No, I Don’t Work…But, is it Harder to Stay Home?

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READING TIME: 6 min.

Yesterday Jenny discussed some of the challenges (read post here) that working moms face. Today, I’d like to talk about the other side — how hard it is to NOT work.

I recently heard a commercial that included this phrase, “I’m a working mom so…is perfect for me.” A working mom? Hmmm…What does that make me? I thought.  A non-working mom?  

Technically, I’m a “stay at home” mom. But, I almost loathe that term.  To me it’s always sounded like a type of social leprosy, confining certain women to their houses during the daytime hours.

Perhaps what amazes me most is just how often I’m forced to tell people I “don’t work.” Yes. I use those words. The conversation plays out the same way almost every time:

Them: “Do you work?”

Me: “Oh no, I don’t work.”

Them: “Well, you have four kids, that’s work.”

Me: “Oh yes, it actually is.”

But, even in their nod to the fact that I don’t lounge around watching The View and eating homemade cake pops, I somehow feel like I’m in a lesser stratosphere on the “work” front. Like they know I have to change diapers and fill sippy cups, but they really don’t think that’s work.

That is one of the hardest parts about being a SAHM, I feel that the legitimacy of my full-time job is constantly questioned.  In an era where there are oodles of capable women excelling in the work force, checking “homemaker” on the profession list seems archaic to some.  When I share that I “stay home” I often get a nice smile and the equivalent of a “bless your heart” from women who don’t.  I frequently feel as if I have to explain that I chose this, that I resigned from a job I loved to do this job.  I even sometimes explain that I believe mothering my children is the only career for which I am uniquely qualified.

But, then, the truth is, I sometimes don’t feel entirely comfortable with it either. I’m always scheming for something else to do on the side–from selling used stuff on ebay to work-from-home money making schemes, to, oh yeah, blogging!  Turns out I struggle to feel like it is enough some days, too.  At times, I feel like I’m not contributing …not doing my part…I wonder if I am actually working.  Even my Facebook page announces a job I spend two hours a week at when it should, more accurately, say SAHM (though I hate that acronym).

So, why do I feel pressure, like having a “real” job is better?  I think, in part, our culture shouts that moms who balance jobs inside and outside of the home hold more superpowers than those of us who do not.  And, somewhere deep down, I want you to think I’m Wonder Woman.

Yes, I won’t argue that working moms have it tough. Balancing it all is super stressful.  I look at my piles of laundry and am so grateful that I don’t have to get it all done after I’ve put in a full day at work, cooked dinner, and gotten the kids into bed.  But, I also think that just having to care for the constant needs of four little ones — all day long, every week day and every weekend day — can be pretty wearying.  My bad days at home have been far more taxing than any bad day I ever had at an office.  And, I could escape from the office!

The other challenge is that many stay at home moms are like me: moms who have done some time in the working world.  I spent a little more than a decade as a professional.  In that time I experienced success and learned to enjoy that feeling.  Motherhood doesn’t always afford me that. My Master’s degree is in public policy, not in anything with the words “child” or “education” in the title.  I feel competent explaining to you how a bill becomes a law.  I feel significantly less apt at potty training.

And, that’s the big rub.  For all moms, but especially for those of us who stay at home, we are in roles for which we have received no formal training or education. Essentially we hold a full time job that we really have no idea how to do.  A usable job description for mothering your children does not exist. There is no “one size fits all” business model that can help you do it “right” or successfully.  No, you just have to wait and see how they turn out.

Just like those first years of working in a new field, you feel lost, uncertain, frustrated, and at times, completely incompetent when you first become a mom.  Only, motherhood is worse than learning a trade.  Just when you master what to do with a baby, he becomes a toddler.  Just when you have the “now they are walking and talking” game down, he is a preschooler who wants to learn.  And so it goes, and goes, and goes.  It’s like getting a promotion every few months to a new job that, once again, you have to figure out from scratch.

That’s why  I think many women who have a choice, who could afford to stay home if they wanted to, go back to work.  Feeling incompetent is an unfamiliar and a difficult adjustment if you’ve been on the other side…if you had a paying job you were trained for, or good at.  I think going back to work at a job you know feels better, and allows an escape from the daily grind of the awkwardness of mothering.

It’s harder for a SAHM to feel successful, daily. Compound that with the culture questioning the value of her contribution and you’ve got a tough row to hoe if you decide not to “work.”

So Why Do I Stay Home?

I do feel blessed that I don’t have to hold a job other than the one with the title of Mom.  It is a choice I made based on my personal convictions.  But sometimes I struggle not to feel lame that I have the PBS Kids TV schedule memorized, that the biggest hassle of my day was cleaning up Play Doh crumbs, or that the masterful way I coordinated nap times isn’t really curing cancer.

I do know I’m making a difference.  I know they like having me around and we both enjoy the time we get to spend together.  No, I don’t have a boss to tell me, “great work on that ‘value of sharing’ lecture” or anyone to commend me on the way I organized the seasonal clothing changes, but I do have kids who say things like, “Mom, you’re really great.”  And, to me, that’s better than a bonus check.

Some days...staying home provides its own challenges. Sometimes, like picture days, I create them.

What do you think? Is it harder to WORK or STAY AT HOME?  OR, are both equally difficult?

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. I think both are equally difficult. I think everyone knows that staying at home doesn’t mean eating bon-bons on the couch. My brain hurts from trying to come up with ways to entertain my 14 month old. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I’d chose to continue working, and I don’t think it would have been possible! My previous job was from 9-6pm but with a 30-45 minute commute. I think we’d either be eating out every night or having crockpot meals for dinner. 

