Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Reluctant Stay at Home Mom




I am a stay-at-home mom. Whew, the first step is to admit it. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over 3 years after working in the corporate world for about 12 years, give or take. Even though I'm 3 years into this gig, I've never really come to terms with the fact that I'm living a life I didn't expect. The SAHM title conjures up a lot of judgement from everyone... including myself. 

I want to be up front about the fact that I’m not a psychologist, sociologist or researcher who has studied SAHMs in a lab. I’m not an expert you’d find on the news speaking on the effects of staying at home vs working at a traditional job. The purpose of this post isn't to advocate for or against staying home. I just… know what I know. And what I know is I’ve never been quite comfortable saying I’m a stay-at-home mom. It’s always said with a tilt of the head or shrug of the shoulders. I non-verbally convey to whomever I’m speaking that I'm not exactly proud that I stay at home with the kids. I’ve judged myself before they can judge me… I suppose it’s a defense mechanism of sorts. Why is that? Why do I feel that way?

Based on my conversations with other SAHMs, I’m not alone. It’s a subject we could talk about for hours. There are a lot of shared feelings about being judged and about our self-worth. We also have a ton of stories about things people have said to us when they find out we don’t have a salary or an office we go to every day from 9-5:

"Oh, good for you! I wish I could do that!"
"Wow, YOU have the hardest job of all!!"
"Ugh, I could never do that, I'd go crazy being with my kids all day!"
"I bet your husband LOVES that!"
"Oh." (freezes and stares at your face not knowing what else to say)

These comments do not offend me or upset me. I've never had an issue with how other people respond, only myself. My own response is what I've needed to work through for the past 3 years.

I do know a lot women who love staying home; it’s what they’ve wanted since they were little. I envy these women because they are living the life they always dreamed of. But for me, this is a life I never guessed would happen. I thought I would work, my husband would work and we’d share the responsibility of kids 50/50. BOY WAS I WRONG… and a bit delusional. 

Along with wrangling my 2 kids, I am also an aspiring actor, writer and comedian. As a child of the 80s, tween and teen of the 90s and starting my adult life in the early 2000s, I was  conditioned to think the only path was to go to college and get a job. After that, find love, get married, have kids and there you go! Life complete! This is something I like to call the “Should Burden.” We do the things we “should” do no matter if it’s the right path for ourselves. It’s what’s expected, so we don’t even question it. 

I did all of that. And I have a great life. I’m not complaining.  I truly believe my life is exactly where it should be at this moment. This isn’t about regrets at all. I made all of these choices because I wanted to, including being a stay-at-home mom. It wasn't an easy decision, but one I came to back in the Spring of 2015. See, my husband is a very ambitious person. It was one of the primary things that I fell in love with and still love to this day. He motivates the part of me that tends to say “I can’t do it” or “that’s too hard.” So, I knew having someone with his work ethic and lofty goals in my life would be beneficial to help me out of the ruts in which I would often find myself. And I was right; he has provided an example I have needed time and time again. 

Ever since I met my husband, his career has been on an upward trajectory because that’s what he works extremely hard for. I've been lucky enough to witness his journey from lowly music buyer to a high-level executive. He is and has always been the bread-winner in our family, so my career as a merchandise planner/inventory manager (so sexy, right?), was secondary. And again, that “Should Burden” was screaming in my ears saying, “Yeah, this is what you should be doing.” Now, was merchandise planning/inventory management my passion? Not. In. The. Least. In fact, I’m not sure I could have been less passionate about it. But, I went in everyday, did my job and came home. I was semi-above average at it AT BEST. When it came to careers in the corporate world, my ambition paled in comparison to my husband. 

Fast forward a few years after we got married to when we had our first child. I quickly learned what it’s like having a new child, a full-time job, an executive husband who was also getting his Executive MBA. What I learned was I was not prepared nor equipped for that sort of stress. Fast forward a few more years after that and I was drowning with 2 kids, a full-time job and a husband who travels at that dreaded consultant frequency. I was exhausted, I was angry, and I was resentful towards my husband. All of these emotions made me a shitty mom and shitty wife. 

During that stressful time, I would HATE myself for not handling it with more grace. It took a lot of time for me to accept that it's completely okay that I'm not the same as friend A or relative B or lady-in-grocery-store-who-I've-decided-is-better-than-me-based-on-her-manicure C. My strengths, and I have many, lie in other areas. That pesky Should Burden would make me feel like shit and I wasted so much time focusing on how I was less than all these other working mothers. That added psychological self-flogging just added to my unhappiness. 

