What is the history of stay at home moms?

What is the history of stay at home moms?

I am interested in learning more information regarding the history of family structures, specifically as relates to stay at home parents.

The only data I can really find is from the late 60s until now. The USA BLS site has a fair bit of content, but mostly from this time period or later.

Loosely, defining SAHP as a parent who does not work outside the home. In the case of farms, this becomes more complicated, I guess.

I am wondering:

  • What is the history of stay at home mothers throughout the history of the USA?
    • How did this change over time?
    • What primary factors drove this?
  • Historically what has this % looked like?

Ideally, this would be in the form of a short discussion on the history and trends as applies to SAHMs but with some level of historical background and context. If possible it would be great to have some level of statistics included for the trends, though I understand this may not be possible for time periods further in the past.


It's a big question, so I'll mostly just point you to some sources that would help you develop a more complete answer. The main point I would emphasize is that the whole concept of "stay at home mother" is a very modern one. Through most of US history, it was taken for granted that (at least for white women) motherhood was a full time occupation.

Until World War Two, only a small minority of mothers were employed outside their own households. Overall between 1800 and 1900, female labor force participation in the United States is not estimated to have exceeded 20% (see the last page of this student paper). This temporarily dipped below 15% around 1860-1870 (possibly because slave women were "unemployed" by Emancipation?).

Industrialization and urbanization gradually created a demand for female labor, but the traditional association between women and domesticity didn't change very quickly. In the 1800s, women were largely excluded from most jobs but dominated in a few: elementary school teachers, dressmakers and domestic servants. World War Two famously made it more socially acceptable for women to work in other kinds of jobs (think Rosy the Riveter).

For more detailed analysis of long-term employment patterns measured in US Census data, including female employment and its variations over time and between regions and occupations, see the article "Labor Force and Employment, 1800-1960" by Stanley Lebergott.


As Brian Z points out,

the whole concept of "stay at home mother" is a very modern one. Through most of US history, it was taken for granted that (at least for white women) motherhood was a full time occupation.

To which I would add, not only in the United States, but in most, if not all, the world - certainly in Latin America and Europe at the very least.

But not only that; the very idea that "home" and "workplace" are different locations is quite modern. The mediaeval serfs worked at "home" - women inside the house, men in the adjacent fields, except for the days dedicated to labour for the lord or the Church - when women would work in the lord's kitchen, and men in the lord's fields. The idea of a "workplace" distinct from residence, which must be frequented every day except Sundays, is a product of the Industrial Revolution, at least as a mass phenomenon.

So we really do have two centuries in which the location of labour was starkly dictated by sex: in "normal" situations, women were supposed to work "at home", as always before, and men were supposed to work in a different place - factory, office, shop - during most of the day. In situations of labour power scarcity, women - particularly poor women - worked just like as men. This is clearly visible in the begginings of industrialisation, as portrayed by Dickens or Marx, or in the reports of British factory inspectors, and was also very clearly during the two "world wars".

Even in "normal" situations, women did work outside of their homes, but their labour was usually related to "home-like" tasks - either as domestic servants or as teachers or nurses. And, of course, nuns. Related to which, it would be interesting to study in more depth to what extent and in which ways marriage and job were or were not mutually exclusive. Single women probably had a different relation to domestic tasks than married women, and celibacy as a life-long option was always open to women. Even so, there always were "stay-at-home daughters" - single women who took care of their aging parents, and helped sisters and sisters-in-law with nephews, grandchildren, disabled adults, etc.

So I would say that, at least up to WWII, rather than a gradual movement towards women employment, we had more of a see-saw movement, women extensively engaging in industry and commerce when masculine labour was insufficient (wars evidently being one of such occasions) but returning to the household as soon as conditions were less traumatic.

It is possible that this dynamics have been broken since WWII. After WWI, it took but a decade for women to move back from factories and shops into the household. And although a similar movement is easily identifiable in the 50's of the 20th century, it was never as complete as the backlash of the 30's. And then in the sixties this movement was reversed; the following depressive quarter century did not see the "normal" redomestication of women that used to be associated with economic recessions.

This coincides with the final stage of "demographic transition": lower natality rates, made possible by modern contraceptives and social security nets, make motherhood a less overwhelming job. Plus the industry has spotted an important market in the automation of domestic tasks; washing machines, vaccuum cleaners, etc., also had a significative role in freeing the female labour power from the household and into capitalist exploitation in part- and fulltime jobs.

I am not sure, however, that we are seeing an epochal change in the sexual division of labour, instead of just a particularly prolonged sway of the pendulum in the direction of employment of women. It is pretty clear to me that political demands of redomestication of women are starting to become more frequent and systematic - including this curious phenomenon of women who make a carreer out of telling other women that they should not have a carreer.


7 key findings about stay-at-home moms

1 1More moms are staying home: The share of mothers who do not work outside the home has risen over the past decade, reversing a long-term decline in stay-at-home mothers. (In the U.S. today, 71% of all mothers work outside the home.) Two-thirds are “traditional” married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands, but a growing share is unmarried.

