I’ve been home from work roughly eight months now and I am still struggling with this not-so-new role of stay-at-home mom. My son is back to school five mornings a week, which is good for all of us, but something doesn’t feel right. I’m excited about taking a few mommy-and-me classes with my daughter since I never had the chance to spend much one-on-one time with her as I did with my infant son, but I still don’t really identify with the other women who are full-time mommies.
They seem to thrive in their roles, ever-organized and prepared. I feel frazzled and discombobulated most days. Getting showered, cooking and tidying up the house have always been easy to do with kids, but extending myself beyond the four walls of my world just doesn’t seem to happen. I didn’t volunteer to bake or shop for my son’s school Halloween party. I rarely have time to buy small gifts for my good friends’ kids when we are going to be seeing them even though they’ve done so for my kids. Even this weekend, I waited till the last-minute to buy snacks for our guests and when I finally got around to doing so, my son insisted on joining me and only allowed me to go to the nearby Stop and Shop. Yes, some how I have allowed my life to be dictated by an almost-four-year old.
And being home is isolating. I don’t arrange many playdates because of my son’s current phase. Basically, he is fine telling children that he doesn’t like them, doesn’t want them to come to our house ever again, and has gone as far as to push or grab them. While most moms have been in similar positions, and the moms who have witnessed my son’s behavior have been more than patient and understanding, I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable and makes me feel like this is just one more area in which I’ve failed at being a mom.
My husband has told me I need to be less hard on myself when it comes to doing things in the home and for the kids. A therapist also noted that I have extremely high expectations of myself when it comes to being a mom. Over the past year I’d started practicing yoga again and find it particularly useful for breath work as well as focus. Yet, even when I take a yoga class at the town YMCA and use the Tot Drop for my daughter or son, I feel guilty. The time I am giving myself, I am taking from my children.
In the past five years I have got married, moved out of New York City and into the suburbs, have had two children and quit my job. All of that change is enough to make anyone lose their minds as well as sense of self.
Today I’ve given myself permission to sit and write while my daughter naps and my son is still at school for another 15 minutes. I will do the laundry tomorrow and cook dinner later. The toys aren’t picked up. Instead, I took a step toward putting “me” into who I am today: a mom.
While the Oscar winning 1938 film claims “You Can’t Take it With You,” one thing you can take with you on vacation is the toddler tantrum. Over the summer I decided to get a change of scenery and took my kids to visit a friend who lives right outside Washington, D.C. We planned an itinerary of kid-friendly activities including the zoo, the natural history museum and numerous splash parks. Despite our efforts to make this trip all about the kids, they weren’t always amused.
My three and a half year old son wasn’t shy to express his unhappiness about ending whatever activity we were doing when he wasn’t ready for the fun to end. He would tantrum and scream at the top of his lungs, informing anyone within a few mile radius that he was angry.
There were definitely some highlights of the trip that didn’t include tantrums. Having only been fully potty trained the week before our departure, my son was awesome on the four-plus hour car ride and over the entire trip by telling me when he needed to use the restroom. We had zero accidents – even at night.
Also, surprisingly, sleep was better away than at home. My kids went to bed a little later and actually slept later (to 6 or 6.30am!) most mornings.
As soon as we returned home, however, so did 5am wake-ups.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t take our better sleep habits with us.
Yesterday was the first day of my son’s extended summer program. Secretly (and not so secretly) I have been longing for this program to start to give me a break from my very busy three and a half year old. Granted, the school year only ended June 22, but the days have been long, even with a trip to the nation’s capital.
I loaded the double stroller with both kids, my son’s backpack equipped with change of clothes – just in case, even though he is now successfully potty trained – and a snack. We took the eight-minute walk to the school and waited as all the kids gathered. My son, a little clingy, seemed to be excited. He recognized a few people but when he saw his teacher he skipped over to her and held her hand.
I was proud of him. Only a few months ago he cried boarding the bus, and before that I couldn’t peel him away from me when taking him to his former preschool. I told him that his sister and I would be back at 12pm to pick him up. There were no tears. He seemed ok.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t ok. I felt a little awkward at the school where other moms all seemed to know one another and who were familiar with the program as their children had attended previously. As the mothers socialized I stood next to my daughter and watched my son take in his new surroundings.
Having worked full-time up until a few months ago, I’m still getting accustomed to this new way of life as stay at home mom, which is often marked by isolation and loneliness. I fear that I’m doing something wrong when my kids are crying or bored, or that I’m not cut out for staying home with them. At the end of each day I am exhausted, even more so than when I worked.
