When it comes to being a stay-at-home mom, it seems as though people either celebrate us or assume we're lazy. But regardless of how anyone feels about this specific life choice, staying home with your kids isn't easy. And for me, it's nothing like what I assumed it would be. Well, I'm over it. I'm over all the judgment and disappointment and guilt. I think it's time I let you in on some confessions of a stay-at-home mom "failure," because that's precisely what I've become. And you know what? That's OK. Being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done, and will likely ever do, and coming up short a time or two is par for the parenting course.
My kids are 11 and 6, and I've been home with them their entire lives. So for as long as they've been in the world, I've been the one who's greeted them in the morning, taken them to school, played with them when there was no school, and tucked them in at night. My days consist of whatever they need, while simultaneously juggling housework, errands, and, now, working from home. When I first set on the path of motherhood, I had no idea what being a stay-at-home mom would entail. I knew it'd be work, to be sure, but I had no idea just how much work — and time and energy and emotional labor — would be involved. And I definitely didn't have a clue as to how I would end up spending my time (like crashing Hot Wheels into walls on a daily basis).
And no matter how many things I get "right" with my kids on any given day, there are many more days when I feel like all I've done is fail. I want to be everything they need and, yet, it feels like an impossible goal. Then there are the days when it feels like my life is playing on an infinite loop, and there's no surprise or intrigue involved in my existence. The monotony is exhausting. The chores are exhausting. And, sometimes, my kids are exhausting. I love them and I love being the one they come home to, but nothing about this life choice is "easy." And I wish more stay-at-home moms who feel the same didn't have to carry these feelings silently and with such shame. Here's some other confessions from me — a stay-at-home mom "failure" — that I think every stay at home parent knows to be true. It's time for the secrecy to end and the mirage of perfection to die in a fire.
When I found out I was expecting for the first time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I'd quit my job, retract my enrollment at the local college I'd only applied at, and be the one who cares for my kids day in and day out. I believed with everything in me I could do it, and do it well. Having survived a turbulent childhood riddled with abuse and emotional trauma, I was afraid of leaving my children with anyone else. As children my brother and I were left with various babysitters — some who turned out to be irresponsible and downright dangerous — so I swore I wouldn't put my kids in the same situation.
But the resolve in my decision didn't keep me from being naive. Knowing what I wanted for myself, and my children, didn't mean staying at home wasn't difficult. And as a new, sleep deprived mom with postpartum depression (PPD), being home became a detriment. The pressure to meet my unrealistic expectations literally became a life or death scenario; one where I stopped being able to separate my children's happiness from my insane amount of self-sacrifice and selflessness.
Now I know that it was part of a learning process, for me, and acknowleding that staying at home isn't always easy or fun doesn't mean that I don't love being a stay-at-home mom just the same.
I'm a nurturer by nature, but that's different than being someone's mother. Feeling compassion for living things doesn't compare to being the sole caregiver of them. I thought pregnancy would pull motherhood out of me, and assumed that when I held my daughter for the first time, I'd really feel like a mom. When those things didn't happen, I assumed something was wrong with me. What kind of mother holds her baby for the first time and sees her as a stranger? That was me, and what I've learned in the years since, that it's actually completely normal.
From the moment I wake up, until the moment I've tucked both kids into bed at night (and, usually, even after), my "to do" list doesn't end. As a new stay-at-home mom, I assumed that the more things I "accomplished" in a given day, the better I would feel about my abilities as a mother. But in the end, the only thing I felt was exhausted and less than. Because no matter how many things on my list I crossed off, I was only capable of focusing on the things I didn't accomplish.
Watching other amazing moms I knew — both stay-at-home moms and working moms — make everything worse. It seems like these women are doing what I can't, and sometimes more than I can't, and doing it all better than I can or ever could. Playing the comparison game reminded me of my weaknesses.
I wanted to be the mom who home-schooled, but that's just not me. I wanted to be the mom who could craft everything and make all the baby food from scratch. That's not me, either. And I desperately wanted to be the mom who loved every second of being at home with her children — the gift of it —because that's what everyone told me I should feel. But I just can't do that, either. Now I see that being "everything" leads to burn out and if I'm emotionally tapped out, my parenting suffers, and then my kids do, too. Caving to the pressure isn't worth it anymore.
I chose to stay home for a variety of reasons, including the financial benefits. The job I had at the time didn't pay much, and if I had pursued my college education as a new mom, my partner and I would have suffered financially. So yes, we saved money when I decided to stay at home. But in return, the day-in-and day-out of being the at-home mom has taken a toll on my mental health. It can be lonely, isolating, and I constantly feel like I'm being judged. I'm doing it all, but at my own expense.
As the beginning, I felt like if my kids were happy, but I was empty inside, it was still a win. But in reality, it was everyone's loss.
I'm more than a stay-at-home mom, but being a stay-at-home mom seems to be all anyone can ask me about. And I'm in my house, with my children, so often that I guess it's easy for people to assume I live a one-dimensional existence. At times, it feels like I've lost myself to motherhood.
I've been a mom for over 11 years now, and the biggest lesson I've learned is that all my "failures" are relative. Where I might obsess over areas I've fallen short, other moms might see what I've done as triumphant. Those early days of adjusting to motherhood were dominated with an overwhelming fear of failing. But every single day, I have to remind myself that failing is part of the job. It's inevitable. It makes me better. I can't compare myself to how other stay-at-home moms fare, because their journey is not my journey.
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