I first heard it once, then about a thousand times: “You have no right to complain because you get to stay home with your kids all the time!” and “I have missed so many milestones because I was working, and you never had to miss a thing!”
True, and sort of true. I do see them all of the time, but I did work for the first year after my oldest son was born, so I did miss some things. A crazy decision was made when I was laid off from my job—I would stay home with our son. I was ecstatic. I was burned out from my career and missing my son.
Fast-forward three years later, and add another little boy, and I have definitely discovered there are pros and cons to staying home with your children, just like in any decision we make. After years of emotional ups and downs as a SAHM, I have come to accept that there are some things I need to get over in order to be a better mom and a generally more sane person:
1. The Guilt
I think I spent the first year of staying at home with my children feeling guilty for being able to stay at home with them. I felt like judgment was being placed on me because I wasn’t contributing to society in a way I felt was adequate. I felt guilty talking with my friends about work, feeling like they couldn’t relate to me as much anymore because I wasn’t dealing with the stress of a job and raising a family.
I had the impulse to explain to everyone that financially we were struggling to make it happen and our lifestyle had changed dramatically as a result. That guilt has now been replaced with the occasional thought that maybe I should go back to work—especially because when my son gets mad at me, he yells, “You’re fired!” And I feel guilty because I’ll tell him he can’t fire me because “I quit!” But, most surprisingly, what I have found is that my true friends never judged me, and the one person making me feel guilty was me.
2. Not Being Supermom
Did you know there are moms who won’t allow their children to wear shoes at the park? Apparently, it’s not natural. In fact, through playdates, get-togethers, and meeting moms through other moms, I have found there are some pretty super moms out there. I felt I paled in comparison to these SAHMs and working moms who not only nursed their children but also made baked goods out of their breast milk and women who not only made food but also made their child’s lotions, toothpaste and butt cream.
Let me make it clear: I am not mocking these women. I was comparing myself to them. If they could accomplish all this, why did it take me 45 minutes to get out the door to get to the park, and what the hell was my son wearing?! I think the key to getting over this was acknowledging that I am not that kind of mom. But I am a loving mom, and that trumps everything else. I did spend an hour making sweet potato cookies, but it only took three seconds for my son to take one out of his mouth and throw it on the floor. He even seemed to shake his head in disbelief as he walked away.
3. The Regret
When my son was a year old and I began staying at home, I was not aware of the concept that I could have a difficult child (or strong-willed, as some would call him). At around 2 ½, he began having severe emotional breakdowns, and he has continued to keep us guessing ever since. He is prone to sensory overload. You may have possibly seen us out and about—I’m the woman carrying the shirtless, screaming child across the grocery store.
It’s hard. It’s hard when you want to be the ultra-hip mom with one in the sling on the boob and the other asking nicely if he can go make his bed because it is just that fun. So, do I regret my decision to be a SAHM, you ask? Definitely, at least once a month. I vaguely recall the old days when I dropped my son off and went to work. Sometimes, I felt I was surprisingly more present for my son when I got home. Now, I have a job I’m burned out from, but somehow the spark keeps getting lit and I regain all of my strength. Tonight, my son told me after watching, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, that the ending sequence where the credits roll was “the most beautiful thing” he has ever seen. And then, he totally redeemed himself!
4. The Illusion of a Perfect Marriage
This one cracks me up because for some reason I thought staying at home would make my marriage stronger. Instead, the issues that have been brought to the surface after sharing our lives together for this long, along with having children and financial pressure, have taken a toll.
After a day with my emotional son, I am sometimes left exhausted. My husband works all the time, and sometimes it throws things off when he is home for long periods of time, as crazy as that sounds. People say we are a great match. Secretly, there are days I think we should work out our stress with a good old-fashioned boxing match. I have a rhythm with the children, even though it’s a little offbeat, and he has trouble knowing when to chime in.
Being married is a complicated dance of making sure your children are happy, your spouse is happy, and you are personally happy. It’s like one of you is trying to waltz, while the other is trying to tango, and what you find is that it may be easier to just make up your own dance.
5. The Self-Doubt
It’s pretty obvious that I have doubted myself as a parent since the very beginning of my journey through motherhood, and sure enough, I feel guilty about that too. But it’s time for it to end. The challenges that I have encountered so far as a mom sometimes overwhelm me. I look around and see other moms who can balance so much more and look better doing it. I have the kid who wears no shoes at the park, but not because I helped him take them off. He is a wild boy, and I am his mom—flawed and some days not so super. When I wear my youngest in the Ergobaby, it looks like a small creature is fighting to come out of my chest, arms flailing and screaming. He hates it. But that’s not the problem. The problem is, all the images in my head of the mom I wanted to be screwed up my ability to be the best mom I could be. That is the lesson.
Whether you are a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, or truly super, a single working parent, creating a loving environment for your kids is half the battle. Kids also need strong role models and that includes demonstrating self-confidence and self-love. Now, even on the days where I am feeling down, I make a point to recognize that I am lucky to be able to stay at home with my boys. It has been my greatest joy and my biggest challenge.
Do I really have a reason to complain about being a SAHM after all? The answer is yes, absolutely. But only as long as I’m willing to change the things that aren’t working and embrace the things that make me special to my boys.