Monday, July 9, 2012

Are you a stay-at-home mom or a full-time mom?

I have so many things I've been wanting to blog about, but this one topic keeps coming back to mind. I've started and stopped posts about it several times, but I just can't seem to get it right. It is such an important issue to me, but there is just so much to be said about it that I just can't make the words come out right.

The heart of the issue is, I am happy and proud to be a stay-at-home mom. I never knew that life could be this good! I never knew I could feel so centered, calm, and happy. When I made the decision to quit the daily grind a year ago, I thought I could never be as fulfilled and challenged as I could be in a really good career position. I am so happy to report that I was wrong — dead wrong.

And yet still, the title of "stay-at-home mom" is misunderstood and the role is drastically undervalued. Even the phrase it self — stay-at-home — seems to undercut the role, suggesting the archetypal trailer park mom who lounges in a bathrobe and curlers, eating bon bons and watching soap operas all day.

To me, the phrase "stay-at-home mom" implies that mothers are locking themselves away and simply letting the world pass them by. In many ways that may be true; in fact, it sure feels like it some days. And although many may look down upon this aspect, it is where I've found my greatest sense of peace.

Frankly, I am tired of trying to keep pace with the world. There are so many mixed messages out there, especially for women. We are told that we can have it all, be it all, and do it all — and be glamorously fabulous all the while. I don't know about you, but simply reading that wears me out.

I am tired of trying to be everything to everyone. In all my years in the workforce, I always felt like I had to prove myself every single day. No matter how skilled or accomplished I was, it never felt like I was taken seriously or even really appreciated. I busted my buns all day every day, and I rarely had anything to show for it. Not only that, but by the time I finished at work, there wasn't much of me left. I was exhausted, stressed, depleted, practically demoralized. I doubt I was a great wife or a good friend, or even a great mother. I used everything good I had trying to work toward someone else's bottom line, toward some boss or manager or CEO's definition of success. At the end of the day, I had nothing left for the people in my life who matter most.

For years I thought this depletion was my fault — like I wasn't trying hard enough or working smart enough, or that I just plain didn't have the resources (emotional and mental) to cut it in the workforce. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. Either way, it all boils down to this: I was putting all my capital into an investment that never, ever paid off.

In light of this confession, it may sound like my choice to become a stay-at-home mom was one of those "by default" decisions. Let me assure you it wasn't. I still had the fight in me, and I wanted to keep at it until I found that mythical measure of success I kept chasing. But as you can see from my earlier post, "Why I became a full-time mom," eventually my good sense prevailed. I chose to quit the daily grind to focus on what's really important: My family and my son, who desperately needed me to be at my best.

I'm not going to lie: After the first few weeks of bliss, reality hit — hard. I came off that summer break feeling after about six weeks, and suddenly I was left to really face the stresses of caring for a small child day in, day out, all alone for nearly 11 hours a day. And it was ROUGH.

Some days it was all I could do not to run screaming from the house. There was a time when I cried, every day, for about a month straight. I was lonely, I felt unprepared, and I truly believed what society wanted me to believe: that the world was passing me by.

But then I got tough. I knew that I had made the absolute right decision for me, and I knew that it was the path that my Father in Heaven wanted me to take. Most of all, despite the stress and sorrow I was feeling, I could see the difference it was making in my son and my marriage. And so I got clever and started to face my new lifestyle for what it was: the career of a lifetime.

I read parenting books and magazines for techniques, I cruised blogs and Pinterest for play-at-home ideas, and — perhaps most importantly — I sought help. I sent Evan to the babysitter once a week or so, and I enlisted the help of family to ease the burden when I couldn't carry it. I'll admit I had my reservations and found myself feeling guilty for dumping my troubles on someone else, but that was proven wrong, too. The people in my life love my son, and they obviously love me enough to help me out. They want me to succeed, and they are helping me do it. This was one of the best things I have done as a full-time parent: giving myself permission to admit I can't do it all, and let others help.

I also spend more time out of the house. I devise an outing every single day, whether it's extravagant (a trip to the aquarium), exhausting (a trip to the park), or necessary (a trip to the grocery store). I also spend a lot of time hanging out at my parents' house. My dad is retired and I think we both enjoy the company as well as the break from our somewhat solitary lives, especially in the winter. And I made a good friend nearby, another stay-at-home mom who will commiserate and be just as thrilled as I am to sit in the backyard and whine while our kids run around like banshees. The point is, I don't actually stay at home. I shake it up a bit. The variety does both me and my son a world of good.

