The “Lucky” Stay at Home Mom

DenaDecember 16, 2013

Every year, around the scalp of the planet, the caribou run the same path of migration along the edge of the Arctic Circle. They are born with some innate sense that calls them to this path. And every year, along the way, packs of coyote wait to feed on the caribou. And every year, despite the danger, caribou return and make their way. –Mark Nepo

This post is going to be jumbled — a lot like my head is at the moment. I want to get out some of the things that have been on my mind. This space is, after all, a place for me to collect memories and to reflect.

Alone Time

It occurred to me recently that in the seven months since Roman’s birth, I’ve left him out of my care (to do something other than work) a total of three times. The first two times I left him with my mother in July when we went on our first family vacation. Once was for the couple of hours that Matthew & I spent on the beach. The other was for the couple of hours that we went to dinner & met my cousin for a drink. Then, just recently, I left him with Matthew while I went out for a few hours to have dinner with a friend. Other than these few instances, I’ve done a handful of photo shoots that lasted 1-3 hours and I’ve left him with my mother or Matthew those times, too. So altogether, in seven months, he’s been out of my care about ten times and never for more than a few hours at a stretch.

I was a little bit struck by the realization, but also relieved. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed (a lot) these past few months. It’s been a different overwhelm than the standard “lack-of-sleep/mother-to-a-newborn” overwhelm. We are passed the newborn phase and Roman is sleeping much better now. Yes, this overwhelm has been different from all of that. At first, I thought perhaps I was experiencing some late-onset postpartum depression. But now, I’ve come to think that it’s just a stage, an adjustment, a settling into the fact that my life has not been my own, in the way that it was before, for quite some time now. And that, it will never be my own, in the way that it was before, again.

Motherhood is so drastically different for every woman. Some mothers work and are forced to or choose to leave their babies in the care of someone else for 10 hours a day, every week day. Some mothers have active social lives and leave their babies with a sitter or a family member a few times a month or every weekend. Some mothers spend every waking moment with their babies and would never leave them out of their care, not even for an hour, until they are weaned. (My mother-in-law was an example of the latter [with all five of her children!].)

I do not claim to know, or even think, that any of the examples that I’ve listed are right, or good, or better than any other. As I said, motherhood is different for every woman, as are the decisions that every woman makes about how she will mother and how much time she will spend with her baby. To bring this back to me, I believe that I am ready to start having a bit of time for myself. I would like to start working out again, for a couple of hours, 2 or 3 days a week. I feel sick with guilt for having just typed that out and feel that I am already being stabbed by one thousand eyes of scornful judgment.

How Difficult It Would Be…

I know that this is irrational, but here goes… I feel that because I am “lucky” enough to be a stay-at-home mother, that society would have me believe that I should not want for time for myself. I am “lucky” enough to be able to stay home, take care of my home, cook meals, take photographs, etc. while there are mothers out there who wake up at the crack of dawn, work all day, come home, take care of the house, and have hardly any time at all to spend with their babies. And here I am, a “lucky” stay-at-home mom, with the audacity to be wanting for alone time.

Do people really feel this way? Is it all in my head? Do people really feel this way, but would never say it out loud because it’s not politically correct?

Everyone knows that my greatest challenge as a new mother was (the lack of) sleep. Roman was a wonderful baby, but a terrible sleeper. I wrote about it at length. But what I never wrote about was one particular comment that I got several times that stabbed me right to my core. It went exactly like this:

Person: So, how is motherhood?
Me: It’s wonderful. I love it so much. Roman is an angel. Our only challenge is sleeping. He is not a very good sleeper. He is up every 45-90 minutes around the clock to nurse/comfort-nurse.
Person: Oh, I see. Well, just imagine how difficult it would be if you were working.

