Disclaimer: I know how fortunate I am to have the option of staying at home, so I hope the essay does not come off as a giant whine fest. I am definitely not complaining about my situation. Rather, I wrote this essay to share my experience about becoming a newly minted SAHM, work through my feelings about it and to (hopefully) find support from this community.
When I was pregnant, one of the most popular questions that I got asked was, "Are you going back to work?" After saying no, it was usually followed up with, "Well, I think that's just fantastic! Being a stay-at-home mom is the best job in the world!"
In retrospect, comments like these probably set the bar a little high. I’m sure the greatest job in the world would involve puppies, gelato and Netflix.
It's interesting that most of the pro-stay-at-home'ers were over the age of 45. When talking with my friends, I got a lot of comments like, "That's cool, but I could never do it." At the time, I just figured that the people who said that must really love their jobs.
Since I've officially resigned from work to be a SAHM, I'm beginning to see what my friends may have meant by that comment. Although I've only been in my new role for four months, I'm experiencing a lot of feelings that I didn't expect. Maybe being a SAHM isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Feeling Dependent On My Husband
After the baby came, something in my relationship with Josh shifted, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then one of my SAHM friends put it perfectly saying, “You start to depend on your husband in a different way.” Bingo!
Obviously I rely on Josh for our financial means now, but that isn’t where this feeling of dependence is stemming from. Regardless of who is bringing home the paycheck, it has always been (and will always be) our money. End of story.
So, if it’s not the money, what then? As much as I hate to admit it, I find myself depending on him for recognition. Even though I don’t feel like I was especially praised at work, I must have been getting something out of the old, “You really nailed that web copy, Andrea. Great job!” Without it, I started to crave it.
I quickly found myself making daily to-do lists. When a task was completed, I’d eagerly cross it out and when Josh got home, I would rattle off my list. I’m pretty sure that he thought I was telling him about my day (like a normal human being), but really, I was looking for him to tell me what a great job I did.
It’s like I needed a damn gold star for mopping the floor. Luckily, I recognized this early on and told Josh what was up. Since he’s awesome, Josh now comes home and tells me, “Wow babe, the floors look great!” and it makes me feel good about myself (wow… that’s kind of depressing to write). You’ll be happy to know that I’m looking into other ways to feel good about myself, but more on that later.
Side note: I think the cliché that SAHMs sit around all day eating bonbons has been permanently etched in my brain. The rational part of me knows that people don’t actually believe that, but I still feel like I have to prove it wrong.
I know -- working to falsify make-believe assumptions is an awesome way to spend my time.
My favorite thing about my old job was that I got to work with one of my best friends every day. She has two young children, so we always had a lot to talk about. We called our lunch breaks our therapy sessions. I miss her so much.
Now, I mostly hang out with my mom. I’m grateful that she comes over to help, but I definitely miss talking to people my age.
As far as kids are concerned, about half of my friends have them and half don't. Out of everyone who does, only two are SAHMs and they both live in the city. While I don’t have a problem making the 45-minute trip, it always has to be planned ahead of time. I never thought the impromptu hangout would become such a novelty in my life, but I don’t know any SAHMs who live close by.
Sometimes I'll be walking around my neighborhood and I'll see two moms talking while their kids are playing in the front yard. I want to say, "Hi, I'm Andrea. Are you a SAHM too? Do you want to be friends?" but then I remember that I live in a society with social rules and decide that I would come off as a super creep. I do smile at them though, and maybe, just maybe, that smile will turn into something more one day.
Oh my god. I am a creep.
Feeling Left Behind
About a month after Lydia was born, Josh mentioned that his friend invited us over to have a few beers on his roof deck. Great! It was a baby-friendly activity that Lydia and I could go to. Unfortunately, the plans started to morph into a grandiose beer adventure that would include a biking brewery tour. I’m not trying to go for the “Mom of the Year” award or anything, but something about the combination of babies, bikes and bars sounded like a bad idea.
I figured it was part of my SAHM responsibilities to stay behind. “Josh has to work all week and deserves a break,” I thought. “He should go have fun.” As soon as he left, the baby started to cry and before I knew it, I was crying too. I was surprised to feel so alone and slightly resentful towards Josh for leaving.
Since I didn’t want to sound like a nagging wife (stupid, I know), I waited awhile to talk to Josh about it. It has always been my fear for him to tell his friends, “The old ball and chain won’t let me go.” Luckily he’s not a douchebag, so I really shouldn’t’ be concerned about this.
After a few more similar incidents, I finally told him that I wanted the weekends to be focused on family time. If he’s gone, that means I’m stuck at home with the baby and even though it’s my job now, I need a break too. I asked him to try and include me (and sometimes Lydia) in his plans.
Something clicked, and since then, Josh has made every effort to plan family outings on the weekends. We both still get “me” time, but we make sure that no one feels left behind. And if there’s a non-baby-friendly activity that we would both enjoy, we call Grandma to babysit.
Feeling Like A Failure
I’ve always been told that women can and should have it all: the career and the kids. That’s why I’ve spent most of my adult life furthering my education and putting in my time at work to ensure that I would excel in my career. Quitting a well paying position to stay at home feels like I failed at something.
This feeling is probably compounded by the fact that I’m surrounded by really successful women. Most of my friends have kickass careers with impressive job titles. I never had an impressive title, but even Digital Marketing Specialist sounds more impressive to me than Mom. I suppose if it’s that important to me, I can always change my LinkedIn title to Household Engineer, but I’m not an asshat, so I won’t.
A lot of my friends also get to supervise people , which is something I've always been fascinated with (I just think I’d be a really good manager, which probably means that I’d be a really, really terrible manager). I guess I get to supervise Lydia and Toby, but screaming at my dog to stop eating his own shit just isn't quite the same.
That’s probably why I’ve taken my new role as a SAHM very seriously. If this is my job, then the house should look perfect, the dinner should be made, the dog should be walked, etc. If these things aren’t done, then I not only failed at having a career, but I also failed at staying home.
In the end, I think I need to redefine what success means to me. It certainly isn’t a big paycheck or a fancy title. I've heard a lot of people describe being successful as "loving what you do and doing it well." That's something I can work towards.
To love this job, I need to start changing the parts of it that I'm struggling with, which is why I've taken steps to feel less isolated. For example, I’ve started writing, which is giving me a much needed creative outlet, and I’ve begun looking into “mom and me” classes around my neighborhood in the hopes of meeting new friends.
Also, I signed up to be an Uber driver. Besides for the income aspect, it basically guarantees that I will have at least three adult conversations per week. This is a big deal y’all.
As for my feelings of failure and dependence, well I guess I just need to let that shit go. No one cares if my house is clean. No one cares if I ever go back to work. No one cares if I sit on my ass eating bonbons all day. There are too many positive aspects about staying at home and I’d be a jerk store not to recognize those.
Whether you’re a working mom, a SAHM or a mom that falls somewhere in between, having a baby is bound to create some negative emotions that you didn't expect. Lucky for me, they fade in comparison to the happiness I feel when Miss Lydia greets me with a smile and a squeal in the morning. It’s in those moments that my heart skips a beat and the world melts away. Maybe this gig isn't so bad after all.