Being a mom of any kind is tough but, for me, being a stay-at-home mom was especially difficult. Motherhood came with significant role confusion for me (as it does for most women), especially when I made the slow, painful choice to not return to my old job after having my son. While it's probably more accurate to call me a work-at-home mom now, for most of my son's life I've been a stay-at-home mom. In that time, I've made most, if not all, of the mistakes every stay-at-home mom eventually makes, at least once.
It's pretty impossible not to, if I'm being honest. It's not like there's a course for this or something. If we weren't raised by stay-at-home parents ourselves, the closest we get to an education on how to be a stay-at-home mom is from the snippets we see of other people's lives, or depictions in the media. I mean, it's not like any woman ever went wrong comparing her day-to-day life with the highlight reel she gets from her friends on social media, or the stereotyped and/or idealized versions of motherhood shown in movies and TV. Oh, wait.
But here's something I, a recovering perfectionist, never thought I'd say: it's totally OK to make these (and plenty of other) mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn. Plus, while the stakes are generally really high when it comes to parenting, the overwhelming majority of the little decisions we make on a daily basis do not happen at make-or-break moments. We may make a mistake every now and then, and we may lose our cool and the ability to remain graceful during difficult situations, but our world (and our children's worlds) do not end. We usually get another chance to try again. I'm learning the longer I am on this mom-journey, that absolutely nothing is set in stone. When we realize something's not working, we can change it.
So, deep breaths stay-at-home moms (and all moms, in general). You can always recover if you've slipped up and made any one of these following blunders.
Not Setting Boundaries On Your Time And Energy
There’s a lot of sentimental messaging about motherhood out there, that suggests it’s somehow crass to think of any kind of mothering as "work." I call BS. When we refuse to think of what moms do as work, we are usually failing to properly value that work and it makes it that much harder for mothers to set boundaries for themselves. It’s easy, especially when you fall into a “mom stays home with the kids, partner goes out and makes money” pattern, to also fall into a pattern where the stay-at-home parent becomes the default person in charge of everything at home. That translates into having a 16+ hour daily shift versus eight or so for your partner. That’s totally unfair and unsustainable, and a surefire recipe for burnout and resentment in your relationship.
Moms have to take breaks from mothering, just like anyone else needs to take breaks from working, because mothering is work. In our house, being a stay-at-home parent is a day job. When that work day is over, both of us are equally responsible for home and kids.
Not Taking Enough Time For Yourself
Naturally, if you’re struggling set boundaries around your time and energy, its the time you would be (and should be) setting aside for yourself that gets lost. However, it’s important for all people, stay-at-home moms included, to take time to be by ourselves and to do things for ourselves. Even if it’s just a long, hot shower every day, a few minutes to walk or stretch by yourself, or an hour alone to read a book (one with real paper pages and no rhymes), it’s critical to take that time to recharge. Without it, we get worn out and start feeling like we're taken for granted. That is not a basis for a happy home or a happy life.
Going Too Long Without Leaving The House
If your child is young enough not to ask to do things, and you don’t technically have to be anywhere, it gets really easy to get absorbed by the daily rhythms of life at home and forget to go anywhere. This is especially true when the weather is gross, like in the dead of winter or the sweatiest parts of summer, and just opening the door feels like cruel and unusual punishment for a crime you don’t remember committing.
Furthermore, once you factor in the extra gazillion hours it takes to prepare a small child for any weather that isn’t perfect, the thought of having to actually go somewhere can seem super daunting. Cabin fever is real, though, and leads to tantrums in children and adults. Save yourself and go outside, even if it feels like a pain.
Losing Touch With Adult Friends
This mistake is almost inevitable, especially when you have a really new child at home. Sometimes it can feel impossible to make plans because it’s really hard to predict what your schedule will be like when babies’ rhythms and routines are constantly changing. Other times you’re just too tired after doing all the things with your kids, especially if your friends keep late hours. (I was recently invited to a dinner that started at 9PM. Just the thought of that makes my Netflix hurt.)
Sometimes you feel like you want to go somewhere, but you don't remember how to be out among grown people, because instead of teaching your toddler big people manners, he's been teaching you his. Just keep trying, texting and keeping some connection with friends and using the one hand you have free. (Thank goodness for smartphones.) The stars will align before too long.
Not Keeping A Flexible Routine
I’ve fallen into both pitfalls here; not being flexible enough, or not having a routine at all. Neither works.
If you’re too rigid with your day, your child will literally and figuratively crap all over your plans. (“Having” to do anything on a strict schedule is the best possible laxative for a baby or young toddler.) If you have no routine at all, then you’re basically just vamping to kill time, improvising whatever you can to run out the clock until your partner comes home or until your child finally takes something that looks somewhat like a nap. A flexible routine that honors everybody’s natural rhythms, but follows roughly the same pattern every day, is amazing. Plus it’s all but impossible to set boundaries and protect your daily “me time” without it.
Feeling Guilty About “Not Contributing” Financially
I list this as a mistake first because caring for children is a huge economic contribution, both to individual households and society at large. Chances are, if you're a stay-at-home mom, you know exactly how expensive child care is when it's not you who's responsible for it. That's the minimum amount that you're generously donating to your family. The fact that moms' work is unpaid in our society is a reflection of our society’s misplaced priorities and the consistent way that anything considered “women’s work,” including most care work, often isn’t valued or properly compensated.
Just because work is done at home and isn’t paid for with money, doesn’t mean it’s not work or a valuable contribution. Nobody who does an honest day’s work should ever feel guilty about their contribution to society, and that includes you, stay-at-home mama.
Feeling Guilt Or Shame For Wanting to Stay At Home
These feelings can come from a number of directions, like being an unpaid adult in a world that connects our value to how much money we make, or, if we’re feminists, feeling like staying at home with our kids may not be “feminist enough.” When I started feeling the aforementioned ways, or wondering if I was being “lazy” for wanting to stay home with my son, a phrase I learned during my time running a virtual office came in really handy: “Work is something you do, not somewhere you go.”
Raising children is worthwhile work, and children are worthwhile people. It’s totally legitimate to want to spend the majority of your time with them.
Feeling Guilt Or Shame For Not “Enjoying Every Minute”
Name one person, doing anything, who enjoys literally every single minute of their life. (I have an entire summer reading list I could get through before you ever find that person.)
It’s not possible for humans to love every minute of anything we do. We get bored sometimes, and sad sometimes, and lonely sometimes, and sick of doing the arduous, repetitive, or otherwise blah things necessary to keep on keepin' on. The expectation that moms, and stay-at-home moms in particular, should constantly be brimming with joy and wonder at their children, is ridiculous. The fact that you may not enjoy every minute of being a stay-at-home mom (or of being a mom in general) does not mean you made the wrong choice or that you’re a bad mom or bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re “ungrateful” because other parents wish they could stay home with their children. It just means you are a normal human.