But perhaps the best thing I've done is, like I said, treat this for what it is: a job. I even call it that — I am no longer a stay-at-home mom, I am a full-time mom. This is my calling and my career, and I take it seriously. I am not just here as an empty presence, keeping my kid fed and out of mortal danger. I am his caretaker, his teacher, and his friend. I take the time first thing in the morning to sit, cuddle, and read to him every day. I not only enforce the rules but I take the time to teach him why rules are important — and I go through the agony of enforcing time-outs when he breaks those rules so that he understands that actions have consequences. I take the time to plan games and activities to spark his curiosity and build his skills. I make sure that I stop what I'm doing and look into his eyes when he is upset. I address his emotions, I talk through the problems, and I try to explain what is happening or has happened. He may not always understand, but he is learning that he is important to me and that I will always comfort him when he needs it.

These are just some of the things that take up my day, and I've been wanting to blog about each and every one of them. Soon I will, but already this post has gotten away from me. The point is, even though what I really want to do is sit on the couch and watch "What Not to Wear" all day, I don't. That's not my job. Being a mother is. And when I put forth this great effort to be patient, to nurture, to have fun and play and see the world through my child's eyes, I am more happy and fulfilled than I've ever been in my 30 years on this planet.

Yes, the world may be passing me by, but I say let it. Let the hustle and bustle consume everyone else. Let me be here, really and truly present, for all my son's discoveries and stages and even tantrums. What matters to me now is not someone else's bottom line. What matters to me is this precious soul that was entrusted to me the minute I became his mother. Being here, at home, with him and with my husband is where I am supposed to be. This is where my emotional and physical energy need to be spent. This is where I matter most, where my value truly shines through. This is the investment that will not only pay off, it will exceed my expectations every single time.

I am so blessed. I hope you feel this way too. I realize that many mothers work out of necessity, and that the thing they want more than anything in the world is to be where I am. My sympathies are truly with you, because I know how torn you feel. Just take confidence in the fact that you are doing the best you can to support your family. If you're not, then re-assess your life and decide what really matters to you. What's important is that you do the right thing for your family, and that is different for everyone.

But for all you moms in the trenches with me who are struggling with this lifestyle, take heart. You are not struggling alone, and what you do does matter. Decide right here and now to never be ashamed of your decision. It is noble, it is good, and it is so very important to the little people in your life.

So the next time you find yourself saying, apologetically, "I'm a stay-at-home mom," stop. Lift your head high, smile, and say, "I am a full-time mom, and I am damn good at my job."


  1. Jenn, I'm not sure why your comment disappeared, but if you're still reading this, you're welcome. I am so, so glad I was able to inspire you. I truly believe that if you go into it with an open mind, a lot of determination, and more than a lot of patience, you will be fulfilled and happy. Just know that it will not always be fun and it will hardly ever be easy, but that's what makes it so rewarding. Good luck to you!

  2. I am glad I waited to read this post. Collin decided to paint himself, toys, blanket, every pair of shorts in his drawer, heater vent (inside) and carpet with Desitin. It has been rough today but I am looking forward to a big hug and a little cuddle time after he wakes up from his nap.

  3. Oh Steph, that is ROUGH. That little rat! Just when we thought he was done being really devious... I think I write these posts to convince myself sometimes that being a mother is worth it. In the good moments, I know it is. Props to you for looking forward to the good in your little rascal! There is so much to love about him.

  4. Thank you so much for your posts. I know you spend a lot of time and energy in them and they have been helping me a lot. I feel torn with things and that my time is always divided. I frequently find myself trying to get things done and wondering what I can do to keep the kids busy when I should be focusing on them first and figuring out the other stuff after. Thank you for the reminder and inspiring words to help me do better.

  5. Thanks for the compliments, Katrina. You know, what you said is the story of my life. I am constantly looking for the balance between encouraging Evan (to put it nicely) to play on his own so I can get stuff done, and in stopping what I'm doing to get down and play with him. Honestly I just don't know which is right, or how much of each makes for a good balance. Maybe one day we'll figure it out, but until then, all we can do is keep trying. Hang in there!