By Lea Z. Singh |
If so, you've come to the right post. As a former career girl who is now a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I have worn those same high-heeled pumps and pencil skirts and I can help you decide whether to keep 'em or toss 'em. Here is my quick quiz, with 5 questions designed to help clarify your decision-making process.
(1) Why are you considering staying at home?
(a) To have more time to focus on my interests, such as fitness, writing or scrapbooking;Answer key:
(b) To provide regular, nutritionally balanced, homecooked meals for my children, who are growing up with the belief that supper comes from the take-out menu and Walmart's frozen foods section...
(c) To clean the house on a more regular basis..
(d) To save myself from total burnout as a frazzled working mom...
(e) My children miss me during the day and I miss them, I want to spend more time with them...
(f) I'm not happy with any other childcare option...
If you answered (a), (b), or (c), forget it, you are under the influence of wishful thinking. Reconsider staying home once all your children attend school for the day (although you might wonder, why stay home then?). Few SAHMS of small children have time for these things. Look at me: although I am home all day, my planned photo collages, house-dusting, and even my showers have been put on hold for several years. And yes my dear friends, we are still no strangers to frozen foods and lots of pasta dinners because the pre-supper life of a mom of small kids is hard. So chances are, your house will continue to look like a hurricane aftermath and you will be lucky if you get anything done at all while running after (or occasionally in front of) your little wookies.
On the other hand, reason (d) is totally respectable. If burnout is imminent, don't hesistate to make the move. Self-preservation is key. What's the harm in taking a turn right before the cliff?
Reason (e) is traditional, very worthwhile, and will certainly be achieved. Yes, you sure will spend more time with your children if you stay home. As in, every day, all day, unless you plan to continue them in childcare or kindergarten, in which case reasons (a)-(c) might actually start to get a bit promising. You may even soon surprise yourself by looking for a babysitter, at least for a few minutes a day so you can put on your daytime clothes and eat in peace...it's no fun facing your husband at 5 pm while still wearing your pyjamas.
Reason (f) is my own reason. I just don't believe that any nanny or day care could possibly do an adequate job of replacing me in my children's lives. Oh, I am sure they would do great work in terms of potty training (probably better than me), crafts, and all the other physical, tangible stuff. But my children need more than that. They need real love. They need real attention from a place in the heart. They need the stuff that can't be bought. They also need someone to teach them MY values and beliefs. They need someone to shape their CHARACTER, not just to make their snack and walk them through a museum. They need proper discipline. And above all, they need to know that they are loved and important to me, their mother. And I do believe that to them, time and attention means love.
Reason (g) There are so many possible reasons. If I haven't covered it here, then please comment and let me know what reason you have!
(2) What kinds of things do you expect to do with your children?
(a) I have all these arts and crafts lined up, I've read up on awesome mom blogs and I just can't wait to put all those pompoms, pipe cleaners, finger paint and popsicle sticks into action...Answer key:
(b) We will enjoy visiting museums, going on outings, discovering the world together, reading books, gazing into each others' eyes...
(c) Just being with them is enough...
(d) I want to homeschool them...
Being in charge of small children is not for the faint-hearted. While you may get some museums and nature walks and reading in there, don't expect your day to be a perpetual love fest. More likely, you will spend significant time dealing with tantrums, stubbornness, fights, tears, messiness, potty training, illnesses, and especially feeding times. It's not their fault, they are just being little kids. It's the nature of the job.
As a result, you may eventually find yourself sending them out to the back yard instead of going to that museum, so that you can finally get an hour of blissful quiet and check your email as you watch them from the kitchen window, sipping your homemade espresso (caffeine is a total necessity in this line of work).
That's why answer (c) shows the most readiness. You are there to be their mom, and it's true that they need you, but not necessarily in the ways you might at first imagine. Planning a gaxillion activities will burn you out as fast as one of those tealights. Try just being there, and you will see everything else follow.
For little kids, love means TIME. Establishing a life-long close relationship takes TIME. They need you to be there for them, just BE. Be available through the ups, be available through the downs. Be there to hug them, to listen to them, to read to them, but also to discipline them and wipe their bum. Be there to everything. They will know that they are secure under your wings, and that will give them peace to blossom.
As for answer (d) - that is achievable, but beware of high expectations that might set you up for failure. Where little children are concerned, less is more.
(3) How long do you expect to stay at home?
(a) A couple of months, just to try it out...Answer Key
(b) About a year...
(c) Until they go off to kindergarten...
(d) I really have no idea, and it doesn't matter, I'm in it for the long haul.
Any of these answers is fine, but don't be surprised if over the course of your time at home, your answer to this question gradually slides down towards (d). Life has a way of spinning spider webs around you wherever you are, and it can get ever harder to step out of the role of at-home mom (of course, you might end up being totally fine with that!). Many, many mothers started out at (a) or (b) and ended up being home right through their children's college years. So it helps to be aware of this as a possible outcome, and you get bonus points for being okay with that option. Which takes us to the next question:
(4) What do you think will happen to your career if you stay at home?
(a) Not much, it will just be put on hold for a while and then I will smoothly transition back in.Answer key
(b) I might have a hard time transitioning back in, and that scares me. I don't want to lose everything I worked so hard to achieve.
(c) My career will be over, completely dead with no possibility of revival.
(d) What career? I only have a job, I'm not a high-falutin' professional momma.
