I like to think that maybe it is just innocent small talk, but far too often, it feels quite judgmental — like the asker is gauging how lazy I am by my response, like they must think there is an acceptable answer and other answers will be looked down upon.
It started out as, “So, what do you do all day?” Then, as each of my kids advanced to the next level of preschool, it would repeatedly, inevitably be, “So, what are you going to do with all that extra time?” And now, the big one. As the time approaches that all my kids will finally be in school all day, it has ultimately become the pointed, “So, what are you going to do next year?”
I have felt my fair share of guilt over being a SAHM. On the days (weeks) when I failed to get any laundry done and had nothing to offer for dinner, I have often thought about how many working moms manage to do all that and pull in a paycheck for their family. There have been so many days that I have barely held it together. Days of having a 2-year-old and infant twins. Days of having twin 2-year-olds and a preschooler. Days, weeks, years of terrible twos and threes and fours when, let’s be honest, many times I collapsed on the floor in tears because it was just so hard. What do I do with my time? Are you kidding me?! How does anyone else possibly get it all done with a mere 24 hours in a day?
But, it has gotten easier as the kids have gotten older. Though, as it has gotten easier and as the question has morphed over time, so have my feelings — guilt, inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment.
After years of fielding these questions, I actually began to have great anxiety when I started being asked the big one, when it seemed that everyone wanted to know about next year. “So, what are you going to do?” It evoked such uncertainty, anxiety, fear.
What am I going to do? What is the right answer?
For a full year I have struggled with this. But my time is up. There is just a short summer break until “next year” is now.
After much thought and many discussions, my husband and I have decided what we want for our family next year, and I have decided that I need to stop feeling guilty and inadequate when faced with the question. I am going to recognize how fortunate I am that I have this opportunity, and I am going to own it.
So, here are five reasons I am going to continue to be a SAHM even after all my kids are in school:
1. Because I can.
Bluntly stated but the truth. Our family has been living on my husband’s income for several years, and there is no reason that we cannot continue to do so. We are not wealthy, but I realize that we are quite fortunate. I’d say we fall squarely into the ever-shrinking middle class. We can live comfortably on one income but only if we stick to a budget and look for every opportunity to save a buck. So, sure, extra money would be quite fabulous, but then we look to the rest of the reasons for why we feel that there is more value in me not working for a paycheck.
2. To be available.
For those odd school holidays, teacher institute days, and the entirety of winter, spring, and summer breaks, I will be home. The truth is that the kids are only at school about 180 days of the year, and we will never have to scramble when someone gets sick. One of the things I see my working mom friends struggle with the most is finding affordable, trusted child care to cover these no-school days, especially the unexpected ones like sick days and snow days. Plus, I will never have to work an evening or weekend. I will be available.
3. To lighten the burden on my husband.
It may seem like having a spouse not working would create more of a burden; in many cases, that is true. But, for us, it is no loss of income since this will be our status quo. Instead, as my husband continues to work hard to support us financially, I can lighten some of his burden at home. For years he has worked long hours and come home to yet more work. He has never once complained, but I know for a fact that he is very much looking forward to me taking over some of the mundane tasks that have always fallen to him — the never-ending yard work, the trash, the so, so many loads of unfinished laundry he would finish to help out. I want him to finally be able to come home and have time to just relax.
4. To be better.
At everything. Much of what I plan to do next year is what I have done all along, but I hope to do it so much better now that I will have more time: better meal planning, shopping for better savings, better time management to see projects through to completion and, maybe, even finish loads of laundry the day I start them (no promises on that one). But not only do I want to be better at these tasks, I also want to be a better me. I want to make time to pursue my passions and enjoy the things that make me feel excited and engaged with life. I want to be a happier, less-stressed me that my kids and my husband enjoy being around.
5. Because life is short.
I am acutely aware of how short my life may be and also of how none of us know what lies around tomorrow’s corner for ourselves or our loved ones. I am a cancer survivor, and unrelated, I narrowly survived the birth of my son. When it comes down to it, the thing we value more than another paycheck is time together. By my continuing to stay home, we can maximize our family time.
I can do the chores and errands during the weekdays so we do not have to do them on our evenings or weekends. How many hours of together time can we gain if we no longer need to fit in a trip to Costco on Saturday or mow the lawn on Tuesday evening or do the uncountable things that eat up our time? I feel time’s relentless march as I watch my kids grow. Heck, how is it even possible that they are all old enough to be in school already? I will take every minute I can reclaim for time together.
So, what am I going to do next year?