it doesent matter youre just doing whats right for you and youre family. Were all different, some people need jobs and some people put staying home in a support role above all else. There is no one size fits all for people.

  • Natalie

    No one should judge anyone for their choices (stay at home wife, stay at home mom, child-free, working part-time, working full-time, working from home, whatever). Do what is best for you, and no one has any room to criticize.

    However, let’s be real: a job is a job, and staying at home is staying at home. You are not employed. What you do may be very important to you and your family, but you diminish it when you try to equate it with something it’s not. If someone is judging you, ignore them, because they are ignorant and your defense will not change that. No other response is necessary.

  • Sarah

    Being a stay at home anything is not a job, unless you are working from home, for your employer. While being a SAHM might be WORK it is not a JOB. A job is when you do work and get a pay check. Work is just a verb. House work and volunteer work is work, but not a job. SAHM do not have jobs.

  • Cathy

    Actually I have to COMPLETELY TAKE THAT BACK I went and looked up the definition of job

    Third definition: 3. anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility:

    That make being a stay at home wife/mother a job if you perform the tasks expected of you!

    Guess if you have problem with someone calling it a job now take it up with Webster.

  • NavyDude

    Dude I totally need a wife. That way she can cook my food, do my dishes, and clean my laundry. On top of that I get sex too? And I don’t have to pay her! This is great!
    Right now I have to do all those things for myself and work for the man. I seriously am missing out.


    I am a male stay at home spouse. I am also a veteran and disabled now. Being the stay at home parent really is no joke. Sometimes I would kill for a deployment just to have a vacation. Atop of my daily pain, I get massive amounts of stuff done. I love being able to be home with my daughter and teach her all kinds of stuff. It definitely can be taxing when there is no break from it. A normal job you separated work from home. In this, work is home. They’res no transition. I only hate not having the energy I had before my disablity. I could get more done with less effort and pain.

  • Guest

    It’s not a real job. Stop kidding yourself.

  • Shelley

    Yay! The truth! Nice article. :-)

  • Mandi

    Anyone who is posting that being a stay at home wife is ‘not a job’ probably lives in one of those houses where you can barely get through the front door, never find a clean outfit to wear, and has TV dinner every night… In that case,yes, staying home wallowing in your own filth is not a full time job…
    But for the actual stay at home wives who wake up in the morning, get dressed, get their hubby breakfast, clean the entire house top to bottom, floors, dusting, laundry, meal planning, shopping list, grocery shopping, errand running, home to clean the fridge and cupboards to out groceries away.. When you think it’s over, it’s time to start dinner cuz hubby is already on his way !! …it is a full time, tiring job that any woman should be proud to hold, because those haters think its a glory life when they couldn’t do a full day in our shoes.
    From a university educated stay at home wife by choice :) … Hopefully soon to be mommy too.

    • Amanda

      Let’s not forget that no sooner do you get the house clean and tidy than the kids come home from school, hubby comes home from work, and the house is a disaster again by suppertime! Then you have that mess to clean up, dinner dishes to clear, the kids need to get their baths and get ready for bed (which is a rodeo all on its own), and by the time they’re in bed, you’re too tired to do anything but sleep!

      Don’t even get me started on those all-nighters when the kids are sick, especially where cleaning up barf is involved. Damn those noroviruses!!!!

      Stay-at-home mom, partly by choice, partly out of economic necessity. And yes, I do consider my job to be just that-a JOB!!!!

    • Sarah

      I’m not a stay at home anything, my house is spotless, and I cook from scratch every night. Some of us just multi-task better than others apparently.

  • Rquick

    I’m a SAHW and while I don’t see it as a job I def see it as work. But I know were really lucky to be in a financial position that allows me to stay at home and run our household. It doesent have to be an us vs.them thing. What works for one may not work for another but whatever role you chose is fine by me.

  • Rose

    If a working wife/woman has the time or desire to complain about a sahw or sahm then it is obviously some sort of jealousy or need to put down others in order to feel better about themselves or fill some sort of void in their lives. No one talks poorly of others or judges others if they don’t feel poorly about themselves even if they don’t realize it. They could also just be a real mean person with a lot of hate or it’s a learned behavior.

    • Sarah

      I wouldn’t flatter yourself. I don’t know a single working woman who is jealous of a stay at home mother. My experience has been the reverse. Also, I’ve been criticized by stay at home mothers for WANTING to have a job, a career, an independent life outside my husband’s. So the bias works both ways.

      I had one military spouse say to me, “why do you try so hard to find a job? Why don’t you do what we do, which is as little as possible.” Yep. That about sums it up. I also had another woman from the same squadron say to me, “why don’t you just have a baby (I was 25 at the time) so you have something to do when the guys are deployed?” I want nothing to do with that sort of bubble.

