I can't pretend that I've always dreamed of being a mother to begin with.
That's not to say I ever didn't want to be a mother either. In fact, I actually always had the "wait and see" attitude when it came to whether or not I'd ever have kids. You don't expect anything, you can't be disappointed, right?
That being said, when I was first told that I'd have to stay home with my two kids, I had expectations, and they were something out of a damned TV commercial. If you'd asked me, I'd have told you that my day would've looked a lot like this:
- Wake up
- The kids and I enjoy a lovely breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and OJ, made cheerily by me in our otherwise clean kitchen.
- We'd go out to a park and a neighbor mom and I would have a lively chat while the children played.
- Another lovely and balanced lunch, followed by a nice nap during which I get many of my to-do's done
- We make cookies together, or do some fun activity I found on Pinterest, or cuddle or sing Kumbaya or whatever
- Husband comes home and we all have a delicious dinner that I made
- I put the children together with a story I read with relish. They giggle and give me kisses goodnight. Husband and I then relax on the couch together and catch up on our day.
A lot of SAHMs probably snorted their coffee and choked just reading that. I learned quickly that my day would look more like this:
- Wake up to someone screaming or crying
- Realize I'm still tired from the day before and slap two Pop-Tarts onto the table that are promptly fought over like two rabid dogs. One drops on the floor. The loser cries and the winner happily munches on their food, then cries when it's done.
- Breakfast has taken so long that we don't really have time to do anything other than go to the grocery store before lunch. We do. The youngest starts falling apart approximately 10 minutes before we leave. Then we have naptime, wherein I simply flop into bed and sleep when they do.
- I turn on the TV and try to do some chores. This is successful sometimes and unhelpful other times. Husband winds up making dinner because I'm ready to slam my head in a door and I just want to be left alone. One child at least rejects dinner and The Battle of Just Have One Bite commences.
- Bedtime is chaos, with lots of screaming and protesting. They lie down easily, but by the end of it, Husband and I are so tired, we just sit on the couch and surf on our phones before retiring to bed.
Not what I imagined, clearly. And I spent my year and a half as a stay-at-home mom complaining about it. I'd tell everyone that I wasn't meant to be one, that I was meant to work outside of the house. I was short-tempered and resentful, and I kept reasoning that things would be better once I was back to living a life outside of the house, and outside of my children. I loved them, of course, but I reasoned that my problem was that they were a lot of work and I really really wasn't made for it.
Then I started working. My job was an hour away and I saw my children an hour and a half a day, and I began to realize something that caused my stomach to drop: my children weren't the problem. It was all in how I'd handled staying at home in the first place. In fact, I think that perhaps there are some inherent problems with that station that many don't take into account. Just off the top of my head, the biggest are as follows:
1. Even if you stay at home, you still need to socialize.
I can't even begin to tell you how many times I'd immediately feel a pang of jealousy when my husband would come home and tell me promptly that he was invited out for a drink or a dinner or some hang out time with his friends. After a day of my conversations basically consisting of "DON'T TOUCH THAT" and "STOP IT," I really craved interaction. But there were two problems with this. For one, all of my friends either stayed at home and were just as tired as I was, or they worked and didn't really have time to hang out with me. For another, neither my husband nor I really focused as hard as we should have on making sure my time for social calls was at least close to equal to his.
There's this weird belief out there that if you're based at home, be it in parenting or in a paying job, that you're already comfortable; why should you want to go anywhere else? After all, people sitting in a cubicle in an office somewhere wish they were home. You're there already, so what're you complaining about?
Problem is, just as you get tired of a cubicle or an office or a work truck, people stuck at home get tired of being at home. When home becomes your workplace, you want work to end once in awhile. And those breaks -- and a fair and reasonable frequency of them -- really should be a priority for both parents, not just one or the other.
2. Even if you stay at home, you need something just for you.
My husband plays soccer, and he plays it almost as religiously as some people go to church. He has played through sicknesses, injuries, and various scheduling difficulties. Playing is important to him and he ensures it's a part of his life regardless of where we are or what we're doing. I hear this often when I talk to my SAHM friends, whether it be that their spouse plays poker or pool or goes to their friend's house regularly to watch football. What I don't hear as often is that my friends use any of their very rare free time to do the same for themselves.
They get pedicures. They sit in silence. They take naps. All greatest hits of mine, too (especially the naps), but not the things that they would have considered a beloved hobby of theirs before they had children.
Sometimes, you just need to feel like yourself again -- be it taking part in an old hobby or just allowing yourself a G-D shower -- I get it. But the former isn't shown as much attention by many mothers, and it can change your mood like crazy.
When I was a SAHM in Seattle especially, I wasn't able to photograph people much. I did a couple shoots here and there, but saving for a house meant that I really wasn't supposed to even be doing what I did do. Stay-at-home momming in Austin was so time consuming that I didn't pick up my camera for months on end. And, as you'd imagine, it ate at me. I'm an artist. I like to create things, and when I'm not doing that, I don't feel like myself. How am I supposed to be the best mother I can when I can't even remember the person I am underneath first? Hard to enjoy an existence where you're feeling like only part of yourself.
No one is meant to live purely for others, but we often lose sight of that. There has to be a balance. And instead of using precious extra time for naps, I should've spent it reminding myself of what makes me who I am. We don't do that enough. Not nearly.
3. Even if you stay home, you still need to remember that you're a 50% partner
Let's face it: in the traditional sense, staying at home with the kids is not a job.
It's WORK, definitely, but the short and short of it is, you don't get paid, you don't get a 401(k), and you don't get promotions. All things that wouldn't be such huge deals if it wasn't for the fact that we live in a society where these are all things we use to assign value to people. Don't believe me? Think of how many times you've heard people working at fast food restaurants described with disdain. We judge people based on how much money they make. It's a big time life truth.
And that issue is one that messes with your self worth a lot when you stay home with the children. Should you be spending money on that sweater for yourself? After all, you only stay home with the children. You don't have a job.
Bu there's the thing: you do work. You still end the day drained. You still contribute to the growth and health of your family. And while your spouse may pick up the "slack" by going to a job every day, you pick up theirs by helping to keep your children safe and healthy. You are not a parasite -- the relationship is symbiotic. It's so easy to lose sight of this or to be made to feel like this isn't the case, but it absolutely, positively is.
Your partner's happiness, relaxation, and feelings of fulfillment are just as important as yours are, and the moment you forget that, things feel much messier.
I lost sight of these things. I blamed my dissatisfaction on just not being a good stay-at-home mother and brought myself to believe that I just wasn't very good at enjoying my own children. I overlooked the fun moments at the grocery store, pointing out different foods and watching their faces light up over free balloons. I didn't revel in the adorable moments eating fresh-baked sugar cookies together. Fact of the matter was, I was a fine stay-at-home mom; what I actually wasn't good at is being only that.
And who knows...maybe I wasn't meant to stay at home with my kids full-time. I still maintain that there are many of us who aren't. But when we don't care for ourselves and for each other as human beings --outside of our parenthood roles--the role is all we become, and I don't think any of us are very good at that.
No matter what Pinterest says.
Arianna Bradford is a family, senior, and boudoir photographer living in Oregon. When she isn't obsessively checking her email or returning phone calls, she's spending time with her husband and two children. She is obsessed with sleep and, when she can't get that, coffee. She also runs The NYAM Project, and she really hopes you like it. You can see more of her work here.