We’re in the middle of something of a revolution in terms of what it means to be a working parent, and how that experience is represented. There are books, podcasts, roundtables, and foundations dedicated to navigating the delicate-sometimes-impossible juggle of career ambition with childcare duties. For stay-at-home mums, a group quietly growing since 1999, there is less dialogue surrounding their day-to-day choices. People aren’t asking their opinions on “doing it all,” even though they often do very much at the same time, sometimes envying friends and spouses who can go to work, talk to adults, and drink their morning coffee with both hands.
Pew Research found that more women are staying home with their kids now than in recent history: 29% of mothers now stay home with children, a sharp increase from 23% in 1999. It may still be the path less taken, sure, but it isn’t one trod by women given no choice; the Stepfordy-1950s stereotype of a woman keeping house can well be retired. In a quiet way, millennial stay-at-home moms (or SAHMs) are rewriting some of the rules of their predecessors.
Stephanie Coontz, a professor of family history at The Evergreen State College in Washington and author of Marriage: A History, says that for the past couple of decades, stay-at-home mums have only been a majority among women married to men in the bottom of the income distribution. These tended to be younger, less-educated straight couples, where the combined cost of childcare, transportation, and work clothing would often exceed the woman’s earnings.
Pew research echoes this, showing that the more education a mother has, the more likely she is to go back to work after having a child: 70% of mothers with a bachelor’s degree and 80% of mothers with a master's degree return to work after having kids. A growing share of stay-at-home mothers say they are home because they cannot find a job (6% up from 1% in 2000). But that still leaves a vast majority who are staying home because they choose to.
Meanwhile, more millennials are becoming parents. Pew estimates that one million millennials become mothers each year (no word on the number who become dads), and the total is expected to rise, as the generation continues to age into their 30s. That same research finds that millennials who do have children “are notably confident” in their parenting skills.
Millennials are remaking the world and attitudes around them in so many different ways. How are they reshaping parenting at home? With much of the conversation dedicated to the working moms — the Lean Ins, the Overwhelmed, and the I Know How She Does It — what do we really know about the parents today who are choosing to stay home? Ahead, we talked to real SAHMs and experts to find out.