So, I decided to stay at home. I was scared. VERY scared. I wasn’t sure if it would be better having the kids with me all the time. It was a risk for sure, but I knew I needed to change something before I had an absolute meltdown. Okay, I can almost hear the barrage of voices saying, “Oh poor you, you were tired and overworked and overwhelmed, at least you HAD the choice to stay home.” To that I say, yes, you are absolutely right. Believe me, it is never lost on me how lucky I am. I grew up with a mother who fully expected to stay home, but due to circumstances with my father's career, that was not an option. I saw the toll it took on her. Believe me when I say my gratitude meter is at full capacity. I can only tell my story, and my story includes a very successful husband. I'll get into how I feel I don't deserve this lifestyle in another post because that subject is a DOOZY for me!

I should also note that my salary was barely justifying the daycare costs we were paying at that time. I loved the paycheck, but when I did the math, the emotional cost of working at my job and doing 95% of kid duty certainly put me in the red. Those daycare savings were a big factor in our decision. By staying home, our income was pretty much a wash. That being said, I HATED (and still hate) not having an income. It was the first time I didn't have a steady paycheck since college. My father's voice saying, "You should never be financially dependent on your husband," (something he said to me numerous times growing up) was repeating in my head. It has only gotten louder and louder as time as goes by.

This year is the first time my kids are both in school full-time. Upon learning this, the #1 question I would get asked was, "Are you going back to work?" The tone with which this  was asked depended on the person. Other SAHMs would say it with a lowered voice and an expression that suggested my answer would inform what they should do. Working mothers would almost make it a statement rather than a question. They were essentially saying, "If there aren't kids AT HOME then what's the point of staying home?" 

First of all, being alone in the house is WEIRD, man. I remember bouncing my colicky son while running after my energetic 2 and a half year old thinking this day would never come. Back then I had a conversation with a neighbor who was at the point where I am now and she said, "I have 7 hours all to myself, I'm not even sure what to do!" I stood there and strained a smile while my son screamed for the millionth hour and my daughter tumbled off her scooter onto the sidewalk. I wanted to trade places with this freed mother so badly because I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do; sit on the couch and watch movies all the live long day. 

Well, here I am at that same transitional time in my life. While I haven't spent an ENTIRE day on the couch watching movies, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I've taken advantage of the empty house with a few bubble baths (total Calgone Take Me Away moments), watching Ellen and an occasional nap here and there. Hey, I've earned it! But more than anything, I have a fire in my belly to get going on my purpose. The reasons I decided to stay home 3 years ago haven't really changed, in fact they are a bit more intense. My husband is busier than ever and travels a lot and my kids are getting busy with homework and their own activities. If I went back to work in a traditional office setting, I feel like I'd be going backwards into that pool of anxiety and resentment.

But to answer those inquiring minds, YES I am going back to work. In fact, I'm diving into multiple careers and I couldn't be more excited. I was never meant to work behind a desk balls deep in Excel spreadsheets. I'm a creative person who suppressed my creativity for way too long because it didn't fit into what I thought I should do. Ah, that Should Burden is a real bitch and I was a dumbass who subscribed to it for too long. I feared outside judgement so much that I never really listened to what was in my bones. 

I have an acting agent, I'm launching a freelance writing career and I'm writing a one-woman show that I hope to tour with someday. It's all hustle, but on my own terms. I cannot wait to have an income again and show my kids that working hard for what may seem like impossible dreams is never a waste of time. If I can teach my kids anything, it's that nurturing your talent with hard work and determination is always a worthy path. Staying home with my kids since 2015 was glorious and you know what, I was damn good at it. I have no regrets, I just wish that stay-at-home-moms had a retirement plan.






2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Sheevani. You're a true talent, and it's inspiring to hear that you're embracing your passions and nurturing your talents.

    I think the "should" burden might also be an asset, too, if you consider the adverse of it in a positive way. That voice in your head that's been telling you what you "should" be doing actually belongs to someone else. But when you start telling yourself that you "should" be pursuing your dreams and utilizing your creative talents, that voice belongs to you, so I say listen to it! You SHOULD be writing, acting, improvising, etc. because that's where you are the most YOU that you can be.

    The best part? Your family will experience you doing it and be inspired by the person you are, and that's all the teaching your kids will ever need. They'll never know the "should" burden because they'll be too busy witnessing what they CAN do.

    Keep up what you're doing. Momentum begets momentum. You're doing great!

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  2. I, too, struggle with this, Sheevani! Coming up in a blue collar family, it feels inexcusably decadent to stay at home, even though the only reason I can stay at home was because I worked my ass off my entire adult life, foregoing vacations, time with family and personal relationships, ended up owing a business for a decade and sold it the week my kid was due! In an unintentional way, I was raised to feel like my worth is measured by my output, and raising a child is a hard output to quantify. I hear your struggle, but I am glad to see you working hard to pursue your personal goals. The best thing we can show our kids is a happy mama!

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