I've been a strange hybrid of a stay-at-home mom since I became a parent eight years ago. I call myself a strange hybrid because although I'm the primary at-home parent, I've also always worked in some capacity, either as a part-time nurse or from home, working for various companies. It's never really been an option for me not to work because we have bills to pay and a lifestyle to maintain (both for my husband and I and our children), but for the majority of my parental career, I've thought of myself first and foremost as a stay-at-home mom. Even though it's taken me almost eight years to find the footing to say this and to mean it, I'm not sure I like being a stay-at-home mom.
In my mind, it sounds terrible to admit that, but it's the truth. And saying it out loud, on the page, is really difficult for me. Because for some reason, I'm able to accept that other women may not want to be stay-at-home mothers, but I can't accept this about myself. I feel like I should be so happy to be a stay-at-home mom. Only, I'm beginning to realize that maybe I'm not. I'd always dreamed and fantasized about being a stay-at-home mom (even long before I had kids of my own) and now that I have them, I honestly cannot imagine being away from my kids all day. And even through the stress of trying to afford full-time childcare and to combine an unpredictable schedule of life at home with four children makes being a stay-at-home parent convenient and the best reality for us right now, I don't think it's working for us anymore. Beyond that, I'm realizing more and more that maybe being a stay-at-home mom just isn't what comes naturally to me.
I remember, when I was a new, working mother, how nice it was to work a normal eight-hour day and come home at the end of the day to enjoy my baby. I worked day shifts while I trained as a nurse and I marveled at the difference in how I felt coming home. I was refreshed and ready to enjoy her and felt like we could actually legitimately relax together since I'd already put in a full day of work. There was never a moment when I was scrambling around after dinner to get work finished or to answer emails or to meet a deadline. Working all day allowed me to feel relaxed when I walked through the door and I still had energy left to spare. Staying home all day, however, is absolutely draining. By evening, instead of being excited to have dinner and spend time together, I sometimes just wanting the night to end. And when I first started staying home with the kids, I couldn't believe how it could be more exhausting than working all day, but that's exactly what it was.
For the first time in my adult life, I felt like part of the world, someone who mattered, not just in the keeper in charge of babies and poopy diapers
As time went on, we added three more children to our family and I cut back more and more on my work outside of the home, until a period between our third and fourth children when I tried my dream job on for size as the editor of a parenting magazine. I was so desperate to try a "real" job that I commuted four hours to the office, somehow convincing my boss to let me work in two-day shifts. I'd stay at a local hotel for the night and literally work non-stop. But as you can imagine, things didn't work out as well as I'd hoped and I felt like a total failure for even trying.
Even though it was brief, I got a taste of what my life could have been: leisurely lunches out, meeting with fascinating, smart women in the industry, learning the ropes of the business and publishing worlds, my own adorable office that I loved, managing a staff of freelancers, my first set of business cards. For the first time in my adult life, I felt like part of the world, someone who mattered, not just in the keeper in charge of babies and poopy diapers. I set foot in the business world, filled with smart, motivated people, and I didn't want to leave. I loved feeling accomplished and creative instead of constantly covered in spit-up and run ragged.
I'd tried to do both at the same time, and I couldn't handle it.
For a long time after I left that job, the stress of trying to juggle work, travel, and the kids was too much for me, especially when I became pregnant with baby number four. I struggled with feeling like I was a failure as a stay-at-home mom and as a working mom. I'd tried to do both at the same time, and I couldn't handle it.
I realized that maybe, just maybe, I didn't have to be a stay-at-home mother if I didn't want to be.
It wasn't until sometime after my fourth baby was born, when I picked up a steady stream of writing jobs and soon was working full-time hours at home, that I gave myself permission to look for a babysitter to use on a more regular basis. Using a combination of a babysitter who also homeschooled and a great-aunt who was happy to have my kids once they got a bit older, I finally carved out more of a schedule that allowed me to both be home and work. And it hit me like a ton of bricks: On the days that I had childcare and worked like a normal, sane individual without my attention diverted in 50,000 directions, I felt like the happiest I'd been in a long time. I realized, somehow for the first time in eight years, that maybe, just maybe, I was actually a working mother at heart. I realized that maybe, just maybe, I didn't have to be a stay-at-home mother if I didn't want to be, and if it didn't make me happy. That maybe working was better for my family, myself, and my marriage.
And that day I gave myself permission to work more if it benefited all of us.
Realizing that I love to work has helped me to understand that in order to be a stay-at-home mom and do it well, I need to cultivate my self-care a little bit more.
It was an eye-opening and humbling realization for me, and although it hasn't changed a lot of our day-to-day lives, because our kids are still young and I'm at home with them pretty much 24/7, it's been nice to let myself off of the hook a bit. Instead of beating myself up for how exhausted and drained I am at the end of a long day at home with kids, I remind myself, "You know what? It's OK. Not everyone loves being a stay-at-home mom or is meant to do it, and that's OK." For so long I felt such tremendous guilt at not loving the stay-at-home lifestyle, but now I realize that it's OK. I give myself much more grace for not feeling unfulfilled as a stay-at-home mom.
And in a strange way, admitting that maybe I'm not a "natural" stay-at-home mom has allowed me to see that it's because of my own feelings of inadequacy. So instead of beating myself up about all the ways I suck as a stay-at-home mom, I've tried to change my thinking to appreciate what I am good at and to work to try to balance the two. Right now, at the end of the day, being a stay-at-home mom is what I truly feel is best for our family and I know what a privilege it is to stay at home with the kids. I think of the gifts a stay-at-home lifestyle has given us, all the memories we've created, all the ways it's actually helped both my husband's and my own career, and I feel grateful that I've had the opportunity to be at home. But realizing that I love to work has helped me to understand that in order to be a stay-at-home mom and do it well, I need to cultivate my self-care a little bit more.
I may wonder, from time to time, if I'm not a "real" stay-at-home mom at heart, but honestly, I don't think that's what matters. What matters is that I've given myself the gift of realizing I'm not perfect, that there's no rule about what "good" mothers do, even for myself, and that what matters is that we've figured out what works for our family for now and at the end of the day, that's been a gift for all of us.