About a month or so ago, I had dinner with two friends I used to work with, both of whom do not have kids. I was grateful for the opportunity to have intelligent adult conversation not centered on raising children.
Inevitably though, we got on the subject of work and one of them asked me to walk her through a typical day for me now that I am a full time stay at home mom. I just kind of brushed off the invitation with a joking, “Just pure chaos. From the second I open my eyes.”
She seemed genuinely curious and I would’ve liked to say more- to leave her with the impression that my life is special and exciting. But that didn’t really feel authentic to me in that moment. Because even though it is special and exciting, it also kind of isn’t.
And unless you’re a mom of small children, you’ll probably have a hard time relating to the specific kind of love that has me alternating every single day between happily building legos on the floor with my kid and a keen, almost primal desire to do literally anything besides building legos on the floor with my kid. And by literally anything, I do in fact mean that sometimes I’d rather scrub the bathroom floor with my own toothbrush. It’s a subtle, offbeat dance.
I went home that night feeling kind of subdued. I decided it was all the spicy olive oil I drizzled on my pizza and went to bed.
Come Monday morning, with the distraction of the weekend out of the way and my official stay at home momness back in full swing, I started to feel desperate and anxious about our daily routine. You know how you can over-caffeinate to the point of unproductiveness? That was me for about two weeks. I was totally tweaked out on the idea that I could perfect my role as a stay at home mom.
At first I thought these residual feelings of not-enoughness were there because I haven’t fully accepted the fact that I’m no longer earning income or that I don’t have a career path to call my own at this point in my life, but the longer I sat with that feeling the clearer I could see a less obvious issue with deeper consequences for me.
The problem for me is not that I gave up my paying job. I have a lot of confidence in my value as an employee. I’ve always been a responsible worker and I can usually maintain a positive attitude in any work environment. I don’t want to tempt fate here, but my future employability after dropping out of the workforce is not my main concern. It’s something I want to be realistic about but it’s not what keeps me up at night.
At work, I know what is expected of me. Even if I am the one in charge of a project, I can identify what needs to be done and do it. I feel productive as I’m knocking the project out and I feel accomplished once it’s done.
At home, it’s a different energy. I am the CEO of this non money making company of ever evolving messes and sometimes I’m just not sure how to operate with that.
I can’t speak for other stay at home moms, but for me it doesn’t matter if I fit a workout in before my kids wake up, cook a full breakfast and schedule out our entire day with educational activities and nature walks, I will still feel a little insecure, like maybe I should’ve micro-managed less and let my kids roam free. And if I do just that, then I will feel like I’m lazy and could’ve orchestrated more activities.
Interestingly, it was exactly like that when I was a working mom. In fact, so much of my mommy energy has not shifted that it freaks me out. I don’t know what I was expecting but it was definitely not to feel the exact same amount of guilt I felt before.
Productivity as a mom is kind of impossible to gauge. There are no outcomes to meet. It’s not a lucrative endeavor. My kids don’t exactly offer constructive criticism to help me improve my job performance. Also, I’m fucking exhausted and no one has a heart to heart with me in her office if I stay in my sweats and don’t brush my hair until 3pm.
Worst of all, kids are insanely resilient and, if shown proper love, will usually thrive beautifully with or without all the crazy energy spent planning out their entire childhoods.
Perhaps in 25 years when my kids are not serial killers I will look back and appreciate my efforts and all of the times guilt drove me to get off my ass and on the floor with them to play dolls in the heart of the winter when it was too damn cold to send them out in the backyard to entertain themselves. Perhaps in 25 years if they are serial killers, this will all have been for naught.
I have no way of knowing.
But if I could go back to that night and answer my friend’s inquiry honestly, I think I’d tell her that there really is nothing like it for me. No other job has so forcefully made me learn to embrace my own sense of power and wonder.
I would tell her that the freedom of that scares me more than anything. I have to infuse my own kind of personal discipline into every single day because besides myself, there is truly nobody to impress. Not my husband. He just wants a healthy family and smooth running household. Not my kid. She just wants my love and attention. Not my mom friends. They’re just trying to bring meaning to their own unique adventures.
I’d also tell her that there are so many moments that feel monotonous and it takes sheer willpower to get through them without losing my mind. There will be moments so tender and perfect they catch my breath. There will be days I shower at 3pm and my kid watches tv for longer than I care to admit to anyone. There will be days I really feel like I’m making an impact on my children’s lives. And days I worry that my toddler will be better off in a structured learning center than making Play-doh people with me.
All my days are typical. And somehow, never the same.
And I am learning how to be okay with the moments in between the moments.
That’s what I’d tell her.