Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stay-At-Home Mom

I have a hard time writing those words.  I've been trying for three days to press "publish" on this blog post because I feel vulnerable writing about this topic.

By way of introduction, I'll tell you about an embarrassing moment I had when I was in my late twenties.  I was attending a work Christmas party, and was introduced to the wife of a work colleague.  I really enjoyed working with this woman's husband and so I was happy to launch into a conversation with her.  But the problem appeared after only a few seconds of conversation, when I asked her what she did, and she answered by saying that she was a housewife, a stay-at-home mom to their two kids.  I looked at her and, I'll be honest, I had not one hot clue what to say to her beyond that.  The silence grew long and awkward and I just wanted to sink into the floor.  I felt embarrassed because I didn't know how to engage her, and it appeared that the feeling was mutual.  She was dressed in rather frumpy clothing - clothing that said she didn't get out much - and I confess that she just didn't interest me.  Now, of course, I'd be all over this woman with a zillion things to talk about, but then...not so much.   I turned to her husband and engaged him in some witty thing that had happened at the office, and I basically ignored his wife from that point on.  It's a situation that still embarrasses me to think about.

And now I'm that mom.  I stay at home.  That's it.  From the time that Matthew was eighteen months old, until the time that Seth and Lizzie came home, I 'only' worked part-time, but that part-time work seemed to be enough to give me the confidence boost that I am now suddenly lacking.   All I do is child care, homeschooling, and household maintenance.  Other than on Thursday nights, when I try to get out for a couple of hours, and other than when the kids and I are running errands or going on a field trip, I'm always home.  All. of. the. time.

When Geoff's company recently sent out their Christmas dinner invitation, I was relieved that it wouldn't work for me to go.  I would be too terrified of encountering the woman I was years ago, petrified at having to answer someone else's question about what I do.  If asked about how I spend my days, all I could really talk to them is about my kids, about laundry pile-ups and how to get blueberry jam stains out, about monthly menu plans and their accompanying grocery lists, about bedtime routines, and about husbands who work too much. (Well, that last comment clearly wouldn't be an appropriate topic of conversation at my husband's work party!)  And that's pretty much it folks.  I wouldn't even want to introduce the topic of homeschooling to our conversation because most non-homeschoolers don't know what to say about h/schooling other than try to frame as politely as possible the common question about whether my children will be 'properly' socialized.

For the first time in my memory, I am panicky at the thought of having to engage professional people in conversation - probably because I am no longer one of them, and fear being looked down upon as I did on that poor women years ago.

Don't get me wrong.  I am glad that we've made the decisions that we have for the foreseeable future.  My staying at home and our decision to homeschool are in the best interests of my children and in the best interests of our family...I wouldn't be doing these things if I didn't believe deeply in the value of what I'm doing.  We are, furthermore, in a fortunate position of Geoff having a job that allows this flexibility.  I also think (sometimes) that I'm occasionally good at what I'm doing:  I have time with and for my kids; I manage our days in the way I see fit; I am able to have my parents over for dinner regularly; I teach our children what Geoff and I think is important for them to learn; and I think my priorities are in pretty good shape.

And yet, I feel less than.  Not good enough.  Like I need to be some sort of superwoman who can juggle home, kids and career, and all of them successfully...when the reality is that I'm barely coping with life as it is without adding a job into the mix.  Truly, I'm barely hanging on some days, regardless of the size of smile I have plastered on my face.

When we first started going on field trips with other h/schooling families, I was honestly a little shocked by how many parents allowed their kids to look rather sloppy - sporting long hair and baggy sweat pants.  I felt a little superior to those families by dressing my kid well and showing up on time.  Well, I'm still on time the vast majority of the time, even with three kids.  But as I folded four loads of kids' laundry this morning, I couldn't help but notice that the boys' piles of sweats far surpassed in height their piles of pants.  And when, mid-morning, I looked at Matthew's hair as it hung in his eyes and below his ear lobes and realized that I didn't even care (he does look adorable), it occurred to me that it's all coming back to haunt me:  All of my foolish pride and sense of superiority; my past judgments on people.  It's all come home to roost.

Really, what this speaks to is a much deeper insecurity that I struggle with:  the need to be competent and contributing and valuable; and, more importantly, the need to be perceived as competent, contributing, and valuable.

I look at other women who have made the same stay-at-home decision that I have made and I admire and respect them...those women are doing the toughest job out there; those women have their act together and are organized and efficient and, most importantly, confident and interesting.  I don't understand how they can still be so interesting when I'm just not anymore.

