Nothing can prepare you for the reality check that happens when you become a stay at home mom. It’s a strange situation when your expectations can be both spot on and completely wrong at the same time. And though being a SAHM can be wonderful, it can also be as equally challenging. It’s time we start discussing the truth about becoming a stay at home mom.
I always figured that whenever my future husband and I were ready to start a family, I would just stay home with our kids, and that would be that. Hilarious, right? As if it were that simple.
Luckily, when our daughter was born, our personal circumstances did allow me to stay home, but it wasn’t as easy as I’d once hoped. It turns out that there is so much to being a stay at home mom– I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.
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Have you ever heard the Southern saying, “Bless your heart?” That’s what I would have told myself if I could go back and talk to my pre-mom self, knowing what I do now.
I was so over the moon to be pregnant and honestly, even though I loved my job, I was really looking forward to not returning to the office. Every morning when I’d leave my house and my dogs would give me a sad look, I’d tell them (don’t judge me here) not to worry and that I’d be home with them soon enough. I could. not. wait. No more “red tape” or dealing with the office hierarchy, and while I’d miss my coworkers, I figured I could always stop in or just meet them for lunch.
I thought that while I was home, I’d be able to relax. Not relax like “laying in a hammock by the beach relax,” but that things would be more laid back. I’d have time to do laundry, dishes, catch up with friends and really do anything that I needed to do. It would be great to spend a lot of one on one time with the baby and get lots of quality time with family too. I knew I was going to be tired, because, well, newborns don’t sleep. But assumed I would nap when the baby napped (don’t feel bad for laughing at me, I promise it’s okay!).
The biggest expectation for me though, was that I was automatically going to love everything about being a stay at home mom. My mom still tells me about how much she loved staying home, that it was the best thing that she ever did and that she loved every single minute. So of course, why would I think that my experience would be any different?
Oh, how naive I was.
Let’s just say that having a newborn was like an extreme culture shock. I was so happy that she was finally here, finally in my arms. But my husband and I definitely felt odd taking her home from the hospital– like they’re just going to let us leave with her? No instructions? No help? Just assuming that we’ll figure it out? Um, what?
The first several months were just a big learning curve- breastfeeding, sleep training, diaper changes, doctor appointments and repeat. But as we started getting into a routine, especially after my husband went back to work, the reality of becoming a stay at home mom set in.
Was I happy not to be in an office? Yes. But did I miss my coworkers more than I thought I would? Also yes. Even though I wasn’t alone, I started to feel very lonely. Being home all day, especially with a little one who hasn’t had their shots yet, can be extremely isolating. I did try to get out with her, but it’s amazing how many people think it’s okay to touch, or breathe all over, your newborn. So I kept our outings limited. And because I was one of the first of my friends to have a baby, there weren’t many people I could talk to about what was happening in my life. And even if I wanted to talk about something else, my friends were all working normal hours, so it wasn’t like they could pick up a facetime call in the middle of the day.
My adult interaction was very limited and sometimes I even got frustrated with my husband, to no fault of his own, because he came home with stories of what happened at work, or conversations he had about what was going on in the news. I was jealous, and my crazy hormones and lack of sleep definitely didn’t help.
And having time to do household tasks and/or take some time for myself? Not so much. My schedule revolved around my daughter’s schedule. Nursing, playing, sleeping– mixed in with lots and lots of diaper and outfit changes (anyone else have a happy spitter?). Even as my daughter has gotten older, our days still revolve around her schedule– activities or classes, nap time, school, etc. And kids can be
tiny dictators demanding– constantly requesting things, asking questions and needing you 24/7. “Mommy I want the blue cup not the pink cup.” “Mommy come play with me.” “Mommy why do birds fly?” “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” It’s not that I’m complaining (okay, maybe a little), but after a few hours of it being nonstop, it can drive you a little crazy. Although hearing, “Mommy you’re my best friend,” and getting a hug does sort of push the reset button, but I digress.
One thing everyone says to a new mom is “Enjoy every minute. It goes by so fast.” And while the sentiment is true– it does really go by so fast and it’s all just a passing phase– I’m not a fan of putting pressure on new mom’s to “enjoy every minute.” I really thought something was wrong with me because I wasn’t enjoying it all. Did I love my daughter? Absolutely. But were there times when I wished I could just leave the house for a day and let someone else take care of everything? Yes, 100%!
When she was a few months old, I met a group of my old coworkers for lunch. As I was talking to one friend in particular, who had a daughter in elementary school, I mentioned that things were going well and I was just trying to enjoy it all. Now, I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something to the effect of “Screw that! You do not have to enjoy all of it. Newborns can be ^&*$%#@!” I’ll leave that last part to your imagination, but honestly, it was such a relief. It was the first time that someone had been honest with me. The first time that someone had given me permission to feel overwhelmed. The first time someone made me feel normal and not like a crazy person who was doing this whole mom thing wrong.
