Thanks to increased access to education, more black women have moved away from jobs as domestics and into higher-earning careers. Which is why, Mattox says, the idea of staying home to watch Junior can be viewed as “throwing it all away” in the African-American community.
“The path to success in the black community has almost always been through economic empowerment,” Mattox adds. “So to stay at home is really going against the grain. It is seen by some as an affront to our race — that our ancestors fought so hard for us to have equal rights, and we have gone and turned the clock back.”
Black stay-at-home moms often also face an internal struggle over their decision, according to the Mahogany Way’s Harmon. “We’re taught early on to be independent, that we have to claw our way to the top,” she explains. “How can we be independent if we’re staying home with the kids? What are we proving to society by going back to doing what we were emancipated from?”
“What is more at odds for educated black women is reconciling the expectation that they will work outside the home alongside a growing feeling that they shouldn’t,” Barnes says. “The expectation has been that they would make a contribution to their own families and that of the entire black community.”
Despite these socioeconomic factors, making the decision to become a stay-at-home mother is far from throwing it all away, Mattox maintains. Many moms in her organization do more than just bake brownies and go to PTA meetings. They’re community leaders or part-time employees or running home-based businesses.
“The term ‘stay at home’ is a complete misnomer and implies some sort of passivity, whereas the moms that I know are anything but passive,” Mattox says.
Being a stay-at-home mom also means taking a conscious step toward improving your children’s lives. “I decided to become a stay-at-home mother because I wanted to focus on raising my children. I wanted to see to it that my children have all the tools that they need to survive in this uncertain world,” Mattox says, noting that for her, it was also financially possible. “My mother was able to stay at home for about a year after I was born. I remember her being so proud that she had that opportunity.”
Harmon says that her daughters understand that black mothers should have a choice. But, she adds, “They have said on more than one occasion how much they love me being with them every day.”
Anthonia Akitunde is a contributor to The Root.