2 1Americans say a parent at home is best: Despite the fact that most mothers in the U.S. work at least part time, 60% of Americans say children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family, while 35% say they are just as well off when both parents work outside the home.

3 1But opinions vary by religion, ethnicity and education: Hispanics, white evangelical Protestants and those who never attended college are more likely to say children are better off with a parent at home. College-educated women are among the most likely to say children are just as well off if their parents work outside the home.

4 1Stay-at-home moms are poorer, less educated than working moms: Stay-at-home mothers are younger, poorer and less educated than their working counterparts. For example, 34% of stay-at-home mothers are poor, compared with 12% of working mothers. They are also less likely to be white and more likely to be immigrants.

5 1The share of stay-at-home moms in poverty has doubled since 1970: While more stay-at-home moms are in poverty — 34% in 2012, compared with 14% in 1970 — those with working husbands generally are better off than those without. But stay-at-home moms with working husbands are not as well off financially as married mothers who work outside the home.

6 1Home by choice or necessity? Married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands are more likely than single or cohabiting mothers to say caring for family is their primary reason for being home. Single and cohabiting stay-at-home mothers are more likely than married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands to say they are ill or disabled, unable to find a job, or enrolled in school. Overall, a growing share of stay-at-home mothers say they are home because they cannot find a job: 6% in 2012, versus 1% in 2000.

7 1How stay-at-home and working moms spend their time: Mothers who are not working for pay spend more time, on average, on child care and housework than do working mothers, but they also have more time for leisure and sleep.


'Returnships' Help Stay-at-Home Moms Get Back to Work

When former stay-at-home mom Lori Hill decided to return to work after 22 years, she knew it would be a challenge. But she wasn’t prepared for just how hard it would be. On job interviews, most of the hiring managers she found herself sitting across from were men half her age.

“I would walk into some interviews and I would get the impression [of], ‘Oh, what’s my mom doing here?’” says Hill, who worked as a software developer for 10 years before taking a career break.

Hill felt a double stigma around being both female and older in an industry with few women, and which seemed to prefer younger employees.

“The interviewers didn’t know what to do with me,” Hill told NBC News BETTER.

After she explained to one interviewer that she left the workforce to raise her kids, he responded, “Are you sure you want to work full time?” The question angered Hill.

“If I wasn’t looking for a full-time job I wouldn’t be putting myself through all that pain of interviewing,” she says.

Explaining the Resume Gap

Hill’s job search started in 2011 and lasted a frustrating four years. She became self-conscious about the long gap on her resume, and left out specifics like dates and the names of employers that would reveal her age.

“I was really sensitive to my age being the disqualifier,” she says.

Resume gaps are damaging even if a job seeker has only been out of work for a year, according to New York City executive recruiter Rick Aronstein, who heads product recruitment at AC Lion.

“The lower the technology threshold is for the job, the easier it will be to reenter,” Aronstein says. “The more qualified your skill set is, it should be easier, but technology skill sets can atrophy if you’re not using them all the time.”

But concealing a resume gap can be self-sabotaging, explains Aronstein. He says candidates are better off using the gap to explain why they left work, especially if they had a good reason for it. “[Recruiters] are always looking for a narrative that is understandable that doesn’t raise a lot of eyebrows,” he says.

Skill Sets Change, But Aptitude Stays the Same

Employers worry that return-to-work employees don’t have the latest technical skills, according to Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of career reentry firm iRelaunch.

“I argue that it’s a temporary condition,” Fishman Cohen says. “It’s just a matter of updating yourself, and once you learn it, you’re caught up and you’re using these technologies just like everyone else.”

In Hill’s case, the technical skill set required in her industry had transformed greatly from when she left in 1993, but she knew her aptitude hadn’t changed. She took courses at a local college to learn mobile app development and picked up freelance projects to apply her skills. But working alone kept her out of the loop on the industry’s ever-changing lingo, which made interviews challenging.

"Quite often someone would ask me a question during an interview and I would be like, 'I don’t really know what that is'" Hill remembers. "And then I’d go home and Google it and I’d be like, ‘Oh, not only do I know what that is, but I actually used it.'"

The interview process had also changed from when Hill was right out of college. For example, many of her interviews involved solving formulas on a whiteboard.

“You never can predict what the problem will be,” Hill says. “It’s kind of nerve-racking."

Catching up With a Fast-Changing Industry

In 2015, Hill landed a job at NBC News in Seattle after a friend who worked there advocated for her to get an interview. The mother of three was faced with a new work environment that tested her confidence. She was older than most of her co-workers, including her boss. Email and instant messaging made the pace of communication much faster. Even the out-dated tradition of putting two spaces after a period — a rule she learned in high school — seemed to reveal her age.

"People judge you. It's not necessarily being a mom and being female, but it's being older and not with the times."

“The engineer I was working with, he was really, really specific about how everything needed to be formatted in the code,” Hill says. When the engineer was reviewing a comment she put in her code, he saw two spaces after a period and wrote “not necessary.”

“I feel like people judge you on that,” Hill says. “It’s not necessarily being a mom and being female, but it’s being older and not with the times.”

