This is a post that has been a long time coming. I have mulled it over for a long time, tried to think of what to say, and how to say it. And before I go any further I guess I want to write a little disclaimer:
This post is about my choice to stay home with Blythe. I know many of you have not made the choice to be a stay at home mom for a variety of reasons, and I want you to know that I do not write this to try and change your mind or condemn you in ANY way. I know some woman simply cannot, for one reason or another, be home, even though they ache to be. And also, those of you that are working moms are not really my audience for this post, no offense. I am writing this for myself, to process this large decision I have made and at times struggled with. I am also writing this for other stay at home mothers who are in my shoes, or who have been in my shoes and can offer me wisdom and encouragement. I am writing this just like I write all my other posts: to document a time in my life. And lastly, I am writing this in part so that Blythe may one day understand why I chose to stay home with her. [Also, I am going to quote from "In Praise of Stay-At- Home- Moms" by Dr. Laura [this may be, in part, a book review!], which several women have shown an interest in or asked me questions about since I mentioned it in this post.]
And one other side note: I hate the acronym SAHM. I don't know why, but I do. It makes me cringe. It's kind of like how I don't like the word "PINTEREST." So I won't use that acronym, I'll just say "stay at home mom". Mmmmkay?
I've written about this a little bit before. I wrote about my initial decision to leave teaching, a career I LOVE, to be at home with Blythe. Then I wrote about that same decision and how I was processing it after the school year started without me. I also wrote about some of the perks of staying home. But this post is a little more all-encompassing than those, I guess.
Many people have approached me in the past ten months and said, "Don't you just love being home?" or "Do you get bored sometimes?" or even "Do you miss teaching?" And the answer to all of these questions is an emphatic, "YES!"
The decision to stay home was not necessarily easy for me, but I knew I was going to make it all along. Why? Because I had insider knowledge: I knew what it was like to be raised by a mother who was always there, always. I married a man who also knew what it was like to be his mom's job, and he was pulling for me to stay home just as much as I was because he knew the benefits as well. We crunched numbers once or twice, but honestly [this may scare some], we didn't really worry too much about money-- we just knew we would make it work, however we had to. Dr. Laura commented on this in her book saying, "Forget "if" and get right to the "how"--and do it. Trust that you will make it work out. Once you're committed to the goal, you stop wasting energy on debate and worry, and instead stay focused on making it happen."
We knew that if I stayed home we would no longer have the luxury to spend money easily, but we were BOTH willing to make that sacrifice. [And in a little side note, it has been amazing to see God work in this! AMAZING. Interestingly enough too, it has made us more giving, as we have seen God provide for our needs, so we have been more willing to be a conduit for Him to give to others]. And to wrap up this point, a quote from the book: "To prepare to be a [stay at home mom], make sure you want to give it all for your child. Nothing is more important than that baby. If you need money in your pocket to buy that latte, or go shopping for new clothes all the time, or go out to eat every other night get eight-plus hours of sleep, or a manicure/pedicure every week, then being a [stay at home mom] may not be for your. [Otherwise] do it-- your children will thank you every day." I actually had a friend once say, "I wish I could be a stay at home mom, but financially we probably couldn't." Instead of saying "Let me see your checkbook and let's figure out a way," I smiled and said I understood. But then she quickly added, "Actually, we COULD make it work… but I like driving my new car and I like shopping, so…" She has no idea how much I actually appreciated her saying this. She acknowledged what a lot of other women won't, and in turn I could respect her decision and she mine.
TIP: Someone very wise [my mom] once told me that one of the best things we could do to prepare for me to stay home [if that is what we wanted] was to live off one salary as much as we could while we were both working. I would add to this: get rid of as much debt as possible while you ARE both working-- pay down or pay off student loans and get rid of that car payment etc.
