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When speaking with a pregnant woman, have you ever asked “so when the baby is born, will you just be at home?”
If you’re a dad/partner, have you ever said “yeah the Mrs is just at home with the kids” when someone has asked what your partner does.
Sometimes people ask these kinds of questions to find out if and when a mother plans to return to work. Sometimes they’re just trying to engage in small talk. Whatever the reason, there’s usually no malice intended. In fact, the use of the word ‘just’ is usually just a throwaway word used without any conscious choice. But when you’re the person being referred to as just a mother, it feels horrible.
Let me explain why.
One definition of the word ‘just’ is ‘simply; only; no more than.’ There are other definitions, sure, but they don’t apply in this context.
When people say “just a mum,” they’re referring to whether being a mother will be (or is) your “only” role. But when this phrase is spoken, the pregnant woman or mother does not hear the words with equal emphasis; she hears it as “just a mum.”
Becoming a mum is like starting a new job with no qualification, no training, sometimes a lack of social support, sometimes financial stress. The list goes on. Throw major sleep deprivation and massive hormonal changes into the mix and it makes for a pretty daunting first day doesn’t it? And it’s not just any job; it’s one where the hours are 24/7.
When the word ‘just’ gets thrown into the mix, a mother infers that you don’t think her role is difficult or valuable. It compounds feelings she already has around loss of identity. It discredits all the amazing work that mums (literally) put their blood, sweat and tears into.
The word 'just' doesn't have implications only for mothers. We always need to be mindful of how we use the word. But I'm yet to hear someone ask another "are you just the breadwinner?" or "do you just go to work all day?"
A mother is not 'simply; only; no more than' a mother. A mother is also a daughter, a friend, a partner, a neighbour. A mother is a teacher, a nurturer, an advocate, a problem solver, a negotiator, a gatekeeper, a mediator.
Stop using the phrase “just a mum.”
Mums, that goes for you too. Stop responding to people’s questions with “I’m just a mum”…
You are SO much more than that.
I'm married to Sam and I'm a mother to Henry.