Hill acknowledged that returning to work took “a big dose of humility.”

“If you don’t have that big dose of humility, I don’t think you can do it, because it’s quite humbling,” she says.

Seeing Return-to-Work Employees as Assets

Some companies are beginning to offer ‘returnships’ — internship programs to attract talented job seekers who have taken career breaks and need to revamp their skills. In 2016, IBM launched a 12-week reentry program that helped the company source 17 interns, according to IBM executive Jennifer Howland, who oversees the program. Like Hill, many were women who had been out of the workforce for up to 20 years.

Howland sees that as an asset: “They’re not out trying to find themselves like you might find with a university student who’s in their late teens and early 20s. They know what they want to do.”

According to Howland, returnees have fewer job relocations because many already own a home, are less likely to go on maternity leave or have special childcare needs and have years of professional experience. She says they are typically enthusiastic about getting back to work.

“It’s humbling to see that this small program could have so much impact on the women who go through it, and they’re visibly in tears when they leave,” says Howland.

Few companies have formal reentry programs as part of their diversity initiatives, but those that do often expand them once they realize how effective they are at attracting skilled employees, according to Fishman Cohen. Currently, 30 companies participate in the program.

“In the STEM programs, 60-100 percent of the interns are converting to full-time employees,” Fishman Cohen says. “Those numbers are stunning.”

Returnships: The Key to Easing Back into the Workforce

Haritha Choudhary was one of the women who found employment at IBM after taking a seven-year career break to raise her son. Formerly an electronics engineer at Motorola, Choudhary was apprehensive about returning to work. Through the IBM reentry program, she received training in data science, a field much different from the one she left behind.

“During my internship I had to use new programs, new tools, new applications. so it was a bit of a learning curve,” she says.

The program included a number of on-boarding programs that introduced Choudhary to the corporate culture, resources and people at IBM. She said the program boosted her confidence and helped her transition into the workplace. It also gave her a chance to put her training into practice without a lot of pressure.

“The realization that my engineer brain was still functioning along with my mommy brain was such a relief for me,” says Choudhary, who is now a full-time employee with the company in Westchester, New York.

The returnship was the first and only job Choudhary applied for when she decided to rejoin the workforce. The engineer doubted she would have found work without it, despite her 10 years of professional experience.

“I definitely don’t think [I would have been able to find work],” Choudhary says. “It was the reentry program that was the key to being able to return successfully.”

Julie Compton is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her @julieallmighty


How to Get a Job When You Have Been a Stay-at-Home Mom for Years

Re-entering the workforce after staying at home with your children for several years can be challenging. The key to getting a job after being out of the workforce for years is to portray your qualifications just as competitively as job-seekers who haven't been out of the workforce. Provided you do the research to ensure that you represent yourself as a competent professional who is current with industry developments in your field, you can find a job that's suited to your talents and qualifications.

Research resume formats and determine which one is best suited for your field and your experience level. If you had an extensive work history before you left the workforce, use a functional format instead of a chronological one. A functional format will emphasize your professional competencies rather than the order of jobs you held. If you use a chronological format, your period of unemployment might be off-putting to recruiters who won't recognize that you elected to leave the workforce to raise your children.

Upgrade your technology skills. Enroll in a community college class or complete an online course in the comfort of your home. When you update your resume, include references to your technology skills. List them prominently if they are required qualifications for the type of job you're seeking. For example, if you're in the IT field and have completed upgraded certifications, list your newly acquired skills and certifications early in your resume.

Take inventory of your volunteer work and include it on your resume to demonstrate that you haven't let your skills atrophy. Again, recruiters and hiring managers want to know that your skills are current. If you have contributed your talents to volunteer efforts with parent-teacher, neighborhood or professional associations, describe them on your resume just as you would for paid work. LinkedIn reported in 2011 that 41 percent of surveyed professionals considered unpaid work just as helpful as paid work in assessing a candidate's qualifications.

Rehearse your answers to interview questions about why you're qualified to re-enter the workforce with your skill set. Recruiters and hiring managers will undoubtedly ask why you're returning to the workforce at this time and what skills you have to offer. They might even drill you on the level of your functional expertise to ensure that you have maintained industry knowledge comparable to candidates who haven't been out of the workforce for a lengthy period.


The Renaissance’s Focus on Administration Leads to “Offices”

As time went on, merchants and craftspeople before the Industrial Revolution created what might be described as the first home offices. These hybrid work-homes had street-facing shops or workshops, and private areas set aside for day-to-day living.

But a growing interest in keeping historical archives, administering state business, and creating a centralized location for these activities led to some of the first administrative buildings. “One of the most notable examples is the Uffizi Gallery, built by the Medici family in Florence in 1581. This process required the administration, archives, and a state court to come together in the same building.”

This space officially became an art museum in the 1700s and is still one of the best-known museums in the world.

The mental shift during this time towards free thinking and education also created a growing need for centralized learning in the form of schools. And the Industrial Revolution was just around the corner, bringing even more centralized administrative oversight to the working world.

