When I was a young college student I had my life all planned out. I was going to get married, work hard for several years to pay off my student loans, buy a house, and a car and then, when I was totally ready because I had money, I’d start a family. It all made perfect sense to me. My plans all blew up, though, the moment I found out that I was pregnant with Emery. Josh and I had been married for just a month and a half and that little smiley face on the pregnancy test really should have looked more worried with maybe a touch of sweat dripping down its face. Because that’s how I felt. I was so scared. I mean, I was happy because I love children and believe that all children are a gift from God. They’re all beautiful and precious (even when they’re not) and should be rejoiced over. I quickly ran to Walmart, while on the phone with my best friend, to get another pregnancy test and make sure that it wasn’t a false positive. I took the test in the Walmart bathroom and got another smiley face (without sweat drops…). I remember laughing. I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, some people cry when they’re overwhelmed. I laugh. That nervous laugh when you’re not actually smiling. I decided I’d be excited. We would figure this out! We could do this! So I ran to the baby department and bought a cute little gender neutral, koala bear baby bathrobe and a pregnancy book, checked out, and put it in a gift bag for Josh. I wasn’t planning to get pregnant (and don’t ask how it happened or I’ll give you all the raunchy details to put shame to that ridiculous question that has plagued unexpected pregnancies from the beginning of time…) so I didn’t have a lot of time to plan a fun and exciting pregnancy announcement to my husband or parents.
When Josh opened the bag and saw the ridiculous grin on my face he said, “are you serious?” And not the oh-my-gosh-I’m-so-happy-and-filled-with-joy-at-the-thought-of-our-impending-parenthood “are you serious?” It was more the I-don’t-have-a-job-and-am-so-scared-I-could-puke-and-have-never-held-a-baby-and-feel-so-unprepared-are-my-eyes-watering-with-fear-filled-tears “are you serious?”. I’m pretty sure my response was, “Hey. I wasn’t planning this either and I don’t need this right now.” And there we stood. Totally terrified.
I still had a year left of school, including my final semester of student teaching. Josh didn’t have a job and was violently shoved into a full-time job of job hunting and applying at employment agencies. I started filling out paperwork for Badger Care (Wisconsin’s version of Medicaid) as Josh’s lack of employment and my full-time student status granted us zero maternity benefits. And, soon, I felt very excited for the arrival of our son. I couldn’t wait to meet his face. I was no longer afraid. I was prepared, so I thought. I knew that we could do this. I knew that we could figure it out. I knew that God would provide somehow. And He did. Josh got a job with benefits. We got a great 3 bedroom apartment for super super cheap. We received a lot of wonderful gifts and hand me downs for Emery. And my school allowed me to work extra hard with my student teaching so I could be done once Emery was born and still graduate. It was all falling into place.
During my entire pregnancy I planned to go back to work when Emery was six weeks old. There was no other option in my mind. I only had one friend, that I know of, who had a stay at home mom growing up. It was totally unfamiliar to me. We also didn’t have the best finances for me to be staying at home. I think Josh was making something like $12 an hour and we were spending around $400 a month for health insurance. It just couldn’t add up. The moment Emery was born, though, math didn’t matter. Logic and reasoning were sucked away. There was no room for that in my heart any longer. I took one look at him and determined that there was not a single person on this planet that could possibly love him as much as I do and, therefore, could not care for him as well as I could. My fears of not paying bills on time were replaced with fears of child abuse, neglect, and accidents. I spent six weeks dreading going back to work until I was set that I wouldn’t do it. I would be a stay at home mom (SAHM).
I had no clue what I was in for. I had no idea what kind of effect those words would have on other people and how many emotions they would bring up. I’ve received so many reactions from others that it is astounding. Some examples of responses I’ve received include: “good for you!”, “Oh, I did all that AND worked 40 hours a week.”, “I wish I could afford to do that!”, “I could never do that. I’d get bored.”, “I could never do that. I don’t have the patience.”, “oh I wish I had done that.”, “we couldn’t afford to have done that.” The list goes on and on. And these responses are what has incited this entire post.
