I Was A SAHM for 5 Years. This Is What I Have to Say About Harrison Butker.

The binary of stay-at-home versus working mothers no longer applies.

by Neha Ruch

When I traded in my business cards for stay-at-home motherhood in 2016, the first critique I heard was that I was giving up — on my ambition and feminism.

Meanwhile, I had no intention of giving up on my career, and I was by no means making this choice because of traditional gender roles. Like many modern women choosing to pause or downshift their careers for family life, I had accrued almost a decade of work experience and accomplishments before I wanted to spend a chapter at home. In sharp contrast to men like Harrison Butker, the football player who delivered a controversial commencement speech earlier this month that (among other things) encouraged female graduates to forego professional accomplishments in favor of pursuing marriage and motherhood, my partner was the biggest skeptic of me taking a break from the traditional workforce. We had respect for each other and our work, and we had a lot of conversations to prepare for my time as a home parent, including how he would be depending on my unpaid work and how we would need to partner to carry the load in different ways.

I was pretty confident that by stepping away from paid work for a few years, I might be able to reset my work ambitions and figure out what I wanted to do next. During the years at I spent at home, bolstered by a growing gig economy, more and better digital tools, nap times, babysitters, and mornings my husband woke with the kids, I participated in part-time consulting and personal coaching work. (I also took online classes and volunteered at the kids’ school.) Eventually, I began Mother Untitled, a platform committed to changing the narrative about stay-at-home motherhood. But not for the reason Harrison Butker may hope. Certainly not because I thought it was the superior choice — or only choice — for every woman.

When Harrison Butker said that his wife happily gave up on her personal dreams for motherhood, he was endorsing an outdated and stark binary that robs women of a sense of possibility.

According to the American Mothers on Pause survey that Mother Untitled commissioned with Proof Insights in 2023, 87% of women who pause do so to spend time with their children, 75% for less stress in the home, and 62% because of the cost of childcare. For my part, when my baby boy was born, I had found myself happier than I had been in a long time and I wanted to experience more of this new human being. It is a valid want, as is deciding to continue paid work if that is what your family needs or wants to stay healthy and whole. But for modern parents, it has to be a careful choice that must be revisited and recalibrated regularly — not a foregone conclusion or a forever “vocation.”

I transitioned back to work, albeit for myself. I had found myself passionate about empowering women on career pauses and dedicated myself to growing the Mother Untitled community in order to rebrand stay-at-home motherhood; my book on the subject, The Power Pause, will be out in January. These days, my children are picked up by a loving babysitter or their dad four days a week. This works for us right now, just as my time at home did when they were little.

I have been at home full-time, worked outside of the home full-time, and existed in between, and my kids always knew they were loved and safe. The truth is that “stay-at-home” and “working” mothers today are all more alike than we are different and constantly evolving and shifting. According to the AMP survey, 1 in 3 mothers working out of the home are highly likely to pause in the next two years; 1 in 2 mothers expect to downshift their working hours — 90% aim to return to the workforce meaningfully. Pauses, shifts, and sprints are all part of a long game of work and family and we have to accept that this is how modern parents will navigate the realities of raising families going forward — and make it easier for them to do so. Women — and men — deserve to be able to make the right choices for their families with support and without penalty.

When Harrison Butker said that his wife happily gave up on her personal dreams for motherhood, he was endorsing an outdated and stark binary that robs women of a sense of possibility. For his audience, this came at the most inappropriate of moments, on their graduation. I’ve spent eight years singularly focused on updating the perception of stay-at-home motherhood so modern women can face less shame and get more support, so that we can shed the old-fashioned stereotype that women who lean into family life for a chapter are defending tradition or giving up on their dreams. Because for modern women and our careers, the black-and-white notions of stay-at-home and working mothers no longer apply.

Women graduating today are joining the workforce at a moment in time when people are forging new ways to think about work and family, bolstered by more part-time opportunities, booming entrepreneurship, and the normalization of career pauses. To all young women on their graduation day, I say, Congratulations! You are joining an exceptional cohort of women, creating a new world of possibilities.

Neha Ruch is on a mission to update the perception of stay-at-home motherhood in America, infusing it with ambition, dignity, growth, and potential. She established Mother Untitled in 2017, and today she is a go-to expert on the topics of the Great Resignation, finding empowerment during career breaks, flexible work alongside motherhood, and returning to work after maternity leave. Neha is the author of the forthcoming book, The Power Pause (Putnam, Penguin Random House January 2025). Follow her @motheruntitled.