If you like working in an office, there are still plenty of in-office jobs that offer flexibility such as flexible schedules, part-time schedules, and more!


Stuck-At-Home Moms: The Pandemic's Devastating Toll On Women

The number of women in the workforce overtook men for a brief period earlier this year. But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare. Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images hide caption

The number of women in the workforce overtook men for a brief period earlier this year. But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare.

Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images

Women are seeing the fabric of their lives unravel during the pandemic. Nowhere is that more visible than on the job.

In September, an eye-popping 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce — four times more than men.

The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on households, and women are bearing the brunt of it. Not only have they lost the most jobs from the beginning of the pandemic, but they are exhausted from the demands of child care and housework — and many are now seeing no path ahead but to quit working.

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Women have made great strides over the years: More women than men are enrolled in college, in medical schools and law schools.

The number of women in the workforce even overtook men for a brief period of three months through February this year.

But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare.

Already, their parents are getting sick and dying. Their kids are falling behind. So along with doing everything else, working becomes impossible.

"The problem is that right now a lot of women don't really have choices, right?" says Martha Gimbel, a labor economist at the nonprofit initiative Schmidt Futures. "They can't send their kids to school. Someone has to supervise the learning. Someone has to deal with the cooking. Someone has to deal with the cleaning, and it's falling onto them. And so they can't make choices that they want to make because they're being restricted in all these ways."

Women are back in 1988

The pandemic's female exodus has decidedly turned back the clock by at least a generation, with the share of women in the workforce down to levels not seen since 1988.

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A growing, prosperous economy depends on a large and committed workforce, with women playing a vital role. If women decide to stay on the sidelines, the very dynamism of the U.S. economy is at risk as many households lose half of their earnings and productive capacity. This trend could even turn back the clock on gender equity, with harmful consequences to society and the economy.

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"If not soon reversed, the decline in the participation rate for prime‑age women could have longer-term implications for household incomes and potential growth," Federal Reserve Gov. Lael Brainard said in a speech last week. Brainard says if women continue to remain out of employment, it risks "harming not only the prospects of these individuals, but also the economy's potential growth rate."

"Mom penalty" vs. the "dad premium"

The gender pay gap is playing a big role — women make 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. So when couples have to take an economic decision, because women typically earn less, they are the ones who take the step back.

This "mom penalty" is even higher for women who are better educated and have higher incomes. In fact, among this group, this step back comes with a "dad premium." Driven by the biological clock, women take time off or cut back on their hours just as their careers are taking off, giving men the opportunity to carry on with their work, move up and earn more.

Buildup of rage in recent years

The pandemic has certainly poked the bear. And the large numbers of women leaving the workforce seems like a collective cry of anguish, and an anger that is spilling out into local Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, blog posts and even obituaries.

Part of this stems from recent history, when many women simmered with rage in the wake of the #MeToo movement, leading to an outpouring of stories of humiliation or being molested by men. And soon after, millions of women marched the streets after the last presidential election, seethed during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and finally grieved the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who spent a lifetime fighting for women's rights.

And now again, there's a sense of hopelessness and loss of control, which contributes to the stress and exasperation that is on full display on social media.

"I am tired. And I am angry. Livid in fact. Filled with rage," Selena Laurence writes in a Medium post. Laurence, mother to a teenage son and a college-going daughter, writes about being worried about the challenges of protecting them. She recounts how she gets her entire family tested for the coronavirus when she goes to visit her 80-year-old father, who is in treatment for cancer. They also quarantine, drive eight hours and then only interact with her parents outdoors. "It. Is. Exhausting," she says.

What's at stake: Future earnings and the glass ceiling

Women are taking it on the chin, up and down the income spectrum. A large portion of job losses during the pandemic has come in businesses such as restaurants and hotels, both sectors with high female employment. Many of them are low-income, and the impact on their households is devastating.

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All this reverses years of gains made by women. In 1948, when the Labor Department started tracking the data, a third of women held jobs, but that number had nearly doubled by the late 1990s. The ratio of women working has now fallen below 57% for the first time since 1988.

The scars from this time can linger, especially given the consequences for the financial stability of women. An employment gap of just one year leads to a 39% decrease in annual earnings and that increases over time, according to a report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research. It also reduces women's chances of breaking the glass ceiling and becoming future leaders in society.

"The problem is that we have a lot of evidence that when you take time out of the labor force, it can be very difficult to get back in," the economist Gimbel says. "And the other aspect of this is you are not then making progress in your career. You are not getting promoted. You are not building out skills and experience that will cause future employers to pay you more money."

NPR's Scott Horsley, Stacey Vanek Smith and Andrea Hsu contributed to this report.


The history of mothers and working

It wasn’t just the women’s lib movement that put mothers into the workplace. The trend is at least as old as Lincoln’s presidency, when 7.5 percent of mothers worked.

Today, 67 percent of mothers with children at home work, according to Ancestry.com, which examined 150 years of census records to determine the trends of working moms.

But it wasn’t always a steady climb. Some years, that number dropped. Others, like in wartime, it jumped. The largest increase was in 1980, when working moms pushed past the halfway mark (52 percent), and increased by 12.6 percent over the year prior.