First off, let me just get any ideas that I think “working moms” (as if I do no work as a SAHM) are bad parents out of the way. This is 100% not true! So before I get some nasty hate mail about how I’m insensitive to the parent who needs or wants to have a full time job, let me just tell you to take a 24 hour breather, vent to your spouse or other friend about it, and then don’t email me about it. Because that is definitely not my sentiment and I will not defend myself against something I did not say or mean. I think that “working moms” have challenges and experiences that I don’t understand and moms who stay at home have a whole different set of experience and challenges that “working moms” don’t. We all have something to bring to the table.
So…on with the show…
To you who are a stay at home mom let me say that I am there with you! Every night as I lay in bed awake with one of my kids I am praying for you. I know that you’re working hard and days of rest don’t exist. I know how precious each minute of sleep is when you have little ones. I know how it can feel like it is never going to get easier….and at the same time pains you to watch your children grow older and older and need you less and less. You aren’t alone. I’m totally with you when your child says, “ugh!! Could you just knock it off?!” to his little brother or sister in the most irritated and frustrated tone and you don’t have to wonder where he got that from. You know he got it from you. I’m there with you when you watch your baby take his first steps, and there with you when you’re crying on the first day of school. I’m there with you when you’re curled up on the bedroom floor crying because you lost it and yelled at your kids in a manner that no child should hear and you believe they’ll never forgive you…and you’ll never forgive yourself. I’m there when you’re desperate for a break. You just want to eat one meal that has been cooked in the last hour in peace and quiet. I’m there with you when the kids have taken every single thing out of you today and you are on empty…and they’re somehow still asking for more. I’m there when your little one does something sweet like holding the door open for you or wrapping his arms around your neck in love and affection…making it all worth it! I’m so there. I so get it! I often feel like being a SAHM is like running a marathon. It’s expensive. Often feels like torture. You have to give more when you have nothing left. But you have an incredible amount of joy when you’ve met your goal. Oh…and you get paid in stickers for your car.
To those who have had gracious and supportive conversations with me or another SAHM, let me say, “THANK YOU!” We are infinitely grateful to you for your kindness and support. You probably already know how much we need to hear that. I think the most kind words I’ve ever heard from someone came from an ex-teacher of mine. At the time I had two boys. I went to visit her at my old high school when I happened to be in town. She said, “wow! I stayed at home with my first son. Once my second was born I decided to go back to work. Being a stay at home mom was too hard and I found working full time to be easier.” Now, again, I’m not saying that this would be every working mother’s sentiment. What I appreciated was her recognition that my job is hard. I appreciated her telling me that I am strong! At the time I was really struggling through some parenting challenges and desperately needed someone to validate how difficult my job was rather than brushing it away. I’ve shared this same feeling with moms who homeschool their children. Holy cow! That is such a tough job. I could never be a homeschooling mom because it is so much work! Some of the most intelligent and wise people I know were homeschooled and I often feel they received a much more practical education than I did. It takes a whole gamut of skills that I just simply don’t possess. Your time, dedication, organization…all is way beyond me and I applaud you for it! I wish that I has those same qualities that you have.
Now, I realize there are some women who cannot afford to be a stay at home mom. Technically I can’t either. I have an amazing support system, though, which has allowed us to do this for such a short time in my childrens’ lives. I want to encourage those moms who cannot stay home and wish they could. You are a great mom! You are not doing a disservice to your children. You are working with what you’ve got and I’m sure you’re making every moment of it count!
For the moms who don’t stay at home and don’t want to: kudos to you too! It is better for you to do what you feel led to do than to feel bullied or pressured into staying home. If that isn’t what you want to do, then don’t do it! You’re no less of a mom for it. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids or that your priorities aren’t straight. It is you and what is best for you and your family. This isn’t 1898. You can work if you want to and don’t need to provide a reason or excuse. You want to work. Good! Do that!
Now, that I’m pretty sure I’ve covered my bases and genuinely shown that I support any mother (or father) regardless of their status as a working or “not working” (a phrase I loathe but will use for simplicity’s sake) parent, I can start a little bit of myth busting.
