Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's All About Me: On Choosing to be a Stay-at-Home Mom


Two years ago, when I first announced that I was going to be leaving my office job in order to transition to being a "full-time, stay-at-home mom", I wrote this post. At the time, I was experiencing a lot of frustration from all the comments spoken to me regarding my upcoming switch. The comments were almost exclusively from other women and sounded like this: "If staying home makes you happy, that's great. I'd just go insane staying at home all day. My kids drive me crazy enough on the weekends!" and "Oh, good for you! I'd be bored to death being at home all day. I really need the mental break that going to work gives me."
One of my gut reactions as I processed these comments was to make it clear that I had not come to this tough decision based solely on my own desires and well-being. I was irked that the automatic assumption was that I must be a person that did not need the mental break of work, that I was uniquely capable of not going insane with being home all day or that my kids would never annoy me sometimes, let alone regularly. 
The comments these women made seemed to universally imply that I was uniquely gifted to be willing to make such a switch. They also seemed to quickly and casually lump me in with all the assumed characteristics of these stereotypical categories: Motherly Type, Homebody, Kid Person. I felt very misunderstood, mislabeled, and as a result, quite frustrated. At the time I wrote this,I'm not staying home because I think it will be easy or fun. I'm not staying home because it makes sense financially. I'm not staying home because I hate my job or have no career prospects. I'm not staying home because I think it will be mentally stimulating or energizing. This is not about {me}." 
  
Now, just over two years into the Big Switch and deep in the “muck and mire” of being home with two young kiddos, I have gained some insight and a lot of appreciation for what being a "stay-at-home" mom is, and also what it definitely is not. I have softened from my gut reactions to those earlier comments, and readily acknowledge that some of my decision to be home with my kids really was about me, in the sense that I had a driving vision about what it looked like to raise my children and saw it as a great honor to get to be the one primarily nurturing their lives. 
I had a vision of being emotionally engaged with my children, of growing together as lifelong learners and of working through life's toughest issues, moment-by-moment. Switching to be home full-time allowed me to live in alignment with this deep value, and in that sense, being at home with my kids is all about me
When I was working, I was keenly aware of sacrificing getting to be a part of all those precious, daily moments in my kids' lives. But now that I am staying home, I am keenly aware of sacrificing the mental break and stimulation that getting to be in an office with adults all day brings. When I was working, I sacrificed getting to be the one to hush a hurt or hug before nap. But now that I am staying home, I am sacrificing any sense of personal space or physical boundaries. 
Being a stay-at-home mom is certainly not the path of a martyr, but it is also not the path for the faint of heart. I think it should be acknowledge both for the sacrifice it is and for the privilege it is. 

Two years ago, feeling frustrated and misunderstood, it was hard to see past the either/ors. It was hard not to just fall into the same stereotyping trap that others had put me in, labeling these women "out" and those women "in," these families "right" and those families "wrong." It was hard not to elevate my own sacrifices in light of feeling so diminished by other women. 

But today I can embrace this: Choosing to stay home is not what makes the most sense for every family. I am only responsible for my own decision, and it is a hard, personal decision that does not fit into the comfortable either/or categories our society prefers to function within. Either choosing to stay at home or choosing to work outside the home can both be seen as a great sacrifice and a great privilege. 
I now know that choosing to stay home with my kids is both all about me and all about them. It both satisfies me deeply and saps me completely. It both makes me bend to me knees in gratitude and bolt out the door in desperation. It is both the greatest honor of my life and the greatest challenge. And I wouldn't change it for the world. 

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