Just think of your own family history: My grandmother was a telephone operator after her spouse got sick. My own mother stopped working as a teacher until my brother and I were older.

What’s also interesting is the percentage of working mothers per state. South Dakota has the highest percentage in 2010 at 79.9 percent. Meanwhile, New York isn’t even in the top 10 now — or anytime in the last 150 years. Take a look.


Deciding to return to the workforce

So – you took a break from your career to be a stay-at-home parent and you’re thinking about returning to the workforce. This might be a return to your former career or perhaps your interests and values have changed and you are interested in something completely different. Whatever you choose, know that you have developed some incredible skills during your time away from the workforce and those skills are in demand in the workplace!

When the time comes, you might be feeling overwhelmed given the amount of information available. A quick Google search for “ how to write a resume ” yields 2,010,000,000 results. Who has time to go through all those results, much less decide what is valid information? Not a stay at home mom! That’s why we’re offering four top tips on what to include on your stay at home mom resume.

1) There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume

You cannot create one resume and use it for every application. You must customize each one and target it to the position. Use the job posting as your guide when writing your resume . Pull out the keywords and skills and incorporate them into your resume. Otherwise, your resume will get lost and overlooked by applicant tracking systems . It might sound like a lot of work, editing your resume for each job you apply to, but it is critical to do this so your application will catch your reader’s attention.

Jobscan removes the guesswork from this process.

Just paste your resume and a job description below to see a prioritized list of skills, keywords, and other checks to consider.

2) Identify the skills you gained while taking care of your kids

Everyone has something to offer. Everyone. Not only that, but every experience is marketable. It’s all in how you present it. As a stay at home mother, you didn’t necessarily get a paycheck each week, but that doesn’t make your experience any less valuable.

Being a stay at home parent is one of the hardest jobs you will ever have, and the skills you gained are incredibly transferrable. Some of these skills include multi-tasking, communication, persuading, listening, research, organization, managing people, collaboration, and the ultimate mom skill—negotiation. The list does not stop there.

Consider ALL aspects of your life—organizing schedules, managing a household, managing finances, helping your child with schoolwork, volunteering, being on a board, involvement in your community, etc. Ask yourself and make a list: What do I do and how do I do it?

To demonstrate this, I would like to introduce you to one of my clients. Laura left her career to stay at home and raise her two kids. When they were in school, she volunteered for the school playground project. This experience included fundraising, research, community presentations, and collaborating with the school, parents, and the company that was contracted to build the playground.

After the project was finished, the company approached Laura to see if she would be interested in a part-time role. They were so impressed with the work that she did and the skills that she demonstrated. At the time, she didn’t think much about her involvement in the project, other than ensuring a fantastic space for her kids to play. In retrospect, it was amazing to identify the tasks she did and the skills she gained.

If you are uncertain about your skills and need help identifying them, evaluate yourself. Get help from a career development professional or do some self-assessment on your own. Try reviewing these employability skills from the Conference Board of Canada to see what skills you have.

3) Address the gap in your stay at home mom resume

A resume that has a gap in employment can be a red flag for a recruiter . It is important to include employment dates, as this is information that employers look for. You will likely create a resume that contains information about the job(s) you had prior to taking time away from the workforce. Treat your experience as a stay at home mom as a position you held. Give it a title, include dates, and outline the activities, skills, and accomplishments you acquired during this time.

Having said that, avoid tongue-in-cheek titles such as “Chef,” “Domestic Engineer,” “Chauffeur,” and “Housekeeper.” It’s true you have done all these roles but using them as your job title on your resume will do you a disservice, confuse recruiters and applicant tracking systems, and not sell your transferable skills very well. To be blunt—you won’t be taken seriously. Instead, try something like “Career Sabbatical to Take Care of Children.” Your bullet points can include the skills you gained in your role as a stay at home parent that easily transfer to the position you are applying to. These are known as transferable skills.

4) Does it add value?

As you curate and compile all the content for your resume, a couple of things to keep in the back of your mind are, “Does this add value for my reader? Does it demonstrate my skills and accomplishments for the position I am applying to?” In general, it is recommended that you avoid including the following on your resume, as many of these practices are not only dated, but they are taking up valuable space on your resume:

Include activities such as volunteer or community involvement, continuing education courses, freelance projects, professional development, or self-employment you may have had during your break from your career.

Remember, a stay at home parent has an incredible skillset, both from their experiences as a mom, as well as her past experiences in other areas of life. By taking the time to identify the value you bring, it will make it easier to communicate this on your stay at home mom resume and to demonstrate your value to your next employer.


In Defense of Stay-at-Home Moms

In a widely read piece published last week in The Atlantic online, New York City attorney and author Elizabeth Wurtzel makes a number of provocative arguments about feminism, class and politics that denigrate stay-at-home moms. Its title, "1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible," along with its subhed, "being a mother isn't a real job -- and the men who run the world know it," sum up parts of the piece, and its arguments go even farther. It surprises me not at all that Rush Limbaugh spoke at length about it on the air, for if there were a "war" on stay-at-home moms, as he'd like his audience to believe, Wurtzel would be on its front lines.