First on my list is the “I did all of that AND worked 40 hours a week” comment. Now, at the risk of being superfluous, I will say again that I completely support moms who have full time jobs. I sincerely do. Just don’t ever ever EVER tell a SAHM that you did her job plus yours. Would you tell that to your daycare provider? “Hey! I did everything you did today and I worked at the office as well!” I doubt it, because she probably wouldn’t ask you back as a customer. Also, please tell me how you managed to be like Hermione Granger and be in two places at once to be more productive because that is, truly, a useful trick! If you didn’t manage to be in two places at once and break all laws of time and space, then don’t ever say that again. You did not change every diaper, administer every bit of medicine, do every nap, referee every fight, pee with someone staring you in the face asking what you were doing while holding a crying baby, have your children throw a temper tantrum in your office because you didn’t do exactly what they wanted you to do at that moment… You did not do everything I do each day AND work a full time job. Maybe you did those things for a few hours in the evening or on the weekends when you were at home. But you didn’t do it all day every day. Promise. You simply didn’t. This isn’t to undermine you and your job and make mine sound better or more difficult than yours. It is to simply tell the truth and call out those who undermine SAHMs as if our job really doesn’t exist. I don’t say, “oh, I worked 40 hours a week outside of the home AND was a stay at home mom,” because it isn’t true.
Another pet peeve of mine is the, “I’d be so bored” comment or anything to that effect (other thoughts may include “not challenging enough for me” or “too mundane” or “not enough excitement and change”). It is usually followed by a “no offense” so as to make any response other than “none taken” null and void and you immediately turn into a dramatic, hyper sensitive overreactor. I get it. Being a stay at home mom isn’t for everyone and it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science (or any degree for that matter…). I get that I’m not sitting at a desk solving the world’s problems. I know that my vocabulary has exponentially decreased and it takes me much longer to form a thought than it did when I was in college, but I am far from bored. I am not stupid or uneducated. My job as a stay at home mom may not be the most intellectually challenging job, but I’d be hard-pressed to find many other jobs that are as challenging in character. Every day I am screamed at, hit/bit/or kicked, and trying my hardest to raise loving, responsible, intelligent, and sensitive children all with no pay, little thanks, and little to show for it at the end of each day with the hopes that it will pay off in the long run. (Not to mention that it is my responsibility to do the majority of the cleaning and housework, grocery shopping, bill paying, and budgeting for our home…). And, just to take it a step further, would you say this to your daycare provider (who likely has a degree in early childhood education)? Can you imagine her response when you tell her that her job doesn’t require much as far as brains and energy? Can you imagine how you’d feel if she said, “Wow. I’d be so bored sitting at a desk all day” (not to say that all working moms sit at desks…). How might an accountant feel if I said something like, “oh, I could never be an accountant. Numbers are so boring and, seriously have no long term impact. No offense.”?? (I couldn’t be an accountant, though…but because I’m terrible at math beyond basic algebra…). And, before I get a bunch of emails about this one from angry (or sorry) people who have expressed this sentiment to me or another SAHM in the past…let me kindly ask you to save it. I don’t need to hear an apology or an angry email…and neither do your other SAHM friends. I’d ask the same of you as I mentioned previously. Take a breather for a day. Think about it. Share your feelings with someone else. And I’d ask you to consider changing your thought process on the subject…and next time the words feel like they’re going to slip from your mouth, just say, “I’m not a SAHM because I don’t want to be.” You don’t have to list out the reasons as to why my job doesn’t meet your needs. Your not wanting to is just fine. It is OK to not want to be a SAHM. I don’t want to be a lot of things. That’s why I don’t do them. It isn’t because they’re beneath me or above me. I just don’t want to do them. End of story.
I love being a stay at home mom. Each day, while the same in many ways, presents itself with new challenges. Every day I need to keep my wits about myself. I need to remember that I’m doing this for the long term. I’ve given up a lot to stay home. I know that these years are short. This is what I feel called to do. Not everyone feels this way. And that is OK. I look forward to the day when I can go back to a full time job outside of the home. For now, I will appreciate my status as a stay at home mom. If you meet a SAHM today, give her a hug and tell her how she’s a hard worker and doing a great job! She probably doesn’t hear it often enough.