My social media feeds are always filled with moms or things about parenting. Mom friends, mom blogs, parenting sites, parenting products…I’m bombarded with motherhood all day every day, even when I’m taking a ‘break’ from my own children. Most days, this is what I enjoy. I was born wanting to be a mother. I nurtured baby dolls from a young age and was overjoyed to finally get a baby cousin when I was older. I even pursued a degree in Early Childhood Education. I would say for many years, I was a bit obsessed with children.
Then I had my own. And yes, they are snuggly, often sweet, and always irreplaceable. I still love hearing about other people’s children and I still find pregnancy and infancy fascinating. Yet, as I sit here in my third pregnancy, I can say that after this baby, I think I am ready to close the chapter on ‘baby obsession’. I feel like I have fulfilled all the wants of motherhood, babydom, and ‘pregnancy euphoria’ that I could handle.
I am by far not the same person who gave birth to my oldest son almost four years ago. While some of me has remained the same, much of what I have experienced and learned has changed me. There is no more wild-eyed curiosity at all things baby. I no longer wish to stroll through baby stores and baby departments for hours. Almost every baby thing I need is packed away downstairs in my basement. Yes, I am excited to see my new little bean on the ultrasound screen. I am excited to feel s/he kick and move. To find out the sex, nail down a name. I’m more scared of delivery now than I ever was. After hemorrhaging on the delivery table twice, I’m left a bit scared of what’s to come. Granted, my doctors and nurses were amazing. The bleeding was stopped, I did not get dizzy until I stood up afterwards to pee, and I required no transfusion. So things went really well for me. But, hemorrhaging is still scary. Especially when you have two little ones already and tend to be the type of person who reads up on every potential bad outcome… It’s scary.
I spent yesterday in a horribly melancholy mood. As I scrolled through my social media feeds, I saw moms doing fun things with their kids. I saw birth announcements, newborn cloth diapers. I saw moms praising their children, some lamenting. Normally when I feel like I’m not being the best mother, those posts about what crafts, perfect outfits, or nutritious meals other mother’s children are having make me feel bad. Yet somehow, yesterday, they didn’t.
My children weren’t doing anything fancy. They played with scented stickers, watched some shows about letters and learning to read. They built forts, played mailmen, and chased our cat. We had peanut butter crackers and graham crackers for lunch. Yes, I let them drink juice and no, nothing was organic. We even had super, not healthy pizza for dinner and boy did we gobble it up! I wasn’t ‘exceeding’ any expectations yesterday, but I didn’t let myself feel the mom guilt I so often do. Why? Four years of parenting has taught me this…
What you don’t see in those photos of moms with manicured nails, perfect hair, and NOT in their pajamas, is that they have dirty piles of laundry too. There’s a room in their house where toys likely cover the floor. They have days they aren’t taking photos where they get stuck in their yoga pants and ill-fitting t-shirts just like me. While we love to take pictures of craft time, learning time, and ‘good’ days, we’re not taking photos of tantrums. We’re not taking photos of us crying in the bathroom because it’s Thursday afternoon and we’re lonely, tired, and need a break. There are rarely photos of poop explosions, crayon walls, and food covered kitchen floors. Yet these things make up parenting just as much, if not more so, than the other things.
My transition from idealistic motherhood to the real life thing was not easy. Find a mom who says it is, and I’ll bet she has a full-time nanny. The more I let my children guide me and let go of the expectations to be ‘perfect’ – the more we thrive. I don’t measure my worth as a mother by what other people, or other mothers, think of me. I don’t care if you bottle feed, breast feed, cloth diaper, baby wear, work, stay home, eat organic, vaccinate, or live off easy meals. What I care about is that you love your children. That you provide for them. That you teach them what it means to have love, respect, and compassion for our world and the people in it. I don’t devalue you if you need help from SNAP or WIC, we’ve all needed help at some point and it does not determine your worth as a parent or a human. I don’t care if you home school, public school, or send your kids to private school. Just teach them, in whatever way you can.
The point is, all these little things that others choose to judge us for – they don’t matter. What matters is that our children grow up loved, educated, and nourished. There won’t always be good days and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If every day were filled with rainbows and lollipops, we wouldn’t learn. If we received everything we ever wanted, we’d know nothing of value, respect, and hard work.
Motherhood took off my blinders. The world isn’t always nice and pretty and there are certainly people in it who are out to destroy any piece of happiness and contentment you offer yourself. However, you don’t have to let others judgment change you. You don’t have to take it to heart. In turn, you don’t have to be the one who judges.