    • I loved how you said your brain hurts from having to come up with ways to entertain your son! Some days I feel like mine will EXPLODE from just trying to keep straight who already had 2 cups of juice (our limit), who needs a diaper change, and who’s nap time it is! 🙂 Thanks for your comments!

  2. I am a SAHM but before that I worked for a car rental company where I got abused weekly by unhappy travelers, I was a top performer in our location and great at diffusing situations and pleasing customers. I worked for the first two years of my children’s lives and though I was drained from my job and tried my hardest to make up for the 10 hours I missed with them, once I left my job to be a SAHM I quickly learned I was in for a big surprise it was  far more rewarding than a paycheck and I am more busy than I have ever been constantly entertaining preschoolers trying to teach them valuable lessons and nutrition! As well as finding down time for my self in between cooking cleaning and chasing kids. That being said I love my role as being a SAHM but it is more challenging than being a working mom, there is no down time, no vacation and no sick days.

    • Thanks for sharing that Ashlie. Yes, it is rewarding to stay home…and busy…but…as you’ve found…not always easy! 🙂 Thanks for your feedback!

  3. Great post Heather!  We, indeed, do miss you at National Fatherhood Initiative.  But, alas, you have more important work elsewhere… 😉 

  4. I stay home most days, but do work very part-time for my family’s business. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. But I will say that the one day a week I have a sitter watch the kids while I run to the office or work behind closed doors at home are much, much less exhausting than the days I spend alone with my kids (3 and 9 months). But I LOVE my days at home. I really do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. 🙂

  5. I am an RN I worked in the OR and Open Heart Team and in Labor and Delivery. It was always my plan to be a “Stay at Home Mom” the only reason I got the degree I did was because my Dad died when I was 13 and if that would happen to me I wanted to be able to take care of my kids with a Degree to fall back on. I worked part time until my first one was 18 months old 3 days one week and 2 days the next week then when I got pregnant with number 2 and had some complications I quit working once things got better with her I worked a day or a half day here and there but that was about it. I was on call 2 evenings a week for the Open Heart Team but rarely rarely got called into work. I have not worked at all as an RN since my 7 year old was 1 year old. I honestly think it is the Hardest but most rewarding job I will ever have and a few years ago I changed my Face Book working status from Stay at Home Mom to Full Time Mommy which I guess could upset some working Mom’s I was not thinking about them at all when I made that my Job title I made it because I really was a FULL time Mommy x 4 kids and my job never ends ever ever ever it goes 24 hours a day sometimes and 365 days a year and that is O.K. I love it and I wanted it and I am doing what Mom’s were meant to do forever and ever until around the 1960’s when women wanted more all of the sudden. Now for the last 3 years I have had a Photography Business that grew and grew and grew to where I was working 70 to 90 hours a week from home this last fall and that was it my family was suffering and I was suffering and although I was totally working from home minus the few hours out shooting when my Husband was home to watch the 4 kids. I was right there with them in the Kitchen while they played all around me but I was NOT their Mom not the one I wanted to be I was always having to tell them No Mommy Can’t I have 18 shoots to edit. No Mommy can’t this wedding needs finished et.. et… et…… My house got worse and worse and worse everything was suffering and I was right there in my house with my kids. So I announced this Winter about a Month ago that I have one kido left at home and I only get her for one more year and a half until she heads off to school and I am going to be her Mom for that time I Miss being a Mom and being behind the computer editing every available moment so I told my Customers my family has to come first I will shoot and edit much less this year and I will be my kido’s Mom again and that is that – that is where I am needed and that is where I belong. Now having been a Mom for almost 13 years Stay at Home Mom no longer bothers me I know what I am capable of in the Work force and I don’t want it this is much more fun, and fulfilling, and tiring, and never ending, and frustrating, and wonderful, and way more Full time then I ever worked as a Full time OR RN but I don’t care Stay at Home Mommy is where it is at!!!! I will wear that title Proudly! (What did I do with all my excess income from the many many many shoots this fall? I took one of my four and myself to Disney World with friends it was a Mommy and Daughter Trip and it was wonderful and every year I will work just enough so I can do the same thing with all 4 of my kids that time alone with them on a wonderful trip was Amazing we just got back last week and I can’t wait to do it with the next one!!! My Name is Heather and I am a Stay at Home Mommy and I LOVE it!!!! 🙂

  6. I stay home, have been doing so since I had my first child 7 years ago. In the past year I have taken my love of all things home decor and DIY and turned it into a blog and a freelance writing job. It amazes me how much people jump on board now that I am “working” at home. I have a 7 year old, 5, and 3 year old. My kids are still a bunch of littles who require a lot of work. I only have 1 in full day school right now. My middle is in half day preschool. My main job is still SAHM, with a side dose of blogging and freelance. I have so many people saying “well now you have something to do. It must be nice making money again. Your husband must be thrilled you are contributing. I figured just being a Mom would not last long.’ And so many other comments. As if my woth went up a couple notches now that I am working too. I have always had something to do, too much at times. I just added significantly to my plate. My choosing, so I could have a creative outlet that did not involve kids. I never felt bad not making money, it is our money. We decided I would stay home to be there for the kids. I am still a Mom, and being “just a Mom” is not in my vocabulary. I am raising three kids to grow into full blown adults. That is THE biggest job I will ever do. Something I have the most pride in. It was a choice we made, and now I am choosing to do some things for me now that my kids are out of the baby phase. Yes, making a little money on the side. That really just feeds my home decorating obsession. I am now the stereotypical SAHM who shops, decorates, and eats chocolate occasionally. 🙂 Just adding to the assumptions here.

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