Why not just jump right in and the topic going, right? In case you missed it, yesterday I wrote about my background and my thoughts on the financial transition. Today’s it’s about the emotional ride. I’m not going to focus on the emotions of having a newborn, but instead the specific emotions I dealt with in my new identity as a SAHM.
Disclaimer: this post is not a discussion about working mom vs stay at home mom. Please don’t turn it into that, as ALL moms that work their tails off for their families, in whatever capacity works best for them, deserve the utmost respect. This is me, sharing MY experience and MY emotions that I went through when we decided I’d stay home with our newborn daughter.
In fact, that’s a good place to start. Identity. It’s amazing how much of our identity is tied up in what we do, rather than who we are. The first question at a cocktail party is always “what do you do?”. I always found it fun to tell people about my health coaching. Health is a topic that intrigues almost everyone and it would always start a great discussion. In contrast, answer that question with “I’m a mom” or “I stay home with the kids” and it pretty much kills the conversation. Maybe you’ll get a “oh how nice” in return, but that’s about it.
Somehow saying that I was just a mom (just?!?) felt unworthy in the beginning. It’s no surprise why. When I had a “real” job, I’d get dressed, do my hair, have to be somewhere at a certain time, have deadlines, clients, paperwork, a title and a company email address. You know, all the things that scream I’M IMPORTANT. When I transitioned to being a mom, I lost that. I could, and sometimes did, stay in pajamas all day, especially with a newborn. When someone innocently asked how I spent my day, I’d rack my brain and answer the best way I knew how- “well, I got dressed! And we made a quick trip to Target for toilet paper.” It sounded so unglamorous, so unimportant.
Looking back now, I want to hug the new mom I was back then. In between the putting on my pants and Target trip, I was accomplishing so many things that were left unspoken. I was caring for the most incredible little human, our daughter, who depended solely on me for every single need. I was her food, her comfort, in charge of keeping her clean and warm. I was caring for another life all day long, with no lunch hour, no coworker camaraderie, no boss telling me how great I was doing. The problem wasn’t with the level of importance of my daily tasks, but that I was so accustomed to external validation that I was lost without it.
Additionally, people seem to understand that jobs can be difficult. However, when I told people I was staying at home with Hailey, I’d often hear “you are so lucky!”. The phrase is well-intentioned, I have no doubt, but also is a double-edged sword. The thing is, I DO feel incredibly blessed to get to be at home with Hailey. However, the word ‘lucky’ always insinuated to me that I got off easy. Phew- no more work for me! Wahoo! In reality, as cliché as it sounds, being a mom is the hardest job I’ve ever had. The isolation, the inability to communicate, the 24/7 schedule, the pressure to be engaging and advancing the skills of your child at every moment… it can be a lot to handle day in and day out.
Now, as Hailey just turned two, I’m increasingly comfortable with my title as stay-at-home-mom. I wear it with pride and know my job is incredibly important. I don’t put the burden on others anymore to understand what I do all day or to respect my decision. We are doing what works best for our family. I’m not only at peace with, I’m in love with, our family’s decision. Because of that, I no longer feel the need to defend it to strangers.
However, to get here has taken some time and lots of learning. To be successful as a stay at home mom, I’ve depended on several factors.
1. Learning to have confidence in my choices and place in life. In other words, internal validation. Others may see that you spent the afternoon at the park and think how easy my life is, but I know no one sees every part of every day. I know how hard I work. I also know that sometimes we DO have easy days with lots of playing. I now refuse to feel guilty about the easier days. I also had days at my ad agency job when we drank beer and got off early on Fridays. I think the good and bad days even themselves out for most jobs.
2. Spousal Support. I feel amiss that I haven’t mentioned David yet. I almost tear up (ok, I am tearing up) when I think of how he’s truly been my rock from the beginning. He’s NEVER made me feel like my job was less than the most important job in the world. In fact, he’s reminded me of it on days I felt worthless. He gets excited when I’ve told him we played all day, not annoyed at my “easy” job. He appreciates what I do for our family and tells me it regularly. I try to do the same for him because I can guarantee you I would not be as comfortable in my role as a SAHM without his constant support. So, actually, I guess I do still rely on some external validation.
3. Getting Out of the House. I guess I could also call this mom friends or play dates, but you can’t underestimate the importance of them. When I finally was comfortable getting out of the house, I put an ad in our neighborhood newsletter that I was seeking a fellow mom walking buddy. One person replied and we met up that week. Now Alison is one of my closest friends and we hang out several times a week.
A blog reader (hi Cheryl ) reached out to me because we have daughters the same age. We met at Gymboree, talked to several other moms and now have been getting every Wednesday afternoon for over a year. I love those girls.
Again, this is not a mom-friends versus non-mom-friends debate (I love you ALL). When I get together with my fellow moms, there is an unspoken understanding and empathy present that you can’t put a price on. We share our struggles openly and without judgment. We pick up the slack for each other. We engage in the cooler-talk that we all miss and need.
4. Taking Advantage of Online/Distance Support. I know there are many baby/mom boards out there, but I feel so fortunate to have you guys. Seriously. It’s about to get all cheesy up in here, but having this blog as an outlet to come to and talk things over with you guys is priceless. I read every comment and every email and really feel like I’ve gotten to know so many of you. Thank you for your friendship and support.
I also am part of several mom groups on facebook. some of us our local mom friends, some of us bloggers and some of us randomly met on twitter. The openness and lack of judging in these groups is impressive.
And I can’t forget my friends that don’t live nearby. Phone calls do wonders to lift my spirits on rough days.
5. Giving Myself a Break. Not everyday is going to look like a homeschooling pinterest board. It’s ok. Hailey gets a lot of social interaction. We talk colors with play-doh and read books and sing songs and build forts on many days. Because of that, an afternoon or two of having her do nothing but tag along on my errands isn’t going to hurt her development. Neither is a random TCBY dinner.
Again, my apologies for being so wordy, but it seems I had a lot to say on the subject. Being a mom of any kind, heck just being a woman, isn’t easy. But by learning to be comfortable in my choices and taking advantage of support systems, I’ve truly embraced and come to love the part of my identity that is being a SAHM. It’s not ALL that I am, but it’s a big part of it.