What Being A Stay-At-Home Mom Is Really Like

by Katey Johnson
Strong Heart/Demme Production / Orion Pictures (left photo) Katey Johnson (right photo)

When I was laid off from my publishing job in Manhattan in 2010, I was ready for a change. The soul-crushing daily three-hour, round-trip commute from Long Island to the city, usually with a passed out guy’s elbow jammed into my boob, took up too much time away from my family. I was prepared to find a job closer to home, but as the gods would have it, I didn’t go back to work outside of my house. Now, six and a half years later, I realize I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I started my career in magazine publishing before I finished college. I’d had a 6-credit internship at Us Weekly to close out my writing degree and three weeks into it, they hired me. I worked for Wenner Media, who also publishes Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, for the better part of the next 11 years. I loved my job, but that commute was a killer, to say the least. The day I was laid off, I was shocked and elated.

About a year before my layoff, I’d started making custom photo mats for friends as wedding and baby shower gifts. Nine days after I was laid off, I opened my Etsy shop, KJ Frames, and I’ve been home, alone, making frames in my basement office, ever since.


To be fair, she’s hilarious.

Before we get too far, I need to clarify that I am not complaining. I am explaining. This is my experience as a stay-at-home. I’m not saying everyone’s experience is the same. In fact, well-adjusted individuals might find their experience to be the exact opposite of mine. I know many of you would switch places with me in a heartbeat, and while I have my struggles, I know how lucky I am.

No One Cares How I Look

Yeah, this is amazing. I don’t have to jump out of bed and into the shower. I don’t really have to look presentable at all. The moms at the bus stop don’t care how I look, and I can tell you from experience that the employees at Michael’s, Staples, and Stop & Shop sure as shit don’t GAF. I’m living la vida leggings. The problem here is that if you start to go too long without caring about your personal appearance, you basically revert back to being a college student in a dorm again. If I want to go to Taco Bell in my pajamas at 3 p.m. for a Meximelt, I’m gonna go. And is that really how adults behave? Is it, you guys?

Me in 6 more months.

The Refrigerator

I love her. We vibe. She’s always there for me. All day, everyday. Keeping my food cold and delicious, just as she promised when we brought her home from Home Depot. We spend a lot of time together each day. This is great for someone who has healthy eating habits, but that’s not me. All of my dirty little food secrets are safe with her. This means that in the past six years, because I can’t control myself, I’ve gained around 20 pounds. Could I do something about this? Sure. Do I want to? Not looking that way.

“Give me the goddamn cinnamon buns, Brenda!”

The Drink

That’s right. Another vice. Lock me up. I like to imbibe. This was no problem when I was a respectable member of society, but now my life as a shut-in allows me to have a higher frequency of nights in with the ladies. Being my own boss means I make my own work schedule, and since my only other real responsibilities involve getting my kids out the door in the morning, there will be wine. Oh yes. There will be wine. Add that to my eating issues, tack on about 10 more pounds, and order those leggings in the next size up.

“Yeah, no. I’m good.”

I’m the Boss

Sure, I own my own business. It allows maximum flexibility and supplemental income, both of which are amazing. The problem is that I’m my own IT person, printer repairman, and accountant now. I’m unqualified in all of these areas of expertise, which makes my job more interesting. Add to this the fact that I used to work in a bustling office with rock stars and celebrities waltzing through all the time while I got to enjoy being part of a team in addition to my own personal success. Now I work alone in a tiny basement office wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask, dodging spiders, and talking to myself. Big difference.

Strong Heart/ Demme Production / Orion Pictures (left photo) Katey Johnson (right photo)

Can you hear the lambs crying? You guys?!

From Riches to Rags

I went from being the breadwinner to feeling like a financial drain on our family. Yes, my business brings in extra income, but I’m no Joy Mangano. There are no Miracle Mop patents being applied for here. Obviously, what’s my husband’s is ours, but it weighs on me that I’m not contributing like I used to. Not that we were ever rolling in it, but the occasional lunchtime visit to Anthropologie for a bag or a sweater has been replaced by scouring the clearance rack at TJ Maxx. (No offense, TJ Maxx. I love you super-hard.)

Time Is on My Side

The No. 1 thing I’ve gained, and really all that matters, is time. Time with my kids. Time with my husband. Time to create and decide what my next career will be. Time to be braless and eat peanut butter from the jar with Hershey’s syrup. Being able to make my kids their lunches and having time to get them on the bus every day. Being able to spend time in their classrooms. Having time to make dinner and shuttle kids to piano and soccer and lacrosse without roping other families in or having to pay a sitter to help. Knowing that time like this is not afforded to everyone, I do know its value even though I look like Zach Galifianakis waking up in the first Hangover movie each day.

Warner Bros. / 20th Century Fox

Now that I’ve lived on both sides of the working mom/stay-at-home mom fence, I’ve learned that there’s a trade-off either way. Your ability to be a good mom isn’t determined by your decision to work or your decision to stay home. The only thing that really matters is that your kids are safe and loved and your wine refrigerator is stocked.