In Fear of Flying, Erica Jong said, “Show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilty and I’ll show you a man.” While we can argue whether women themselves are entirely, or even predominantly, responsible for constantly feeling guilty, I see so much truth in this. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I see another side of this culture of shame that I hadn’t before. But, having done this gig for a few years now, let me assure you that there are things you should never feel guilty for when you're a stay-at-home mom.
Women are supposed to feel guilt about absolutely everything. We vocalize how “bad” we are being if we eat something that isn’t kale-wrapped cucumbers, and then, when we do, we feel guilty if the kale isn’t organic and locally sourced. And then, if it’s organic and locally sourced and all that, we feel guilty for trying so hard. We post selfies and apologize for our lack of makeup or for having a hair out of place, because apparently we’re supposed to look perfect all the time, but we’re also not supposed to be shallow or over-preoccupied with our appearance, because vanity is unattractive. We apologize before we speak in a business meeting because… reasons? And that’s not getting into “mom guilt.”
Speaking as a former working mother, I can assure you that there is no hell as insidious or heartbreaking as the guilt a working mother is designed to feel every day. So when I decided to become a stay-at-home mom, I figured that would end. Apparently, I hadn’t yet realized that this system is designed by the powers that be so that you can never, ever, ever win. Stay-at-home moms have their own realm of guilt, largely based on the idea of, “Well, if this is all you’re doing you should be on top of everything you’re supposed to do at all times.” To which I say: Ha. OK. Why don’t you come over here and show me exactly how you plan for me to do that?
Here are some of the things stay-at-home moms are meant to feel guilty about, but shouldn’t.
Of course the house is a mess! There is at least one child there basically all the time, singularly focused on creating as much chaos as possible. Toys, snacks, clothing, shoes, pillows, blankets, books? To a child, these are items that must be strewn about the floor at all times in order to create an Indiana Jones-like series of deadly booby traps. (Anyone who has ever stepped on a Lego knows what I’m talking about.) It would be weird on about a million levels if the house of a stay-at-home mom were spotless. Guilt level warranted? Zero percent.
Like any concerned parent/hippie/proponent of physical activity and imaginative play, I try to limit my kids’ screen time. I’m not against TV, but I don’t want that to be all they do in a day. But some days are hard, and on those days the puppets of Sesame Street are much better parents than I would be anyway. Distracting your kids away from needing your constant, highest level of energy and attention every now and then with some beloved and educational children’s programming? That sh*t is essential sometimes. No one can make you feel guilty about that.
Because sometimes your oldest is pitching a fit that he can’t be a mosquito when he grows up, and your youngest is clinging to your legs sobbing because she’s teething, and you are running on four hours of sleep and should not be trusted with a knife, not even to chop healthy, organic vegetables for a French-Thai fusion meal you found on Pinterest. Boom. Pizza. Pizza is delicious. Everyone loves pizza. Why should you feel guilty for giving your family something everyone loves?
Shortly after becoming a stay-at-home, I realized that my new “uniform” was basically identical to my middle school uniform: jeans, t-shirt, and an open flannel shirt. Hot, right? Between needing to accommodate the uninhibited movement necessary for playing with (and occasionally swooping in to rescue) your children (not to mention those moms who nurse and need easy access to the boobiez) and needing to be OK with whatever you’re wearing inevitably becoming covered in dirt, snot, food, and general child schmutz, it’s completely understandable that many moms dress practically rather than fashionably. And despite what I once believed, practicality and fashion are not always simple to achieve simultaneously. Don’t feel bad, though. Once they’re older, you can make up for this dark period in your sartorial history by wearing Oscar de la Renta ballgowns every day. At least that’s my plan.
Fun fact: I am writing this article from home, and as I wrote that last sentence I realized, “Oh crap, I have a load of towels in the washer from last night.” The smell wasn’t musty enough to warrant running them a second time (thank you, fabric softener), but it was a close call. At any given point in my house, there are between one and two baskets of laundry to fold (or folded clothes that need to be put away), two to three full hampers, and clothes in the washer and/or dryer. It is never-ending. It is demoralizing. It is horrible. And despite all this laundry, I never have anything to wear. It is cosmic cruelty.
Laundry is legitimately a reason I don’t want a third child (OK, it’s not a main reason, but it was discussed when the topic came up for consideration because that is how much I hate laundry). Guys, there is so much of it! Kids are basically small laundry generating machines. Throw two adults and a family’s worth of towels in the mix and it’s spin cycle pandemonium, concocted by Satan himself. That isn’t on you. Don’t feel guilty about the fact that it’s never, ever done.
It doesn’t mean you would trade places with a working mom, or feel like working moms have it easy, or anything like that. But it’s the whole “the grass is greener” phenomenon that I think is very, very normal and nothing to feel guilty about. I mean, I was a working mom for almost three years, and I know it's anything but easy. In fact, personally speaking, I found being a working mom more difficult than being a stay-at-home mom (but that’s just me and, remember, everyone is different!). But every now and then I’ll look at a working mom, in her lovely, unstained work clothes, talking about how she was able to grab a manicure on her lunch break, posting pictures of her business trip to London, and I’m like, “OMG THEY ARE SO LUCKY!” And, granted, I’m only seeing (or choosing to see) the good aspects of their experience (or what I perceive to be the good aspects of their experience), and it may well be the case that she is looking at my stay-at-home mom experience wistfully, but damnit it’s hard not to get jealous from time to time.
Every now and then there’s a new think piece about how stay-at-home moms should shut up and stop complaining. This is such B.S. Everyone is entitled to their struggle, as long as they keep it in perspective. So, yeah, recognize your privileges and your blessings when they apply, but privilege and good fortune do not ensure a life devoid of adversity or annoyances. Feel free to vent that stress! Just be conscious of where, when, to whom, and how often you are doing so.
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