The decision not to go back to work after maternity leave was easy for me. We did the income versus childcare math and for us, it just didn’t make sense. I figured I could find ways to make up the income from home and settled into the idea of being a “stay at home/work at home mom.” As I approach my three-year at-home-anniversary, I look back at that decision and wonder if, knowing all that I know now, I would have made the same choice all over again. Although the past three years have been some of the most joyful and beautiful years of my life, they have also been the most lonely and isolating.
I am not a morning person — I never have been and likely never will be. My husband wakes up around 5 a.m. while I sleep until the last possible second and roll out of bed whenever I hear the sing-songy “I want Mama…” whine/cry emanating from the baby monitor on my nightstand. Most days, my husband has already left for work by the time we make our way downstairs and he doesn’t return home until just before bedtime, so it’s just me and my kiddo, for better or for worse, day in and day out. He is my constant companion: he comes with me to doctor’s appointments, errands and even to the occasional work meeting (which never, ever goes well). When I am cooking dinner, he brings whatever toys he is playing with into the kitchen and plays on the floor under my feet. I have to lock the bathroom door to keep him from barging in while I’m peeing and I have yet to figure out the secret to an uninterrupted shower. I am almost never alone, but at the same time I have never been more alone.
I am a super social person by nature. I thrive when I am in groups of people and I get antsy when I am in the house for too long. One of the main reasons I miss having a job outside of my house is for the socialization: the office gossip, the holiday celebrations, heck I even miss meetings. On any given day the only adult conversations I have are with the lady at the checkout counter at the grocery store or with the debt collectors still trying to get me to pay my three-year-old hospital bills from my son’s birth (oops). Even on the rare chance I do get to be around another adult at a playdate or other child-driven social activity, I am so out of practice with adult conversation that I don’t even know what to say half the time. It’s like I only have so much brain power and it’s spent keeping track of my child darting throughout the playspace; there is no room left to form coherent and/or interesting topics for conversation with other adults in my immediate vicinity.
There are many aspects of parenting that my husband, my supposed partner in this whole parenting thing, will never be able to relate to or empathize with, and that can feel really lonely sometimes.
Not only am I often physically alone, but the part I struggle with most of all is the emotional isolation of being the parent who knows (and feels) all the things. Whether I like it or not, being with my son all day every day keeps me privy to information my husband just never has to keep track of: my son’s bowel habits, how much protein he’s had on any given day, or whether or not he has any clean socks. Only I have had the pleasure of trying to mentally attend to a conference call while simultaneously serving up a snack or wiping a bottom. When my son decides he would rather re-enact the movie Frozen in his bed instead of napping, it is my work time that gets derailed, causing me to have to stay up later at night tying up the loose ends. There are many aspects of parenting that my husband, my supposed partner in this whole parenting thing, will never be able to relate to or empathize with, and that can feel really lonely sometimes.
So yes, it is possible to feel alone — really alone even when you are never actually physically by yourself — and that loneliness can really swallow you if you let it. On days when things feel particularly yucky I remind myself that this is just a season of my life. There will come a day when my son no longer wants to come to the store with me or would rather play in his room alone than watch me cook dinner and I know for a fact that I will miss him always being by my side. And as much as it sucks being the parent who is the keeper of all the things, you also get to experience all the amazing little things your partner may be missing throughout the day that you alone have the honor of being a witness to.
Making the choice to stay home with my kid came with some very real sacrifices but if I am honest with myself, I truly have gained much more than I lost and I wouldn’t trade these years, even for the juiciest piece of office gossip in the world.