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On Wealth and Privilege (and being a stay at home mom)

I feel the need to address an issue tonight.  I don’t have time for this, I have things I need to get done, I have doll orders I need to get working on.  But these thoughts keep banging around in my head and I need to get them out on (virtual) paper.

There is this word.  I keep seeing it in comments on homeschooling, breastfeeding, clothdiapering, etc.  It is “privilege”- as in “my husband and I need to work to stay afloat; we’re not privileged enough to be able to spend all day with our children”…  This is from a comment on the huz’s homeschooling post.

People constantly tell me how privileged I am to be a stay at home mom. How nice it is that my husband makes enough to support us.  How we are part of that wealthy, privileged, upper class.  And how they can’t do that, so how dare I make them feel bad because they can’t do A, B, or C.

Here is the thing.

WE ARE POOR.

We’ve been poor for our entire marriage.  Yes, I stay home with our children and my husband works.  And yes, we are just starting to pull ourselves out of the deep financial hole we have been buried in ever since we said our “I dos”.  He works HARD so that this can happen.  But we have struggled.  SO MUCH.  We juggle which bills to pay each and every month.  We have survived on everything from a waiter’s tips to his current job as a truck driver. I have learned to make our budget stretch farther than should be possible.  I can feed my family of six on forty dollars a week if I have to.  We haven’t been to the movies in four years.  In fact, neither Patrick nor Willow has ever been in a movie theater.

Two days ago I cried because I got a new bathing suit.  My last one was purchased five years ago and it was worn to shreds and unwearable.  My husband and I go without many things so that our kids can have food, clothing, shelter, homeschool materials, and fieldtrips.  We drive a car built in 1996.  We’ve never had a honeymoon or even been on a vacation.  We haven’t been on a “date” in years.

We live this way because we think it is extremely important that our children have a parent stay at home.  It might be “old fashioned” but we think there SHOULD be a parent at home to bake cookies and wipe noses.  We want OUR babies to have their momma, and know they need to be carried, snuggled and breastfed all day long.  I pumped and supplemented and did daycare with Hannah, when I was finishing school- I know how difficult that is and I wanted different for any future babies, so I made this choice with my husband’s support before we were married.

(I’m talking about OUR LIFE and OUR CHILDREN and OUR CHOICES here.  THIS IS WHAT WE FEEL IS IMPORTANT TO US, OUR VALUES, OUR DREAMS, OUR GOALS.  THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU OR WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO DO.)

Would life be easier if my kids were in school and I had even a part-time job?  Hell yeah.  Have I ever secretly wished this were the case? YES.  My life is hard.  My husband is on the road for stretches of six weeks at a time.  My husband sacrifices his time with the littles, because he feels it is important that I stay at home with them.  I am basically a single mom, (although I get the cool benefit of having a paycheck dropped into my bank account each week) without time off or a break and no one here to help me or offer me a damn hug.  But is it worth it? HELL YEAH.

My kids are amazing, and I get to experience each and every day with them.  Each day is a gift- no matter how cranky they are, no matter how tight money is this week- I am so glad that I get to share every single blessed day with them.  They are happy and secure and kind children- and I know that is partly due to the love and attention they get all day long.

It is crazy what you can live on if you have to. It is eye-opening to find out what you can live without if you need to.  My kids are worth it.  We chose this lifestyle, for them, so that we can be together and help them learn and grow, because we think it is important and special to be a part of that process.

This is the only way in which my husband and I are privileged.

We are honored to be the parents of four such wonderful people.

Cooper Lawson

Willow Iris

Patrick James

Hannah Morrigan Sophia


61 Responses to On Wealth and Privilege (and being a stay at home mom)

  1. I feel exactly the same way! We were poor much of our marriage & people couldn’t believe that I stayed home with our daughter. At the same time, they had that weird idea that we were well off, and would ask things like “So, what do you do all day? Play with the baby?” Um, yeah. The house cleans itself, the meals cook themselves, etc.

