Fighting Stay at Home Mom Shame
After meeting someone new, I always dread that question, “What do you do?” This question used to be a source of pride for me when I was working (in a paid position) and/or was studying in school. Now though, I feel a touch of shame when I answer, “I’m at home taking care of my toddler”. I always feel deficient and like I am not enough when I say this. This is the feeling of “stay at home mom shame”.
Why though?! In my heart of hearts, I am so incredibly honored to be a stay at home mom. I had a child because I wanted to raise and nurture him- provide him with a rock solid sense of love and safety- to play with him and witness every developmental milestone. I want to spend as much time as possible with him as he is spending these first few years of life learning about the world. And for my family, having a parent available at all times just makes our lives easier as we don’t have to juggle two work schedules with childcare.
Society Does Not Value Stay at Home Moms
So where does this stay at home mom shame come from then? I believe it comes from what society tells me (or at least what I think it’s telling me) I should value; money, a good job title and paid work. And somehow even busyness and stress have become badges of honor in our culture. So it’s easy for me to assume that the more money and stress I can generate, the more it means I am contributing to society. Flawed thinking I know, but I find myself clinging to this belief.
But I am tired of feeling like all of the energy I put into raising my son (I have never been so exhausted in all my life!) is worthless or somehow less important than what others are doing in their offices. I am raising a happy little human who will help shape the world around him as he grows up. How is this not considered one of the most important jobs?
Yes I could send my 2 year old to daycare or preschool, but is it wrong that I want to be the one to provide him with as much love and support as possible right now? He will be venturing out into the world on his own soon enough. While he is only 2 years old, I’d like to think all my time with him is having an impact.
Defining a New Set of Values as a Stay at Home Mom
So while being a stay at home mom may be a thankless job in the eyes of society, I stand behind anyone who wants to take on the role. While I have certainly had my ups and downs as a stay at home parent, I am learning to define a new set of values for myself and recognize the contributions I do make. While it has taken me a long time to get over my stay at home mom shame and confidently claim my role, I have (mostly) arrived and am excited to share what I have learned.
Self Awareness and Self Acceptance
In my particular case, I know that I can be a more present parent if I am not juggling a paid job with my home life. I wish I had the stamina and constitution to juggle both, as I know many parents do, but I know that I would really struggle under such circumstances. I tend to carry around a lot of anxiety, and I have historically always brought work home with me. I don’t want to operate as that anxious work obsessed person as I raise my son. And since my family and I have the option and privilege to have a parent at home, I am glad to be that parent.
I try to celebrate the fact that I have this self-awareness and have adapted my life to support my individual constitution and needs. There is no need to berate myself for not being able to be everything that I think I “should” be. And also no need to hold onto my stay at home mom shame.
I hope I can model all of these sentiments for my son. So that as he grows up, he listens to his own voice, rather than letting someone else tell him who he is, what he believes in, or what he needs. If self-compassion and self-awareness were more prominent values in our culture, I believe we would have stronger mental health within our communities.
Embracing a Divergent Path
We live in a time where having a parent at home is the exception rather than the rule. In 2016, Pew Research states that 1 in 5 parents is a stay at home mom or dad. And while it’s great that it is no longer the 1950s and mothers are not expected to stay at home, what about those moms who have the option to and freely make the choice to raise kids full time?
Interestingly, I do not think that stay at home dads receive the same kind of social judgment as stay at home moms. I could be wrong, but it seems that stay at home dads are celebrated for their progressive nature. While stay at home moms are seen as living in the dark ages.
So being a stay at home mom can be isolating. When everyone around me seems to get up every morning, drop their kids off at daycare or preschool and then go and be independent humans for 8 hours a day, I often feel like the odd one out. And when I take my toddler on outings, hoping to find other humans to connect with, we often find ourselves at empty playgrounds.
Luckily though, I am finally finding a small community of other stay at home parents as I scout out community activities for my toddler. We go to our local library (you can check out my post on children’s libraries), a toddler gardening group, a Tinkergarten group and we are always on the lookout for other enriching activities. So over time, I am getting to know other parents who share a similar perspective as me. And this has also really helped me battle my stay at home mom shame.
My toddler and I also get to do a lot of errands and/or activities at home together everyday. We go to the grocery store together, bake goodies and meals together and he even helps me clean the house up. While it takes a lot more time doing these sorts of activities with a toddler, we have that extra time because I am home with him throughout the day. And I like to think that becoming familiar with these tasks will serve him well as he grows up and support his growing independence.
So while stay at home motherhood can be a bit lonely at times, I try to remind myself that it is perfectly okay to be on a different path than the majority. All paths have their unique pros and cons, and what a beautiful thing that we are not all just doing the same thing as one another day in and day out. Openness to all the different kinds of life paths is how we create a kinder, more varied and welcoming world.
Appreciating Life in the Slow Lane
Operating at the pace of a toddler all day long has taught me/teaches me A LOT about patience, endurance and humility. In the working world where you are surrounded by adult colleagues and never-ending projects, the day often moves at the speed of light.
This has not been my experience with taking care of a baby and now toddler full time. While things definitely feel like they are moving at lightning speed, they simultaneously seem to be moving in a circular motion and at a tedious pace. So the days often feel somehow both chaotic and painstakingly slow. It feels like it takes about a million hours most days to get my toddler from point A to point B. And when you endure that pace and those everyday tasks day in and day out, it can be absolutely maddening.
But, I am trying to become curious about this sometimes mind-numbing pace that is a toddler’s life. A toddler exists fully in every single moment. They are not constantly looking ahead as we so often tend to do as adults. They savor their moments. The most mundane things, are somehow completely captivating to them. Life is not about getting things done for toddlers. Rather, it is about inspecting everything and doing so with an incredible amount of zest.
So I am trying to value this kind of present moment engagement in life. And rather than feeling bored, I am trying to find what might exist underneath my stubborn layer of boredom and desire to move quickly through life. I can’t say that I have found any answers yet, but I’m pretty sure there is something there to be discovered. And when I take this perspective, I am excited to get to be an explorer everyday and try and see from a new perspective.
Learning to See People for Who They Are, Not What They Do
My identity has always been very enmeshed with “what I do”. I used to believe that whatever job I had explained everything about me. What I have realized though, is that a title, whether it’s “stay at home mom”, “senior manager”, “burger flipper” etc really doesn’t cover the scope of a who a person is. We can’t actually learn that much about a person by asking them, “what do you do?”.
So rather than asking someone, “what do you do?”, perhaps we can ask them what they are interested in. We can ask questions like, “what do you enjoy doing?”. “What do you wish you had more time for?”.
Questions like this leave more room for a person to share the less obvious parts of themselves. And those are the parts that are usually the most interesting, and the parts that help us truly connect with one another.
Stay at Home Mom Pride
While being a stay at home mom is a great choice for me and my family, I want to acknowledge that this does not mean that it is the right choice for everyone. For me though, being a stay at home parent suits my individual constitution and parenting beliefs, and is teaching me valuable lessons that are helping me grow and see the world a little differently than I used to. And while stay at home mom shame creeps up from time to time, I really wouldn’t have this life any other way.