Am I Embarrassed To Be A Stay-At-Home Mom?

by Allison Barrett Carter

I may be embarrassed to be a stay-at-home mom. I am always making excuses for myself, for my time. I am always trying to defend myself—to myself. Because I think that no one else cares or is watching: The demon is within. But when I am not busy for two seconds, I tell myself to get up and do something. I can’t possibly have time to just sit and read my iPhone. I can’t be that lazy.

I am not here to argue whether our culture values the stay-at-home parent or not. That’s been done. But I do wonder how we value ourselves through the lens of society after we make our decisions. For example: How would you value me if I told you that the other day, I had three blessed hours when both my kids were in school and I decided not to stress about money, job applications, laundry, a clean house or getting the errands done? Instead, I took an hour and a half and I went to a yoga class—in the middle of the day! Then I wore my yoga pants over to the coffee shop and got a coffee for $1.34.

I know what assumptions jump into your head immediately upon hearing that. Those words enter my brain, too: Spoiled. Special. Privileged. Clearly, I am not contributing to society if I actually have time in the middle of the morning to attend a yoga class. Clearly, I need more to do with my life if I have time to do that.

Those words and assumptions are culture-driven.

Here is what I have realized: This has nothing to do with the stay-at-home-ness but everything to do with the can-we-just-sit-down-for-a-minute-ness that our culture has always eschewed. Being busy is a status symbol in this American life:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

The struggle that stay-at-home parents have is proving that we are worth it–that we are not trivial or meaningless–by staying busy, not only to everyone out there watching and writing blog posts, but, most insidiously, to ourselves. In a culture that values busyness, how am I, a stay-at-home-mom who might get a coffee during the day, valued? I went to yoga in the morning. I am the loathed stereotype. It has seeped so deep it has started to make me loathe myself. For the record, I loathe loathing myself.

In a society where we applaud those who do it all (you know, the type we write books about: they cook, clean and run companies all while preparing frozen meals for the month, reading this week’s bestseller and organizing a bake sale), it is hard to measure myself. But it seems clear how I am being measured.

This has made me realize that the key to the ridiculous Mommy Wars is not that one subset has it harder than the other. The key to these wars is that our culture values busyness above all else: Whoever is busier is obviously more important to society. So we argue as to who is busier and, ergo, more important to society.

It is silly, isn’t it? Who cares who is more irreplaceable to society because of our color-coded maxed out calendar? We are all of utmost, irreplaceable importance to our children and families. That should be the end. Yet I fall prey to these arguments, too.

I really don’t want to do it all. I don’t want to do all those things and be crazy, and unhappy, and tired (so, so tired). I won’t say more about how that life makes me feel, and I do know because I have done it. Everyone makes their own choices, and that life is right for a lot of women and families. I just know that when I chose that lifestyle, it fit our family like that swan dress on Björk. Everyone noticed, everyone saw it coming and cringed, and everyone hoped it would just end or was a joke, but then it became a legacy in its passionate terrible-ism anyhow. My family sits around now and says, “Oh my, do remember that terrible time when you tried to do that thing, and it was all way, way wrong?”

I know that I didn’t like that model for myself and my family doesn’t like that model for me either. We are much happier with me being calmer.

And yet.

I can’t help but get in my own head and chastise myself for what I have decided and made space for. I judge myself against the culture of busyness and the SAHM interplay with that. When my 11th-grade teacher came into the classroom in a costume that was the result of too many cotton balls and hot glue guns (and most likely too much whiskey), pretending to be a Puritan preacher yelling fire and brimstone about how life required hard and constant work, I was obviously tattooed. The Puritan work ethic shone through that teacher’s paper-plated head and inked my soul. Forever.

Thus, I judge myself against that work ethic because that is what the world has always loved, hard and constant work. Forever.

What do we need to do to fix things—to fix my soul and to end the Wars? We need to value not being busy more.

One of my favorite people in the entire world, a creative soul who met me in life when I needed her most, once told me boldly, bluntly, “I love my fucking life! I get to stay home and cook, paint and be. I can be here when my kids need me, and yes, summers are hard because I am with them nonstop, but I love my life. When they go back to school there are some days I sit on the couch and do nothing, Allison, nothing, for 30 minutes simply because I can. Why would I apologize for that?”

Implicit in what she is asking: Why would I apologize for what other people dream of? Why should I apologize for 30 minutes of doing nothing? What guilt lies within me that I feel like I need to apologize, make excuses for, or defend my situation? To be clear: I am not watching HGTV and eating tacos at 1 pm every day. Now that would be the life. But also to be clear: Why do I feel like I even need to clarify that? So what if I am watching HGTV and eating tacos at 1 p.m. every day!? If I am getting my tasks done, doing what life asks and raising my family, I should eat all the tacos and watch all the Fixer Upper I want.

I am looking at 40. My hips are way bigger than I ever would have imagined because I can’t fight genetics and two baby boys whose heads grew between them (although, let’s be honest, it is probably the tacos). I have wrinkles on my neck. Suffice it to say, I am mature.

I shouldn’t care what other people think. I shouldn’t care about that Puritan work ethic and cotton ball wigs. I don’t want to see my name etched in stone on Mount Olympus or wherever it is famous people go now after they invent Facebook and Periscope. I have grown enough in life to appreciate those who do do it all while simultaneously wanting to give them a big hug and whisper, “Shhh, you know you don’t have to do all this, right? The world will still love you.” I have learned that the color happy is hard to see and a chameleon color to boot. I have learned that busyness should not be the marker of my success.

Why do I care what others think? It is because I care what I think. I want to change what I think, and I want to love my fucking life too.