When you tell people you're a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), well, you might as well tell someone you're obsessed with Scott Baio. You'll see an awkward and insincere smile on their faces as they say something like, "Oh how nice!" or "Good for you!" in a way that tells you that they don't think it is nice at all. And sometimes, there are things people say to stay-at-home moms that sound really judgmental.
I had never intended to be a stay-at-home mom, but kind of fell into it and ended up not minding the way it felt once I'd landed. The company I'd been working for folded the week before I became pregnant. I vomited all day every day for the first seven months of my pregnancy, so by the time I felt ready to start interviewing again, it was a little too late to get hired. I hated being home with my colicky newborn, I was depressed, but I also felt too weak and defeated to be of use to any workforce at the time. Once the fog of new motherhood lifted, however, my baby and I had a nice routine going. Plus, I started to write again, taking on a few freelance jobs that I could do from home. I also sold my first children's book to a major publishing house. It was a crazy, but also prolific time for me. I hired a babysitter a couple of hours a week to help out so I could write and also get some time for myself, which was amazing.
Now, I have a pretty steady freelance gig that I can do from home (though I choose to do it close to home, but not in my apartment) and my kids are mostly in school, so being a SAHM has more balance than it did when my kids were younger. Still, I get really judgmental questions and comments from people who do not know me very well, or from relatives who haven't been brought up to date on my life, and it is infuriating.
"Do You Just Hang Out All Day?"
When you ask me this question, I can't help but die a little inside. When I had my first son, I think I got asked this question multiple times a week. The worst part was that many of the people who asked me were friends or relatives who were mothers, even if they had given birth over 30 years ago. Didn't they remember that having a newborn did not involve relaxation and hanging out?
No, I did not just hang out all day. I worked my ass off making sure a brand new human survived on this planet. And now that I am a mom of two kids under six, we definitely are not just "hanging out" (except when Mommy makes the executive decision that it is henceforth iPad time, because she needs a little break from the Light Saber fights and the indoor soccer games). Hey, why don't you come over and "hang out" with my kids while I go get a manicure. Since, you know, it is so easy.
"It Must Be Nice Having A Break From It All"
Can we just agree that office life and home with kids life is very different, but that one isn't necessarily a vacation compared to the other? There are times when I imagine my friends at work and think, "You're so lucky, you can go out and get a coffee alone." Or someone will send me something they found online and I'll be like, "Ooooh, you had time to read something today?"
I know that my friends at work picture me at the park with my kids or having a blast in music class, and think, "Lucky! You get to swing from the monkey bars while I'm chained to this desk!" There are highs and lows to both situations. But no, I would not call being a SAHM a "break from it all" and saying that feels like you're implying that my life is an all day, every day vacation.
"Aren't You Loving All That Alone Time With Your Kids?"
Sometimes? Sure. All the time? Well, that's a stretch.
Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time with kids knows that they're cute but they can be super frustrating and annoying as hell. Since I've been at home with my kids since day one, I've only known life at home with them. There are days when I wish I worked full time in an office so that when I came home, I'd have more patience and appreciate them more (at least, this is how I imagine it would be, and I am most likely completely wrong). There are the occasional times when my work requires I have babysitters a couple days in a row, and it feels like I haven't seen the kids in forever, and I actually do miss them a ton and I savor all the alone time with them the rest of the week.
However, the question about "loving all that alone time" makes me feel like I should feel guilty for not loving being with my kids all the time, and like I'm an ungrateful wench for the times when I wish I could just not be someone's mom sometimes. Sometimes I wish I weren't at home so much, because, you know, the grass is always greener.
"When Do You Think You'll Feel Like You're Kind Of Over The Whole Kid Thing?"
Oh, you mean like, when do you think I'll be ready to give my kids away to someone else and move on to the next phase in my life, like joining the circus? Or are you asking me when I'll be going back to work? And why would you imply that entering the work force would mean that I am "over" being a mom?
People, it is not black and white. At least not for me. I also resent that you feel that there is something inferior about my having had a baby or my having devoted myself to my kids and that you're standing there, tapping your feet until I've gotten this out of my system.
