Growing up, stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) were all I knew. From my own mother to my grandmothers to all of my friends, everyone’s mom was the queen of the house in the full sense of the word. I had it ingrained in me that the best thing I could ever do with my life once I had kids was to stay home and raise them. Naturally, that’s exactly what I planned to do.
Life rarely turns out how you want it, at least at one time or another. For starters, I moved 1500 miles away from home after college where I met my husband who is from Wisconsin and we live in an area of the country that boasts an exorbitantly high cost of living. Prior to getting married, I was working at a place I absolutely loved for a boss that will never be equaled. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges, the variation, the stimulation and the disposable income. When I found out I was expecting my first, the thought of quitting to stay home had completely fallen off the table.
Somehow I thought that managing a full time job and a baby would be easy, that the right childcare would fall into my lap, that the only difference in my life would be the addition of a beautiful baby girl and the beginning of my own family. After my maternity leave, I went right back to work full time. My boss even let me bring my baby into work several days a week which only worked out because she was a great sleeper.
One thing I couldn’t fathom was the emotional impact of having a baby, just how much it changes you to your core. Everyone who ever told me of how parenthood changes you also said that I’d never fully understand until it was my reality. They were right.
I was suddenly overwhelmed with questions like who on earth would be good enough to take care of my baby besides me, how could I leave her all day and miss all of her milestones, how could I feasibly continue being a fully invested employee and a fully invested mom?
The stress of working two full time jobs hit me hard, and I didn’t see how on earth I could manage this emotional and mental strain long term. I came home one night at the end of a long hard day and Nick and I decided that financially we could manage it for me to stay home.
It was so hard to leave my job. I cried when I told my boss and at my going away party in front of all of my coworkers. But now when people ask me how I like being a SAHM, my response is always, “It’s so much easier than working two full time jobs.” And it’s the truth. Ron Swanson was very wise.
Being a SAHM has its own challenges though. I laugh at and pity people who think I’m living a luxurious life. Luxury to me is a day at the spa, which this ain’t. It’s work. Hard work. Mundane work. Repetitive work. And work that largely goes unnoticed and unappreciated unless something goes wrong. In other words, the opposite of the professional environment I had grown to love. Yes, it is unquestionably a gift to be able to stay at home with my baby, to focus my energy on her and to be there for her in everything.
So here’s a little of what I’ve grown to love and hate about being a SAHM.
- You’re your own boss.
Ok I’ll be honest, it is pretty luxurious to be able to call all the shots on whatever I do from day to day. And yes, there have been days where I binged a show or two because I have a dream baby who takes amazing naps and entertains herself incredibly well. But that’s really not how I want to live my life. Rest is great, but sloth becomes downright depressing. Developing and maintaining the discipline day after day to have a routine for myself can be exhausting when added to keeping a ravenously hungry child fed, diapers clean, and toys at least corralled in some sort of fashion. There are weeks I grab by the horns and others that I procrastinate. So… I guess not that different from the professional world, really.
2. You’re around your kid(s) all the time.
This is a huge reason why I decided to be a SAHM in the first place, but the need for adult conversation or just basic news of the world and the lack of it can make someone go mad. Fortunately, we live in the information age where anything I want is at my fingertips, but not having someone to bounce my ideas off of can be soul deadening. Baby babbles don’t count as cute as they are, though Evelyn does cry when we tell her the border wall is still not done. There is nothing that can take the place of being the one who knows my baby so well that I can respond on instinct to any need she has, and I wouldn’t give up this time for anything. But as much as I love her, she doesn’t make for the best intellectual stimulation at this stage in her life.
3. You are the primary homemaker, aka jack of ALL trades.
Being at home all day certainly makes you an expert in everything that goes on there. I know exactly when we need to get groceries, when to get toilet paper, what bills were paid when, when things were last cleaned, when the next doctor appointment is and what needs to be discussed, what meals we’ll be eating this week. It’s a lot of plates to keep spinning at once. It can give me an enormous sense of pride to know that things are in order and running smoothly because of what I do on a daily basis, that I’ve taken care of the house stuff so the hubs can simply focus on funding the operation. It is definitely a source of contentment. It can also be a source of resentment. It’s so easy to snap for example when I say it’s time to leave a party to get our baby to bed and hubs pushes back that she’s fine, or when my back is sore after prepping meals all day and hubs wants to watch his TV shows instead of offering to clean the kitchen. It’s a daily battle to find affirmation, or to just accept that what I do is still appreciated even when I don’t. Being a SAHM is without a doubt a job: 24/7, no vacations, and slim accolades.
4. You can easily feel inferior in a world that prizes professional achievements over the intangibles of homemaking.
The world tells me that what I’m doing isn’t nearly as important as what I could have been doing had I remained working outside the home full time. It’s difficult at times to combat that rhetoric when the person who would tell me the importance of what I’m doing can’t say much beyond “bababa”. Being a mom and investing in my kids really is the best thing I will ever do with my life. GK Chesterton said it better than anyone, and it’s a quote I bring back to mind anytime feelings of inferiority or unappreciation feel like they’re taking over. Having been raised by a SAHM, I know exactly the kind of irrevocable security and love my kids are getting from what I’m doing and often that’s just the lift I need.
5. It’s hard to maintain your own individual personality.
The other day after returning from an evening out, I remarked to Nick, “You know, I just feel like I’m becoming a one-note wonder. Like all that I have the ability to talk about anymore is our kid.” While others have varied jobs where they have insight into interesting topics and points of view (just as I used to and still do to a vastly diminished degree), my main point of conversation can sometimes just be how my daughter’s nose is particularly runny right now because she’s teething. It is so easy to lose myself when I am taking care of a baby and growing another one, and I have to fight to hold onto my interests that existed before them and remind myself that doing so is important.
At the end of the day, I go back to the security of knowing that I am whole-assing one thing, and at least have the ability for that reason to do it very well. Being a SAHM isn’t small or unimportant, as much as it may feel like that at times.
I’m reminded of St. Theresa of Calcutta, as well as St. Therese of Lisieux – the two saints who preached and lived the inestimable value of doing small things with great love. What I have learned is that homemaking is where that spirituality can truly blossom. From preparing my baby’s food, to dusting, cleaning dishes, scrubbing toilets and changing diapers – nothing about my days could be more mundane or small, but if I do them with love, they become great. No, the world will never recognize these things with grand awards or fancy speeches, and they don’t always make great conversation at parties. But as Chesterton said, I am Queen Elizabeth, I am Whiteley, I am Aristotle to my own flesh and blood, pitiable only for the hugeness of my task.