But honestly, I knew the money thing would be the easy thing for me [Though I know that's not the case for everyone]. I knew the hardest thing for me would be to not be in the classroom. I knew I was a good teacher, and I knew I LOVED my students. I also knew I could come back to teaching, but I couldn't come back to being with my child in these precious days. So why was the decision so hard? In the back of my mind I knew what it was, but Dr. Laura put words to it for me: I had let our feminist culture convince me that staying home wasn't of "worth"; that if I was at home I was not only wasting my college degree but wasting the intelligence that God blessed me with [I have even had someone years ago tell me so much when I mentioned that I would probably stay home once I had kids]. She says, "Since when did raising your own children become something you have to defend or feel guilty for? ...'Motherhood and apple pie' once stood for the ultimate gift of being an American in a great country. Now, women who choose motherhood feel they risk being viewed as someone who will not work, is lazy, or just can't cut it in the real world. Many of you stay at home moms are suffering from feeling undervalued as a person because you chose to stay at home-- as though you are no longer a productive person in society and in your home." This is exactly what I felt for several long months, though I was afraid to admit that to others at times. Schlessinger wrote about a new stay at home mom who said she felt she had been "brainwashed to believe that motherhood was beneath the dignity of an intelligent, independent woman. She would watch people's eyes glaze over when she told them she was a stay at home mom, and she felt like she had to rush in with a "but, before I left I was ….," as if to prove her intelligence to them." That woman she was writing about could have been me!*
I felt invisible to the world, as no one saw what I was accomplishing. At times I couldn't even see what I was accomplishing, because nothing was ever really accomplished for good- no diaper remained dry or unfilled, no countertops remained clean, no floor remained vacuumed, no belly remained fed. Everything was so repetitive without what I was used to getting "on the job"-- acknowledgement or appreciation. This is where Brent stepped in. He acknowledged and praised my efforts, and that made ALL the difference. With his encouragement I could keep changing diapers and cleaning toilets. Someone saw worth in what I was doing. I was initially not enjoying it because I felt I wasn't being "fulfilled." Dr. Laura spoke to that saying, "One of the more obnoxious statements I sometimes hear about the lifestyle of a stay at home mom is this notion of fulfillment. Since the 1960s, there has been a shift in values from obligation to fulfillment. An activity has to give pleasure, or it is without true value." I realize now that my day to day may not always be fulfilling, but I am harvesting, and someday the harvest will indeed be fulfilling!
I also would feel guilty when I would miss teaching, but then I read: "Some stay at home moms have periods when they miss their work, and that's perfectly natural-- even expected! First of all, don't assume that feeling is an omen that you've made the wrong choice." I did let that cross my mind and doubted myself that my decision was the right one. Dr. Laura says, "Some [stay at home moms struggle while going through] the profound loss of [what feels like] any amount of independence. Suddenly work, with its lunch and coffee breaks, starts looking grand! And then your baby smiles up at you, and gently touches your face…; and then you're hooked in again: but only for a while, because those feelings just keep getting recycled from hour to hour or day to day." It is a tough cycle. It's repetitive and monotonous at times; isolating and exhausting at others. I don't have the luxury of leaving work and going home. But then I remember that I am getting to be my daughter's mom, not someone else. I get to rest easy knowing "that there are no worries about what [she] is taught or how [she is] treated, or how [she is] feeling, or what [she is] doing, because I am there!"
Dr. Laura says what many people have always said: "Quality time needs quantity time to find a place to happen." So in the monotony and repetitive nature of our days, I also am creating a vast amount of time for Blythe and I to share QUALITY moments. And in those moments I remind myself that "Nobody-- ever-- will love [my] children like [I] would."
The book also spoke about how stay at home moms can be criticized, with other woman telling them that by working and doing "important things" they are being great role models for their children, and giving their kids something about their parents to be proud of. I maybe haven't heard it in those exact words, but I've heard that none the less. And if no other part in the book spoke to me, Dr. Laura's response to this did. She said, "You don't have kids to have an approving audience. You have kids for their sakes, not your own. Children have very specific emotional and psychological needs, best met by a loving parent, not hired help." Jenny once wrote that when she had her daughter her mom told her, "This little girl owes you nothing. You owe her everything. You brought her into this world, and now you owe her all you have." I remember reading that a couple of months after giving birth to Blythe, and in the midst of wondering if staying home was really my "greatest calling." It helped remind me that indeed it was.