    Thanks for this great article, I totally identify with it!

    • I get that often- “what do you do all day” or even worse, “I couldn’t stay home with my kids ALL DAY”.

      I love being at home with them.

      Glad you liked my post!

      <3

  2. Amen! We’re in the same boat, though I’m lucky enough to have money in the bank that I can draw on from my mother’s death. My husband is disabled and he gets Social Security disability, which is a SMALL amount of money, plus we have my back-up money and my writing from the Examiner and odds and ends.

    Our furniture is from Freecycle. I cook everything from scratch. We bought our house in the sticks for $2,000 and lots of parts inside reflect that. :) We get our clothes from thrift stores and 90% off clearance racks. I can pinch a penny till it’s so thin you can see through it!

    We live below the poverty level but I do consider us privileged — just not in the ways those people mean. We have a fabulous life that reflects our priorities.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I can completely relate. In fact, I made HUGE sacrifices after my divorce from my ex so that I could homeschool my children and be home with them. A lot of people don’t understand how incredibly difficult that was. You’re right, it would be easier to put the kids in school and go to work. Instead, I built my character and found ways to make it work. I really appreciate you writing this!!!

    • Well thank you!

      And awesome job momma- I wonder if I would be able to stay at home and homeschool if *I* were truly a single mom. It must be really difficult!

      <3

  4. You said it and you said it well. We are in the same boat and it is tough and it is full of tough choices. But we make the choices that we do because of what we hold dear. And to us a parent being home with the children is exceptionally important. And there are a lot of people who seem to think that because I am home all day that I sit around popping bon-bons into my mouth and that I have a staff to do the rest. It isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And when people say that I am “privileged” I smile and say ” Yes I am privileged to have such wonderful children. Thank you for noticing that!”

  5. I can relate, even though I do not have kids. I’ve been POOR. I’ve had No paycheck, and know what I can do on $10 worth of food.

  6. This was beautiful, thank you so much for sharing! I intend on staying home with our future children, and we know it’s going to be ridiculously tight-the whole living on one income in a two income economy thing- but we, too, are willing to make sacrifices and changes to the way we think (and purchase) to give our kids what we feel is the best start for them . I always enjoy reading your homeschooling/SAHMing tweets/posts, keep up the fantastic work!

    -Faedra

  7. This is my first visit to your blog and I am glad to hear that I am not alone! Our choice to have a parent at home for our 5 kiddos is not a privilege, it is a choice that we make everyday. We live a humble life that is rich at the same time! I too have been annoyed when someone assumes that I can “afford” to be a stay at home parent… I guess we just live a lot smaller then other people. And of course there are the days where I yearn for the “freedom” of having a job outside of the home and being child-free all day long…Sir Hubby and I try to strike a balance so that I can attend births and do birth advocacy work once in awhile so that I can pursue my non-mommy interests (but even my non-mommy interests are mommy-baby related!)

  8. I agree with you. My husband works away as well so that we can raise our daughter the way we believe. I called it pseudo-solo parenting. It is hard work, but putting my children in day care is a last resort for me (and we aren’t there yet).

  9. I love you for a lot of reasons, but this is one of them. I feel EXACTLY the same way. I’ve got friends who say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go back to work, we need the money.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, dude, so do we.’

    But more than the money, we need our children to be at home, being cared for by a parent who loves them and puts their needs before anyone else’s.

    As TMD has said, we’d rather live on air than send them to daycare.

    I don’t think daycare is evil or anything diabolical; it’s just not right for our family. So while we live on a VERY tight budget now that I’m officially outside-the-home jobless, we are happy.

    And as I’ve said to her, once they are all at school? (as we won’t be homeschooling, though I think it ROCKS) We will think we are rich like rockstars when we are both working…

    • Awww. I love you too. For lots of reasons. I don’t think daycare is evil either, -I would just rather parent my children myself. I love this: ‘As TMD has said, we’d rather live on air than send them to daycare.’

      I’m glad you are happy. I am too!

