I have officially been a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM) twice in my lifetime. The first time was in my 20’s and not by choice. The second was in my 40’s while desperately praying to be fired on the spot. However, each time I made the transition to stay home, I was met with verbal opposition camouflaged in care and concern.
My first attempt at being a SAHM, as I said, was not by choice. I was 25, single, on a fast-track career path, and raising a 4 year-old daughter. Much to my dismay, I was diagnosed with SLE, systemic lupus erythematosus and my life came to a grinding halt. Disabled, afraid, and alone, I “retired” to a life of doctor visits, a daily chemical regimen, and pretending normalcy for the sake of my little one. I am not biased one way or the other whether a Mom wants to work or stay home, as long as the kid(s) are safe and know they’re loved. But I gathered, by popular opinion, it was not acceptable in my circle of influence for me to appear to live a life of leisure when my counter parts were grinding it out in the rat race. For several years, the well meaning conversations would play out like this:
Them: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a full time Mommy.”
Them: “Yeah, but what do you do?”
Me: “Take care of my daughter, run errands, yah know, manage the day-to-day stuff, and whatever else comes up..”
By this time, they are frustrated and discussed and would huffily respond.
Them: “Is that all you do? Why don’t you work?”
At this point, I am pissed and defensive,
Me: “Being a Mom is work. It’s the hardest job there is. I’m a Mom, (in my case at the time, the parent), teacher, nurse, playmate, confidant, caregiver, encourager, disciplinarian, etc…”
As you can imagine the conversation usually deteriorates from there; leaving me feeling dejected and frustrated.
Why did I let it get to me so and respond with such anger for so many years? The guilt got so bad that I over extended myself when I was supposed to be focusing on my health and recovery. Even volunteering whatever free time I did have, just to live up to the expectations of complete strangers. Stupid, I know. But why did I care so much about how others saw me? Why? Because I was not comfortable in the role I was given. I did not value my own worth. Your value is not in how many hours you can work before you’re too exhausted to even take a vacation. Your value is not in how many meetings you can juggle before you forget the agenda. Your value is not in how much training you complete in a fiscal quarter. But that was my focus and I felt that was what would make my daughter proud to have me as a Mother. Nope, I was wrong. And it took a health crisis to re-align my perspective. Why did people want to see me struggle, worry, and be mentally exhausted? Was it because they themselves were in the same boat? Or was it because that’s how society validates success? Based on how hard you struggle and how many hurdles of opposition you have to jump. Otherwise, it’s not a valid accomplishment.
It wasn’t until I begin to see myself through my daughter’s eyes that I realized my value and self worth. I was the most important person in her world. Why couldn’t I see that? She didn’t care if I was unemployed, unhealthy, and on a walking cane. As long as my face was the last face she saw when I dropped her off at school and the first to pick her up. As long as I was there to go on field trips, play games, kiss her boo-boo’s, and wipe her tears when she cried because she had to get yet another new best friend for the 3rd time that week. Years later, I did return to work full time, but my perspective and focus was different and my life had balance.
Now, my life has come full circle and, once again I am a SAHM. Being newly married with brand new twins (don’t ask), my husband and I were working full time. And the little ones were in the care of my parents during the day. I was commuting 4 hours a day to my parents’ home, then to work, back to my parents’, and then home. Then up all night, just to turn off the alarm clock at 5 am so it wouldn’t wake the babies. Yeah, insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. I wanted to stay at home so bad I could taste it, but the fear of financial ruin is a cruel master.
But what was I gaining? In my situation, nothing. The combination of lack of sleep and a killer commute was quickly taking its toll. Then I got smart and enrolled the girls with a caregiver close to home. Well, at that point, my paycheck was only paying for day school academy for the girls equaling a house payment and gas money for my daily cross-country commute to work. So I started praying for my job to end. Well, I couldn’t just quit. How would I explain that to my ever important public peers? If my employer ended the contract, it wouldn’t be my decision and I can once again get sympathy and understanding. Yeah, it appears I was still concerned about justifying my life decisions to total strangers. Well, it ended, and I celebrated, danced, clapped, and literally shed tears in the bathroom at work. I was tired and so needed to rest and focus. I was so out of sorts that I didn’t even know the girls could sing “Ring-Around-the-Rosie”. Not to mention, my husband and I were on such a daily grind that it took him several days before he noticed I cut my hair by 4 inches!!
So when my last day came around at work, once again, my faithful fans rallied around me. But this time around they would understand. (So I thought.) The care and concern came pouring in. “What are you going to do?” “Do you have another job lined up?” “I am so sorry, you must be devastated.” “You have twins and in this economy, you need to be working.” “You’re not going to make it, you need two incomes.” I received never ending support from friends and acquaintances alike. The comments were a healing balm to my tired soul or were they? But, I was deliriously happy; couldn’t they see that? Ecstatic, to say the least, and nobody was glad for me. They felt sorry for me.
One person went so far as to tell me to my face, “How can you celebrate getting laid off? I don’t understand how you can be happy about this. Your husband needs you to be working.” I was a little put out and responded with, “My husband doesn’t have a problem with it and my kids need me at home.” She got angry and said I was wasting my degree if I was just going to be sitting at home. Sitting at home!? That’s a misconception. SAHM’s don’t just sit at home. What rock is she living under? That’s when I realized, she just didn’t get it. “IT” being Motherhood and all it entails. It was at that point I stopped trying to justify my life and lifestyle to anyone; even to myself. The decisions and sacrifices you have to personally make are just a part of being the best Mother you can be at the moment your children need you to be. If you are blessed to be a SAHM, great! If you are blessed to work outside the home, great! Just take it one day at a time and joyfully soak it all in. So now, when people ask; “What do you do?” I proudly say, “I am a wife and mother”; with a ridiculous grin and giggle. When you know your value and self worth it makes all the difference in the world and adds joy and contentment to your life. There was a time, not so long ago, I did not feel this way.
Yeah, we’re living on one income, but what did I give up. The latest smart phone? Eating out on a regular basis? Shopping at my leisure? Sleeping in my car during lunch in order to get through the rest of my day? But I gained my sanity, invaluable time with my kids, and my husband now has a wife who is much more relaxed. Priceless! Of course, we’ve had to streamline, budget, and be creative when it comes to avoiding spontaneous purchases. Really, I started watching my spending when I was still working. Getting prepared, just in case, one day I quietly purt an out to lunch note on my computer, leave, and never came back. That’s way more professional than running out of there kicking and screaming, don’t you think? With a few simple modifications, we’re doing just fine.
Remember; your life is your own, and full of individual choices. Find out what works for you, and work it. When you let the opinions of others, and even how you see yourself, stop you from enjoying life; that’s when life becomes just a job. Dealing with negativity about being a SAHM is always best accomplished internally. You will waste precious time and energy trying to change the views of others but you can always choose how you respond.