SAHM is an acronym used in the parenting world that stands for “stay at home mom.” And while many mothers will tell you that being a parent is the best thing in the world, it doesn’t prevent them from feeling doubtful or self-conscious. Some of it might be due to second-guessing their abilities as a parent. For others, it’s the pang of guilt when they see their spouse drag themselves out of bed to go to work and come back exhausted. It’s not easy juggling your mental health along with everything (and everyone) else that goes on in a single day, especially in the 21st century.
A 21st Century State of Mind
Working moms are no longer a newfangled idea that still makes the neighborhood ladies faint with dismay. With the economy in a rut, it’s become quite the norm since two incomes are often necessary just to put bread on the table and keep a roof overhead. In the face of all this, a stay-at-home-parent often appears lazy: just another mouth to feed in the house. After all, with things like daycare and babysitting, a parent doesn’t need to be at home constantly to care for the kids. Such a notion as staying at home is so outdated and primeval! This is also an enlightened society where most people carry a degree from higher education. What educated person would want to just stay at home and tend to a squalling kid all day?
It has become expected of people to achieve some status in society via schooling and vocation. People should be accomplishing things beyond their natural functions– and that includes having children. That’s why the first vestige of doubt that creeps into the minds of stay-at-home-parents is, “I’m not doing enough. I must be a burden.”
Guilty Thought #1: “I’m Not Doing Enough.”
It’s not easy watching your spouse or partner drag themselves out of bed to go to work and then come back exhausted and disgruntled. It’s worse when you’ve been home all day with the baby. As humans, we have an easier time grasping things that we can see and touch. No matter how much we might hate a boss or coworker, the paycheck at the end of the week makes it worth it. Or we might get some satisfaction out of a major project we’ve been tackling at work. And especially in a workforce that measures someone’s worth based on their productivity, we’ve been hard-wired to think that we need to be bringing something materially to the table. Otherwise, we’re just not pulling our weight.
The problem is, there’s no method of measuring the effort a parent puts forth every day because children exist in such large time frames. For instance, it takes days and weeks and months of reading out loud and talking to the baby before she begins uttering her first coherent word. When you think of a child’s basic needs from day to day, it’s feeding her and changing her diapers, and that seems like a paltry amount of “work” to get done in a day.. Even if you calculate playtime into the schedule, it still doesn’t seem like much!
When looked at from the surface, parenting seems like a breeze! No wonder people used to say that many SAHMs just sat on their butts eating bon-bons and watching daytime TV.
Guilty Thought #2: “I Can’t Stand Being Stuck with the Baby!”
Maybe it’s because of the winter months and you have a touch of cabin fever. But some mornings you hear the baby on the monitor and you’re hard-pressed to remember the last time you had a coherent conversation with another adult who wasn’t related to you. You don’t know when you last left the house without the baby and/or diaper bag in tow. Sometimes, you even find yourself wishing you were working that terrible job again because it meant interacting with people.
It’s not that you hate being a parent. While you’ve fully embraced the new you and your new life, nothing short of head trauma will make you forget the life you had before the baby. Even if you were a major homebody to begin with, there was a certain sense of freedom to doing things on your schedule, not the baby’s. And quick errands that used to take ten minutes like running to post office to send off a package aren’t quite as quick anymore. Why? Because you have to get the baby dressed and ready, grab the diaper bag, put her in the car seat, get her out of the car seat, put her in the stroller, grab the package…
Not Just the Ladies
Before I continue, I’d like to take this opportunity to state plain and clear that this isn’t just a mom/female thing. There are many stay-at-home-dads, too, which is why I’ve been using the term “parent” rather than specifically talking about “moms.” I’ve heard stories and read articles from plenty of guys who feel the burdens of being a stay-at-home-parent. And for them, it’s often worse! If us ladies had a hard time getting away from the 1950’s housewife/mom stereotype, imagine what it’s like for the guys who are typically seen as the bread-winners and the ones going off to work to earn the paycheck!
Even if the guy himself isn’t thinking it, society often doesn’t allow guys to be in a materialistically inactive role. The idea that he’s a leech or moocher becomes magnified, though it’s probably as far from the truth as a lady being a SAHP for the sake of not having to find work or go to work.
So, rest assured, guys. I have not forgotten about you!
Coping with the Guilt
Let me point out now that what worked for me in wrestling with my guilt may not work for you. But if it does, then all the better!
I often get the worst bouts of guilt #1 when one of two things happen: 1) I’ve just talked to my mom or 2) my husband’s having an especially rough time at work. As someone who began working straight out of high school to help my mom put me through college, it’s tough to be strapped for cash and not earning a paycheck. While my mom was a SAHM herself, she often feels like she was forced into that role and would not have chosen it if given the option of a do-over. And so she projects those sentiments onto me whenever she asks, “Have you found a job yet? Why aren’t you working yet?” That’s when I cheerfully reply that I do have a job: being a mom. I recognized (with the help of some friends who are also parents) that being a parent is a literal full-time job, as in it’s 24/7/365. If you want to console yourself with something concrete like numbers, look at the amount of money you’re saving on child care alone!
And any SAHP can testify that there’s more to parenting than just feedings and diaper changes. More often than not, the baby wants your attention and thinks you’re her sole source of entertainment! So all of the hours in between are filled with silly songs and funny dances, rounds of peek-a-boo, multiple renditions of the ABC’s… The list goes on. Not to mention, there’s an entire household to run. Cooking and cleaning aside (because not everyone may be as enthusiastic about such things), there’s a budget to maintain and groceries to get. If it helps, think of your house as a corporation and you’re the manager of it. When you add up all of the administrative responsibilities associated with making sure the house keeps going, you have a fairly full plate of “stuff” to do.
When guilt #2 strikes, the first thing to know is that it’s okay to feel that way and it’s not an entirely bad thing. You’re not negating your existence as a parent by thinking it. A little selfishness isn’t bad. It’s really easy for parents– those who stay at home and those who don’t– to lose themselves in trying to keep up with a baby’s demands. Parenting is tiring, mentally and physically. Sometimes you do have to step back and take some time for yourself. Some people join parent groups and others take up hobbies. People find working out to be a great “me-centric” thing to do, too.
I love to escape via creative outlets like baking, sketching and writing (hence the blog). Taking some time to volunteer also helps revitalize my brain. There’s also my video gaming that helps me feel heroic and superhuman when I’m feeling very un-super in life. That doesn’t keep me from gloating to my husband that I managed to get a week’s groceries for only $30, or that I succeeded in making a new recipe, however. There are times when the solid, material proof of self-awesomeness will work in boosting one’s morale and ego.
The biggest thing that helps smack down my guilt is knowing that there is a whole other human life that depends on me. Knowing that my baby needs me is enough to trump any naysayers whose favorite line is, “So, you’re just a mom?” Yes, sometimes the very thought of a life in your hands can be overwhelming and, just like everyone else, we parents have good days and bad days. But while we don’t get paychecks to cash in at the bank, our hearts sing with joy every time we see our babies smile or hear them giggle.
For me, that’s all the payment I need for my labor of love.