I remember, when I had my first baby, how much I dreaded going back to work after my maternity leave. I hated dropping that little girl off at daycare and, more often than not, couldn't concentrate on my work because my mind and heart were always with her. All I wanted was to have the "luxury" of being a stay at home mom (SAHM).
Flash forward three years, I had a new, more flexible job and welcomed my second baby into the family. Everything was going smoothly until two weeks after I returned to work from maternity leave I was laid off, and with the astronomical cost of daycare my husband and I couldn't justify the cost given our new financial situation. So, suddenly, I was a stay at home mom.
Somewhere between the birth of my first baby and the birth of my second baby, I realized I didn't have what it takes to be a full time SAHM. My dream had evolved into having the best of both worlds, working part-time and staying home part-time. I thought that would give me the creative outlet and adult time I needed and still allow me to spend more than just bedtime with my kiddos. No matter what, though, I knew being a full time SAHM was a much harder job than being a full time working mom.
When I was thrown into the SAHM role I didn't adjust very well (to put it lightly). The night before my first solo day with both girls I actually Googled "how do stay at home moms keep their kids entertained all day?." I'm not a Pinterest kind of mom, I'm a "here's a coloring book and crayons" kind of mom. I always had the mindset that if I was going to pay daycare as much as I did every month, I would leave the sensory games and arts and crafts up to them. So, when I no longer had those teachers to rely on, I panicked.
Slowly but surely we started to adjust to our new normal, but I still felt like I was in over my head. I had to find a way to entertain a three-year-old, stimulate a baby, make meals, fetch snacks (so. many. snacks.), do the laundry, keep the house clean, make sure the fridge and pantry were stocked, make it to ballet class on time, and still take care of my own basic needs (guess which one got ignored the most?).
I suddenly felt guilty for shopping because I wasn't contributing financially, and I was constantly overwhelmed with guilt because by the time those girls were in bed, the last thing I wanted was to be touched by anyone - including my husband who just wanted to snuggle on the couch and watch a show together.
One night as I rocked the baby to sleep, I just sobbed. I wondered, "Is this going to be forever?" as I tried to just will my child to go to sleep so I could have a moment of peace. When she was finally asleep, I went into my bedroom to take a break, only to find my husband and toddler laying in our bed watching Peppa Pig (the same episode I had seen no less than five times over the previous few days). I wiped my tears, sighed, and went into the master bath and locked the door.
I then went into our closet and shut that door as well. I cried because I needed self-care, I needed some alone time, I needed my oldest daughter to stop demanding things of me all day every day, I needed the baby to take longer than 37-minute naps, I needed a real shower, and I needed one spot in my 2,400sqft home where I could be alone to catch my breath and the only place I could find it was on the floor of my closet where dresses, shirts, pants, and ties hung in my face.
I used to think it was a luxury to have a spouse who made enough money to support his family so his wife could stay home with the kids. It only took a few weeks for me to learn that it's not a luxury at all, it's a sacrifice and it's harder than any 40-hour-a-week job I've had in my life.
I quickly learned that moms wear yoga pants all the time because they need something that can withstand all the stains that come along with kids. I learned that it's not just a funny joke that moms don't shower, it's a reality because more often than not there is no time to actually get ready for a day. I learned the days are not full of kids entertaining themselves while mom cleans and keeps the house together, they're full of trying to keep it together when a kid defiantly smashes a cracker into the freshly vacuumed carpet because mom's not paying enough attention to them. I learned that even on our best days at home, I still felt like the worst mom, partner, and wife.
Being a SAHM is not for the weak, truly only the strong survive. It's not a luxury filled with Disney movies, naps, and laughter day after day. It's hard work, and when your (tiny) boss yells at you because you did something wrong it doesn't just shake your confidence, it breaks your heart because it's one thing to let down upper management of a corporation, but it's quite another to fall short when it comes to your kids.
So, the next time you or someone else thinks staying home with kids is the easiest choice, think again. 40 hours in a cubical is nothing compared to 40 hours trying to stimulate a kid.