I’ve had this exact conversation nearly ten times. I never knew how to respond. I know that the people who said this to me did not mean to hurt me. I know that they were not blatantly trying to judge or offend me. However, it did hurt me and they were judging me. The conversation is a direct implication that because I am a stay at home mother, that I’ve got “it” easier than working mothers. Whether “it” means sleeping, living, raising a child, whatever have you — but because I get to stay at home while another woman goes to work — it’s easier on me. Well, I call bullshit. When these conversations happened, I never called bullshit. I never fired back. I placidly replied, “Yes, that is true.” or “Yes, if I were a working mother maybe I would do things differently.” However, what I wish I would have said and what I will say next time is, “BULLSHIT. It would not be any more or less hard if I were working. Motherhood is a challenge. When I was a new mother I slept for zero to three hours a night, every night. When I did sleep, I slept on the couch and Roman slept in my arms for the first three months of his life so that my husband could sleep through the night because my husband worked 75-85 hours a week for the first three months of my baby’s life. AND, yes I am lucky to be a stay at home mother but the women who go to work every day and get to eat lunch by themselves and get in a car by themselves and experience twenty minutes of uninterrupted quiet every morning in the car are lucky, too. They are not any more or any less lucky than me. We are all mothers and we have all made choices to put ourselves exactly where we are in our lives.”

I am going to take a breath now. I would also like to talk about choices and this idea of the stay-at-home mother being lucky. Because this is another conversation that I have had, and this one I have had even more frequently than the one about sleep. This one goes like this:

Person: So, have you gone back to work yet or when will you go back?
Me: No, actually I am not going back. I am staying home with Roman for the time-being.
Person: Oh, you are so lucky that you have that option.

I used to reply placidly with, “Yes, I am very lucky and grateful.” What I say now is, “No, luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. Matthew and I have worked very hard for the past several years to make this happen. We make decisions and sacrifices every day to make this happen.”

Luck Has Nothing To Do With It

The fact is that we have been living our life in a way that would allow me to eventually be a stay at home mother for several years now. When we got married in 2012, we had a modest, DIY wedding. After receiving gifts from our family, we broke even on our wedding costs. We live in a (relatively) small home, about 1,000 square feet. We do not spend money on new clothing, new electronics, or new anything for the most part. I thrift as much as I am able to. We grocery shop on a budget. We don’t take very many trips. We pay for everything with cash and seldom use our credit cards. We have paid off our vehicles. We don’t “go out” but a few times per year.

It amazes me that the very people that tell me that I am “lucky” to be a stay at home mother and at the same time cry victim because they are unable to do so — as if this is something that was just gifted to me and I didn’t work for — are the same people that live in a house that is three times the size of mine; or go out drinking/to dinner every weekend; or drive a car(s) that they cannot afford; or get their hair and nails done every month; or buy new clothes every season; and so on.

Now, let me be clear. This post is not about stay at home moms vs. working moms or families that live on a budget vs. families that live beyond their means or anything vs. anything else. I understand that there are all sorts of exceptions to rules. There are people that are victims of tragedy. I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THOSE PEOPLE. I am not attempting to compare and I am not passing judgment. As far as I am concerned, enough comparing gets done and enough judgment gets passed. That behavior is exactly what has led me to write this post and I am sorry that I even have to feel compelled to write this post. However, it is important to me that I give voice to an issue that deserves to have a voice and that I speak up even if I did not have the courage (or energy) to speak up before.

I want to close by saying that, in my opinion, all good mothers are good mothers. There are good working mothers, and good stay at home mothers. There are good rich mothers and good poor mothers. There are good Christian mothers and good Jewish mothers. There are good fat mothers and good skinny mothers. There are good birth mothers and good adoptive mothers. There is no demographic, no skin color, no religion, no body-type, no thing, that qualifies one mother as good and one mother as bad. There are even grandmothers that make good mothers, and fathers that make good mothers, too! Mothers that love their babies are good mothers, it’s that simple. No one has it easier than anybody else. Motherhood — raising a child, no matter what the circumstance — is hard work and kudos to every person that steps up to that daunting and wonderful and terrible and beautiful plate.