She'd be taking aim at women like my mother, for though my family has never belonged to the 1 percent or "the 1 percent," my mom left the work force for a number of years to raise my sister and I, returning to it when we were in high school. As an attendee of Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, I've had occasion to interact with a lot of women who chose a similar traditionalist path. An e-mailer familiar with my background asked me if I felt outraged on their behalf, but as I see it, Wurtzel's notion of who stay-at-home moms are is so far removed from the reality of most women in the stay-at-home category that few of her blows even land. "To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met -- none of whom do anything around the house -- live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria," she writes in a characteristic passage. "Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income."

The generalization from "families I have met in New York and L.A." is always a risky proposition. In this case, according to a 2009 data release from the Census Bureau, 75 percent of stay-at-home moms live in households where family income is less than $100,000 per year -- such families, after all, rely on only one salary -- and families with stay-at-home moms are, not surprisingly, on average poorer than those where both parents have incomes. The states of Utah and Arizona have the highest percentage of families where one parent stays home. And insofar as the states of New York and California have above-average numbers of stay-at-home moms, it is largely because "Stay-at-home mothers were more likely to be Hispanic than non-stay-at-home mothers," and "stay- at-home mothers were more likely to be foreign born."

I grew up in Orange County, Calif., a more diverse place than you'd think from its portrayal on television. It includes largely white, very affluent cities like Newport Beach, where I attended Our Lady Queen of Angels elementary school cities like Costa Mesa, my hometown, where Latinos make up roughly 30 percent of the population and places like Santa Ana, a Latino enclave, and Garden Grove, which is 38 percent Asian (largely Vietnamese) and 37 percent Latino. The Real Housewives of Orange County notwithstanding, there were a very few such unrepresentative families there, where the stay-at-home mom wasn't doing much work or had multiple domestic helpers cooking, cleaning, nannying, and driving the kids wherever they needed to go. I suspect the vast majority of moms from all the demographic groups I've mentioned would take issue with this claim:

This is highly questionable economic analysis. Anyone can cook food. Are "chef" and "short order cook" not jobs? Anyone can clean clothes. When I take my shirts to be laundered, is the man who washes and irons them not working? Anyone can change their oil. What of the guys at JiffyLube? Anyone can do their own taxes. Are H&R Block accountants just engaged in "a part of life"?

There is a strain of feminism that has insistently pointed out the economic value of uncompensated domestic labor, and if there were any doubt about that theory, it was resolved when women started joining the work force en masse, and families with two-wage earners received a hefty bill at the end of each month showing just how much child care, cleaning and food prep cost. There is, of course, a lot more to the job stay-at-home moms do than these domestic chores. But the chores alone are labor intensive, valuable, and performed as formal jobs by many in the labor force.

Here's a useful thought experiment that gets at some of the additional value being that parents, stay-at-home or not, add. Imagine that you have a two-year-old child, $100 million in the bank, and are unexpectedly sentenced to an 20-year prison term. For the sake of this hypothetical, you've got 6 months in which to interview and hire someone for a 20 year position, and you are somehow assured that whoever you hire will stick with the paid job of raising your child. He or she will be responsible for everything from household chores to care-giving to informal tutoring to emotional support to discipline to shaping morals and values.

What sort of employee would you hire? Would you pay minimum wage or higher? Six figures? Would your caregiver make more or less than the prison guard supervising you in jail? Would you prefer someone with a high school diploma? A college diploma? In what percentile of intelligence, intellectual and emotional, would you want them to be? Would you do a more thorough job vetting the eventual caregiver of your child, or the lawyer who represented you in your criminal case? Who would you regard as having the more important job, the caregiver or your lawyer?

Who would have the harder job?

The scenario I've described never actually happens in the real world, but a related calculation is quite common. When my mother and father were dating, both at some point asked themselves, "Would this person be a good parent?" For many men and women alike, that is a major factor in the spouse they choose. And although Wurtzel writes about families with stay-at-home moms as if the husbands are mystified as to the arrangement, asserting that their wives go shopping at luxury stores while "they pay gargantuan American Express bills and don't know why or what for," the reality is that the vast majority of couples, even in wealthy enclaves, deliberate long and hard over the working arrangements that best suit their family circumstances.

That is because, consistent with the laws in most states, they see marriage as an equal partnership. Wutzel writes as if she's totally unaware of that reality. "Let's please be serious grown-ups: real feminists don't depend on men," she writes. "Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own." Most married couples would reply that husbands and wives depend on one another, and function as a team. My mother, who worked before having children, and later returned to the work force, is an extremely capable person. Although her earning potential was perhaps always lower than my father's by virtue of differences in the degrees they've earned (he's got a masters degree), there has never been a time when she couldn't have secured a good job. Experience indicates she'd be quickly promoted in any company. To describe her as dependent on my father for income is accurate only insofar as my parents decided together that she'd forgo working, plus the wage premium she'd gain from those lost years of work experience, to raise my sister and me, and to do other uncompensated labor*. Given that arrangement, most feminists would be understandably outraged if my father claimed that his entire paycheck was rightfully his, rather than shared income. The legal recognition of community property was a major, rightfully celebrated feminist victory. By Wutzel's logic, it should never have happened.