It occurs to me how hard it must have been initially for my son to leave his family and home, deviate from the comfort of his routine and go to school for the first time. In some ways, these past couple of months have been like the first day of school for me. These are uncharted waters for both of us, and we both have a lot to learn.
I haven’t been sleeping well the past week. While my teething 17-month old is partially to blame, I also have anxiety about the end of the school year and summer break. My three year old is so busy; I don’t know how I will keep him occupied daily till September, when school resumes. He will be attending a summer program for the month of July, but that is still two weeks away. And then there’s August.
I’m learning it’s not just me who is being affected by the change, however. My son’s behavior on Friday morning, the first day of summer break, definitely reflected his emotions surrounding the end of the school year. While he can’t articulate what he’s feeling, his aggressiveness toward his sister and more-defiant-than-usual conduct spoke volumes.
He really has become attached to school, his teachers and his classmates. After much transitioning, he even started loving the bus and the consistency of 5-day-a-week preschool. Already he is missing his routine.
And I am, too.
The recent media attention to the Pregnancy Pause made me think seriously about having quit my job and what this means for my resume. While most women feel the decision is detrimental to their careers and earnings potential, I am realizing that being a stay-at-home mom is providing me with skills to pursue other occupations if and when I return to the paid workforce.
For example, maintaining my kids’ activities and daily schedules certainly qualifies me as a personal assistant. The varying meal requests and coordination of adult food versus what’s acceptable to my kids surely is affording me practice should I ever work in a restaurant. One career for which I am getting ample experience is that of shepherd.
Going anywhere with my children – even places of their choosing – requires the herculean effort that I imagine is required for herding cattle. Just as I get my daughter’s shoes on my son decides he is going to run in the opposite direction away from the door. So I leave my daughter to go get him and she has unsurprisingly made a dash for the den and the television remote controls. Her shoes may or may not be on her feet. And, of course, both kids are laughing the entire time while I have perspired enough to need another shower, if I managed to get one in the first place.
More often than not, once we are finally in the car, I realize I have forgotten something for myself – shoes, a jacket, water. Yet, the satisfaction of having two kids strapped into their seats is a victory and nothing else matters, for now.
Surely such flexibility, determination and accomplishment are assets that any employer would seek out.
It’s been two months since I quit my job to stay home with my kids and strangely I have been feeling very un-mom-like lately. Women seemingly effortlessly care for their own children but it’s evident to me and maybe those closest to me that I am in over my head
A friend was visiting this weekend and commented that I seem more overwhelmed now than I did while I was working. He might be right.
A 27-year old nanny at my son’s gym class was commenting how hard her job was because she was “full-time.” I found out her hours are 9am to 7pm, and I really wanted to tell her she won’t have any idea what fulltime is until she becomes a mom herself.
There hasn’t been a single easy week since I’ve been home. The kids are both fighting colds/allergies and my son developed some rash about a month ago that is inexplicable even to the pediatrician and dermatologist.
My daughter, now 16 months, climbed up on the kitchen counter the other evening and set off our house alarm while I was upstairs in the bathroom with my son who had to go potty and needed help. I couldn’t initially remember the code to shut off the alarm because we haven’t had to use it before so the fire department called.
Once able to get high-level bankers to divulge details on private transactions with little difficulty, I cannot even get my son dressed for the day without chasing him through the house and pinning him down. I can’t help but wonder if I’m really cut out for this fulltime mom thing.
I don’t regret my decision to stay home. The saying goes, “Nothing worth having comes easy,” but there are moments I wish I felt a little more like myself and a little less like the snot-covered exhausted and frustrated woman that I’ve become.
Behind every great man is a great woman and behind every sane mom is a wonderful wine. I mentioned how the early evening hours till bedtime have become nearly unbearable now that my son isn’t napping. I’ve decided that the witching hour should really be called “the bitching hour” because all my son does is fight me and whine. Getting through an evening where I am faced alone with cooking dinner, feeding the kids, cleaning up the dishes and toys, giving baths and putting the cherubs to bed requires strength. And because the days are long, a little alcohol doesn’t hurt.
Wine is something to look forward to after 12 hours of nothing but kids and household duties. I take no shame in admitting I enjoy a glass or two, and there are copious articles about how many moms unwind this way after a long day.
