I normally do an internal eye roll at most of the open letter blogs I see. “An open letter the lady wearing a purple sweater who let me go in front of her at the bank”. Really? Just thank her to her face. If it meant a lot, tell her. No need to tell the entirety of the internets something that only applies to one, single person. There have been some great posts, so I certainly don’t feel this way about all of them, but let’s be real: a good portion of these “an open letter to…” blogs could have easily been titled “This Happened Today and Here’s How it Affected Me”.
Yet here I am, penning an open letter, because I know it’s to more than one, single person. I know there are many out there, most of whom are silenced by guilt, by fear of others’ reactions, by stereotypes and standards that are never actually realistic.
There are mothers who stay home with their children, doing “the most important work there is”, devoting their days to their daughters or themselves to their sons, and they are miserable.
You, mom who left a thrilling, challenging career. You, mom whose degree is as useful as a PeePee TeePee. You, mom who longs for adult interaction. You, mom who misses getting dressed up every day. You, mom who feels trapped in your own home. You, mom who wanted to love it, but staying home just is not what you thought it would be. You, mom with the difficult child. You, mom who feels like she doesn’t contribute to society. You, mom who feels overlooked. You, mom who is struggling to pay the bills because you gave up an income. You, mom, whose circumstances made the choice for you. You, mom who feels left behind by the world. You, mom who feels like she has nothing left to give. This is for you.
The very phrase “stay at home mom” implies that something else is going on without you. In order to stay home, someone else must go out. Coworkers, partners, clients… they all move on and go about their business and lives and learning and making and doing…. while you stay. Every day is painfully the same, like your own personal Groundhog Day, but with just enough change and unpredictability to make you feel like you’re never getting the hang of it. People are being promoted while you’re potty training.
We’re all fortunate to have the chance, the opportunity to know first-hand the kind of care our kids are receiving (which sometimes means we take full responsibility for too much iPad time). We know that not every mother or parent is able to have lunch with their child. We know that there are millions who say “Good morning” and then “Goodbye”, and we are humbled by this. But being grateful doesn’t always make it less hard. This is not meant to be entitled, we’re very aware that our position at home is not afforded to everyone. This does not dismiss our feelings, however.
This is also not an invitation, Mom Who Loves Staying Home, to shame or negate the feelings of the moms who don’t. Some women are incredible at it. We all know at least one, at least one HER, whose home is always clean, whose children are always dressed, who not only recognizes how important what she does is, but ENJOYS it. She’s calm, peaceful, instructive, stern without yelling, and apparently has 9 extra hours a day to cook, homeschool, take her kids on outings that don’t result in embarrassment and frustration, and teach them how to sew or dip candles from their own beeswax.
Very few are this mom.
I recently participated in a discussion with over a hundred women, many of whom gave up careers – or at least put them on hold – when they became mothers, and there was an overwhelming amount of admission that they are not fulfilled in their current role as a stay at home mom. Many felt like they were terrible SAHMs, that they never should have taken on the job. They were all plagued by loneliness, disappointment, shame, guilt, and constant feelings of inadequacy. They thought they’d be better at it, they thought they’d love it, they thought it would be different. But it turned out to be really freaking hard, and a hard job will get anyone down.
I’ve worked in retail, in restaurants, at a bank, at a job where I dug a ditch by hand and gave a miniature horse an enema. I completed two college degrees simultaneously in three years and maintained a 4.0 GPA. I’ve made boondoggle keychains with only inches of plastic lanyard. So I’ve done some tough stuff in my day, I’ve worked hard and I’ve seen the results. But when those projects or work days were over, I could walk away, go home. Now if I have a hard day, I’m still at work. When I go to bed, I’m still at work. When I get out of the house, take the kids to the library or the park, I’m still at work. During meals, showers, holidays and sick days… Stay at home moms are always at work. Always. The walls of home can begin to feel like the bars of a cell, the tiny people we care for our warden. We turn down lunch invitations because it interferes with naptime or the risk of a meltdown is too great. We cancel hair appointments because WE are our only childcare. Our prayer life suffers because the few moments of silence we get, we want to just breathe or read blogs. Sometimes we lose track of the days. Sometimes we stay in our pajamas for days on end. We get lonely. Really lonely. And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result, then we are slowly going mad.
Too often we see the Ideal Stay At Home Mom, usually on TV, and let it affect us. We feel inferior, feel like failures. We see clean, open floor space on Fisher Price commercials and women sweeping fully dressed on Swiffer commercials. Moms who slowly and lovingly apply lotion to their smiling, accommodating baby on a perfectly-made bed. Snapshots on Instagram or Facebook of the only moment someone was able to get all the kids herded and smiling during their trip to the pet store. We see these images, then see what we are not. We try to speak up about how hard it is, and we’re met with “I wish I could stay home.” We’re told to keep a plate in the corporate fire or else society will move on and forget us. We’re left feeling drained, left behind, inadequate and messy. Our doubts often silence us and our shame keeps us lonely.