      In this way we ARE “privileged”

      <3

  10. Applause.

    Its hard to explain this to friends without it turning into a competition of who sacrifices more for their kids. Its not about that. Its about whats important to you. I have a friend whose dp makes more than mine, her rent is less than my mortgage, and we have more kids. She “needs” to go back to work. How do you tell someone nicely “no, what you NEED to do is re-establish your financial priorities”. Sigh. You dont. Where there is a will, there is a way. Period.

    • I noticed via the comments on Woman Uncensored that it is turning into a debate RE: who sacrifices more, and the working moms are taking offense to what I said. Totally missing the point of this post.

      PS And I totally agree that a lot of people have skewed priorities.

      <3

  11. I agree with you in that I think it’s important for one parent to stay home with their children. People think I’m taking the easy way out by staying home. Good gods, if they only knew how incredibly DIFFICULT it is.
    Although, I admit that I would love to have a husband putting a check into my account every week! heh heh. Even to have a husband/partner who I could talk to on the phone when I need some support. (those are some of the reasons I hate being a single mom.)

    I’m glad you wrote this post. I’m going to link it and hope people get a freakin’ clue.

    • Liz- Being a stay at home single mom is HARD. I’ve been there- when Han was little. It sucks. Props to you mama… I know that I am lucky to get that paycheck each week deposited in my account, and that I have the huz to talk to when things are rough. I am privileged in many ways, and I know it, because I have been where you are.

      I just take offense to people thinking we are wealthy or well-off, because I stay home.

      <3

  12. People… not money is what make someone privileged. I’d rather have an old car or walk everywhere with my son… then never see him because i’m always working.

    Your kids aren’t going to remember what they got for birthdays/christmas/etc every year… they’re going to remember who tucked them in at night, who played with them and who gave them unconditional love.

  13. I definitely think it’s important for people to know that just because a mom is at home does not mean a family is well off. I am at home with my sleeping daughter right now, but now that she is asleep I’m preparing to work. I’m a mom at home, but I’m a work-at-home mom, which I sometimes feel is a segment of society that goes entirely unrecognized. Is it hard? Oh my, yes. But it’s important, too.

    The one thing I’d caution is that there are indeed people who are living small and still truly cannot afford to have one parent at home because both parents are subsistence earners or there are necessary medical bills or there’s only one parent with no other outside income or whatever. Calling yourself poor because you have a car from 1996 and finally bought a bathing suit after five years seems rather unkind to people living in true poverty. I’m not saying you mean it that way, but there is that undercurrent of “If you worked as hard as I do, you could live like me,” which isn’t always true.

    • No. Having a car from 1996 and buying a bathing suit is us moving up in the world- my husband can support us now and we are finally pulling ourselves out of debt.

      We have been homeless, we have been evicted. When we were first together we lived on nothing but rice because that is all we could afford. Literally. We bought a big bag of rice and a tub of margarine with our last five dollars and that was all we had for weeks. We have been car-less and took the bus. We have been unable to pay for the bus and walked.

      We have lived in a three room apartment, my mother’s basement, my uncle’s spare room, and once almost our car.

      We have been unable to buy clothes and diapers or pay for heat or electricity.

      When I said POOR. I meant POOR.

      • But you said “We are poor” not “We were poor.” Do you still consider yourself poor? I’d say that to some extent our economic situations are similar, but I consider myself quite well off compared to many people in the world and I do see myself as privileged for being able to work from home and having the advantages I do.

        • Yes I do. I was just illustrating the point that I do understand “poor”.

          I am, of course, quite well off compared to many people in the world and I am grateful for what I have- that isn’t what this post is about.

          It is about the perceived notion I must be wealthy to stay at home. For clarity’s sake I must add that according to government standards and our tax return this will be the first year of my adult life that our income is (just barely) above poverty level.

  14. People forget that to work away from home means paying someone to take care of our kids while we are away. For some people they only make enough to pay for that childcare and can barely pay their other bills. Unless you are of the set that has family who will babysit for free all the time.

