Soul crushing. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think about what it was like to stay at home with three children when they were little. It was hard. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I watched my mother die from cancer. I worked as a paralegal and dealt with attorneys whose egos were bigger than Jupiter. Nothing would prepare me for the sh*t show that is being a stay at home parent.
It wasn’t a natural choice. I loved working. My identity was caught up in having a job and earning a paycheck. I loved having my own money. But I also wanted a family. I didn’t plan on having twins. I don’t think anyone who has ever been around twins wants twins. Sure, they’re cute dressed up in matching outfits, but the reality of life with two infants is far from cute.
Daycare is expensive, especially when you have twin infants and a two-year-old. My salary would have given me just enough to cover daycare with very little leftover. It didn’t make any sense for me to continue working financially. But as I would find out after my first year into being a stay at home parent, work isn’t just about a paycheck.
Check Your Identity At The Door
Overnight I went from Michelle, capable and intelligent paralegal to Michelle, somebody’s mom. At first, I loved it. I could sleep as much as I wanted or as much as having two infants would allow. I didn’t have to be anywhere, but appointments for the children, and they only occurred every few months. It was magical. I got to spend time with my babies. I got caught up on all the TV shows I was behind on and got to read more than I ever did before.
It was terrific for the first six months, and then they started crawling, then walking, and then running in separate directions. I became a handler, referee, and short-order cook. Life became monotonous, and with no friends around to talk to, I became lonely and depressed. Other than taking care of children, I had no purpose. Life stopped exciting me because every day was the same.
My social life became nonexistent because all of my friends had careers and no children. Or if they did, they only had one that went to daycare. They didn’t understand how lonely being a stay at home parent was, and they all slowly slipped away. They weren’t available to talk during the day because they worked. I couldn’t always call my husband when I needed socialization beyond the ramblings of small children.
I became an island, and I felt trapped. By the time my kids started school, I had no idea who I was anymore. That’s why you see the sea of moms crying at Kindergarten drop off. Those tears are a combination of joy, fear, relief, and nostalgia.
The Myth Of The Stay At Home Parent
The most annoying thing I hear from people about staying at home with my kids is how lucky I am, and it’s usually said in a condescending tone. I didn’t want this. It was thrust upon me because my spouse makes significantly more than me. It didn’t make fiscal sense for me to continue working. While I did go back to work briefly while they were little for my sanity, in the long run, it wasn’t worth it to get them up at 5 am for before care. It just didn’t seem fair to me when we didn’t need the money.
Another misconception, the working spouses are the most at fault for this one, is that I don’t do anything all day but sit around and watch TV. I wish! I can’t remember the last time I binge-watched anything, alone and uninterrupted.
Stay at home parents spend the vast majority of the day on our feet. I walk more now than I ever did in an office setting. Once the children got older, I spent my days, volunteering at school, running errands, doing chores, taking them to practices, picking up last-minute necessities, and putting out proverbial fires that pop up everywhere. There is always something going wrong, and always someplace I need to be at the last minute. It is constant, and it doesn’t end.
Instead of asking your spouse why the house is a wreck when you come home from work, a better question would be what happened today? Most of the time, when the house is a wreck, it means that all hell broke loose, and by the end of the day, I was too burnt out to care.
The Decline Of Our Mental Health
It’s no surprise that being home, with zero purpose, and no outlet will make you stir crazy. I liken it to being snowed in with no electricity. I started to eat away at my loneliness and loss of purpose literally. I always moved furniture around and found projects to keep me busy, but it wasn’t enough. There’s nothing like going to work and having a project due that you knock out of the park and your manager tells you so. You get the accolades of your peers. You get to socialize and gossip around the water cooler.
When you’re the stay at home parent, no one ever tells you, great job getting all the kids to the dentist today. I know it had to suck keeping two kids busy in the office while one is getting their teeth cleaned. All we hear is criticism from our partners and the outside world. We’re called lazy even though we know that all we do is run around all day cleaning up messes and preventing disasters. We’re made to feel like our contribution to the household isn’t as important as the one being made by the working spouse.
The worst part is we’re our biggest critics. We always tell ourselves that we aren’t doing enough or doing it as well as another stay at home parent. We’re constantly in our heads about things that don’t matter because we have no one to talk to about it. We believe the lies that society says about us. That we couldn’t cut it. That all we want in life is kids, and our lives revolve around them.
But this is not the life I saw for myself. I wanted my children, but I also wanted a career. I went to college and worked hard to get where I was before kids. But no one prepared me for the hard decisions that sometimes have to be made. Once you have kids, their well being becomes the priority because they didn’t ask to be born, it was a choice that was made for them. Me, staying home makes it possible for my spouse to do what needs to be done to support our family. We wouldn’t work any other way.
Even though I know all of this, I still get depressed. I am still lonely.
How To Help The Stay At Home Parent In Your Life
Reach out an have a conversation if you’re a friend. Don’t be afraid of waking the baby up. I would rather that kid get woke up and be able to have an adult conversation than have her stay on schedule and me feel lonely.
Stop assuming you know what their life is like when you’ve never been a stay at home parent for more than a few days when the kids were sick.
Never stop inviting them out to do things even though they might say no 99.9% of the time. It’s that .1% when we’re able to get out of the house and away from the kids that we’re most grateful for.
Tell them they’re doing a great job.
Be their shoulder to cry on when they get frustrated.
The Hardest Job In The World
I’ve read those articles that itemize what you would pay someone for doing everything that a stay at home parent does. It is the hardest job in the world, and there isn’t any preparation for it. No one tells you how it will feel emotionally to stay at home when that was never in your plan. It’s physically draining to care for children. You’re on high alert all day, ready for the next disaster to hit and constantly on the lookout to prevent them. And it never ends.
There’s no quitting time at 5 pm to go home to Netflix and chill. Stay at home parents fall asleep on the couch after a vain attempt at five minutes of me-time. People don’t understand that stay at home parents willingly put themselves on pause until their children are old enough to fend for themselves.
We never get a thank you or a pat on the back. There’s never a performance review to tell us we’re doing great and hang in there a promotion is coming. Our reward comes later when the good people we’ve raised go out into the world and endeavor to make it a better place. And maybe just one will come back home one day and say thank you. I don’t know how you did it.