Book Review: The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide

Review of The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton. This is a Mothertalk review, which means they sent me the book and I get an Amazon gift certificate for putting up a review.

I loved this book. There are a couple books I recommend without reservation, and this is one of them. I don't think you'll get much out of it if you're not a SAH parent and don't plan to be one, but if you are or have been or want to be or are planning to be a SAH mother, you will get something out of this book.

The first strength of this book is that the author had a big career, then was home for a year with her first child, went back to work more-than-full-time for a few years, and is not back at home with her (now) three kids (including a set of twins, one of whom has special needs). So she's seen the gig from a lot of different angles. There were things I took for granted about being at home before I went back, and I know I'd have a different view of being at home now if I could go back to thatom and I think the book does a good job of picking out things that are unique to the at-home gig, but also universal to at-home moms.

The second strength of this book is that it hits the correct topics. The central tension of being at home, IME, is that tug-of-war between wanting to be with your kids all the time and feeling like you're missing something by being at home. (I think the flip side is the central tension of WOH--being out in the working world, but feeling like you're missing something with your kids.) And that's one of the central themes of this book. It is not at all one of those "yes it can be tough but SAH moms are riding along on a cloud of rainbows raising the future of the world" books. It acknowledges that there are many reasons women stay home to care for their children, and that sometimes it's not because that's what they'd choose if the choice was really possible. It gives equal weight to the joy and also the tedious nature of being at home, and discusses the very real sacrifices women make to stay home.

The chapter on finances, in particular, is strong. I've seen other things about finances for SAHM, and they all seem to be about how to economize on paper towels to stretch your family's money. Stanton's chapter on SAHM finances stresses knowing what your finances are, different ways of dividing the labor and responsibility of keeping track of money, and making sure you are not left in the lurch if your partner dies or you separate.

Another big theme of the book is laying on the table the idea that being a SAHM sometimes ends up being a 24/7 job, and one that your partner devalues because you aren't contributing any money. That's something that causes tons of pain for lots of women (as seen in the comments on yesterday's post here, for example), and there doesn't seem to be an answer. The right thing, clearly, is for a partner to look around and realize that forcing one person to be on duty all the time while the other's work hours are limited to 40-60 hours a week is patently ridiculous. But there are still partners out there who seem to think that they deserve a break while their wives do not. Stanton doesn't have an answer for that (neither do I, for that matter), but she discusses it and gives examples and commentary from a bunch of SAH women on the way it works in their households.

This book doesn't tell you what to do (except to keep your resume updated). It explores the light side and the dark side emotionally and logistically of being at home with your kids. It gives a bunch of data points. It doesn't blow smoke up your skirt about how great it is, or how horrible it is. It acknowledges that you're a person--not just a role, not "just" a mother, not just a political demographic. In short, it's a lot like you guys do for each other here.

Now for the bad parts: Honestly, I only have a couple of teeny minor points with this book: She uses the word "gal" a lot, she assumes most SAHMs have cars, and the only reason she acknowledges for divorce is adultery. (It seems like I know half a dozen women getting divorced right now at the same time I am, and only two of them--neither of them me--has adultery as a factor in the divorce.) But those are really, really minor points, and I'm only mentioning them so you know I actually read the book. Overall, I thought The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide took on the major emotional topics involved in being a SAH parent. I highly recommend it for anyone considering doing it or who's in the middle of it right now.