When I look at myself, it doesn't seem like it takes a lot of competence to go grocery shopping in my sweat pants (which really are cozy) with my hair ponytailed and tucked into a baseball cap to hide the fact that I haven't showered yet today because I was too busy managing tantrums and wrestling a little girl to the ground to help her get her second pair of pants on because she schmucked up the first pair eating the oatmeal I still see stuck to her face as we walk through the grocery store to buy yet more fruit and eggs and our sixth four-litre jug of milk this week.  When I look at myself, I see someone who has nothing to talk about anymore other than my children, and I fear boring to tears anyone that I'm talking to.  I think I did that recently when I went out for breakfast with a friend and former colleague - I could practically see her eyes glaze over as I talked about my life now.  When I'm on the phone with friends or family members, it's all too easy for me to monopolize the conversation with little anecdotes about the kids.  I probably even do far too much of this on my blog, which I shouldn't feel guilty about because it's my blog after all, but which I still think others must find so very boring and single-focused.

want to view myself with the same admiration that I have for other stay-at-home moms.  I just don't.  It scares me.  And it contributes to my ebb-and-flow feelings of what I suspect are a low-grade depression.

It didn't help when, last week, Geoff made reference to a term that I thought was just bad grammar.  He kept referring to something as "thought leadership" and I made a comment about how he really meant "thoughtful leadership."  He smiled (a little bit condescendingly, I thought) and said that maybe I'd been out of the business world for a little long because this was a term that is used regularly out there.  He said it entirely humourously, but I must say that it struck a painful cord within.  Determined that I couldn't be that much out of the loop and that Geoff must be wrong because surely I would have heard of this term if it was real, I actually googled the term and, to my shock, discovered that it is, in fact, commonly used business jargon (referring to one who advocates for new ideas that add value to an organization's objectives).  I felt stupid and out of touch.

We have our city's newspaper delivered three days a week and Geoff noted recently that I haven't been reading them; he suggested that we save on paper and on money by cancelling delivery.  I immediately said 'no' and made a point of at least ruffling the pages of the paper at some point during the day so that they would look read...even though the reality is that I rarely have time to read a newspaper these days.  When I thought about why it was important for me to hang on to that subscription, the thing that kept coming to mind was that the newsprint sitting in my mailbox three days/week is simply one connection to the outside world - a connection that I'm lonely for, a link that I'm not willing to break.  So even though I don't often sit down with the paper, its mere presence on the counter for a day or two makes me feel like I have the option of being informed.  In a time of feeling so desperate about my state of being, this little thing helps.

I just don't know.  I'm not all together on this subject.  I just know that, though I'm ok with the notion of being a stay-at-home mom, the experience of being a stay-at-home mom is pretty overwhelming right now.  I cry a lot these days, and I'm tired of feeling irritated and empty and like I'm just a drill sargeant getting the kids through each day.  Maybe this is why they say that being at home is the toughest job in the world, I don't know.


  1. Dear Ruth,
    As a fellow homeschooling Mom,"I get it."
    You are doing a good job with your crew!
    I see your heart through your posts...


  2. Goodness gracious, you should remember that your job is one to be envied and applauded, not hidden away. Not having children myself yet, I long to do the work that you do. I work very hard at my career, but the results aren't like yours will be. You're shaping people and that role is about as incredible as it gets. Hard to remember when you're folding laundry, refereeing the millionth fight, and such, but your work counts. Don't forget it and certainly don't hide it. Imagine if the frumpy-dressed woman at the party had presented what she really does. It'll be hard, but just choose to know that your life's work truly is that special. I can't possibly fathom how difficult it must be, but I know through reading your blog that the work done in your home is changing lives. If nothing else, tell them that you're the author of a wildly important blog. ;) Thanks for sharing your life with us!

  3. Definately tell them about the blog, I agree there, and I also think that if you could get involved in some community club (rotary or something) where you could take a role, or take a class, maybe a writing class to work on your book? where you would suddenly be part of a collective, then you wouldn't feel isolated and you could talk about that group with others when you need something current and non-child related to discuss with other adults. Those are my thoughts for what they're worth! All the best, you're still so very lucky :)

  4. Oh Ruth, really great post, so utterly utterly relate-able.

    I find that one of the hardest things about being at home is the lack of positive feedback. Kids do NOT do that well, not at all.

    Can you email me your home address? (, if you dont' have it). I want to send you something that I hope might help a teeny weeny bit!

  5. Thanks for the support, friends, and for the encouraging words.

    Claudia, I will email you.