She writes, in another passage, that "there really is only one kind of equality -- it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo -- and it's economic. If you can't pay your own rent, you are not an adult." It makes as much sense to say that you're not an adult if you can't cook your own dinner, iron your own shirts, or help your own child with their homework, therefore men in families that have divided labor along traditional gender lines are not in fact adults. There is a difference between having the capacity to do something like pay rent or perform household chores and literally doing it.

That brings us to part of Wurtzel's argument that maps onto electoral politics. Here it is in her words:

I don't want everyone to live like me, but I do expect educated and able-bodied women to be holding their own in the world of work. Because here's what happens when women go shopping at Chanel and get facials at Tracy Martyn when they should be wage-earning mensches: the war on women happens.

Failing as a feminist is a unique problem of the wealthy, but consequences impact women all the way down the line. It happens that most women -- and men -- are living feminist lives because of economic necessity, whether they mean to or not. Most families are kind of like Sarah Palin's was before she made her pit-bull star turn: lots of kids and both mom and dad have to bring in what money they can. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 nearly 71 percent of women with children under 18 worked. Most mothers have jobs because they need or want the money and fulfillment only in rare cases are they driven by glory.

To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met -- none of whom do anything around the house -- live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income. In any case, having forgotten everything but the lotus position, these women are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don't blame them. As it happens, fewer than 5 percent of the CEO's of Fortune 500 companies, 16 percent of corporate executives, and 17 percent of law partners are female. The men, the husbands of the 1 percent, are on trading floors or in office complexes with other men all day, and to the extent that they see anyone who isn't male it's pretty much just secretaries and assistants. And they go home to. whatever. What are they supposed to think? They pay gargantuan American Express bills and don't know why or what for.

Then they give money to Mitt Romney.

This is highly questionable analysis for numerous reasons.

1) It just isn't true that male professionals today are only interacting with women who are secretaries or assistants, even if women aren't equally represented at the top of firms. And there is no reason to presume, as Wurtzel seems to, that female secretaries are stupid and reflect poorly on women as a class, nor that men with stay-at-home wives are more likely to regard their wives unfavorably (or be mystified as to their spending, or handle the family checkbook).

2) The so-called "war on women," which largely concerns abortion policy, isn't an area of politics that is particularly driven by political donations. It is a wedge issue that appeals to Republicans because a large part of its socially conservative base feels very strongly that abortion is murder.

3) Insofar as rich men with stay-at-home wives are giving to Republicans, the vast majority are doing so for reasons other than social conservatism, as is evident in GOP primaries, when business friendly candidates attract most of the big money donations while social conservatives scrimp. And the idea that lots of rich men are steering their political contributions based on the degree of respect they have for their wives or women generally is totally unsupported and highly dubious.

4) No data is presented to back up the supposition that the political donations of "1 percenter" families with wives that don't work are disproportionately flowing to Mitt Romney rather than Barack Obama. At minimum, there are lots of wealthy families in the finance, entertainment and legal industries that tend to give to Democrats, especially in Los Angeles and New York City, the locales the author cites.

5) Insofar as Romney is getting money from families with stay-at-home moms, it's largely because lots of Mormon families choose traditional divisions of labor and support Romney in large numbers.

Stepping back a bit, let's imagine an alternate reality where wealthy men really were so disdainful of stay-at-home moms, including their own wives, that they were deliberately funding a "war on women" as a result. Would the proper feminist response really be haranguing those women into getting jobs so that rich men would respect them more and thus cease funding the "war"?

The degree to which many Americans, including some feminists, conflate value contributed to society with wages earned is astonishing, and although this pathology extends far beyond the debate over child-rearing, one effect is for people to overvalue various kinds of professional work and to undervalue child-rearing. "Did Romney actually tell his wife that her job was more important than his?" Wurtzel writes. "So condescending. If he thought that, he'd be doing it."

Now, none of us is in a position to rigorously make a comparative assessment of Mitt Romney's contributions in business and government and Ann Romney's contributions to the lives of her five sons. But it is surely plausible that she did more good. Imagine, hypothetically, that Romney's tenure as governor of Massachusetts was a net neutral for the state, and that while he created some value in business, much of his wealth derived from restructuring companies in ways that better gamed a flawed tax code. Meanwhile, imagine that Ann Romney instilled in her five sons better than average empathy, work ethic, moral uprightness, ability to delay gratification, and capacity for personal happiness, qualities that caused each to lead happier, more productive, more generous lives than they otherwise would have, and to pass on those qualities to their own children.

Whose contribution to the world was more important?

You'd think a feminist who thinks Mitt Romney is engaged in a "war on women" -- who thinks his role in public life is malign -- would be especially inclined to give the edge to Ann Romney. But nope.

GDP is evidently her bottom line.

