By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
Dear Future Stay at Home Mom:
You might be trying to get pregnant, already in your second trimester or debating whether to extend your maternity leave indefinitely. Whatever the case may be, you’re a future stay at home mom (or SAHM as you’ll learn in the chat rooms) and I’m writing this letter to you from the future.
Don’t worry. This letter doesn’t come with any flashing red lights and capitalized words like “STOP!”, “THINK AGAIN!” or “BEWARE!”. If anything, being a stay at home mom (as cheesy as this sounds) is truly the most rewarding job I’ve ever had and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been dreaming about becoming a mom since I was playing with dolls as a kindergartener and I can honestly say the real thing does not disappoint. You probably already know the list of benefits of SAHMhood to both you and your child and I can feel and see those benefits each and every day. But now that I’m a little over 3 years in and 2 kids later, a clearer picture of what life is really like as a SAHM has come into focus. Like with any new job, it takes a little time to settle in, understand the lingo and anticipate the issues that arise. And just like with any full-time job, you come to know (and love) the stereotypical archetypes that make up your ‘work family’. For instance:
The ladies who lunch: Yes, there’s a lot of lunch involved with stay at home motherhood. For the first year with your first child, lunch is pretty freaking wonderful. Your child sits quietly in his stroller or highchair nibbling on baby food, puffs or mac and cheese as you dine on big salads and sometimes even a glass of wine (despite the fact that you’re breastfeeding). After your baby turns one (or starts walking), meals are a little more chaotic with inevitable spills, picky eaters and kids that can’t wait quietly in their seats without an iPad in hand. Eventually, meals are just plain stressful and not at all relaxing and whether it’s a reality or not, you feel like all eyes are on you and your misbehaving kids. But like someone with short-term memory, you will forget the insanity and continue to go out to eat anyway. Playdates and visits to the playground pretty much follow suit – why do you think everyone signs up for so many classes?
The ladies who (sort of) work: As a SAHM, you’ll often experience the same euphoria you felt as a kid on summer vacation. Mid-day naps, picnics in the park, 5Ks with the jogging stroller along the East River – life is good. But you’ll probably also be tired if not totally exhausted and perpetually sleep deprived. Stay at home motherhood requires a physical and emotional stamina that requires marathon-level training to achieve. And unlike many of our moms who were younger when they had us, the majority of us are…well…old – At least by ‘chasing after toddlers’ standards. It’s exhausting and in a completely different way than even an 18-hour-day at the office is. Trust me. Your husband is tired too but after having kids, he might actually look forward to Monday mornings! This exhaustion combined with the anxiousness, fear and impatience of being out of the workforce for too long will inevitably lead you to question your non-paycheck existence.
The process of sort-of-getting-a-job will start out with the rediscovery of some former hobby or obsession. You might start cooking exclusively with organic ingredients, join a book club, begin writing a novel, take up a new type of exercise or (case in point) start blogging. Or you might opt to get your real estate license, sell jewelry ala Tupperware-style or get overly involved in your child’s school fundraisers – pretty much anything besides SAHMommying that can be considered good dinner conversation fodder on the rare occasion you’re actually hanging out with your working-mommy friends and don’t want to seem like all you do is shop and go to playdates all day. Many of these hobbies actually turn into small businesses or ‘mom-preneurships’ down the line.
It’s definitely nice having only one stressful job to worry about and devote your energy to. And the smile on your child’s face when you pick him up from school will obliterate any doubts you had about not going back to work. But for many SAHMs, the emotional stress of not having a career will take its toll. So, whether you’re driven by guilt for not using your $150,000 graduate degree or by the realization that you have so much babysitting help, you feel funny even calling yourself a SAHM, you will most likely start looking for that ‘sort-of-job’ if not an actual full-time job sometime before your last child starts school on a regular basis – if not before. At that point, you’ll either get that job or give birth to another kid and hire an au pair – if not do all of those things. That’s not meant to be snarky – I think it’s very important for all mothers to have enough self-awareness and sense of self to decide what’s best for her entire family. I’m just saying that this line of thought will somehow creep into your subconscious at some point no matter how happy and fulfilled you are as a SAHM.
The ladies who compare: Some moms will make you feel like you’re June Cleaver incarnate. But other moms will make you feel like you just suck at this whole motherhood thing. There will be days when ‘issues in parenting’ and ‘my kids are so smart’ are the only 2 topics of conversation and real or imagined, you’ll feel like everyone’s doing it just a bit better than you are. And like the Jets and the Sharks before us, the war between SAHMs and WMs is a sad but real force of nature and nobody escapes wound-free. Both sides will wonder whose grass is greener. Truth be told, you can find research to support any personal choices you make and obviously, each family and situation needs different things to make it work. Complicated, conflicting feelings are, I imagine, just par for the course for ALL moms. In the end, hopefully, all moms, working or not, can learn to support each other, respect each other and try not to be too judgmental of each other. At the end of the day, nobody can be considered the perfect parent. But we owe it to our children to try to be – in our own way.
We were all kind of appalled but simultaneously envious when Sex and the City’s Charlotte confidently announced she was quitting her job to redecorate her apartment and go paint pottery. It almost didn’t matter that she didn’t have kids at the time. Becoming a SAHM can feel like a sacrifice of one’s identity and to some extent it is, at least temporarily. But for my kids, there’s nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice. Besides, it’s our past experiences that make us unique and we can’t help but bring that uniqueness to motherhood. And while I sometimes resent the fact that I am responsible for making so many major decisions about the path my life will follow, I recognize how very fortunate I am to be in the position to choose, when so many others do not have that luxury.
I’m not gonna lie to you, future SAHM. You have a daunting task ahead of you. Your days will no doubt be filled with crying, whining, tantrum-ing, biting, spilling, falling – and I haven’t even mentioned the kids’ behavior yet ;-) Your life will consist of a series of catch 22s. To work or not to work. To hire a nanny or not to hire a nanny. To bribe or not to bribe. The list is endless. But each and every day, your child will say or do something amazing or smart or sweet or funny and you’ll be beyond grateful that you didn’t hear about it from the nanny. Some might consider it pathetic, but my kids are my life and watching them grow and laugh and learn each and every day is truly a privilege – the epitome of a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ I will never regret taking and I will never take for granted.
I’d be lying if I said those pesky thoughts about the unknown future never found their way into my brain, but for now, I’ll enjoy living each and every day of this precious time in my children’s lives that everyone says goes by way too fast. Sure, I’ll continue to ogle my stylish, stiletto-wearing working mom friends as they read each and every word on every page of a bedtime story and plan such awesome weekend excursions, I want to ditch my own family to go and join them. But most of the time, there’s no place I’d rather be than with my kids, be it at home, on the playground or even at a playdate yelling “share!” and “take turns!” every other minute. But a letter from my future-self telling me that I’m making all the right moves wouldn’t hurt either….
All my love, current SAHM