But guess what, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home – YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Not every mom feels this way, but a lot do. Thousands. The other moms you see at the grocery store in the middle of the day, fighting their toddler from tossing in everything they can reach? They’re probably having a hard time, too. The moms who homeschool? They’re probably exhausted, too. Not every job is perfect for every person, not because anything is wrong with the person. I’m a night owl who recharges from alone time and hates Minecraft. Does this mean I’m a bad mom? No! It means I have a harder time with some of the aspects of staying home with early-rising, Minecraft-loving shadows. And I’m not the only one. You are not the only mother who is having these doubts and thoughts and longings for alone time and silence. Do not allow that idea to knock you down and shame you. Know that you’re part of a universal network of women who are struggling, who lose their tempers, who don’t derive all their joy from playing with Little People princesses for 9 hours straight.
You also can’t allow staying home to become your identity. I became a stay-at-home-mom at the ripe age of 21, a few months after graduating from college. That first year was the hardest I’ve ever been through. I had no idea who I was anymore. I went to Sears and bought elastic-waist khaki capris, t-shirts embroidered with flowers, and polos. I cut my long hair to my shoulders, I subscribed to Parents magazine, and I thought every day had to have a craft…. for a 6-month-old. I wasn’t me, I was pretending to be who I thought I had to be. But because I’m not a khaki-capri-wearing person, I was failing, floundering. I didn’t have any friends who stayed home, mostly because my friends I already had were still in college and definitely not having kids, but also because it was painfully obvious I didn’t fit in. I never wore my beloved heels, I only watched PBS Kids… I had forgotten to do what I’d loved before my precious firstborn came along. Hobbies, nights out with the girls, internet friends…. anything we can do to stay connected to the outside world JUST FOR US is crucial. You may stay home, but you’re still valuable, you still have plenty to offer, and you still deserve new lipstick. You are still a wife, a partner, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and an all-around gem.
Despite what online comments hint at, you are not lazy and ungrateful. You’re exhausted. You’re drained. You’re putting everything you have into a job that doesn’t offer much in the form of immediate returns. You’re isolated. You’re broke. You’re in your pajamas at 3 in the afternoon. You’re always on call, never on break. You’re HUMAN. To never get tired while doing this job would require robotics… and even those would most likely get worn down or short-circuited by juice or pee spills.
Admitting you’re having a hard time does NOT make you a bad mom. If anything, you’re better for recognizing your limitations and being in tune with your needs and emotional state. No one loves doing the same thing, all day, every day, day after day. Prisoners are tortured by listening to music from kids’ shows on repeat. Seriously. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) that you break every now and then. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) if you’re in tears before 10AM. Fatigue is not the absence of love, it’s the absence of REST. It’s okay to not love staying home. It’s okay to not find your identity in it. It’s okay to be honest about your feelings. It’s okay to be tired, frustrated, and even sometimes annoyed. Even if you made the person you’re at home with, you’re still individuals with different personalities, and they’re not going to always compliment each other. Not because anything is wrong with you, not because you’re momming wrong, but because you’re PEOPLE. Every single youth camp ever, by the 3rd and 4th day, arguments start happening. People start getting tired, they’ve spent too much time together, personalities clash, expectations aren’t met, and emotions are high. Wearing the Having-the-Time-of-My-Life mask gets tiring and true personalities begin to emerge. That’s just 4 days into camp. I’m almost 11 YEARS into being a stay-at-home mom. Trying to be someone you’re not, being surrounded by different people all day, always being needed… it gets tiring. Not because anything is wrong with me, not because I’m a bad mom, not because I love my kids less than anyone else, but because it’s a hard freaking thing to do.
Your kids don’t make you dislike staying home. It’s not your kids’ fault. Your kids are not worse than Mom Who Loves Staying Home’s kids. I know moms with kids wildly different from mine who are having a hard time staying home, and moms of kids who are a handful who have an absolute blast every day. Just as it’s not a baby’s fault when they cry, it’s not the kids’ fault that this is hard. Kids have needs, we can’t hold that against them. They need to learn things and we’re the only ones there to teach them. Kids argue, want snacks, get picky at mealtimes, need to be wiped, play loudly, and make messes. They worship us and want to be near us. They didn’t know life before us and didn’t give up anything to hang out all day with us, so we are their constant. We are their safe place. It’s not their fault, they’re not doing anything wrong by needing us. You didn’t go wrong somewhere. The JOB is what makes it hard. Remember that when it’s been a hard day, the kids are crying and fighting, you have a headache, everyone is hungry and you have to pee. Remember that when you’re cleaning up any number of bodily fluids. Remember that when they break YET ANOTHER picture frame. It’s not their fault this is hard. Don’t allow that resentment towards them to fester. We are humbly at home FOR them, and they need us. For better or worse.