This post started out as a little bit about my wanting some “me” time and turned into a discourse on stay-at-home-motherhood; but I suppose it’s been wanting to come out. It just started flowing. It needed to be said. I needed to say it. On another note, the photograph at the top of this post is from the fall. I understand that the contrast makes Roman look bald and eerily similar to Uncle Fester, but it’s the only picture that I could find where I look at least halfway decent/have my hair brushed. (Forgive me, Roman. We all know that you’re actually really cute!) xo

Comments (6)

  • Suzy

    December 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    If I were at home right now, I’d be crying right now cuz you know it’s just silly to cry here at work; ) (also for the fact that i had a difficult mom day yesterday, mom feelings are still raw) Beautiful post.

    Motherhood would be so much easier without the constant judgment. Actually, it’s more like the FEAR of judgment.

    Yes, I would LOVE to be a stay at home mom. My own mom even gave me judgment because I went back to work! I would get bummed out because a lot of the baby activities that are out there are on weekday afternoons. That’s awesome for stay at home moms because it gives them a chance not to be stuck in the house alone. Part of me feels a bit bad and jealous cuz it’s like, “Only stay at home moms allowed, NOT working moms” I would like to meet up with some moms and babies too.

    At the same time, I also kind of like working. Yeah, I do get to step away from being “on” as a mom. I get to sit here and listen to music! I get to go to the bathroom and not have to worry about Sam crying or him getting into something. I get to spend time with Rob alone when we’re driving to work.

    Please, go out and have some Dena time! And you will feel guilty, but it’s the best kind of guilty, it’s because you love that little guy so dang much. You’re not doing anything wrong. In fact, I think it’s needed. Working or staying at home, we mothers actually need to step away from all of that and just be US.

    1. Dena

      December 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks so much, Suzy. <3 I'm sorry it made you cry but grateful to hear that it touched you. I'm really thankful to have a working mama (you!) chime in on this one. It is meant to be unifying.

      I know what you mean about those activities. There have been some that I wanted to invite my sister to join with her baby boy, but of course they're usually weekday afternoons. There should be more of them on the weekends.

      As for the judgment... yes. Motherhood would be so much easier without it. I never could have imagined how bad it would really be. I am not a defensive person. I have always welcomed constructive criticism, but motherhood is a whole 'nother ballgame. My back arches and I'm hissing at every little thing because it's just a constant battle. Well, at least it seems that way.

      I am so happy to have friends like you to commiserate with. XO

  • Katherine

    December 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Hi Dena! I’m a new reader of your blog, not a mom yet but following your blog is helping me prepare for the day motherhood arrives. This is a BEAUTIFUL and extremely well-written post. It resonated so so so much with me. No one has ever said to me what they’ve said to you, but I’ve heard similar things (“oh, you’re so lucky to be able to travel”) and while I smile and nod, it’s like you said- it’s not luck. It’s a great deal of determination, sacrifice, and different choices, and perhaps some luck on top of that (or at least the absence of bad luck). So many times in life people confuse luck for hard work or something similarly hard to spot. Anyways, thanks again for sharing your thoughts! Looking forward to reading more : )

    1. Dena

      December 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Thank you, Katherine! I’ve just gone over to your blog & found it so interesting. As I mentioned there, my husband’s family is from Ukraine. I’m so glad that you found me & I look forward to getting to know you better. xo

  • April

    March 10, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you for this post, it reminds me I am not alone. I have no judgments for moms who work but I get very frustrated when I’m told “you’re so lucky” for being a stay at home mom. There is too much guilt built into that phrase. I do not feel “lucky” when I can’t go to the bathroom alone. I do not feel “lucky” when my homeschoolers need me and my toddler needs me and my infant needs me all at the same time. I do not feel “lucky” that I have one extra meal and many extra snacks to prepare and clean up in my kitchen compared to the moms who are at work during the day. I am blessed with my children and I choose to stay at home but that doesn’t make it easy or simple and it wasn’t by “luck” Being a stay at home mom is not the same as winning the random lottery. Which might be the only person I would say that phrase to, a lottery winner.

  • Katie

    March 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    You are so lucky! And I mean that in the nicest way, because you’ve made your own luck. It’s not been handed to you, you don’t “abuse” it, and you understand the blessing that it is. You deserve every bit of alone time you feel you need. I hate that women/mothers choose to judge each other, rather than be supportive. It’s really sad.

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