It thrills me that my fiance, who I'll marry in October, already has and will continue to have a highly successful, fulfilling career, and than women of my generation generally have that opportunity in ways that my mother's and grandmother's generation didn't. I'm equally thrilled that women (or men) for whom staying home is more fulfilling and better for their families can make that choice, as my mom did, and anyone who presumes they're contributing less to society than their working counterparts has a more inflated sense of the importance of career than I do. If I ever find myself a stay-at-home dad, I'll not doubt for even a moment that success raising good citizens with a capacity for personal happiness would rank as my finest achievement (though I believe working parents are also perfectly capable of being successful parents).

There is no value in the pernicious notion that either working moms or stay-at-home moms are "better," for that term makes no sense as a general proposition. Certain arrangements are superior for some families and individuals other arrangements are better for others. If anything, society benefits from a diversity of arrangements being tried all at once, both because variety is more conducive to fulfilling diverse individuals, and because stay-at-home parents and working parents can likely learn something from their analogs using a somewhat different model.

The notion, implicit in Wurzel's piece, that men and women should set aside the work arrangements that best suit their families in order to further an ideological agenda, or to skew political contributions made by rich men, is a rather extreme example of unduly obsessing over American politics. And the strange presumption that rich men funding a "war on women" would change their political giving habits if only more rich women participated in the work force is unfounded.

*The uncompensated labor of stay-at-home moms often extends far beyond household chores and child rearing. At my elementary school, parents volunteered to run traffic before and after school, to supervise the kids at lunch, and to chaperone field trips. The camp for developmentally disabled kids where I volunteered during high school was staffed partly by stay-at-home moms volunteering their time, my mom among them. The connection between "soccer moms" and youth athletics is presumably obvious. All of these functions and many others could and would be done by paid employees if not for volunteers, but using Wurtzel's metrics of work and value none of this uncompensated labor counts for anything.


Why Do We Call Them “Stay-at-Home Moms?” There Must Be A Better Term.

It’s been a week since the New York Magazine cover story “The Retro Wife” hit newsstands, and its merits (or lack thereof) are still being debated. Two of the feminist stay-at-home moms featured in the story—Kelly Makino and Rebecca Woolf—spoke to Tracie Egan Morrissey at Jezebel about how they felt misrepresented by the piece. Woolf, it seems, has more of a case than Makino. It’s strange that she would be used as an example of a feminist “stay-at-home mom” in the first place, since she has a full-time job: running her blog, Girl’s Gone Child.

The source of the confusion and feelings of misrepresentation might lie in the inadequacy and general clunkiness of the term “stay-at-home mom.” Technically Woolf stays at home, and is a mom. But she’s also self-employed, and that important nuance isn’t relayed by the SAHM label (I am also technically a SAHM, but work 40 or more hours a week). I’ve always disliked the term. It connotes “shut in” to me, as if mothers who don’t do paid work are too fragile to handle the outside world. How did this become the default terminology for women who don’t go to an office every day?

According to the etymology expert and University of Minnesota professor Anatoly Liberman, the term “stay at home,” without the mom or dad tacked on, is very old. (Liberman recalls seeing the term in Dickens.) “Stay at homes” were people who didn’t travel. The “mom” part didn’t start becoming attached to the phrase until the ‘80s, and it didn’t grow really popular until the ‘90s, says Rebecca Jo Plant, an associate professor of history at UC San Diego and the author of Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America. The New York Times did not use the phrase until 1992, and even then it was in quotes.

Earlier in the 20 th century, “housewife” was the preferred term, but as the Victorian focus on efficiency and sanitization began to shift in the 50s, a new word—“homemaker”—came into vogue. The mid-century popularity of “homemaker,” says Plant, “reflects the rise of a therapeutic culture in the twentieth century, when advice literature to women began to stress the importance of meeting the emotional and psychological needs of children and husbands.”

“Homemaker” had pretty thoroughly replaced housewife by the 1970s, but it was already sounding old-fashioned by the ‘80s. Enter the “stay-at-home mom.” No one I spoke to could tell me definitively why the term became ascendant Plant speculates, “My sense is that their usage reflects the notion that the most important thing that the woman who stays home actually does is to focus on her children and foster their development, with an increasing emphasis on intellectual/cognitive development.”

Both “housewife” and “homemaker” connote domestic drudgery like toilet scrubbing (which no one really wants to do). “Housewife” in particular emphasizes an old-fashioned devotion to the husband, while “stay-at-home mom” shifts the focus onto the children. “It’s probably no coincidence that the term ‘playdate’ as we currently use it also takes off,” during the 80s and 90s, Plant muses. “You can’t really perform domestic labor when you’re attending or even hosting a playdate.”

Though it’s impossible to say if “stay-at-home mom” (and let’s not forget “stay-at-home dad,” equally lame) beat out other aspirants for referring to parents who don’t do paid work, Plant’s research shows that this kind of terminology is ever-changing. Which means we, as a culture, are free to come up with a new word to refer to stay-at-home parents. Primary caretakers is the only thing I could come up with, but it sounds a little stiff and census-y. Any other suggestions?


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