Before I became a stay-at-home parent I had my own preconceived notions about what being one meant. I assumed that laundry was always caught up, houses clean, and there was a bit of leisure time once everything for the children was done. Clearly, I had never been alone in a home with an infant or toddler before. While some of my uneducated guesses did ring true, many did not. Here are the ways that my life as a stay-at-home mom is much different from what I imagined.
- Cleaning My Home
Before I had my first son, I could get away with cleaning the house about once a week. We’d fill up the dishwasher a couple times a week and I might have to run the vacuüm twice. I only really had to mop maybe once a month. In short, we weren’t really home enough to mess the house up much so it more or less stayed clean all the time.
When I brought my newborn home, I was amazed at how many bottles he went through in a day and how long it took me to clean them. I was washing bottles in the morning and at night, mountains of bottles. Our breastfeeding plans didn’t work out and I hated all this bottle washing. There were also burp cloths littered all over the living room, his bed room. He wasn’t even able to crawl or sit up, but he was already changing my tidy home into a messy one that I couldn’t keep up with.
When he was a bigger baby, my house did stay remarkably clean until I got pregnant with his brother and was almost too sick to move from the couch for the first several months. Now that I have a toddler and a preschooler, hahaha. Our house is clean, it isn’t always tidy.
Honestly speaking, this one didn’t change much for me when I first became aS AHM because I was no longer washing my work clothes and my ‘normal’ clothes. The babies laundry sort of took the place of my work clothes so the laundry was more or less the same. I did laundry on Fridays or Saturdays and didn’t do it again for a week. When I started cloth diapering my son at fifteen months, I added in a load of diapers 3 or 4 times a week.
Then we brought home our second baby and wow. I don’t know how that changed the laundry dynamic so dramatically, but I now do laundry at least every other day. There is one thing I will say, our laundry room always smells like fresh laundry. It isn’t always wrinkle free and my husband now has to pitch in and put a lot of it away, but at least we’re not suffocating under mountains of dirty clothes the way we did in the first few weeks as parents of two.
- Utility Bills
I had no idea that our energy and water usage would increase so dramatically. Sure, part of that is adding extra humans to your household. The other part is that now you’re home almost all the time. My house used to sit empty for nine or ten hours every day. It is almost never empty now. Toilets get used more, sinks, appliances. Our house is certainly lived in now.
I was never one to eat out a lot while at work. I’d pack my breakfast, lunch, and a few snacks. I worked an hour away from home which meant a two-hour drive daily so I was away from home for about 12-13 hours every single day. I packed a lot of quick things – cheap, processed things. I didn’t enjoy eating those things so staying home has allowed me to get back to real food. Real foods cost more, and we’re feeding more people now. So, obviously, our grocery bills went up.
We also spend more on things like hand soap and toilet paper. The toilet paper was crazy to me at first, I couldn’t figure out why we were going through it 2-3 times faster than before. You don’t realize how much time you spend at work vs. home and how that even affects how much toilet paper your house goes through.
I assumed being a SAHM would mean I’d get a few more hours of downtime every week. Time to relax, unwind. Oh man guys, this one slapped me in the face. Before children, despite working full-time and commuting 10 hours a week, I had a lot of downtime and didn’t realize it. My husband and I would spend Sundays lounging around the house after a night out on Fridays and Saturdays. We had a lot of fun, and a lot of lazy Sundays.
I have not had real downtime since before I went into labor with my son. In fact, labor was my last downtime. Seriously, it was the last time I didn’t have something I HAD to be doing chore or kid wise. Any hobby I do now is multi-tasked with cooking dinner or caring for my children. Date-nights are few and far between. And I sit through them thinking oh no, I forgot to tell them where this is. Oh crap, I left laundry in the washer. Did I remember to fill up the cat’s bowl? I mean seriously, there isn’t downtime as a SAHM. If there is, you’re using it to budget or clean out the kid’s closet.
Obviously, your finances change in a big way when you quit your job, forfeiting half your income. I assumed that it was going to be hard. And at times it has been. However, if I had continued to work, all but about $200 a month would’ve went towards daycare and my 10 hour weekly commute. Much of that would have also went into car maintenance. Our finances were going to change either way and $200 a month wasn’t worth me only seeing my son for a couple of hours a day for me. By the time I had a second child, I would have paid to work.
So yes, we have far less money coming in, but we have become better with our money. We have learned what we can live without and how that often improves our lives instead of hurting it. We are so rich in love and happiness, we don’t need ‘things’. Becoming a SAHM taught me a lot about money. We learned to budget, coupon, thrift/clearance shop, and enjoy the simpler things instead of always wanting a new material possession. I enjoy what we have learned about money, but never dreamed that being a SAHM would benefit us in this way.
I did not plan to be a SAHM when I gave birth. It wasn’t until my son was a few weeks old that I sat down to do the numbers and realized that it might be a better suited option. I had never dreamed I could be a SAHM. When a coworker or friend told me they were going to quit their job and stay home, I’d always think, “Well,that must be nice”. I pictured my children in daycare, and me spending all my free time with them. I saw them learning at daycare and playing at home. I thought SAHMs must spend all day doing ‘lessons’ and have a little preschool set up in their homes. Maybe some SAHMs do this, and I commend them.
