Society expects a lot from stay-at-home moms (SAHMs). After all, if the full-time working folk are suffering, you should, too. So if you seem to be getting off easy in any way, real or imagined by those around you, you need to be prepared to defend yourself as to why. (You shouldn't complain, either, because you are lucky to be so privileged.) This silent expectation is not only exhausting, but it will undoubtably create moments when society expects you to apologize for being a stay-at-home-mom, and those moments are not pleasant.
Figuring out what kind of mom I am, and the "fun" that is labeling stay-at-home moms and full-time-working moms, has kind of been a trip. First of all, I've had trouble with the limiting nature of the terms. For example, what do you call it when you're "working from home," but technically you work from any cafe with wifi because your kids don't nap when you're with them and they won't let you touch your computer without grabbing it from you so you hire a sitter? Or what do you call being the primary caregiver, but taking several hours a day to leave the house to write essays that no one is paying you for, so technically you are not working and you are not home? (I've come up with a few unkind labels for myself: Indulged. Privileged. Lucky. Spoiled.)
Am I a stay at home mom? I think so, sometimes. Maybe it isn't society judging me, after all. Maybe it is my own inner voice of insecurity around the kind of mother I am perceived to be by others, and my conflicting feelings about those potential perceptions. Either way, it feels like I should constantly be apologizing for the type of mom I am, and especially in the following situations:
When You Manage Find Time To Work Out
Society does not like a stay-at-home mom who works out. "What did you do with the kids?" is usually the first question asked when a mom is spotted post-workout or en route to said workout that that doesn't involve her child tagging along in a jogging stroller. Ask any mother who has ever done a Stroller Bootcamp, and she'll tell you that unless your baby is still in the napping or gazing-at-the-clouds-in-wonder phase, stroller bootcamp is not a thing you can do after the early baby months.
Even though people will say, "Go you!" when they see you working out to get that "pre-baby body back" (or whatever that means) you can almost count on the next comment being, "How do you have time, with the baby?" If you tell them it is because you are a stay-at-home mom, expect the whole mood of the room to change.
When You're Spotted Having Lunch Alone
Before I let the world know that I was legitimately working, like on a regular basis for cash, if people spotted me without my kids at a restaurant alone it was like they'd happened upon an animal who'd broken free from the zoo. "What are you doing out and about?" they'd ask, quickly scanning the room for signs of my children somewhere behind a napkin holder. Can't a mom have lunch alone? (Answer: No. Not without intense judgement.)
When People Ask You What You Do For A Living
There was a large chunk of time after I first had a baby when I clung desperately to my old professional title as "editor," and told people that I was still freelance editing and ghostwriting regularly. I wasn't so much as doing paid gigs as I was writing on my own personal blog and figuring out how I could turn essay writing and blogging into an actual paid job, all while a babysitter watched my kid.
Still, when people asked me what I was up to work-wise, I quickly scrambled to whatever my last project was, even if it had been handed in weeks before. I didn't feel like explaining that I had hired other people to spend time with my child so that I could poke around my keyboard while no one was paying me. I felt like there were only two choices: be at home with my kid or be out of the home working. Even though I had the financial luxury of being somewhere in-between, it felt like something I should be ashamed of.
When You're One Of The Only Moms That Can Attend A School Function
I am really lucky that my part-time job allows me to shift my schedule if I need to and in order to accommodate things like school plays, doctor's appointments, or even just one of my kids feeling yucky and wants to stay home. I know that when I'm sitting at the drama performance that was called for noon, (for some strange reason), mainly surrounded by nannies, that I'm one of the lucky few moms who can be there.
As a result, I feel guilty about how lucky I am, like I'm supposed to stand up and make an announcement to everyone and say, "Just so you know, I don't take this for granted. Not for a second."
When You Talk With Your Full-Time Working Mom Friends
A lot of the time, when talking to my full-time work-out-of-the-home friends, I feel like I am unworthy in many ways. Here are women who in my mind, are doing it all. They work their butts off in full-time jobs helping to support their families, they contribute to their communities, they set positive examples for their children of what it means to do hard work, and they are badass boss ladies. Then they come home and do all the same things every parent has to do as part of a young child's evening routine (dinner, bath, argue with procrastinating kid, reading, bed). They tell me how little energy they have at the end of their grueling work day and how hard it is to even keep their eyes open while their kids fight them on bedtime. "Is it horrible I want to just put on a movie and let her zone out?" one of my working mama friends said to me the other day.
I feel drained at the end of the day, too, but I feel like I don't do half as much as my friend does to deserve to feel that way. On my "off" days (i.e. the days when I don't have to work and I am home with my kids), I barely have anything left in my soul by the day's end, but should I even complain? Am I allowed to? It's not like I've been climbing the corporate ladder all day or dealing with inept coworkers or an undermining staff. But my friends have had to deal with all that crap and more. Does society think I have a right to complain after my "fun" day of playing in the park and getting ice cream?
When You Seem To Only Talk About Kid-Related Things
When your life is mainly centered around your children's activities, school, playdates, meal times, and physical and emotional development, you're going to tend to talk a lot about those topics (and maybe less about politics). There was a period when I don't think I looked at a newspaper for months, because all I did was live in the world of lists of what my children needed for their very different food needs at the time, their sleep schedules, and their eating schedules. (Having two kids under 3 at the same time was no joke.)
At dinners with "regular people" (i.e. people without kids or who were not in this particular phase of child-rearing that I was in) I felt like an outsider. I had no idea about the books, television shows, or news articles most people were talking about. I did, however, know exactly when we were going to run out of body wash and diapers. I felt really ashamed and like everyone was judging me for being so one-dimensional.
When People Comment On How Clean Your House Is
If people know you're a stay-at-home mom and they make a comment about the cleanliness of your house, you can't help but wonder if they are really complimenting you or if it is a dig at "all that time you have on your hands."
I am an obscenely clean person who cleans to a fault. Even on the days when I have to leave the house before 8 a.m. and don't get home until 10:30 p.m. I will set about cleaning the whole house for the next two hours because yes, I need help, you guys. I know. However, I don't appreciate not knowing if people are really impressed at my commitment to keeping a super organized and tidy home, or if they are making one of those "must be nice" kind of comments.