I have a confession to make, and some of you might cast immediate judgement: I truly do not like being a stay-at-home mom. Thinking back, I’m not quite sure what my original plan was six and a half years ago when I had my son. At that time, I was a speech therapist working with the elderly population in nursing homes. I told them that I would be returning after four months, but in the recesses of my mind I wasn’t convinced. When my son turned 3-months old, I barely knew how to take care of him myself, let alone teach someone else how to do it in my absence. Therefore, I resigned from my job with the plan of returning to the workforce when he was 1.
Surprise! When he was 9 months old, I became pregnant with our daughter. It seemed unrealistic to go back to work for just six months before leaving, so I again delayed my return to work. I told myself that I would give my daughter the same whole year that I gave my first baby.
Flash-forward a bit to my daughter’s 1st birthday, and it had become obvious that my son was not like other children. His then-undiagnosed ADHD and sensory processing disorder made him very dangerous. You must believe me when I say I literally could not take my eyes off him for fear that he was either in mortal danger or putting his sister in danger. At that time in his life, he was climbing on counters, getting into ovens, running out the front door of the house daily, and unplugging any wire he could get his hands on. He was one of those children who defied the laws of babyproofing. I was his babyproofing.
As the years went on he remained dangerous in many ways, and I just didn’t trust someone else to take care of him. If he pushed some kid down the slide at a park, I, his mother, needed to be there to smooth over the destruction. I know how overwhelmed I felt taking care of two toddlers, and I felt that there was no way I could ask someone else to do it. Maybe, in the back of my mind, I was just scared to return to work after three and a half years away, and this provided an adequate excuse.
My son entered kindergarten last year, and in many ways, life became easier. However, I had grown so unhappy over the years that the thought of going back to a job that I didn’t love seemed intolerable. I had always wanted children. There was never a doubt in my mind that starting a family was one of my number one goals in life. So, imagine my surprise when after some soul-searching, I realized that being a SAHM was not for me. It took me six long years to admit that to myself. I was under the impression that once you had kids, you were supposed to enjoy taking care of them. Sure, not every moment of every day, but yes, ultimately childrearing was supposed to be satisfying. Personally, for me, it did not bring the level of daily satisfaction that I want out of life.
We scrimped to hire a babysitter, and for the first time in six years, I had a helping hand. Over the past six months, I have never felt better. Much of that is due to the fact that I am now able fill my days with something in addition to childrearing. A few months ago, I made the decision to fulfill a lifelong dream and applied to schools for a master’s in mental health counseling. I start school tomorrow, and I could not be more excited.
Of course, because the world works this way, my babysitter is on vacation for two weeks while I am beginning school. Therefore, my mother is coming to help with the kids while I am in class. We were going over the schedule:
“Are you getting home first or is J [my husband]?” my mom asked.
“No, I won’t be home until about 9:30 in the evening. I have a board meeting at the place where I volunteer right after class.”
“Oh, well, how are the kids handling all of this, Laura?” she questioned in her most “I’m not judging you, but really I am judging you” tone.
“The kids will be fine. They want me to be happy, and being home with them all day did not make me happy. They have had me all to themselves for six and a half years and now it’s my turn.”
‘Uh huh…” she replied and abruptly changed the conversation.
The change in conversation was her signal to let me know that she didn’t agree at all but wasn’t going to engage me in a debate. In her eyes, staying at home is most important, and above anything else, my children need me whether I am happy or not. And P.S., children are the light of a mother’s life, so why wasn’t I just happy?!
I disagree. I feel I have been there for them and will continue to be there for them every day of their lives. I love them so much that I put my own feelings aside to fulfill the obligation of being their parent. I thought that that was what was most important. But after a few years, I wasn’t being the mom I could be. I was a shell of myself going through the motions. I wasn’t present, and I certainly was not giving them the mother they deserved.
I don’t like being a SAHM and spending my days being at the beck and call of my children and my household. I hate running them from activity to activity and bringing them to playdates just to sit and watch them play with another child. I get bored after about five minutes of pretend play. (Please, please, do not make me serve fake food to that imaginary family one more time. Pretty please?) I do not want to beg anyone to eat his dinner anymore, standing over him imploring him to eat one single bite after one single bite. I just can’t do it anymore.
I feel guilt and shame even admitting this because it makes me feel like I’m a horrendous mother, but I want to spend some of my days doing something else that stimulates me differently. It’s what I need to be a happy person. And as a happy person, I will be a better parent when I am with them. It’s not as though I don’t love my children and garner great joy from them, of course I do, but that joy is even greater, even more valuable, when I’m doing tasks outside of parenting.
So tomorrow, I turn my family upside down to do something just for me. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Well, if you didn’t want to take care of your kids, then why did you have them?” And the truth is, I feel very selfish doing this. Nevertheless, I also know that I have no chance of being truly happy if I don’t. I know I am no less dedicated to them as I was when I was staying at home all day; I am still caring for them. I am showing them that it is never too late to follow a dream, while working towards creating the happiest home I can for them. In my heart, I know I will still be here for them — I will still be their mom. I will make sure that they feel loved and cared for and if they need me, no matter what I’m doing, I will be there. But I will no longer be resentful.