If you see a mom who looks like she needs a hug, offer her one. Offer the mom with two kids just trying to do her grocery shopping a hand, not judgment. Play peek-a-boo and make her kid laugh, it doesn’t take much effort. Stop rolling your eyes at the whining toddler, the crying baby. It’s stressful enough without a stranger’s judgment. Don’t sigh and make a scene when you get behind a mom or dad using WIC in the checkout line. Think about how you would feel if you had to humble yourself to ask for help to feed your baby. I guarantee you, it isn’t easy and they are doing what they need to do to make sure their child has what they need. Don’t turn your nose up at the kids munching happily on nuggets and fries. You don’t know their daily eating habits or how long of a day their parent(s) may have had.
Stop judging and start respecting your fellow human-beings… Stop judging yourself and embrace the world through the eyes of your child. They’re too young to care about those things that we place our value in. They see your value in its truest terms – how you treat yourself and how you treat others. As parents, that’s a lesson we would do well to learn.
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.
I can still remember just HOW BADLY I wanted to have a baby. Baby fever is a powerful, powerful condition that one cannot just easily squash. Once that idea takes hold in your mind, it doesn’t let go. But wanting to have a baby and wanting to be a parent are two entirely separate things.
Not once in the four and a half years that I wanted a baby did I stop and say, “I want to be a parent”. To the uninitiated, those two probably sound like the same thing. I can assure you, they’re not. The idea of wanting a baby often takes hold because we see just how cute and endearing those little bundles seem to be. We picture smiling, laughing six-month-olds; a five-year-old playing tea party; the eight-year-old learning to play baseball with his dad. What we don’t picture are diaper explosions, sleepless WEEKS, 3AM vomit parties… Those subtle differences are called being a parent.
Wanting a baby pictures all the good. It seems magical, mystical – it’s the ultimate unknown. Being a parent is real. Being a parent is also magical, wonderful, and full of good. It is also frightening, dirty, exhausting…hard. Most of us don’t think of those things when we say we want a baby. Sure, people who are already parents warn us that our lives are about to change forever. They tell us about the sleepless nights, the pain of childbirth, just how hard it is to be a parent. Yet, without having experienced most of this for ourselves, we just can’t mentally compute how true what they’re telling us is. We think they’re exaggerating, that it won’t be that way for us. We’ll be different, we won’t have kids who scream in public or throw tantrums over a dinner out. We’d never tolerate that behavior the way they do…
I wanted a baby so badly that I forget about all else for over four years. In those four years I started a career, I got married, took vacations, got a cat, bought a house, worked on a college degree… Truthfully, I remember very little of those four years except that all-consuming drive to have a baby at all costs. It was INSANE. I was insane. There is a reason they call it baby ‘fever’. It pollutes your mind just as an illness will. The spark was planted in me after a miscarriage that proceeded an unplanned pregnancy. We then got pregnant twice more, both accidentally WHILE using two different forms of birth control, and had two more miscarriages in that same year.
My journey into baby fever was really more of a journey into longing and replacing what I had lost. There had been life in my womb three times and three times I had been denied the chance at ever meeting these tiny growing beings. I was devastated and I was going to get my baby. There was a break where I decided to actually just live and be young. But we were on the TTC (trying to conceive for those non-polluted brains) bus in a few months and when that didn’t work, we met with doctors to find out what was wrong. We both had fertility issues, which was shocking for the two people who had conceived three times in one year while trying to prevent it. We did what the specialist said and still nothing.
Almost two years later, we were pregnant. Less than a week after the positive test, we lost the baby… At that point, I swore off getting pregnant. I was done. It hurt and I was convinced we’d be childless. I looked into foster parenting, put the idea aside and focused on school. We got back into TTC, this time taking a more relaxed, but serious approach with the charts, the temperature taking, the suggested treatments recommended by the specialist. And they worked. We had our successful pregnancy and delivery. We had a baby.
My pregnancy was so surreal. It was filled with the terror of losing the baby and then actual joy as we inched closer to our due date. Sure, there was morning sickness and more than one occasion of covering the interior of my car in vomit. There were moments of running to the restroom at work and feeling like my baby was trying to murder me from inside out. My water broke prematurely at thirty-seven weeks, but we had a healthy baby!
He was mine and I loved him. The reality of becoming a parent sat in the first sleepless night in the hospital. My body felt ravaged, my mind was fuzzy from the lack of sleep and the craziness that I had just experienced. I had expected to look at my baby immediately after birth and think that he was the most gorgeous creature I’d ever seen. I didn’t. I thought he was cute, but I wasn’t head over heels in love with him, not yet. Breastfeeding, bonding, becoming a mother – they didn’t come as naturally as I had expected. Between baby stores, what to expect, and birth – it all became glaringly real…and overwhelming.
