Monday, June 29, 2009

It’s okay to not always love being a Stay-at-Home mom

Surely, for some women, being a stay-at-home mother is an entirely magnificent, totally blissful, always fulfilling, happily-ever-after dream come true.

I’m not one of those women—and that’s okay.

I know I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about having left the traditional, paid workforce to be a 24/7 at-home parent to my children. From time to time, most all women doing the job (and stay-at-home motherhood is a job) struggle with the challenges of this kind of in-the-trenches motherhood.

Round-the-clock parenting often has as many downs as ups. The constant demands that come from being the sole adult charged with the care of little minds and bodies (and the surroundings in which they exist) involves a daily routine that many stay-at-home moms need both skill and fortitude to survive. As with any job, we have moments of feeling overwhelmed, overworked, unappreciated, and under-compensated. And all that’s before the 9 am start of the traditional workday.

For a woman who, before motherhood, had a job she enjoyed, experienced career success, lived independently, and had an active social life, setting all that aside for stay-at-home motherhood can be a mixed blessing. It’s wonderful for a mother to be able to devote herself to the full-time care of her family—without the distractions, stresses, and demands of an office or workplace. It’s wonderful for a child to be raised under the constant care of a parent instead of a nanny, sitter, au pair, daycare staff, or afterschool program—or any of the other childcare solutions that parents need to piece together in order to earn an income. In a nation where two incomes are often essential to a family’s well-being, and where single parents need a job in order to pay and keep up with the bills, stay-at-home mothers are often told how lucky they are “not to work.”

I know I’m lucky that my family has been able to live securely for several years with only one steady income, but being a stay-at-home mother is nothing but work! The surprise for many women who spend their days caring for children without end is that they work as many, if not more, hours than they did at a “real” job. The initial relief from the pressures of paid employment are often replaced by the demands of their stay-at-home reality.

Putting aside professional skills and independence to fill sippy cups and push swings can be tough on a woman’s sense of self. And although a stay-at-home mother is never without something to do, the day can drag, and entire weeks can feel empty of adult company or personal fulfillment. Then, in the rare instance she gets to mingle among grown-ups without kids clinging to her, someone asks her what she does, and she struggles between saying, “I’m a stay-at-home mom . . .” or “Well, I used to be . . .” or some tortured combination thereof. It can make her want to cry.

My advice. Don’t sugarcoat, sentimentalize, or reduce to slapstick the realities of stay-at-home motherhood.

For women who have good days and bad, who sometimes absolutely adore and appreciate being home with their kids and sometimes can’t stand it, parenting books and magazine articles in which the author and interviewees gush about their love of being a mom and surrendering to motherhood just don’t jibe with all the realities. Ditto those who joke about the sleepless nights and messy minivans and days without showering—but, alas, each quip or complaint is couched by an “I wouldn’t change it for the world” sentiment. For the woman whose every mothering moment isn’t a greeting card moment, such rosy pictures can actually be demoralizing: “I don’t like playing peek-a-boo and going to the park every day. I don’t like being at the beck and call of someone else’s moods and needs. Sometimes I don’t want to be around my kids. I must be a terrible mom.”

You’re not a terrible mom. You’re a typical mom.

So hang in there! Even though you may be alone in your house right now with [fill in the applicable number] child(ren) crying, hanging on you, and demanding your immediate attention, you are not alone. Even though you may feel you’re flying a solo mission, you aren’t, especially when it comes to your conflicted feelings:
10 am: “I’m so happy I’m home!”
11 am: “What was I thinking?
Noon: “Being a stay-at-home mother is [fill in an adjective here]!”
It’s okay to not always love being a stay-at-home mom. Women often fear that admitting as much is tantamount to saying to the world and themselves that they regret not being part of the paid workforce.

The reality is, sometimes, some women do regret having left a career, or wish for something more. That’s normal. That’s healthy. It doesn’t mean they don't love her children. It doesn’t mean they'd make a different choice if they had a do-over. It definitely doesn’t mean they're a bad mother, or that they’re not doing a good job. Some days at work are wonderful. Some days are nightmares. Few people love their job every minute of the day. The same goes for the job of being a stay-at-home mom.

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