One last thing that I never even put much thought into while making the decision to be home was my marriage! It seems silly now because even though I've only been married five years, that is enough time to realize that EVERY decision we make has a huge impact on our marriage. And this one was definitely a bonus for that department. Dr. Laura says, ""Being a stay at home mom is not all about the kiddies; it is all about the family, and that includes a husband who needs your attention, affection, and approval as much as you need his….The most important nurturing and caretaking aspect of child-rearing is a quality marriage as the backdrop." Even before we had Blythe, I would get home from a long day at school, which sometimes included being there early for a meeting and late for practice, and I hardly had enough energy to change my clothes let alone make supper. I can't imagine adding "pick baby up from daycare" and "feed and bathe baby" and "put baby to bed" to the list of things I needed to do when I got home, not to mention "start a load of laundry" and "prepare supper for husband" and "clean toilets." Even if Brent were willing to help, and he would be, we would have very little time to intentionally spend together, and very little energy to do that well.
By staying home I am able to not only invest in Blythe, but I am also able to create a loving, warm, semi-clean environment for Brent to return home to. I am also able to give him a, although exhausted and ready for adult conversation, fairly sane and rested wife. If I can't get to the dusting because I'm frazzled and just need to relax while Blythe naps, I can, and then Brent gets a happy Kels instead of an exhausted one at the end of the day. I wouldn't have that luxury if I were still working full time. I like what one man in the book said about his stay at home wife when someone asked what she did for a living. He simply responded, "She takes care of our world." And though being home is often "draining financially, emotionally, physically, and mentally," I think it has made me a better wife, and given Brent and I a better marriage. And this in turn provides Blythe a harmonious backdrop in which to flourish. [The book also speaks to women whose marriage seem to suffer because the wife stays home, and the husband isn't sold out on the idea, or doesn't like the "pressure" of being the sole provider for the family. If you feel like you fall more in that category, then I would HIGHLY recommend reading her suggestions and what other women that are quoted in the book have to say.]
And finally…. if you've hung in there with me this far…
If you're at home and need a little pick me up, maybe you'll appreciate these words of Dr. Laura as much as I did: "Stay at home moms are not stay at home moms because they're lucky, stupid, lazy, weak, scared, useless, spoiled, frightened, or any other condescending description. Stay at home moms are stay at home moms because they realize the blessing of the opportunity to make a profound difference in their own lives, their families, their community, and ultimately the world as they coordinate the lives of their family members so that no one feels neglected, unimportant, or unloved because of the limited commitment of their parents."
In conclusion, staying home has not been as easy a transition for me as I thought or hoped it would be. I haven't had as many "acknowledgements" or received any raises or accolades for a job well done [unless you consider Blythe's kisses and giggles and Brent's astonishment at what I've accomplished at the end of the day]. I have struggled with the isolation and the monotony, but have also found comfort in other stay at home moms [shout out to Kali and Tiff who have gotten me through some boring days and tough mama meltdowns :)].
I can say this though: I do not regret at all the decision to be home with Blythe; I do not regret teaching her songs and animal noises, praying over her while she naps, rocking her when she's sick, or seeing all her firsts. I do not regret choosing to be my daughter's mom.
"Everything [your children] see, smell, hear, and do is a new miracle-- enjoy the ride, even though the house isn't perfect and your neighbor has more jewelry."
*I made it through this time with the encouragement of a lot of amazing women- some former co-workers- who stood by me before anyone else, telling me I was a great teacher but that these kids that were "mine" would not be "mine" so much when "mine" really came along and to go be the best mom I could be so that I could come back and be a great teacher again someday, lots of family-- [My Aunt Lesa, in particular, who taught and then chose to stay home, sent me a text the first day of school saying that she had sat on the porch and rocked her son and cried when the school bus went by the first day without her, but then he looked at her and "smiled a great big ole silly-you smile and I knew I had made the right choice. I think what is often misunderstood is that good teachers put that same kind of love, dedication and passion into their teaching as they put into their families. Then the choice which seems obvious gets a little cloudy. I would never change my choice, but it was not easy right off on that first day." And then she wished me a "gentle week." I cried and cherished that text, and her, so much for the weeks to come-- and I still do!], some women who never stayed home but still gave value to what I was wanting to do, and some very great friends, one of which, who stays home part time, told me very candidly that she had a lot of respect for me wanting to be home full time because she thought she would go nutty! [I appreciated her honesty more than she realized in that moment]. To these women, thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for validating what I was choosing to do.
…and MOM: thank you for staying home with me.