Somewhere in the first week I wondered what the hell I had done. I was tired, sore; I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted some peace. But, when you have your first baby two weeks before Christmas, oh, well, you don’t get that magical, mystical break. You get to finish Christmas shopping with a one-week old. You get to be bombarded with people trying to hold YOUR baby. You get to be reminded a million times that you failed at breastfeeding, that you gave up on that ‘easily’. No one sees how your son just plain won’t latch on, they seem to forget that you can hear them talking about you because hello, you’re in the very next room.
After the shock of realizing that wanting a baby is so much more than those lovely bucolic images of a bouncing baby playing on a blanket in the grass…you realize, being a parent is setting in. And you want it! You don’t care that it’s now a challenge to get a shower. It’s becoming manageable to have a little being that depends on you for EVERYTHING. You’ve been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on. You’ve been screamed at, you’ve cried in corners of rooms in secret, and yet you’ve still managed to fall in love. You’ve began to love burying your face into those big chubby cheeks. You start to live for those tiny baby smiles, and then giggles!! He laughs, you teach him to roll. You are becoming a mother and you are loving parenthood…
Parenthood was exhilarating for me after the first month. I mean, I rocked it. I had his schedule down to a science and the house was pretty much always clean. There were some nights of tears when our normally good sleeper would decide to wake up or not want to sleep, but mostly, I rocked it. I rocked it so much, that I decided I was ready for another baby before he was even one-year-old.
If there’s anything crazier than baby fever, it’s second baby fever. Crazier still; we didn’t need fertility treatments this time, we got that baby on the first try… We managed to get pregnant on our four-year wedding anniversary and if that wasn’t symbolic of how it was meant to be, well then, what was? The second time around, you get the difference between wanting a baby and being a parent. In some ways, a second pregnancy is easier because you know all about what is coming your way. And then you don’t. Because now you have to add a toddler to the mix. You’ve never done that level of busy and crazy and it is scary.
I did fall in love instantly, head over heels with my second baby. I loved him as much as I loved his brother and I ached for all those firsts again. I knew not to rush them, to cherish them, and reach for the memory of them when I was having a hard day. Making the switch to two under two wasn’t easy, but it was doable. I lost a part of myself somewhere in the mix because I had no time to just be anything but their mother. But they grew and I found me again.
Life with a three-year-old and almost two-year-old is pretty sweet. It’s crazy busy and messy, but it is rewarding. Watching them interact and learn is amazing. Seeing my oldest call his brother his friend seriously makes me tear up. They work together, they argue, they love each other.
My husband and I – we got this. We know all about what it is to be a parent and how it’s hard, but worth it. We now know the difference in wanting a baby and wanting…a different life. That’s what parenthood is. It’s a different life than the one you had. It’s loving someone (multiple someones) more than you love yourself. It’s giving up everything you thought made you whole for little beings that make parts of you that you didn’t know you had light up. Parenthood is learning to balance what you had with what you got. And that magical, mystical unknown? Oh, it’s still there. And it’s beautifully real and equally fulfilling.
Before you say you want a baby, make sure you understand what you’re asking for is much more than a little being. They demand ALL of you. They take until you think you couldn’t possibly have more to give and then they fill your soul up with love. You’ll find strength when they’re weak and you’ll give it to them. You’d go hungry, truly hungry; to make sure they’re fulfilled. You’ll forget about having nice clothes, cars, or anything else if it means that they get to have all they need and most of what they want. You’ll learn that disciplining them isn’t mean, but it’s a part of teaching them to be good people, the kind you want to see in the world.
Most of all, they’ll show you that you are more than you ever saw. You’re their sun and moon for many years. And you are still their hidden strength, even when they have children of their own. That’s being a parent – a good parent. And it’s worth it…
The time they fall asleep in your arms after not doing so for many months…
The first real smile…
The “Thank you Mommy”s…
The first time they see a lightning bug…
Their discovery of music and dance…
The excitement over snow…no matter how old they are.
The calm morning after a fretful, feverish night…
Teaching themselves to swing without your help…
Pausing over your breakfast to watch them successfully use a spoon, as you wonder just when this happened…
Realizing it’s been over a year since you used bottles…
Watching the wonder in their eyes as you walk through the aquarium…
…the candy shop…
While we often mark down big events and special dates on our calendars it’s the little moments that truly make our lives special. If we can pause for just a moment to experience life, we’ll find a special moment in every day.