My children spend much of their days playing. I do formalized lessons with my preschooler once or twice a day, but much of their learning is through play. We read, do flashcards, learn shapes, but we don’t have ‘school’. I pictured myself as the mother who was always doing crafts and learning activities, perhaps bouncing through play groups, but it isn’t me. I am not the mother I pictured. Sure, we do some of those things. But we don’t do them all the time. Some days I am just trying to float and not drown in all my responsibilities as mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend.
I’m not one of those super moms. I’m a normal mom. I love my kids, I want the best for them, and I do my best to give them a good foundation. I value lessons in love, support, and acceptance far more than lessons in math and science. Reading to my children while I snuggle them is one of my favorite things. There is no chalkboard in my kitchen as I imagined. There is a tidy box of workbooks, flash cards, and boxes full of crafts that we don’t touch every day. I’m not the mother I envisioned, but I don’t hate the mother that I have become.
I assumed that stay-at-home parents prepared nice meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I thought, hey, they’re home, they have the time. Oh boy. Why didn’t any of these SAHPs that I knew warn me? They probably enjoyed watching me those first few months as I struggled to get my teeth brushed and find time to get out of pajamas (it didn’t always happen). I did prepare nice meals when I had one infant. Once he got more mobile it got challenging.
Once I was pregnant, had a toddler, and sick as a dog, I’m not sure I cooked a ‘nice’ meal for months. My husband handled dinner while I tried to eat anything that wouldn’t leave me sick. Some nights I cook something nice and some nights we do easy. My kids prefer cereal for breakfast. And their favorite lunch time fare includes things like peanut butter crackers, grilled cheese, and chicken nuggets. I can do fresh-baked breads, stews, and decadent desserts. Alas, I forgot that SAHPs have KIDS, who normally prefer something simpler.
The hardest part of staying home for me is friends. I feel like I never see mine and I lost so many when I stopped working. It stung and hurt like hell to see friendships melting away into nothing. I cried many tears and then I realized there wasn’t much I could do except try to reconnect or just let it go. I thought staying home meant I would have more time to spend with them. I do, but they’re at work. And I can’t cart my kids around to concerts or drag them out on Friday nights. Sure, I can get a sitter now and again. I cannot predict a fever or a sitter cancelling. People without kids don’t always get that. I miss my friends. I miss concerts, late nights just talking. I miss messaging back and forth at work, having friends over for sporting events, just because, or just laughing over dumb things that don’t matter. I would love for these people to come back into our lives and realize we’re not that different from our pre-kid days, in fact we’re way more laid back and fun. We still listen to loud music, enjoy concerts, and yes, I still have a potty mouth and a sense of humor. I miss being more than someone’s mother…
The flip side of this is the amazing mom friends I have made. They are fiercely supportive and caring. While most of our chatting is done online, they are a lifeline I didn’t know I needed. They have seen me through late night fevers, nursing troubles, postpartum blues, depression, and anxiety. I never expected to form these bonds and friendships with these women, many whom I’ve never met in person, but I am grateful that I did.
Naturally, your view of family changes when you have children. I think I had a close family before I had children and started staying home, but my open schedule has allowed me the freedom to grow closer to my family. I have bonds with them I didn’t have before. I can swing by for lunch dates, pop in on their days off, or have a little day trip that I never could’ve done without lots of planning while I worked. I didn’t fully expect or anticipate how much closer we’d grow. My extended family is amazing. My children are so loved and cherished. And I feel as though I could never repay all the kindness and support my extended family has offered to my little family.
- View of Self
I never realized how much my view of myself would change as a SAHM. I thought I would just be blissfully happy to spend my days in my home with my children. There have been times that I felt worthless. I have gone through periods where I felt like my lack of financial contribution and professional status meant I didn’t mean much to anyone. I have been reminded of all that I do contribute and do to keep our family running and happy. It has taken time for me to see this and value myself and what I do.
I have a confidence in myself I did not before. I also know that I have limits and imperfections like everyone. I know that my value is not tied to how much money I make or what job title I have. That’s a lesson I probably didn’t know I needed, but it has changed my view of the world and myself.
- My Marriage
I am amazed at how much my marriage has grown and changed in the last few years. Parts of becoming a SAHM were very hard on my marriage – the stress of changing finances and becoming parents can be tough. There have been dark moments and difficult arguments. There has also been growth and positive change. I am even more amazed at how we’ve matured and grown closer. I love my husband more fiercely now than I did before. There is no doubt in my mind that I can happily spend forever with him. We’re more honest, open, and closer than we were. Parenthood and the changing dynamics of our family fixed something I didn’t know was broken.
Whether parents work or stay-at-home, their lives change. Each time you bring a new child home, get a new job, even change working hours, your family changes and grows. Change can be scary, but it can also be beautiful. I’m supportive of parents who work and stay home. Both offer challenges and rewards that have to be tailored to each family’s needs. I’m blessed to have found the balance that works for my own family and to be thriving in our little corner of happiness.