The Emotional Care And Feeding Of The SAHM

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Mkovalevskaya / iStock

Everyone says it’s hard to be a stay-at-home-mom. And it is. Your bosses scream at you and poop on the floor and paint the bathroom mirror in toothpaste. You’re basically Beyoncé’s entire staff: chauffeur, cook, janitorial service, plus nanny — all at once. And you don’t get paid for it. The rate of burnout is high. Silent, ragey, desperate burnout. Mommy needs some wine, anyone?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We talk a lot about the difficulties of being a SAHM. You’re isolated. Your workload never ends. Your kids find new, creative ways to try your patience. You lack serious intellectual stimulation. We talk about all of this, and bitch about all of this, and make memes about all of this. The internet spits out entire articles about how to deal with the problems of being a SAHM. If you just read this stuff, you’d think it’s a job no one wants.

But many SAHMs are thriving in their chosen vocation. That’s because they have their emotional needs fulfilled. They need to enjoy their kid (actually like listening to a jabbering 1-year-old). They need intellectual stimulation. They need help with housework and cooking or child care. And they need mom friends. When these things are fulfilled, a SAHM can weather the poop on the floor and the Cheerios ground into the carpet, the screaming tantrums and the epic sulks. We can do it, because we have what we need.

Most important is the small, sticky creature you acquired through birth or adoption: your kid. Being a SAHM is all about being there for your child. It’s there in the job description: not janitor, not chauffeur or cook, but mom. Mom may encompass all those things. But mom is far more. Mom dabs off boo-boos and doles out Band-Aids. Mom gets tiny hugs and sticky kisses. Being a SAHM means, primarily being with your kid — keeping your kid clean and fed, loving them and talking to them. You have to enjoy the wacky conversation of a 4-year-old to like being a SAHM.

And that’s enough for many women. They feel that being with their child is reward enough to deal with the rest of the shit (literally). Many mothers who work out of the home are desperate to stay home with their child. The story of the mom crying on the day she returns to work is practically mommy blogger canon. If money wasn’t a consideration, a lot of women would drop out of the workforce. Not all of them, of course — many women need the intellectual stimulation of a job, and there’s nothing wrong with that — but many of them need more.

Other women find intellectual stimulation in being a SAHM. I have three children, ages 6, 4, and 2. I also home-school them, which is a fancy way of saying “teach them about the world around them.” I taught my 6-year-old to read before he would have started kindergarten. We had fun, he and I, starting with one simple reading program and moving up to more and more complex books. I studied the best ways to teach a child to read, and I implemented the ones I found most convincing.

We also spend our time doing science. Science consists of reading books about toads and frogs, then going frog and toad hunting. My 4-year-old can catch bullfrogs, then determine if they’re male or female. We learn about clouds, and the wind, and the human body — we printed out a life-size skeleton and labeled all the bones. I find intellectual stimulation in teaching my children these things. But I’m by nature a teacher, and actually quit a university program in teaching writing to college students before I decided to stay home. Other moms might not find labeling the femur quite so exciting.

Being a SAHM is also easier for me because I have help. I long ago decided to live with a messy house, which takes a lot of the stress off me. But my husband cooks every dinner, washes every dish, and keeps the kitchen clean. That’s his job. It means I can feed the kids sandwiches or leftovers, and relieves me of the need to make gourmet lunches. When I was a kid, my grandmother came over and cleaned for my mom once a week. Other people have similar arrangements, or just buckle down and hire a maid. I couldn’t do all this stuff by myself. Neither could my mom. In the past, women had cooks and maids and smaller houses and less stuff. Now we need more help. And there’s no shame in that.

There’s also no shame in needing adult companionship. You can’t talk to a 4-year-old all day, no matter how cute he may be. For a long time, I found that companionship in my local babywearing group. I’d pack my kids up and drive to a meeting, where I’d spend two hours hanging out with other adults and cursing when there were no kids close by. Later, I found the same adult conversation and amusement in homeschool groups. All the women did. We helped each other feel like people who mattered, people with interests beyond taking care of small children. I also have regular playdates with kids whose parents I like, or I just invite friends over. I make an effort to get out of the house or have someone over every single day. Even if I talk to a store clerk, I feel more human than when I stay home.

Feeling human: That’s what SAHMs need. Most of us get the emotional support we need. We adore our kids and find their company stimulating. We get intellectual stimulation, we don’t have to do everything by ourselves, and we get plenty of adult companionship (though not as much as we’d like). Of course, some days the kids destroy the house and throw tantrums, we scream at them and make them cry, and then the toddler takes a dump in the middle of the kitchen floor and paints it over the cabinets. Those days happen. Then it’s wine o’clock. But most of the time, we SAHMs love our job. And we can’t imagine doing anything else.

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