I remember sitting in a class where the professor told us that his wife was one of the most amazing people on the planet because she stayed home and raised their children. I remember raising my hand and saying, “Well, that is what works for your family, but that isn’t possible for everyone. It’s an unrealistic standard in this day and age with so many single-parent households to expect women to stay home.”
He then told me he thought the reason divorce rates were so high was because of working mothers who don’t have the time to pay attention to their spouse or kids. He said that men should not want to marry a woman who isn’t willing to stay home because it shows a flaw in their moral character.
I remember walking away from that class feeling absolute rage because I wanted to work AND have a family. The two shouldn’t be considered incompatible.
I remember when I had my third baby two years ago, a woman came to visit me. I had just had a baby, moved into a new home, and left my job – all within ONE WEEK of each other. Up to that point, I had worked or attended college full-time with my children being watched by family or attending daycare.
This new neighbor, who I had never spoken to before in my life, spent most of our visit telling me how grateful I would be for my decision to become a stay-at-home mom. She praised me for choosing to be at home doing this most important work. She told me that being a mother was the most fulfilling thing I could ever do and that she was proud I had chosen to leave teaching to focus on my own children.
And I just remember sitting there thinking, “You don’t know me at all.”
Because the honest truth is I did not love the idea of being a stay-at-home mom. I cried when she left.
Yes, I love the morning snuggles, the drawings that my kids make, and watching all of the milestones hit day after day. I adore hearing my children’s excited, pounding footsteps as they race to tell me about the new fun thing they have done or discovered. I love the freedom of going to the park, the library, or on a playdate with friends and family in the hot afternoon. I feel magnified by the fact that my children know I am a constant source of love and trust, and that I’ll be right there if they ever need me.
But I don’t love the stillness. The feeling that while everyone around me is moving in leaps and strides, I can be fully fixed on the couch, in my pajamas, for days at a time. Knowing that unless I schedule a trip outside of the house, I could go days at a time without talking to another adult, aside from my husband. I don’t love introducing myself to someone new and only being able to talk about myself from a position of motherhood, or what my children have done that week.
I don’t love coming up with my own schedule. I don’t enjoy being the only authority my kids have every single day, pendulum swinging between loving mother and judge, jury, and executioner multiple times. I don’t love the exhaustion or the burn-out of having the same fights with a toddler 86 hours in a row.
Now, my sister is amazing. Being a stay-at-home mom is truly her calling in this world. She makes it look easy. She homeschools her children, takes them out all of the time, and somehow still finds the energy to call me up and see when my kids are coming over to play. She manages the meltdowns and the exhaustion with a baby on her hip and a smile on her face. Given the choice, she would choose to be home with her family over any other activity.
She is my antithesis, and I love and admire her all the more for it.
But for me, I find staying home to be more draining on my energy and emotional resources. I feel less creative throughout the day. I feel less compelled to go out and do the things I typically would after a day of working. There are so many amazing stay-at-home moms who make it work, who plan the fun activities and do all of the things, but I recognize that I am not often one of them.
I miss the personal growth and fulfillment that comes from setting my own goals. Goals that don’t have to be worked on just during nap time. I miss the working professional relationships I had with other people where we talked about anything and everything, not just our kids. I miss having daily tasks that revolve around more than cleaning dishes and wiping up spills. I even miss the weight of deadlines.
I feel great personal fulfillment in knowing that I am developing as a person in ways that are challenging when I am working. I look forward to the days where the hardest thing I accomplished did not revolve around getting my kids to bed on time. When my husband asks me what the best part of my day was, I want to have an answer readily available beyond the kids being well behaved or getting a few minutes to myself. I love teaching and find it so rewarding in new and different ways every single moment in the classroom.
I am still a constant source of love and trust even if I am at work.
I still catch my children’s milestones. Maybe not the very first steps or the very first words, but I still see all of the seedlings of development and their fruitful reward. I still take them to the park and the library, or to playdates – sure, they have to happen after 4:00 pm, but they are happening. And, I probably have more energy and excitement to do these things when I am working.
When I’m working, time with my children has a weight and a meaning to it much deeper than getting them out of the house so I can have a mental break. I want to spend that time with them. I want to have quality experiences because I recognize that unless I am intentional, these things aren’t going to happen. When I’m working, I spend less time on my phone at home. I savor the messes and spills because they are the few that I get.
Working gives me the mental and emotional reset that I don’t get to experience when I am home all day.
If you’re feeling this way too, know you aren’t alone. It took me a long time to feel courageous enough to say out loud that I don’t like being a stay-at-home mom, especially when that is the expectation of many women in this area. People still stare at me open-mouthed when I do mention my love of working.
I fully admire women that stay home. You are doing such an important job for your kiddos. I sincerely appreciate the people who choose to stay home and allow my children into their homes while I am working. If you are doing what you know is best for you and your mental health, go for it! Know that I am cheering you on from the sidelines, hoping that we can bolster each other up in our different roles. Because it does take a village, after all.