Introduction to The Stay-at-Home Complex

When I found out that my husband and I were expecting our first child, I quickly came to realize that I wouldn’t be able to continue in the job that I held at the time. As the director of an English language school that primarily served university-bound international students, I knew the demands on my time (and the hours at which those demands would occur) just weren’t compatible with an infant’s schedule. As I began to research child-care options, I also quickly came to realize just how expensive child-care can be. According to the Pew Research Center, the average weekly cost of child-care has increased by more than 70% in my lifetime (For reference, I just turned 30). When I factored in the limited number of jobs (in my field of teaching) in my geographical area and the price of gas, I began to realize that I probably wasn’t going to be working outside of my home after the arrival of my son. Luckily, my husband is in the military, which means he has a well-paying, secure job that provides excellent benefits. I am materially secure. My husband loves and supports me – but I have never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.

Like many women in my generation, it never entered my head to choose to stay at home once I had children. However, between 1999 and 2012, the number of stay-at-home moms increased by 6%. Nearly one-third of mothers now stay at home – including some of the women who are my most respected friends, family, and former colleagues. I am in good company, yet I am also highly resistant to the idea of being a stay-at-home mom. I find that the idea of spending all of my time not-working is anxiety-inducing in spite of the support I receive from everyone I know. On top of that anxiety, it irritates me that I continue to feel like I am somehow not-working when I see other stay-at-home moms as most definitely working.

For months, I’ve been reflecting on why not-working is so hard for me and I’ve been driving my poor husband nuts with my frustration and anxiety. I’ve gotten nowhere. Luckily, two things have recently helped me to feel better:
(1) I started substitute teaching a few days a week; though for now, it feels more like an experiment in which I see if the money I’ll make after the cost of a sitter, the cost of gas to get to the schools, and the time I spend away from my son is worth the financial contribution I’ll be able to make to our household during a few months each year.
(2) I decided to explore the different facets of my feelings about and experiences as a stay-at-home mother through writing – hence this blog.

One of the first things I’ve noticed is that I don’t fit nicely into any of the categories that researchers use to group stay-at-home moms. Pew Research Center defines stay-at-home mothers as “women ages 18-69 living with their own children … younger than 18” who are “not employed for pay outside the home at all in the calendar year.” Because I’m subbing a few days a week, that’s no longer me. The report also talks about “opt-out” mothers, who are highly educated, married, and whose household income is $75,000 or more annually. I fit the first two-thirds of the definition of an opt-out, but certainly don’t meet income requirements. In a 2014 article entitled “The return of the stay-at-home mother,” The Economist nuanced the concept of an opt-out mother saying: “others are poorer but calculate that, after paying for childcare, the money they make sweeping floors or serving burgers does not justify time away from their little ones.” The kinds of jobs alluded to here do not fit my education level, even if my calculations sound a lot like those in the quotation. Where does that leave me?

At this moment, I feel that it leaves me with a stay-at-home complex. As I launch this blog, I’d like to begin with a working definition of this idea of the stay-at-home complex. It applies to those parents who are staying at home with their children by choice (or as the least problematic option), and who are having a hard time accepting the title of “stay-at-home” mom (or dad) because of their vision of themselves or their vision of what it means to be a stay-at-home parent. I for my own ease of typing, I will abbreviate stay-at-home as SAH. Also, I will more frequently refer to stay-at-home moms. While I do believe that SAH dads face the same issues, my own experience is that of a mother. Some of the ideas I plan to examine each week include the guilt of the SAH mom, the relationship SAH moms have to their career, the affect of a parent’s upbringing in choosing (or not) to be a SAH parent, living far from family, and following the example of moms we know.

If anyone has any suggestions for changes to the definition of the stay-at-home complex or for topics to write about, I’d love to hear them. This project is meant to be an exploration and my definition is fluid. However, by then end of the blog, I hope to have a more solid definition of the stay-at-home complex and a better understanding of my role as a stay-at-home mom.


DeSilver, D. (2014, April 8). Rising cost of child care may help explain recent increase in stay-at-home moms. Retrieved from

Pew Research Center. (2014, April 8). After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers. Retrieved from

(2014, April 19). The return of the stay-at-home mother. The Economist. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Introduction to The Stay-at-Home Complex

  1. Hi Pam …. I wonder if this is the thinking of women who get their education before marriage and children ……compared to us older mom’s who raised our children before college… Many of us older mom’s grew up with the idea that marriage and children was the best of all possible lifestyles….. Then … life happened and the opportunity to experience an alternate lifestyle happened.
    I have been blessed with my children.. grandchildren.. great grand son… and a great education. You can do what I did in reverse…. education, marriage, children, grand children, and great grand children …. and enjoy every moment of life …. love


  2. Hi Pam! I’m so excited about your blog! I also find it interesting that the Pew Research Center defines stay-at-home mothers as those who do not work outside the home for pay “at all” during the year. I have been a stay at home mom for a little over 5 years and have been actively involved in a local MOMS Club for SAHMs for 4.

    In my experience, the vast majority of SAHMs in our group ARE partial wage-earners, both in and out of their home. Most of this wage earning is indeed part time: substitute teaching is huge, as is part-time nursing, or at-home business sales like Tupperware, Tastefully Simple, or Premier Jewelry. But a lot of a SAHM’s wage earning is also “less than” part-time: Internet sales of crafts or projects on Etsy, Regular transactions of personal items on Craigslist, Ebay or local yard and consignment sales, and – I would argue – Couponing, even though it is a rebate system.

    I would quite adamantly argue that you are not excluded from the SAHM category because you substitute a couple of times a week. Indeed, in my experience, that puts you squarely in any SAH category as any group of SAHMs would define themselves. Welcome!


  3. Pam,

    As a “part time” SAH dad, I can understand this concept to some extent. I just wanted to encourage you to continue to blog about your thoughts and feelings through this outlet. I think there are many people, moms and dads alike, who could benefit from being honest about the struggles and reality of this calling. It can be the most difficult and rewarding process….and I have only experienced it for 6 years! I am excited to read more about your perspective and experiences.

    We send our love to the three of you,
    P,S,G and C


  4. I’m glad to hear that someone else feels like I do – working part-time (especially as few days/hours as I do) shouldn’t knock me out of the SAH mom category. I think it’s true, too, that society assumes that SAH moms are trapped in the house and that they are not involved in the world outside of their home. the SAH moms I talk with every week at the Catholic Women of the Church meeting I go to volunteer, teach Sunday school, etc. The narrow definition of a SAH mom is probably part of the reason why I’m having a hard time accepting my role as a SAH mom. Thanks for the support, Cassie, Phil, and Grandma Ellen!


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