Wine is more than an outlet for me, however. In a previous life I studied wine, worked harvest in Tuscany, vacationed in various old world and new world wine regions, and bought premier cru selections to stock in my Eurocave. Though these days I am content with affordable finds in the local wine shops or online bargains, I still am curious about vintage reports and tasting new wines.
Learning recently that frost in Champagne, Bordeaux and northern Italy has threatened the 2017 crop made me think how this vintage won’t go down as being my best either. It’s been a challenging year and we are barely halfway through it.
Perhaps there’s more to the wine-mom connection: We are susceptible to volatile conditions that can sometimes wipe us out, but there’s always the promise of a new day (or new year) to make us great again.
A funny thing happened after I became a mom. The body I thought I so badly wanted and worked out for in my twenties and thirties arrived at 40 without so much as a diet plan or exercise regimen. People ask me which gym I belong to and what I do to stay fit. My answer is simple: I’m a mom. There’s little time to sit and there’s always something to do. (And I realize I am fortunate and that genetics play a role, too).
Once wanting to look a certain way, I now want to be healthy in body and mind so I can keep up with my kids and take care of them. I attend a yoga class one or two times a week, but where I once did so for strength, I now focus on breath and recognize how vital each one is to my wellbeing. I seek a quiet mind because my days are anything but calm and reflective.
A decade ago I used to think that attaining a certain weight or clothing size might provide a sense of self-satisfaction, but these days I don’t want to be defined by the number on the scale or on the label of my trousers. Somehow, by switching my focus to something other than myself I attained what I thought I so badly wanted and now it isn’t all that important anymore.
I’ve lost more than weight on this motherhood journey. Once going out to bars and restaurants five nights a week, my social life has yielded to homebody status. Up until six weeks ago I was a full-time reporter, and proud of that title and my accomplishments. There’s some sadness and mourning of that old life.
Now I am just a mom of two silly, exhausting and amazing children. And for that I am grateful.
Without warning my three-year old decided to phase out his nap. The days have been much harder, particularly the evenings when fatigue sets in and he is falling asleep in his dinner. I tickle him and talk to him to keep him awake, but crankiness is inevitable.
He will fight me about everything now from washing his hands when he comes inside from playing to eating dinner and getting ready for bed. He loves bath time but he even fights me on that lately. When he starts to doze off, he screams at me, ” I just want to sleep.”
Trust me, that’s what I want too, but not at 4:30pm or 5pm.
The upside to no napping is that he is falling asleep quicker on his own and is sleeping until 5am most days. However, I’ll say it again, the days are much harder for me. There is no downtime whatsoever and my son and 15-month old daughter are both very busy. Even though he’s at school all morning, he comes home with renewed enthusiasm and energy, often asking, “Where are we going today?” And my daughter is into everything, especially the stuff she knows she shouldn’t be doing.
I had always considered myself a high-energy person, but I think I may have met my matches. I feel as though I’ve aged 10 years in the past several weeks of being home. I have no regrets in my decision, but I do question how I ever thought I could handle these two kids without assistance. I wonder how I ever could say that I wanted to have four children. (And while I have heard that going from one to two kids is much harder than going from two to three children, I’m willing to take the word of those who have gone before me and not find out for myself.)
I ran into my mother’s friend this past weekend who assured me it gets easier. She was a stay-at-home mom of four kids and eventually watched other peoples’ children out of her home. There’s hope in that.
I suppose in a lot of ways, my son and I are at a similar crossroads: navigating new territory. Perhaps for my son making it to bedtime also will get easier as he becomes more accustomed to life without a nap.
Being home allows me to witness moments with my children that I wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. Sometimes these occasions involve something of great fun for them such as going to the park or a friend’s birthday party, but for me capturing the ordinary has been the most interesting and rewarding.
One of my favorites: My son and daughter sit on the bench before the school bus comes and he puts his arm around her and says, ”I have to go to school now.” So matter of fact. Like a little old man.
Or my daughter trying to climb up on the couch all by herself to reach the stuffed dog and, when she gets there she cuddles it and laughs in delight, as if it was real and returning her affection.
In these moments my kids do not know the evils of the world and I wish I could keep it that way forever. I wish I could shield them from the truths that they will undoubtedly encounter one day.
For now I’m reminded of the poem Good Bones by Maggie Smith that seems so perfectly to express the struggle that I imagine many parents fear because these ordinary, simplistic, innocent moments are far too fleeting.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.