    Growing up my parents both worked and I watched me and my sister. Sometimes we didn’t have water. Sometimes we didn’t have electricity. Sometimes my parents didn’t eat so I could. And we were “middle class”. I have slept on park benches and lived in my car for short periods of time. As someone who has been poor, I don’t think your post is a disservice to those who are “truly in poverty”, I think you have experienced it.

    I seriously need to make sure your blog is in my reader :)

  15. I so agree! A generation or two ago this was the norm and people made due somehow! Now we are too focused on material things. Most people could get by on one income they just don’t want to make the sacrifices. Priorities are messed up and it’s the norm to have your children in the care of strangers. :( I think it’s sad and Im glad there are others out there who put their kids first.

    • I think material things play a HUGE role in people’s lives. Us included. We do without so much more than other people I know- but we still have our little luxuries. Which come with a BIG price, because we really can’t afford them.

      Like a few summers ago when the huz decided we HAD to have an air conditioner. He bought one and the next day the electricity was shut off. LOL.

  16. I wish I could stretch our budget as well as you do!

    My husband is a teacher; we do live well above the poverty line, but we live paycheck-to-paycheck. Because we bought a house two years ago, we are house poor. Because we are educated, we have student loans to repay. Because we had to buy a car three years ago, we have a car loan (if our old car hadn’t died of a fried water pump, we would still be nursing it along). We also have other debt; without our credit cards, we might be sitting fairly pretty every month. OTOH, without our credit cards, we might not eat so well at the end of the month. It is a financial sacrifice that I’m a SAHM; but if I did work (more than the occasional doula gig), I doubt I’d be able to make much more than the cost of childcare. I’m staggered just looking at potential preschool costs, which reaffirms my desire to do that, at least, at home.

    One thing I’m constantly struck by is how much *work* being a SAHM is.. even if you don’t count the housework part. ;) And how much people who WOH underestimate that amount of work! If I were paid by some magic fairy for my parenting as much as people are paid to watch other peoples’ children, we wouldn’t be nearly so hand-to-mouth.

  17. Thank you! That’s exactly it! The most frustrating thing is that it wouldn’t be so hard to stay home if more people chose to do it. (I’m a bit of an amateur economist) If more people had only one income instead of two, the cost of living would be lower because prices can only be as high as people are willing to pay, and people are willing to pay less when they have less.

    I get frustrated with people who DON’T stay home with their kids because I used to teach at-risk students who were basically only at-risk because they had no parents at home. So instead of spending time with a loving parent and family, they hung out with people who experiment with drugs all day. And they only chose those people, because users have only one condition of friendship, that you are also a user. Pretty easy to fit in and feel accepted.

    I quit when I realized I was trying to make up for kids not having parents available while leaving my own kids to the same fate. You illustrated the difficulties of living on one income perfectly. Unfortunately, people use those difficulties as an excuse not to do what is truly best for their kids. Kids don’t need three cars and a bunch of computers. Kids need families.

    • That is one of the reasons it is so important to me (hello I was a teen with little supervision… And pregnant at seventeen!)

      I want to be home with them for lots of reasons, but part of it is that I think kids today are left alone way too much.

      <3

  18. OK…. I don’t have much time to write at the moment, but there are 2 things I want to say.
    1) I live where your hubby was born. That’s pretty cool! LOL
    2) This is the first post I’ve read of yours and I love you. XD Can’t wait to read the rest later!!

  19. I think people forget this, I don’t work because I am currently at uni and people think I must be rich but we are we are cope. I think it’s great you are a stay at home mum :)

  20. This is a wonderful post, and you have a beautiful family. I agree with you on that not many stay at home moms are well off. We rent the top floor of my in-laws home, and listening to a lot of other homeschool moms at our group meet ups, I’m not the only one working through a budget for groceries.

