When I gave birth to my first child, I was indescribably envious of the women with the financial means to stay at home with their children. As a breastfeeding mother, time away was both emotionally – and physically – painful.
But years later, as a full-time work-from-home mother, I’m thankful yet wiser. Like many women, I falsely equated a life at home as a life of reduced stress with more smiles and joy.
I’d romanticized what it meant to be a full-time mother. I’d also fallen into the trap of juxtaposing the struggles of working mothers against stay-at-home mothers and promoted one as an ideal when each requires unfair levels of emotional labor from women. And now, as I live the life of many folks’ dreams, I’m holding on to my sanity by a string.
Working outside of the home can really suck. But staying at home isn’t necessarily the ideal solution. It’s a privilege to stay home with the kids — but it’s also a huge stressor.
Being at home with the children can be devastatingly lonely. Especially for those, like me, with partners who work long, inconsistent hours. At first, I’d compensate by looking forward to my husband’s return after his shift. But with time, it was clear that he had little interest in chatting about the mundane details of my day after having a long day of career stress, especially as an introvert. He needed time to decompress, before I railed him with the details of my day.
I was relatively new to the town we were living in, with few friends and a lot of social needs. My friends back home worked traditional hours, so they weren’t available either. And I could only call my mom so many times while she was at work. I needed to respect their boundaries, even though I was craving that connection.
My husband and I started to fight more often because I felt like the sole caretaker of our child. Not to mention, each day I grew more resentful at his ability to function as a free agent without worrying about whether he forgot a diaper bag or brought a spare shirt in the event of spit up. And it felt completely unfair that while my day was spent watching mind-numbing baby sensory stimulation videos, he was in an office with other adults and making career strides.
Things improved for a while when I found a passion for writing, but it really just added another responsibility to my day. He was supportive of my dreams as a writer, but he struggled to understand why the house was always in a state of chaos since we only had one child.
Staying at home is a funny thing. You’re constantly busy and you hardly ever stop moving — let alone have time to poop without fingers under the door (or my latest) with a baby in your lap. But despite extreme exhaustion and a day full of action you rarely have anything to show for it.
Most do not understand the amount of effort it takes to keep one child, let alone several children, fed and cared for all day. And the reactions others give to your lack of visible accomplishments can leave you feeling like a significant failure.
Each day, the moments between the naps and responsibilities grow shorter. The feelings of intimacy towards your partner lessens. And the moments you spend questioning the decision you made that led you to that moment in time increase.
For many of us, we wonder if we missed out on all of our potential by making the commitment to be at home with our children. And it also comes with fears that once they are self-sufficient it will be too late.
Stay-at-home motherhood is experiencing near constant levels of overstimulation — especially if you’re a breastfeeding mother (me, currently). Everyone needs you. The kids need you to take care of them, the partner often needs you to care for the emotional/intimacy needs in addition to making sure the kids are taken care of. And if you’re not careful, you’ll be left standing there — hardly surviving, definitely not thriving — with tears on your face as you sneak into the restroom for a second to poop and eat French fries in peace (true story).
I’m grateful for the opportunity to be home with my children. I’m especially thankful that I’ve discovered a path that allows me to witness their development and be able to contribute financially.
Still, I’ve learned the hard way that stay-at-home motherhood isn’t “the ideal” nor does it work for everyone. But it is the world’s most thankless job.
All of these experiences are made more difficult by the fact the world around us suggests we should be grateful. “You’ve made it,” everyone says. “Ugh, I don’t understand how you can complain. I’d give anything to be able to stay at home with my kids,” your friend opines.
We’re constantly asked how we can feel anything other than gratitude when we have a partner, a counterpart in matters of the home who afforded us this extreme privilege.
I’ll tell you how.
Because we’re tired AF. We feel like we are letting ourselves down by not being able to pursue our dreams. And we feel lonely because we’re forced to suffer in silence while the rest of the world congratulates us.
Yes, I am incredibly fortunate to be at home working towards something I love and seeing my children.
I revel in the gift of time and interaction I’ve been blessed with. But I also wake up to the tantrums. I clean caked-on poop off little butts while I only have four minutes before a conference call. I turn my work in late because the kids are having an emotional day and need lots of snuggles. And I watch a shit ton of mind-numbing TV when all I want to do is take a nap or at least have a chance to change out of my shirt that’s damp from projectile vomit.
So, to the other stay-at-home and work-from-home mothers who are in constant pursuit of ways to keep their sanity and their social skills, I see you.
To the moms who are at home enforcing a strict nap time schedule even if your child just stays awake in their room so you can have 30 seconds of peace, I’m with you.
To the mothers who are reluctantly turning down work opportunities and making other career sacrifices for their family, I feel you.
Stay-at-home mothers are equally as sacrificial as we are fortunate. We’re equally as exhausted as we are in love with our children’s smiles.
So, the next time you tell a stay-at-home mother that she should not complain about her life, I want you to think of me and the millions of responsibilities and sacrifices I juggle from day to day. There are countless others like me, some with far more struggle than I currently manage.
For many of us stay-at-home mothers, we have chosen the development and responsibilities of caretaking over the responsibility of ourselves.