Speaking of for better or worse, remember your husband, your partner, your other half? Hard days at work can sometimes cause some strain there. You’re exhausted and need to sit in silence for a little bit, and he’s missed you all day and wants to talk. You’re touched out and he wants to make out. You’re unhappy at home and he’s working hard to keep you there. A lot of the time it can feel like you’re in two different places, and sometimes you just are. It’s easy to resent him when he goes to lunches, leaves the house, enjoys a quiet car ride, and the kids behave better for him. But those things aren’t his fault. Keep in mind that as different as your days are from how they used to be, his remain largely the same. When you stayed home, he went back to work, to the same job at the same company in the same car with the same schedule. Coming home to a wife in a different role with a different energy level and different needs is going to be jarring, and will take a lot of time to get used to. It may take a really, really long time for him to begin to understand that you can’t just go to restaurants, you can’t just keep the house clean, and you don’t just sit all day watching soaps. Remember that his day is largely the same as before, and it will take time for you to both adjust to where you are now. Statistically, marital satisfaction is at its lowest when there are young children at home. It’s going to be hard on your relationship, and this is NORMAL. Remember that you’re on the same team, and hard days don’t mean you’re doing a bad job.
Remember that joke about sleeping while the baby sleeps, how everyone was trolling you when they told you that the dishes could wait because babies don’t keep? Ignore it a little. Just a little. Enough to do something for YOU. When I first became a stay at home mom, social media was in its infancy. I was lonely. I floundered for months until I found photography, which I credit with saving my sanity. It gave me something to do that I loved, that had an obvious result, something to stretch my creative muscles. With my third, I discovered online forums, specifically ones dedicated to women due the same month as myself. We swapped advice, birth stories, shared in the excitement and disappointment of the big gender sonograms… it was a circle of friends I never had to leave the house to hang out with. While we all can’t always afford a pedicure or a trip to Sephora, a new shirt, a road trip, or a date night, we can access Facebook groups. You can escape for a little while and laugh with other people without the hassle of putting on a bra. I have made legitimate, meaningful friendships with incredible women I never would have met without the internet. I play with makeup, because I like to. I watch Friends over and over, because I like to. I pull out my glue gun, I drink a Pepsi, I get something at the thrift store that I can make over, I just find SOMETHING that is for me only. It recharges me, breaks up the monotony, and unlike my lunch or my bed or the remote or my uterus, I don’t have to share it. Find something for you. If you have to let the kids watch Caillou to buy you some time with a magazine, do it. Just as you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask first on a plane, take care of you, momma, or there won’t be any momma left to take care of everyone else.
The best advice I ever received was from That Mom, who told me that the days are long but the years are short. I cried HARD when she said this to me. Not every day is a winner. Some days all we’ve done is survive. Some days I go to bed in tears, some days I’m up late giggling with the kids. The days are as varied as their personalities, and thankfully we do NOT have to do all of our parenting in one day. We’ll mess up, and we’ll get another shot. You won’t always be wiping someone. Some day you’ll go from talking about Santa to talking about sex. You’ll trade in your audience in the bathroom for a closed door. I cried when my firstborn started holding his own bottle, because there was something he didn’t need me for, and today there is so much more that he can do without me. I can be sad about this, but I can also be proud to know that he can do these things because of what I taught him. The Karate Kid didn’t know that the seemingly menial tasks he’d been repeating were preparing him for something bigger, and we don’t always realize that what we’re doing, saying, teaching at home is laying the foundation for an adult who can change the world. So we’re basically like ninjas, and that’s always cool. You won’t always be where you are now, no matter how many times you’ve repeated yourself or cleaned the same mess. Our kids will grow, their needs will change, and our influence will take shape.
There is no shame in changing jobs. Sometimes, for the sake of everyone, you just need to call it what it is and look for work outside the home. This is not quitting. This is not failing. This is not running away from your kids. This is shifting what you provide for them to an area you are more equipped or comfortable with. No matter what, being a mom is hard. No matter what, you will sacrifice and work hard. Find your gifts and offer them to your family without any ounce of shame at what it is you have to give or what you think you should have. Be proud of what you do for your family, no matter where you do it from.
You, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home, you are strong. You are ABLE. You are a good mother who loves her kids and sacrifices just about everything for them. You are making it. You, who feels so unappreciated. You, who feels trapped. You, who is overwhelmed. You, who is tired. You, who is lonely. You, who is grieving the mom you thought you’d be. You are not failing. You are normal, human, tired, giving, teaching, and caring. You’re a ninja, a safe place, and a vital part of your children’s lives. You are important. You are valuable. You are seen and you are remembered. You are working really freaking hard, and you will not always be where you are right now.
*** Please know that I am writing this from my own unique perspective and experience. I know that there are many stay at home dads out there, and I am not dismissing their sacrifice or hard work, but I can’t pretend to know what their position may be like. I am not intending to leave anyone out, only offer encouragement to those who may be in a place I can empathize with. I love my kids and this is not a popular feeling to share, so be kind.