In the world of blogging, Facebook and Instagram, often the life of a stay at home mom is painted in filtered, cropped pictures. There are smiling children, art projects, activities, and creative lunches. There are darling outfits and playdates where we sip coffee as our children bond with each other.
But this is a very small part of a very long job.
As Bella gets older, I find my role shifting. From “I’ll just take you with me and have a life” to “Let’s do whatever you want to do as long as it prevents another meltdown and makes you so tired you take a 3 hour nap today.”
The sacrifice of a SAHM is usually talked about along the lines of dealing with children all day. And this is part of it. It’s not easy to deal with the same child day in and day out. Being a teacher was a lot easier – I didn’t have to focus all my attention on one the entire day.
But the other sacrifices are rarely spoken of. Like the self motivation it takes to be at home, the guilt, the frustration, the financial toll. The mental toll.
I’m great with a purpose and a deadline. Teaching was a phenomenal job for me because every day ended with a lesson being finished, a classroom being cleaned, and the children going home. But now it’s different. Toys are everywhere. Books are all over. I spend Bella’s nap and my evenings putting together puzzles, shelving books, cleaning up food stuck to chairs and the floor, and repeat. Over and over again. There is no break. Her nap timing is up to her (length wise), which makes it hard for me to relax. I have no boss. No deadline. There is a schedule that I make myself stick to for her sake, and mine.
Then there is the guilt. Knowing that at a daycare, Bella would be with other children. Her development would be monitored, her days planned by professionals. Even with the child development background I have, I often wonder if I’m on the right track. If Bella is getting the mental stimulation and the physical challenges she needs? The guilt that hovers as I have a horrible day and find myself longing for work. With a Starbucks in one hand and a clean new outfit on – and a paycheck to take home.
You know. Something that tells me what I accomplished this week was worth being paid for.
Financially, staying at home was something I fell into because we realized we couldn’t afford daycare. I had always been convinced I’d go back to work, and let me be clear – I’m so, so very glad I’ve never had to. But I didn’t know that 2 years into being at home I’d start to want to find a way to contribute financially. It is hard to not afford things at times. We are lucky that most of our debt is gone. But this is because we’ve had to forgo so many other things. Vacations. New cars. A house. All of these and more have to be put on hold in order for me to be home without debt.
And as Bella gets older, the sacrifices we made will include her. She may need her own loans for college. She may not get her own car at 16, there may not be soccer lessons and brand new clothes each year at school. I hope she realizes that this is ok because of what we chose instead.
Staying at home can mean just that a lot of the time. Playdates may seem like such fun and frivolity – but often they are simply for me and the other mom’s sanity. It’s hard to continually hear one word sentences mixed with temper tantrums 12 hours a day 5 days a week without wondering if you yourself are even able to speak a full sentence. Playdates are my excuse to take a shower earlier than normal, to wear something clean, to take just a little longer with makeup and hair.
It’s not easy to stay upbeat, creative, and grateful everyday. I do have so many little reminders, but often I find myself in the slump of, “Really? Didn’t we just do lunch? A poop? Laundry? Cleaning?” With no TV and too hot to go out past noon, there are many days I think, “How many days in a row have we done this?”
I love what I do. But I think at times we only show the pretty side of staying at home. And my friends, there are many days where it is anything but pretty here. I often envy the working mom. I do. There are days I dream of daycare, when Bella throws herself down on the floor screaming for the 9th time in an hour and I have no one to turn to. It’s just me. It may take a village to raise a child but my village, as an Army wife and SAHM, is very small.
So we do the best we can. I tell myself on hard days that a shower and wearing something nice that might have peanut butter smeared on it is worth it if I feel a little bit more in control. I try to find a way out of the rut with art and playdates. I read books on parenting that help me feel better about where Bella is.
My hope is that one day, Bella will realize I did this for her just like a working mom does it for their kids. My sacrifice is hers – just as every child has to have some of the share of whatever decision their parent makes. There isn’t a better choice. Each has pros and cons. I just want my choice to be one where I did my very best with what I was given.