For most of my adult life, I dreamed of one day starting a family and staying home to focus on raising the children. Meanwhile, I also acquired a couple of college degrees and professional licenses because I needed to support myself, and let’s face it, you never know if you’ll be blessed with a partner and children of your own. Thankfully, I lucked out in both cases (after a brief struggle with infertility). So when my husband and I finally decided to get married and start a family, we left our beloved New York City and moved to a less expensive town across the country in order to survive comfortably on one income.
After our first child, things went along smoothly, and it helped that she was such a happy child and good sleeper. Things got a lot more complicated when I had my second child, two-and-a-half years later. He’s still pretty happy, but not a great sleeper and a bit needier than his older sister. With both children, I experienced a touch of postpartum depression. I even tried antidepressants with my second child, but I still felt unfulfilled and inadequate. I have been staying home for about three years now, and in addition to having two beautiful children, I have a dream house and wonderful husband. So, I began wondering, “What is up with this feeling of inadequacy I am experiencing?” Why do I feel like I am not accomplishing “enough” right now? Does it stem from a western woman’s constant quest for perfection: of character, body, home, relationships, successes, etc.? Is it not enough to raise healthy, happy, cared-for children? We mothers feel guilty to stay home or guilty to go to work; and I believe this is the modern mother’s dilemma.
In this job as mom and homemaker, there is not usually a cheerleader (besides your girlfriends after you call them, lamenting). Or a supervisor telling you what a great job you are doing, or anyone giving you a raise or award to acknowledge your best efforts. The proof is in the pudding…the pudding, in this case, being your children and home that you are managing. Of course then you compare yourself to the Martha Stewart’s of the world who seem to be able to effortlessly do it all. While in my own house, the dust bunnies and dirty dishes mysteriously continue to multiply no matter how much time I spend dusting and washing.
Then there is the loneliness that comes with this occupation. It is strange that you add these little people (arguably the most important people you will ever meet) to your life. Yet, as a consequence of committing to a job focused on raising them, you rarely meet anyone new and everyone else in your age group is too busy to maintain separate relationships. It has been a struggle to hang on to my current relationships. Another complication is the fact that some of my peers are not raising young children at the moment, so we don’t cross paths as much, or have common interests. Sometimes I feel like I cramp their style since I am “just a stay-at-home mom.” But I swear I’m still fun and interesting! Ok, so maybe I do talk about my kids more than any other topic, but I also talk about wider-ranging topics like politics and spirituality and whatever’s on Bravo! Seriously, though, a busy mom of very small children needs to force herself to leave the house and seek out interests and friends, or she will get depressed. So, something has to give for the sake of her own happiness—hopefully the insignificant things like dust bunnies and dishes.
In addition to wondering what I am contributing to society at-large, I also criticize myself for not doing “enough” in the way of children’s activities, such as painting, drawing, baking, etc. All that fun stuff. Am I missing out? Would I be more focused on the fun tasks if I worked outside the home? I am having this hard time finding meaning and moments to myself. I am one of the extremely lucky moms. My kids’ grandparents help so much by taking the kids overnight, or watching them while I go to an appointment or run errands. So many stay-at-home moms without help are feeling really stuck in this strange new role in our society. For decades, women fought for our right to work and compete in the workforce fairly with men. Then, after years of protests and courageous women demanding fair pay and positions, some of us were privileged enough to decide to stay at home with our kids. It seemed like there was a collective backlash when both parents worked outside the home. In the way of unruly children who did not listen when they got home to their parents. And parents who did not have the heart or energy to discipline them after sending the children to daycare for strangers to deal with the day-to-day rearing. Now we are in limbo until we realize our new role in a balanced way. Most of us are feeling torn between using our smarts, gumption, and talent to contribute to a company or organization, or maintaining our primary focus of energy on these priceless little people. They sure are not little for long, so why can’t I, for one, stop and smell the roses, and realize what my children are teaching me?
At this juncture in our society, I also feel like the women who did stay home in our mother’s generation and before do not relate to this torn feeling. It was more or less expected that their role was to stay home, until many fearless and unsatisfied women demanded equal rights and the choice to be either a homemaker, career woman, or all of the above.
Some days I think that it would be better for all parties concerned if I go back to work so that I get some tangible fulfillment day-to-day. Would that make me a better person? Wife? Mother? I would meet people and maybe make a few friends in the process. But then I realize that I will have to go back to work soon enough when the children are in school, and I should be here for them today, sacrificing my own happiness for now.
It’s enough to drive a woman insane… which makes the case for “mommy’s little helper,” such as antidepressants or other mind-altering substances (red wine, anyone?). As the kids these days write, “WTF!?” It’s not right. One could argue that we are contributing to society by raising well-adjusted children (hopefully!) and that someone…ANYONE??….should pay us for such an important job. If I were not so insecure, I would say that I do not need that validation, but I do! I was reared to be compensated and successful. Well, I am not getting a paycheck. I won ‘t know how successful I am until I see how my children cope with life’s challenges on their own. Such as bullies on the playground, algebra, vegetables, dating, friendships, SATs, manners, choices, and most importantly… what kind of footprints they want to leave in the world. I wonder what our society would think if we demanded that the government pay us for our efforts. Furthermore, I am sure there would be a conservative uproar about socialism and the like. But I believe one day our society will be enlightened enough to realize that this is an important job that affects how healthy our society is. Most women do not have the luxury to stay at home and not earn money. Or these important people in society will just go crazy because no one acknowledges the importance of what they are doing, and they will continue to guilt themselves by working or by staying home. It seems to currently be a no-win situation for the mom. Am I wrong?
Well, unless or until I am forced to go “back to work” I will stay home with my kids. And lucky for me, maybe I can send the kids to their grandparents’ houses while I cook, clean, garden, meditate or write… usually in that order. I just need to be my own advocate and pat myself on the back more often. And I pray that one day when my kids are grown I will be lucky enough and confident enough to say, “GREAT job, mom!”
Written by: Katy Moon <3
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