    Anonymous, yes, I agree, I'm so very lucky. I have three great kids and I'm very, very blessed. I think the issue really is ME...I'm just not coping all that well. It's kinda taken me by surprise because the kids ARE doing pretty well, and it's me that's struggling, just trying to get through. But I know deep down that I'm going to come through this, and I will perhaps be able to experience a little more fully how blessed I am. Thanks for your suggestions and for your support.



  6. I can relate to so many things in your post, Ruth. There are so many days I am frustrated, tired and feel like my life of cooking, cleaning, laundry and "kid stuff" is going to do me in. I knew it would be hard work, but I never imagined how hard (how can you, until you're there). And... a big part of it is the huge disconnect from a more stimulating outside world (beyond play groups and grocery stores). It drives me crazy when, at the end of the day, I don't have anything other than kid stuff to talk about with my husband. We used to have lots of other stuff to talk about. I have absolutely no words of wisdom, but just wanted you to know you're not alone. A

    P.S. Not sure if this is an idea for you, but I found I was never doing my hair and that was not helping me feel good about myself. So, I got a hair cut that I can't not do and now the boys have reading time every morning while I do my hair.

    P.P.S. Oh, how I used to very ignorantly and unintentionally judge people... not anymore, I can tell you that!

  7. Hi Ruth,

    I can sooo relate to you even though I don't have children yet. I work very part time, so often struggle with thinking that I don't contribute financially to our family. Such a struggle for me to recognize what I do for our family as a valuable contribution even if it's not financial. And a struggle to see myself as valuable, useful and competent. I look at other's who are in my field that I graduated with and compare myself to what they are doing with their lives. My contribution seems so insignificant. sigh...

    I really enjoy reading your blog and I think it is such a valuable resource, encouragement and reality check for other parents and parents in waiting. I am so thankful for your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable. Your work as a parent as you know is valuable, the hard part is definitely valuing yourself and seeing who you are as more than what you do on a day to day basis. A struggle for many of us and especially for parents staying at home with their children! I don't have any words of wisdom for you. Just a big hug from someone who has been touched by your willingness to put yourself out there and be real by courageously sharing your life and who you are.

    On a side note, I was thinking of you the other day after having read your blog. My thoughts were that you are someone I would like to know, you interest me, you sound like someone I would connect with and very much enjoy. Maybe someday that will happen, but even if not, just know that to me, you are definitely interesting, you touch my life through your writing and even though you are feeling weary right now, I see your strength. You are a strong, competent woman who excels at being a mother and at being a woman with a heart that seeks after God.

    Blessings on your day!

  8. As a single woman I set an age for myself by which to decide whether or not I would have children, especially if I was still single. When that age came around I eventually decided NOT to pursue A.I. or adoption because I didn't think I would survive parenting, especially all alone.

    Also, around the same time, my mom (who was a stay-at-home mom and thrived at it) said to me, "Joanne, you're one of those people that will need to work outside the home if you have children." At first I felt badly about that. Then I realized that it was an accurate reflection of what I myself believed, and that it was likely true about my personality/character.

    Maybe you will ultimately work very part-time again in the near or more distant future. Maybe you will find the parts inside yourself that can thrive with what you're doing now and the way you're doing it. Maybe you will make modifications with other parts of your 'lifestyle' to make it more meaningful (in a grown-up way) to you.

    Either way, the main benefit of feminism is that we have choice (though it's sometimes agonizing). Sometimes, though, we feel like we have to be good at everything in order to keep our options open. Craziness!! Be an expert at what you're doing now, and make sure you have outlets for adult conversation about values, meaning, theology, philosophy, literature, fun stuff, or whatever you're interested in.

    I find you endlessly fascinating, and I've known you for 33 years in a-LOT of different contexts!

  9. There are so many things in this post I can relate to. I actually ended up in tears talking about this very issue to a group of people from my church. Embarassing yes, but necessary. I struggled for a long time with being a SAHM and not contributing (financially) to the family. My husband is incredibly supportive of me and we made this decision together but I couldn't help feeling judged by many around me. Especially when people would constantly ask me "what are you going to do when the kids are in school?" and tell me that I "had so much potential" but basically I was "wasting" it by being a SAHM. I was hard on myself wondering why I didn't have more interesting things to talk about, how did I become so single-focussed in my thought. But then one day as I was having a sobfest with God, He said "This. This is what I called you to do. This is where I want you to be right now. It's ok, in fact it's great that is where your focus is". That was huge for me and I slowly started to feel better about myself and started to love being a SAHM mom again (not saying that you don't, but at that point in my life, I didn't). I know I've never commented before and I'm sorry that my first one is so long but I wanted to let you know you're not alone. It's normal to feel this way. I wish I could give you some advice about how to pull yourself out of your funk but I can't. Know that I'm praying for you and I truly do enjoy reading your blog.

