Thinking of extending your maternity leave for a really long time? Or quitting the office job and becoming a stay at home mom instead? Here are six things you really ought to know or do:
1. You must embrace the the yoga pants. You might go in to this whole endeavor thinking that there is NO WAY you are joining a gym or going to preschool pickup in yoga pants and tennis shoes. But you know what? The reason why SAHMs have been doing these things for years is because they are good decisions. Joining a gym means childcare, time away from your kids, and a chance to be around other adults, usually in your same situation. And yoga pants are the ultimate multi-tasking legging choice! There is absolutely no point in getting dressed up for a ten minute pick up of a four year old… unless you are doing it because other moms at the preschool are judging you. In which case, get a new preschool.
2. Your kids are in charge. And they are mean bastards. As much as we like to think it will happen, our husbands will never walk in to the house after their day and say, “Hey, you did a really great job today! I am so proud of you and don’t know how you do it all!” I mean, how often do you say to your husband, “I know it is so hard to get up every morning, head in to work despite the weather and our adventures here at home, work hard to keep your job, and come home to kids screaming because they are DONE for the day?” Right? We all take each other for granted. So if you are looking for words of encouragement, your partner is not the right place. Don’t expect it.
Your kids are the boss of you. They will run your day and your time in a grueling way. And they will let you know when they are unhappy with screams and tears and embarrassing meltdowns in Chick-fil-A. It will be very rare that they will tell you how they appreciate what you do. But you know what? When they are almost four and they randomly say “Mommy, I love you so much” or “Mommy, I am so glad you are here.” That’s like money in the bank.
3. Reevaluate your performance metrics. You will most likely get on blogs or websites or have Facebook friends who make being a SAHM seem like one easy ride of Martha Stewart baking, Pilates classes, and Pinterest-inspired crafts with their Janie+Jack dressed kids, all done in an immaculate house.
Well, if not lies, they certainly are only putting their best face forward. Every mother has breakdown moments. Every mother has days where just getting eye makeup on while the teething baby is clinging to her desperately is a feat. You will, many times in the upcoming years, yell “I just want to pee alone!” So redefine what you feel “success” is. For me, success is now a day where my house is not a disaster at the end of the day (I like to start relaxing when my husband gets home, I don’t want more chores staring me in the face after dinner), I get to engage in one social situation in the course of the day (playdate, gym conversation, lengthy phone call, whatever it is I’ll take it), and I am dressed in a way that will not be embarrassing when the college kid comes by to sell us a newspaper subscription.
4. You’ll need to have something of your own. Get or have something — ANYTHING — outside of motherhood. Whether this is getting involved in your church, helping on the preschool board, taking one night class a week, learning the guitar, being part of the leadership of your mothers’ club or your local alumni club (blogging?)…whatever it is, find it. You’ll need an outlet outside of your house walls and your kids to give you something to feel like a contributor. It will make you feel respected and important. So discover what it is that can give you a small spark of passion and inspiration and devote a little bit of time to it. After all, you need to be able to talk about anything other than the color of the last poopy diaper at the next cocktail party, and politics will not be your thing for another few years (no way you can watch the news with a two year old following you around).
5. Get some new friends. I know this sounds brutal, but you need some new friends. No, I’m not saying go ditch your old ones. In fact, work hard to hold on to relationships, but now more than ever you are going to need friends who understand you and what you are going through.
When you have a Monday where you feel irrationally depressed that you are not going to be able to get your IUD in easily because you cannot find childcare on a weekday afternoon OR because you have yet to eat lunch one time that week OR because you feel like death warmed over from the flu yet are home alone with two kids under under, find a friend that you can call. Find a friend where you can bring your kids over to her/his house on a moment’s notice, the kids can play and socialize, and you can pop open a glass of wine and lament about how good you had it when you worked. Isolation will be staved off for one more day. You need friends who are in a similar circumstance.
Because here’s the deal: there is a LOT of emotion out there, and literature, too, about the SAHM “versus” the working mom. Who has it harder, who is more stressed? Like it’s a giant competition and the most frazzled one wins. But the truth is it is damn hard for everyone.
6. It really is so fleeting and it truly is just a phase. I won’t bore you with the “savor the moment” crap you probably hear all the time, but do remember that what seems so crazy hard now will be over in an instant. Some day in the blink of an eye you will be able to go back to work in some form and you will probably cry over how great your years at home were with little kids who needed you so badly.
Don’t stress about the “missed chunk on your resume.” I have seen so many women return to the workforce no problems at all, some returning stronger than before, and some finding incredible new careers they didn’t know were waiting for them. I know as you watch your working mom friends’ careers take them to places like conferences, dinners, and promotions you will think you are missing out.
But every path is different, every family different, and every choice is the right one if made with the right heart.