    • I have a budget for groceries too. Sucks sometimes, but I try to be happy at least we have money for groceries! (There were times in the not-so-distant past when we didn’t)

      <3

  21. We are the other way around, when we had our eldest I was the main wage earner, so staying at home was never an option for me at all. I had 6 months maternity leave (paid, we’re in the uk) and then back back to work 5 full days a week and baby went to the onsite daycare. I pumped twice a day, and fed her myself in my lunchbreak, and still, with two incomes (and the nursery virtually paid for by state tax credits) we had to budget to buy groceries. We lived like this for a year, until she was 18 months old, then my man was fully trained and got a proper income, and I was able to drop one day off my working week and spend 3 days at home with my little girl instead of just two. As his income grew, the tax credits paying for nursery fell, and when we had Baby#2 I had my 6 months mat leave, and then went back to work three days a week.

    It’s been hard at times, juggling the money, and finding childcare for the school holidays once the eldest started school, but we’ve managed. We may run two cars, but neither of us work on a bus route or close enough to cycle or walk to work! Things are looking up for us now, the youngest is about to start school, so there will be no more daycare to pay for, so we will be able to save up and start looking to buy a house and move out of our rented (social housing) accommodation. We long for a garden for the girls to play in, that we can grow vegetables in, for a front door that is ours alone, and not shared with a neighbour.

    Now that they are both going to school I use my days when I’m not in work to do my jobs and errands, so that when they are home from school I can actually spend time with them, reading, watching a film, baking, cooking, gardening or just talking. In many ways I am privileged to be able to only work part time, and I know this, I love the time I get with my children, and I also love my job (in healthcare) so I feel I get the best of both worlds.

    Nothing is as simple as it seems, and what may seem like privilege to some may actually be a tough call once you are on the other side of the fence.

  22. Love this post. That word has bothered me, too…for a long, long, time. I feel the same. Here’s the clincher: Doesn’t matter how much money one of you makes (while Mommy is at home doing all the things we do) and Daddy is at work (doing all the things Daddy needs to do)….there’s never enough. There’s always something else to buy, save for, etc. However, I have to believe that getting off that “hamster wheel” and being at home brings some kind of sanity to life with kids. It’s hard. Not easy. But, “privileged”? That’s funny! hahahaha Great post (and really cute kids) :) Kim – mommyesquire.com

  23. Great post! I think being a stay-at-home mom is undervalued, as are great guys like your hubby who step up and work undesirable jobs to make sure they can raise their kids the way they believe us best. I know several men unfortunately who have actually required their wives, who desperately wanted to be SAHMs, to work because they weren’t willing to put the extra effort in at work (we are actually talking refusing promotions etc here!) Hubby and I’ve been very blessed to not experience the type of poverty you’ve experienced, but even so many of my friends wouldn’t be willing to only have 1 car, pretty much never buy new clothes or get their haircut, etc. in order to be a SAHM like I did. At any income level it really comes down to priorities.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing this post, you express exactly how I feel about being a SAHM without a big paycheck every month.
    My husband is still in training and we won’t have a full income until fall next year, and of course we would have more money if I worked too. But both of us decided without hesitating that I will stay at home with our son because for us and our little family it’s just the right thing to do. I don’t wanna miss a single day in my son’s life just for a little extra money at the end of the month. We get by somehow and that’s all that matters to us. Our son needs my presence more than the playstation or any other fancy toy and what have yous. And I’m speaking from personal experience here, what would I have given for a single afternoon with my parents instead of another pair of jeans!
    What I also hate is the misconception of SAHMs being too lazy to work. Yeah right, I just wiggle my nose and the house is clean and tidy, ha!
    I really envy you for being able to homeschool. It’s illegal where I live (Germany). That’s another reason for me trying to spend as much time as possible with my little guy.