  10. Ruth,

    I am in this weird season right now of feeling the opposite! I have been a stay at home mom (with a few part-time from home jobs)for the last 10 years. I have struggled off and on over the years with many of the things you wrote about (and I think you're perfectly normal!). 3 weeks ago I went back to work full-time. This arrangement is just for a short season, but in some ways I miss being home SO much and in other ways I feel a bit "out of it" having been out of the professional world for so long. I don't even have appropriate clothes to wear!!! These past few weeks have been this strange phenomenon of rediscovering where I really fit and what is really most important to me. While my job is good right now, I can't wait to be back home!

  11. Have you read "The Ten Year Nap" by Meg Wolitzer? it's fiction but totally gets into this topic and I think you'd enjoy it

  12. I just wanted to say again a big thank you to every person who commented here (or sent an email) in such a supportive manner, and with such encouraging ideas. I appreciate it so much. It's a real struggle and it sounds like there are lots of others who go through similar things...which I'm very glad to know about.

    (and Susie - I haven't even heard of this book - thanks for the suggestion)

    Blessings, and thanks,


  13. I've been meaning to sit down for days now and find the time to give this post the response I want to give it, because I GET it, and I hear you on so many levels.
    I know exactly what you mean about being "just" a stay-at-home mom (did I actually just write that?!!!). Like you, I love it, I choose it, I know I am fortunate to even have the choice, but at the same time, it is hard to see myself in this role, and to let go of my professional side. I confess to still (after 5 years) writing "teacher" on any form that asks me my profession, because
    stay-at-home-mom justs sounds so lacking importance (even though I KNOW in my heart of hearts how important my role is). I too worry about about having lost the connection to work, and to my teaching friends (the few that I have left). I have days where I wonder, "is this all there is?" admist the piles of dirty laundry, poopy diapers, fingerprints on the walls, where I feel so cranky and irritable, and wonder if my kids would be better off with me going back to work if I am just going to be grouchy with them anyway.

    I just read a book about raising confident daughters, which talked about how as moms we need to let go of the superwoman idea. I too struggle with having to have the house clean, super meals, clean kids, etc, etc, to project excellence. I already see in my 5 year old a strive for perfectionism that worries me, and this book hit home when it talked about moms needing to let go of the idea that we can do it all, because our daughters cannot live up to that as a model. I think we can do alot, just not all at the same time.
    At church last week (this post is getting REALLY long!), we had a speaker in who prayed for God to help us do well in whatever role he has given us for the time being.
    I loved the idea that God has given me the role of stay-at-home mom at this point in my life, but that this role will change.

    When you wrote that you want to be perceived as valuable and competent, you need to know that you ARE. I find you so interesting, articulate, inspiring, intelligent and thoughtful, not because you are perfect and always competent, but because you have the courage to be real. There are so many different things I would love to sit and talk to you about, and hope we can do that one day.

    I hope this long post makes sense- as my girls are waiting to be fed (and in fact are now fighting) so I'm going to hit send instead of re-reading it for clarity (in the name of NOT being perfect! :)

  14. I have been away and so missed this when you first wrote it, but I feel like I could have written it too. It's been a constant struggle with me. I started taking University classes while still in high school and always assumed that I would get a degree and a Masters and maybe a PhD. I got pregnant after my first year of University and switched over to a College program so that I could at least get a Diploma. For so many years, I looked into taking classes at night to finish my degree because I felt like I was "less than" because I didn't have much of a formal education (though ironically, I have never looked down on anyone else who has no education, including many people I admire greatly who never finished high school). It was hard for me to accept that in this season of my life, there will be no letters after my name, no degree, and there may never be.

    For many years, I couldn't even say "stay-at-home mom". I always had to add a "but" in there like "but I also blah-blah-blah part-time". Even now, it's a struggle for me. I know that it should be enough for me to be a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of seven (!), but it is not easy to feel that way. I know that it is a worthwhile thing. I know that it's what God is calling me to do. I know that it is important work and that nothing else will ever be as important. I also know how fast kids grow up and I don't want to miss any of it. BUT...

    Why does it feel so hard?

    As far as you are concerned my dear friend Ruth, you are not just a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom. You are an inspiration and an encouragement to many...more than you know!