It was such a turning point for me–I learned that it was okay to not enjoy every single second (looking at you middle of the night blowout). It really was okay to have both amazing days and others that I wanted to forget. So if anyone tells you that they’re enjoying every single minute, then they either haven’t dealt with a 3 year old’s tantrums yet, or they’re lying
But with older kids also comes a new set of challenges. Because she is our only child right now, once she started school, I began to get a lot of questions like “So what do you do all day?” or “What do you do with all of that free time?”. I know that people generally don’t mean any harm by their questions, and it’s likely they are just interested, but it can still feel like you’re being judged. I felt like I had to come up with a good enough answer so that it didn’t seem like I was just binge watching Netflix all day.
There was this invisible pressure on me. Since my job was to raise my daughter, who was now in school, and I wasn’t contributing financially in any way, it was almost like I was feeling ashamed and that I was somehow being spoiled and selfish. I just got tired of hearing “oh that must be nice” or “wow, you’re so lucky” when I mentioned that I stayed home with my daughter.
But the truth is that I had to re-frame how I thought about my new role. I was lucky to have the opportunity and it was nice to be able to stay home. And my free time? That was filled with errands or doctor appointments or squeezing in a yoga class. It’s the only time that I have to myself– to eat lunch quietly, research our next family trip or plan meals for the week. The rest of my time is all about my daughter, so I had to learn that it’s okay for me to have a few hours that I can just be me.
I also had to get it out of my head that I had to live up to all of these stay at home mom expectations. If I was home all day, that must mean that the house should be clean, and that dinner should be on the table, laundry should be done…you get the point. But for me, that just wasn’t possible. There were days where I honestly have no idea what I did, but I know that I didn’t sit still for more than 5 minutes. And those were the days where I had to let go of my guilt and just order the pizza. Or crash on the couch with a glass of wine, knowing that my laundry mountain would still be there tomorrow.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was to expect the unexpected. I still struggle with this, since I’m a Type A who likes structure and a plan, but it’s a work in progress. I’m becoming more comfortable with going with the flow and making a last minute change to plans if needed. I feel awful canceling at the last minute, or letting someone know I’m going to be late, but honestly, there’s not much you can do when your little one decides to spit up all over their carseat just as you get them buckled in. The happy spitter was just a little extra happy today! But the good news is that most people tend to be understanding, because we’ve all been there. Mom solidarity for sure.
Did I Make the Right Decision?
This post is about the truth about becoming a stay at home mom. And the truth is that there are times when I question my decision. I think that if other moms can do it all (work, manage the house, take care of the kids, etc.) then why can’t I? I do miss the adult interaction, contributing financially and working on projects (I’m also the nerd who loved school so no surprise there).
From speaking with some of my mom friends who went back to work, it seems like working moms may have an easier time separating their “mom identity” from their “woman identity.” I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a mom returning to work to leave their child in the care of someone else, but I also know that it was a very long and difficult process for me to be comfortable being away from my daughter. I know part of it was related to my undiagnosed postpartum anxiety, but I think another part was that I had forgotten how to be anything other than mom, and I wonder if that would have been easier had I not been around 24/7.
But when it comes down to it, as much as I question myself, there’s really no doubt that I made the right decision for my family. Yes, there have been struggles, and there are definitely things that I will do differently the next time around, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of being home with my daughter during these early years. Many people told me that work would always be there but she will only be this little once, and for me, that rang true. But I do know that becoming a stay at home mom may not be for everyone, and it is my belief that as long as we are all doing what we feel is best for ourselves and our families, then that’s all that can be asked of us.
Is it for You?
The decision to, or not to, become a stay home is very personal. Maybe you find that the cost of childcare is the same as your current income, so it really wouldn’t be worth you continuing to work, unless you wanted to. Or perhaps you have thousands of dollars in student loans and are about to become a doctor, lawyer or PhD– for you there is no option of staying home as you’ve worked for years towards your professional career.
So should you become a stay at home mom? Each family will have to look at their own circumstances to determine what is best. First, how do you feel about staying home? Is it even something you’re interested in? Is your spouse on board? Also, look at your financial status. Can you live the lifestyle you want on one income? Is it possible to move to part-time? Make money from a hobby? You’ll also want to consider your career goals. Do you see this as temporary time off? How will you maintain your skill set?
The good news is that nothing is permanent. If you decide to stay home but then miss work, you can always return in some capacity. Or if you decide to keep working, but don’t enjoy it as much as you once did, you can always leave.
No matter what you decide though, your little one is lucky to have you as their mama!