  25. Thank you for writing this. We have a similar story but not completely. I too have stayed home with my kids. We didn’t know how we would do it when my mat leave ran out but I knew I HAD to stay at home. My especially high needs baby and toddler needed me. Even when she was two, even at three and four. I needed to be at home. So how does one fund such a thing? We made some huge and tough decisions. We sold our house (which had acquired equity enough for us to purchase another one slightly cheaper and live off some of the money for awhile) and I chose to open up a family child care. Something on the list of jobs available that I thought I would NEVER do, and I did it for five years! Now we’ve moved again to pay off our debts with the equity from that house and I am just about to start part time work which will have me away from my kids for 3 hours a day 3 1/2 days per week, and when I get home I will be homeschooling. I think families can find ways to make it work if they are willing to really sacrifice for what they want.

  26. OMG I think I love you! I have a t-shirt that says “I thought feminism meant I had the right to choose to be barefoot in the kitchen.” I wear it when I’m sick of people telling me that staying home with my kids and homeschooling is a waste, since I have two master’s degrees. Yes, I’m educated, but I still feel that the best use of my education is staying home with my children and giving them the very best family life I can. Some days I would love to send them off to school so I could clean my house without someone messing up the room I just cleaned, but it’s more important to me that they have the highest quality education (which I can give them, not because of my degrees, but because I am their mother and able to individualize their education – not to mention I care more than any teacher ever will) and strong family ties. Sure, I could go to work and we’d have more money, but I’d rather live in a small house, drive old cars, and have a strong family.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to rant, this subject is just SO dear to my heart!

  27. It was so refreshing to read your post. We have been through all aspects of parenting. My first was in daycare and public school while I worked and went back to school. I finally quit, pulled him out of school and have never looked back. It’s all well and good when things seem to be going well, ie. you can pay your bills and put food on the table. But during the last year my hubby lost his job and it took a while for him to find a new one. We lost pretty much everything, but I did not return to work. We didn’t need the new cars or other excess things. When I asked my kids if they would rather us have extra money to buy stuff and to put them in school they choose home. They do not want me to work and the thought of leaving them everyday makes me sick. We don’t take vacations or have date nights either. But we will have plenty of time for that when they are grown.

    What bothers me is other moms who do work or stay at home while their kids go to school and have housekeepers etc (and I happen to know lots of those) the first thing they told me when my hubby lost his job was now it was my chance to get out of the house and make a living. I just looked at them. Of course, they also think that I have more free time than any of them to volunteer at my children’s activities. Yeah, I pencil that in between grading papers, cleaning the bathrooms and mowing the yard. LOL

  28. Just a random thought…I hope you’re not suggesting that if a mother chooses to work she’s somehow less of a mother and a parent? I mean, I’m 20 so I admit my life experience is limited, but I don’t think I could stay home all day with children and be happy – that’s not the sort of person I am and I probably never will be, no matter how much I love my children, I’d go stir crazy. Does that mean I don’t want children? No. Does that mean I’m going to be a bad mother? No. But I sort of get the impression that that’s what a lot of people are getting at when they comment here and I don’t think that’s cool :/

  29. Just found your blog recently and spent a good amount of an evening reading lots of posts – thank you for your writing! I’m the mother of a 17 month old baby girl, and I’ve been blessed to be at home with her so far for all of her little life, but I’ll be heading back to work in just one week. I’m pretty conflicted about it, and my husband & I have agreed that if it isn’t the right thing for our family, that I can go back to being a SAHM after one school year (I’m a teacher) if that’s what’s right for our daughter and for our family, even if it makes the finances more tricky. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this!

  30. Thank you for this. I too am a stay at home mom. I learned that there is a subtle but sinister meaning behind that word privilege. Many people use the word privilege in the sense of “special right or honor”. “It is a privileged to be speaking at the White House today”. But not liberal third wave feminists or the media. When they say “privilege” it goes more like this – “Anti-oppressionists use “privilege” to describe a set of advantages (or lack of disadvantages) enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess. It is a term of art that may not align particularly well with the general-use word “privilege” or the programming term “privilege”. ” from (http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Privilege). In short it means you are subconsciously an oppressor and too stupid to understand this for yourself. So stay at home moms aren’t free women choosing for themselves, we are traitors who are too stupid to figure out we’re traitors.

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