I first heard it once, then about a thousand times. "You have no right to complain because you get to stay home with your kids all the time!" Or, "I have missed so many milestones because I was working, and you never had to miss a thing!" True and sort of true. I do see them all of the time, but I did work for the first year after my oldest son was born, so I did miss some things. A crazy decision was made when I was laid off from my job that I would begin staying home with our son. I was ecstatic. I was burned out from my career and I was missing my son. Fast forward three years and add another little boy, and I have definitely discovered that there are pros and cons to staying home with your children, just like with any decision we make. After years of emotional ups and downs, I have come to accept that there are some things I need to let go of in order to be a better mom and generally more sane person.
I think I spent the first year of staying at home with my children feeling guilty for being able to stay at home with my children. I felt like judgment was being placed on me because I wasn't contributing to society in a way I felt was adequate. I felt guilty talking with my friends about work, feeling like they couldn't relate to me as much anymore because I wasn't dealing with the stress of work and raising a family. It was like I needed to explain to everyone that financially we were struggling to make it happen, and that our lifestyle changed dramatically. That guilt has now been replaced with the occasional thought that maybe I should go back to work. Especially because when my son gets mad at me, he yells, "You're fired!" And I tell him he can't fire me because, "I quit!" What I have found is that my true friends never judged me; the one person making me feel the guiltiest was me.
2. Not being Supermom.
Did you know there are moms who won't allow their children to wear shoes at the park? Apparently it's not natural. In fact, through playdates, and get-togethers, and meeting other moms through other moms, I have found there are some pretty super moms out there. For a long time, I felt I paled in comparison to these stay-at-home moms and working moms who not only nursed their children but made baked goods out of their breast milk as well. Women who not only made food but made their child's lotions, toothpaste, and butt cream. Let me make it clear. I am not mocking these women. I was comparing myself to them. If they could accomplish all this, why did it take me 45 minutes to get out the door to get to the park, and what the hell is my son wearing? I think the key was my acknowledgment that I was not this kind of mom. But I am a loving mom, so that trumps anything. I did spend an hour making sweet potato cookies -- but it only took three seconds for my son to take one out of his mouth and throw it on the floor. He even seemed to shake his head in disbelief as he walked away.
3. The regret.
When my son was a year old and I began staying at home, I was not aware of the concept that I could have a difficult child (or "strong-willed," as I'm supposed to call him). At around 2 and a half, my son began having severe emotional breakdowns and he has continued to keep us guessing ever since. He is prone to sensory overload, and you may have possibly seen me -- the woman carrying the shirtless, screaming child across the grocery store.
It's hard. It's hard when you want to be the ultra-hip mom with one in the sling on the boob and the other asking nicely if he can go make his bed 'cause it was just that fun. Do I regret my decision to stay home, you ask? Definitely. At least once a month. I slightly remember the old days when I dropped my son off and went to work. Sometimes I felt I was surprisingly more present for my son when I got home. Now I have a job I'm burned out from, but somehow the spark keeps getting lit and I regain all of my strength. Tonight my son told me after watching Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 that the ending sequence where the credits roll was "the most beautiful thing he has ever seen." And then... he totally redeemed himself!
4. The illusion of a perfect marriage.
This one cracks me up, because for some reason I thought staying at home would make my marriage stronger. I'm not sure exactly why certain issues have been brought to the surface now, after we've shared our lives together for this long and had children, but the stress of our collective responsibilities, along with financial pressure, has taken a toll. I have an emotional son and I am sometimes exhausted at the end of the day. My husband works all the time and sometimes it throws things off when he is home for long periods of time, as crazy as that sounds. People say we are a great match. Secretly, there are days when I think we should work out our stress with a good old-fashioned boxing match. I have a rhythm with the children, even though it's a little offbeat, and he has trouble knowing when to chime in. Being married is a complicated dance of making sure your children are happy, your spouse is happy, and you are personally happy. It's like one of you is trying to waltz, while the other is trying to tango, and what you find is that it may be easier to just make up your own dance.
5. The self-doubt.
It's pretty obvious that I have doubted myself as a parent since the very beginning, and sure enough, I feel guilty about that too. Ugh! It's time for it to end. The challenges that I have encountered so far as a mom sometimes overwhelm me. Sometimes I feel like other moms can balance so much more, and look better doing it. I have the kid who wears no shoes at the park, but not because I wanted him to. He is a wild boy and I am his mom. Flawed and some days not so super. When I wear my youngest in the Ergobaby, it looks like a small creature is fighting to come out of my chest. Arms flailing and screaming. He hates it. All the images in my head of the mom I wanted to be screwed up my ability to be the best mom I could be. That is the lesson. Whether you are a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, or truly super... a single working parent, creating a loving environment for your kids is half the battle, including giving them a good example of what a confident person looks like.
Even on the days when I am feeling down, I do recognize that I am lucky to be able to stay at home with my boys. It has been my greatest joy and my biggest challenge. So do I really have a reason to complain, being a stay-at-home mom? The answer is yes. Absolutely. But only as long as I'm willing to change the things that aren't working and embrace the things that make me special to my boys.