I planned on going back to work when my first child was six weeks old, but ended up delaying that plan by, oh let’s see … almost twelve years now. In that time, I’ve come across many misconceptions about being a stay-at-home mom, some of them my own. Here are just a few:
1. It’s Boring
This kind of depends on your definition of boring. For example: My five year old thinks changing her underwear every morning is boring. My mother thinks doing less than five tasks at once or sitting for longer than thirty seconds is boring. I tend to fall somewhere in between (while pretending to not know either of them.) Sometimes it is a bit boring. Sometimes it’s Vegas-casino levels of chaos. Strive for the in-between and you’ll be fine.
2. We Have No Sense of Self
At a job outside the walls of your home, you are a name, a title. A person separate from motherhood. Probably no one wipes their snot on your pants. You have stimulating conversations about politics or the economy or Jersey Shore or whatever the hell it is adults talk about these days. Who are you without that sense of identity? Maybe think of it this way, though: It’s a chance reflect on who you are outside of work and obligations. If you want to continue on that path at some point, or try a new one. And if who you are is just a mom for now while you focus on this chapter of your life, well, what’s so bad about that?
3. We Go Crazy
I seem to get this comment a lot. How do I not go crazy being home with the kids all the time? My usual reply is, Who says I’m not? Which isn’t entirely true (or is it?) but really, it’s just a matter of adjusting. The pace of life is different, the way you fill your hours and days is different. Not better. Not worse. Not crazy. Well, okay a little. But what’s life without a little crazy in your day?
4. We Go Without
For a lot of us, living on one income is tricky. It requires strategic budgeting and planning and miserly cinching of purse strings. I read someone musing recently that going without builds character, which I guess is okay if you’re imparting a life lesson to your kid about why he can’t have his own iPad or why her War And Peace-sized Christmas list may be a tad unreasonable. But mostly, it kind of sucks. We do have an appreciation for what we have, and it is nice that I can go to the store without anyone whining for toys or clothes or fancy cereal (why is cereal so expensive?) because they know it isn’t happening. But mostly we talk about choices; why we’ve chosen to take the financial hit so i can stay home and all of us agree: It’s still worth it.
5. We’ve Experienced Brain Atrophy
Obviously this one isn’t true. I just used the word atrophy, so. There really are plenty of ways to use your brain that have nothing to do with clocking in for a paycheck. And just taking a quick look around? I don’t think it’s stay-at-home moms who are leading the race in lack of brain use. Just saying.
6. There’s a Lot of Guilt
Yep, we get it too. Guilt over not contributing enough. Guilt over having a messy house. Guilt over ignoring my children while making a futile attempt at not having a messy house. It’s a mom thing, I’m not sure there’s much to be done about it. But at least there’s comfort in knowing we’re all aboard the good ship Mom Guilt. I hope someone brought cocktails.
7. We Don’t Feel Valued
The problem is we live in a society where value is so strongly tied to money earned that what we (or others) really seem to be asking is: What are you contributing? To your family or to society or to yourself. And it’s hard to quantify that without numbers. Sure, we can add up what we’d pay a housekeeper and a babysitter and an events coordinator. But that still doesn’t really capture what a stay-at-home mom is, or what we sacrifice to do so. It takes stepping to the side a bit and not thinking about your value as a dollar sign over your head, but being worthwhile as a mother, as a caretaker, as a center point for home and family. I have had plenty of jobs where I did nothing much with my days, where I felt I wasn’t contributing anything to the world aside from taxes. I never feel like that now.
8. We’re All Frumpy Housewives
I don’t even know why this is even an issue. At this very moment I have my hair done and make-up on, wearing a nice egg-shell white sweater without a single stain. And yoga pants. And fuzzy pink socks. But that’s neither here nor there. My top half is all business, thank you very much. Point is, sometimes I do make the effort. Er, half the effort anyway. But maybe sometimes I’m too exhausted. Or maybe I’ve rejected the notion that a woman needs to be aesthetically pleasing at all times. Maybe I’m just happy I got a three minute shower and had clean clothes to wear this morning. Maybe, just maybe, I actually don’t care. It happens.
A stay at home mom, just like any other mom, is making the best choices for her family. And any choice has pros and cons, worries and regrets and triumphs. My biggest fear about being a stay at home mom? That I’ll miss it too much when this time is gone.
Now pass the bonbons, my soaps are on.
Jill Vettel is a writer and stay at home mom of three in Durham, NC. She also fears tsunamis, sharks, public speaking, and clowns. And she’s actually not really sure if soap operas are even still a thing.