  • Jones

    Stay at home wife, stay at home mom, or working wife, or working mom…what difference does it make? If you’re not married to the woman and you don’t have to financially support or help her then why do you care? People that pass judgement on others obviously have something missing in their lives that they feel compelled to judge others. Being a stay at home wife is not work. Doing chores is a part of life. I’m a sahw and I don’t like it but it is what it is due to lack of jobs or more like lack of money for education, lack of skills, lack of experience and lack of desire to work for dogsh*t pay. My husband makes good money and because of that I don’t have to work for low wages and get treated like crap. I would rather be bored at home and take care of our chores and then enjoy the evening with my husband then work like a dog for nothing and come home miserable. It works for us. It doesn’t work for those not paying our bills yet feel the need to judge us because they have nothing better to do.

  • SBlue

    A stay at home mom or wife used to be the way it was. Now because of the feminism movement it is looked down on. It’s ridiculous. Biologically women make babies and feed babies, why shouldn’t a woman stay at home and raise her baby? Why should women work and let another person take care of their baby if they don’t have to? It’s just wrong. Women even without babies stayed at home to take care of life’s necessities…cleaning, food, taking care of family members, even pets. Why is that looked down on? A nurturing woman is a beautiful thing. A man willing to provide for that woman and their family and take care of them is also beautiful. If a woman wants to work or has to that is her deal and if a woman can stay at home, has to stay home, or wants to then that’s her deal. Either way there is nothing wrong with a woman working or staying home. It’s not your business anyway.

  • Sarah

    I think the reason working women look down on stay at home wives/mothers of this generation is because its the stay at home folks who are constantly trying to prove their worth and always talking about how busy they are, and that their job is a job, which sounds incredibly precious to the vast majority. Staying at home is a choice, but its certainly not a job. Everyone has to do laundry. Everyone has to eat/clean/dust the coffee table once in a while. Whether you’re married or single or widowed or a college student or a med student or a very busy mother of four or mother of one. Don’t make it a bigger deal than it is. I think the honest reason that many working women dislike stay at home moms is because they’re just fundamentally very different, and to a working person who is out in the world every day, there’s nothing of interest from a stay at home mom and vice versa. It bores us. Really. That’s it. Read the Feminine Mistake (not Mystique) by Leslie Bennett or anything by Pamela Druckerman. In my experience, the stay at home folks are generally the biggest gossips on the street because they have way too much time on their hands (but they’ll tell you they spend every waking minute serving their family). Right. Most of the stay at homes I know spend most of their day shopping online and going from playdate to coffee date to lunch date. Add. repeat. Nothing wrong with that. It just would make a lot of people feel worthless when their spouse was working hard all day so that they could stay home and claim to be slaving away at the dishes and chores, which everyone else does in addition to working outside the home. Stay at homes have a sense of entitlement that they don’t work for. You guys are waving the flag for women of my grandmother’s generation. Here’s the thing – my grandfather died when my mom was 16 and my grandmother had no means to support her three kids because she had no real work history, and any menial job she might have attempted, wouldn’t have paid the bills. So they went on welfare or social security or whatever…this was the 60’s, early 70’s. Fast forward to my generation, and its no different. I’ve seen both divorce, and service members die either in combat or training accidents and what is the spouse who has never worked supposed to do? She lives off of a life insurance policy, while still never working, but eventually that runs out and she has to figure out a means to support herself and/or her kids. Most kids respect their mothers for being strong, independent women with roles outside the home. Not someone who caters to their every whim and volunteers at their school all day. My mom somehow did both – she worked 60 hours a week and managed to find time for me at school, and other activities. (and no, of course she wasn’t even close to perfect). But she taught me the value of a dollar, and the value in being able to support yourself and make your own money. That was the 80’s and 90’s. Why this sudden reversion back to the 50’s? Stay at home all you want, the whole reason this article exists is because people are trying to prove that its worthwhile. It might be to a select few with no real ambition, but to the majority of women in America, it’s not socially acceptable in broader, urban circles. The reason so many of the comments agree with this article, is that the military is a very small, conservative Christian segment of society, less than .5% – that can’t see outside its own bubble, and no where else have I seen such a strong compulsion for the stay at home mom role than this one. I’ve worked outside the home, save an assignment abroad, where I chose to complete a master’s when I couldn’t find employment. I’ve been criticized by other military spouses for wanting to work, wanting to form an independent life of my own (like everyone else I know outside the military) and wanting to contribute to society and my future vs. this author’s ridiculous view of multi-tasking which includes cleaning bunny poop and making a shopping list. Staying at home is not a job. Writing a dissertation, devising cross-platform marketing plans, presenting business proposal to clients, being held accountable and responsible to colleagues, bosses and the like, where a paycheck is exchanged – that is a job. Cleaning the counters and making a shopping list is what most working women do in their sleep.

    • Lisa

      Spoken like a true American. To use your own phrase, you live in an American “bubble” where very little *value is placed on family*. I have a MS (chemistry) too, and used to think like you- reading your rant reminds me how glad i am my horizons have been expanded by living a life I never thought I would.

  • Well said Lisa.