Defining What It Means To Be A Black Stay-At-Home Mom
Words: B. Nakia Garner
An accidental stay-at-home mom shares what she’s learned on her journey.
I was never familiar with the term “stay-at-home mom”—growing up, I never saw examples of Black women staying home with their children. When I thought of a woman who didn’t work, I thought of Peggy Bundy from Married with Children, a woman who spent her time watching soap operas, eating bon bons, and creating a permanent dent in her living room couch. It wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mom myself that I started to appreciate and respect the decision these women made to stay home on a full-time basis.
My journey to becoming a stay-at-home mom, or SAHM, started back in 2010 when my son was 7 months old and I was working as a newspaper editor. I walked into work one day and was told that I was being let go.
Getting laid off was devastating—I felt like a failure. What kind of mother can’t provide for her child? I thought to myself.
I was frantic and overwhelmed with the idea of providing for my son with no income readily available. I took care of him during the day and applied to job after job at night while he slept. Spending all of this time with him was enlightening as I got to see firsthand how he was evolving and growing. But in the back of my mind, I was panicking—month after month went by with no calls for interviews or job offers.
After months of looking for work with no luck, I started to think about why God allowed this to happen. I am a firm believer that there is meaning and a purpose behind everything, and I was determined to see what God wanted from me and for me during this transition. He allowed me to look at this time as an opportunity instead of a setback. He changed my mindset and allowed me to see that I was not unemployed; I was working full-time as a mother without even realizing it.
There isn’t a manual for being a SAHM just like there isn’t a manual for being a parent.
I made the decision then and there to be the best mother I could be; it started with calling myself a SAHM and figuring out what that meant for me.
My first step was joining a group that could offer me answers. I saw a notice for weekly meetings held by an organization called Mocha Moms, Inc. A Google search revealed it was an organization meant to give support to stay-at-home moms of color. It was then that I realized that this title of stay-at-home mom now, officially, applied to me.
I attended a Mocha Moms’ support group with my then 11-month-old son in tow. When I arrived, I was shocked to see that every single woman was Black!
Through all my questions, I learned that these women were extremely intelligent and driven. They weren’t the Peggy Bundys I had imagined before I joined their ranks—some came from corporate backgrounds and grew tired of 60-hour work weeks and time away from their families. Others became private business owners so they could work in their homes and remain close to their children.
Hearing their stories made me look at my journey as a mother up to that point. I had spent most of my time worrying that I was screwing up his life and not doing enough. I thought everything I did for or to him would directly impact what kind of man he would turn into, and I was determined to make sure his future was bright.
But in the midst of that thinking, I hadn’t taken the time to enjoy being a mother. I didn’t laugh or play enough with him. I didn’t take the time to celebrate him sitting up for the first time, or recognizing my face, or holding his bottle on his own. I viewed being a mother as another job I had to do to the best of my ability.
After that first Mocha Moms meeting, I realized that there isn’t a manual for being a SAHM just like there isn’t a manual for being a parent. Each woman has to choose what type of mother they want to be, whether they are a SAHM or not.
Once my son turned 1, I started developing my own definition of what it meant to be a stay-at-home mom. For me, being a SAHM meant that I could focus on my son’s education. I threw myself into teaching my little boy the alphabet, numbers, and his name. My boyfriend—now my husband, who was laid off months after I was—took it upon himself to teach our son math, the planets, and basic science. We both understood that as our child’s first teachers, it was our responsibility to be consistent and persistent in teaching him what we could for however long we were able to be home with him. By the time he was 2, he could spell his name, count to 20, recite the alphabet forwards and backwards, write small words, and read short books. I didn’t recognize this wasn’t the norm until I met other parents who were impressed by his knowledge at such a young age. That made me feel like I was finally doing right by him.
Each woman has to choose what type of mother they want to be, whether they are a SAHM or not.
In addition to teaching him, I searched for places to take him where he could interact with other children to improve his social skills. I became a member of my local chapter of Mocha Moms and every week we attended their support group, went to storytime at various libraries, and visited the park. At each place, we pointed out different shapes and colors and practiced our counting skills. I loved seeing his eyes light up with recognition at every lesson. Being able to share my love of learning with him—and seeing him soak up everything so quickly—was so exciting and satisfying.
My now 8-year-old boy still has a love of learning that was birthed during those two years his father and I were out of work. He and I are close and I know that it’s because he got that one-on-one time with me so early in his life. Now his 2-year-old sister is benefitting from me being home as well. (I was let go from another job in 2015, coincidentally when my daughter was also 7 months old.)
The difference this time around is that I am a lot more confident in my role as a stay-at-home mom. Once I saw my son flourishing in school, and waking up every morning with a smile on his face, I began to just relax and enjoy each moment with him. I knew I must be doing something right if he was receiving high marks at school, making friends, and being applauded for his good manners.
In the process of finding myself as a SAHM, I let go of the idea of being a “perfect” mom and accepted the notion of being the type of mom my children needed. I have more knowledge about the resources available for my children and became somewhat of an expert at finding free or almost free events for me and my children. (I’m very familiar with the websites of my county’s park and planning commission, our local library system and sites like About.com and DCThriftyMom.com that showcase kid-friendly events.)
By embracing my role as a stay-at-home mom, I’m able to really be there for my family and give them all of me. I love being able to visit my son at school and accompany him on field trips. And when my daughter needed physical therapy to help her stand and walk, I was able to be present every step of the way.
Being a stay-at-home mom is not for everyone, and it’s not something I would have ever chosen for myself. But God put me in this position for a reason, so all I can do is make the most of it and let go of how I think my life is “supposed” to be.