Questions about career often carve a very deep, black spiral of worries into our minds as we ponder the possibility of staying home. And with good reason. I am not going to lie to you: not working for an extended period of time does tend to be a career killer, especially in certain linear, traditional fields of work (um, as a former lawyer, law does come to mind...and medicine seems to be another one of those areas that doesn't look kindly on time-outs from the hamster wheel).
If you plan to stay home forever from day 1, then you can skip the rest of this answer since you already don't care. Good for you!
If you answered (a), you are in danger of being idealistic and not realistic. To get an idea of what it's truly like for mothers in your field, look around. What options were there for others? You might be able to follow their path. The key to your mental health is to accept the probable limitations that your choice will impose on your future career, while remaining hopeful and mapping out realistic possibilities for re-entry.
If you answered (b), consider this: A lot of women have the blessing of careers where going part-time from home, doing freelancing or consulting is an option. If this is you, I would recommend looking closely at that choice, especially if you want to re-enter the workforce later. It helps tremendously to keep your foot in the door by staying current and participating in your field of work even on a very limited basis. Later on, as a more seasoned SAHM, you might even discover that you want to continue working part time just to do something outside the home, to nourish yourself and your own life interests. If the part-time "toes in the water" approach is not possible for you, move on to (c).
If you answered (c) but you do want to continue working later, you might consider starting your own at-home business, either something related to your former field of work, or something that taps into other talents or hobbies you have. Check out how many SAHMs are vendors on Etsy. Of course, running your own business can basically turn into another full-time job.
Regarding (d), if you don't have a career to worry about, and yet you can afford to stay home with your children, then it should be that much easier to go for it. Having "just" a job also helps you in other ways. It will probably be easier for you to re-enter the workforce later on, or to work part-time, because continuity in the working force doesn't usually play such a large role at the level of non-professional work (eg. retail).
For what it's worth, here's my own experience:
Staying home for four years has put a gravestone on my legal career, but it's partly by choice. I just cannot be bothered to go back to a career that is so demanding and unfriendly towards mothers, even in its "part-time" form. I also never enjoyed it that much. If I were otherwise inclined, I could try to secure some kind of intense legal work (I don't have enough experience to be a part-time consultant or self-employed) at some point when the children are older, but I am not motivated to do it. I would rather use my degree to pursue other directions that allow me much more freedom and time with my family.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have chosen a career that is better suited to the needs of mothers...but that will be discussed in another post. I do have some regret about not using my law degree, and it's definitely a blow to the ego watching my friends succeed in the working world and climb up the ladder of prestige and income, while I remain home counting cheerios. Read my article about this here.
But you know what? I am realizing that some of my hot-shot working-world friends might well look at me and feel the exact same way in reverse, just like the mom who wrote this letter.
And I am now enjoying my journey as I try out a new path, much better suited to my current needs and life balance - writing.
(5) How well do you handle self-sacrifice?
If you are used to having your day revolve around you, then staying home will likely come as a major shock to the system. When you work outside the home, you get (at least in theory) praise and rewards for good work, for sticking around a long time, and for loyalty. These rewards consist especially of promotions and pay raises. You get coffee breaks. You get to feel like an expert at something, you get the growing respect of your peers, and your work may be treated as very important. You might get to go to conferences and teach classes, making you feel even more important and successful. You get to see tangible results. You might get to leave your work behind when you come home. You get to have an office or at least a desk space, and you get peace and quiet to work.
At home, forget all of the above. It's not about you, your importance or your expertise anymore. Your degrees and work successes mean nothing to your kids; you might as well use the back of that Masters Degree as poster paper.
You are suddenly just another mom trying to figure out what works with your kids, and more often than not, you may feel exasperation and a sense of failure or even guilt as your approaches keep sliding off personalities that are different from yours. Even when you score big time in the parenting category, it will probably not be appreciated until your kids are 40 (and don't hold your breath even then).
So, be prepared to give it your all, and to expect nothing back. The concept of self-sacrifice seems totally outdated in our culture, where we are constantly being encouraged to "find our passion," chase our own dreams, pursue "self-realization" and personal enjoyment. But for many parents, self-sacrifice starts to feel much more natural.
I remember the strange feeling I had, looking at my new baby girl, that for the first time in my life I could say with certainty that I would jump in front of a moving car without hesitation just to save a life - her life. Her life could do that to me, and it feels completely natural and right for me to do that. My life is there to protect hers, to enable her to grow and blossom, and I would give it up in a second for her. I knew that, and it made me feel strange to know that with such certainty.
It was then that I understood the truth behind the children's story of The Giving Tree, because I felt just like that tree: ready to be give everything of myself, even to be chopped down, for my little daughter. lt is easy to love those little miracles until it hurts.
And it will hurt. You will give up or bend a lot of yourself. Read about the sacrificial life of one stay-at-home mother here.
The self-sacrificial life is hard. Taking care of small children is also physically hard and mentally draining. There is not much support from society for this kind of work (yet another aspect of the self-sacrifice is that many others will not value what you do).
All these are good reasons why a lot of stay-at-home moms experience anger, sadness, depression, etc. Don't be surprised if that happens to you. It doesn't mean that staying home is the wrong choice, but it does mean that you need more support, and you have to hunt it down.
The good news is, being a parent also makes sacrifices easier. We already know it is the right thing to do, and responding to our children's needs comes so naturally that in a way, we hardly feel the pain because it is so worth it.
What are your thoughts on all this? I would love to hear from you. Let's continue the debate and tease out the fine points. Questions, thoughts, anything.
A lot has been written about this topic in many places, and here is one very good recent article:
photo credits: ynnejdrofdarb, Monkey Mash Button and shakestercody via photopin cc