"You Must Wish You Could Use Your Brain Sometimes"
OK, in the beginning, before I got back into the freelance game, my brain did not get much "real" use. But honestly, I wasn't sweating it all that much because who had the freaking energy? Let me just paint the picture of my early days of being a SAHM: My baby never slept, he only cried, I never slept and I cried a lot. Once in a while I blogged about the experience but that was pretty much it for my brain. Let's circle back after you've had a baby and you're up all night trying to figure out why he has been up for the third night in a row, crying for three hours straight as if you've cut off his thumb with a rusty knife, and we can discuss whether you wish you could use your brain.
Occasionally people still say this to me, and then I find myself reflexively telling them that I am a freelance writer. But why should I even explain my life to them? Even if I wasn't employed on any level, I still would be "using my brain." How dare anyone think that being a SAHM is brainless work? There's the endless scheduling, the constant juggling, the meal planning, the ordering of household items, making sure that each child's day is as peak wonderful as it could possibly be, making all the necessary appointments; the list goes on and on. See if your doorknob could do those things. Yeah, I didn't think so.
"You Must Get Really Lonely"
Once in a while the days are lonely, like when the weather sucks and we don't manage to to do more than pick up from school and head home. But even on those days, it is not that lonely because there's still a little built-in social time when we get to school and see the other parents and the teachers and my kids' friends. Plus, my kids are fun. We have good times together. Sometimes it is an all-day dance party in our house.
"Do You Ever Make Time For Yourself, Or Is It All About The Kids?"
Hey, remember all those long, relaxing spa days, two martini lunches, and shopping sprees I used to have when I worked full time at my job as a children's book editor? Ha! Me neither.
Why are you asking me about the time I should be taking for myself as if there was all this time to take for myself when I was working full time? I mean, yeah, I had way more time for myself before I had kids, sure. But if I were not a stay at home mom and instead, was working full time, how would I have any more time for myself? I would imagine the full time working mom is also "all about her kids" too, even if she is physically at the office.
"I Think I'd Lose My Mind If I Stayed At Home"
Well then it is a good thing you're not here, at home with my kids because that wouldn't be so great for their wellbeing. Though, to be fair, I often feel like I am losing my mind when I am alone with my boys all day without any break at all (like school, or a play date).
You would be amazed at how capable I am even when I feel utterly braindead, though. So, when you say this to me, know that I can tell that the hidden message is, "Your life right now sounds so boring to me, how on Earth are you alive right now, why don't you just end it all, that's what I would do if I were in your shoes."
"So, What Does Your Partner Do?"
Ah, this one is classic. I see that you have noticed that I have the "luxury" of staying home with my children most of the time, and not reporting to a full-time job that requires my signing in at a desk in an office. Kudos to you. Once you've made this observation that I am a SAHM, you absolutely must know, what does my husband do? How is it that I can afford such a glamorous lifestyle of school drop offs and pickups, and awkward play dates with moms or nannies I may not even like, and constantly making snacks upon snacks upon snacks?
Yes, I am lucky that I can stay at home and also afford to hire babysitters a couple hours a day so that I can do some freelance work. It also means that my husband works his butt off until late at night, often way after I've done the bed time grind. That's what my husband does. He works really hard, and really late at his job, so we can raise our family the way we have set out to do it. But I see what you did there, angling at trying to figure out how I "get to stay home."
"Is It Weird, Not Contributing Financially To The Household?"
To be honest, it was weird at first. It felt completely awkward and unbalanced to not be bringing in a paycheck. But thank you, I really appreciate your judgement about our family's decision for me to not re-enter the workforce after having my baby. Your question inherently carries with it a disapproval about my not working and bringing in the dough.
But since my husband and I have clearly come to a consensus on the topic, what business is it of yours, anyway?
"Do You Ever Get To See Your Non-Baby Related Friends?"
No, never. I've just disappeared into this hole where only moms who hang out in sweatpants at home get to chill together, like mole people. I never socialize with regular folk like the friends I had before I became a stay-at-home mom.
C'mon now, really? Of course I get to see my friends. I see all kinds of friends. The ones I used to work with from when I reported to a boss at a real, live office. I see the friends I had from college. I see the friends I've made since having kids, that have nothing to do with my kids (as in I did not meet them at a baby gym class or in the park). I am a regular person who figures life out so I can see my friends. I resent your implication that I no longer can congregate with people who don't push strollers all day long.