As a kid, I pictured my adult self as a woman in a hot pink shoulder-padded business suit. My hair would be feathery and frosted, my practical yet stylish pumps would coordinate perfectly with my flashy jewelry. My briefcase would occasionally brush against my pantyhosed leg as I walked briskly down the city street to my next business meeting. I would be an Important Business Woman! (Can you tell I grew up in the 80’s?)
While I’ve always wanted to have kids, what I certainly didn’t want was to be a Stay at Home Mom. How boring! How un-glamorous! How very not “Having-it-all!”
When I pictured a Stay at Home Mom (or SAHM, as the internet now calls it,) I envisioned a woman in droopy beige clothes covered in snot sitting on the couch with screaming kids climbing all over her. She would get up to go to the grocery store, make hamburger helper on the stove, and then go back to the couch with the snot and the kids.
I somehow learned (through cultural osmosis?) that being a SAHM was being a little bit of a… failure. Even as an adult, before I had kids, I asked a girlfriend who had two young children, “What else are you doing these days?” She smiled gently and shook her head as if to say, “This,” and I said back, “You’re just momming, then?”
It’s the “just” that’s always troubled me. To be “just” a mom meant you weren’t really doing much in the world. Being a “Mom &…” was much better.
“She’s a Mom & she manages all the sales reps in Tampa!”
“She’s a Mom & she teaches yoga!”
“She’s a Mom & she’s the primary breadwinner!”
“She’s a Mom & she’s Beyoncé!”
So imagine my surprise when I became a mom. Not to go into all the gory detail, but being a mom is an incredible amount of work. Someone has to be with the kids ALL THE TIME! My 80’s Business Barbie version of my future self never accounted for the realities of childcare.
After having our second kid, I came to realize that for my family (our finances, our household, my sanity) me becoming a SAHM was what made the most sense. I also really wanted to be with my kids full time. Weird, I know.
But I’m still not comfortable in this role. Day to day with my kids, sure, I’m great, I love being a mom. And I realize that having the choice to be a Stay at Home Mom is a luxury and a privilege. But when I hang out with new, grown-up people, I cringe at the thought of them asking me, “What do you do?”
If I answer, “I’m a Stay at Home Mom,” I’m met with either a blank, “Oh,” or an overly sincere, “That’s such important work,” or, of course, “What else do you do?”
When I do answer the “What do you do” question, I’m often left grasping for straws: “I’m a mom but I also used to run a business and now I’m also trying to start a writing career but not too seriously yet because, you know, the kids, and… uh, and in a few years they’ll be in school so…maybe things will change then, and… yeah.”
However, the real trouble for me is, if I say I’m a SAHM, I feel like I’m defining myself based on my kids. And while my life does currently revolve around my children, they don’t define who I am. Even more than dreading being a SAHM, I’ve always dreaded being what I thought of as a “Mommy.” Someone who lives for and through her children. Someone who derives all of her life’s meaning from them. Someone who has lost herself.
That scares me, because I really like myself, and I don’t want to lose her.
So here I am, a Stay at Home Mom.* I’m coming to terms with the fact that that is what I do, not who I am. In a culture where we often define who we are based on what we do for work, this is tricky to navigate.
But perhaps for me to feel good about my role, all it takes is a little perspective shift:
I don’t have to drive the kids to the doctor/music class/preschool; I get to drive two of my favorite people through the windy, tree-lined streets of Portland while singing along to music I love.
I don’t have to get dinner on the table; I get to foster a life-long love of healthy food while engaging in the dying art of conversation with my little family.
I don’t have to get my son to go potty and brush teeth before bed; I get to carry a limp, screaming mess of a child to the toilet, then I get to stay right next to him while he stinks up the bathroom then tries to run away with his pants around his ankles before I even get to wipe his butt.
Like all jobs, sometimes this one is a drag. But here’s the big perspective shift:
I don’t have to be some imagined version of a Stay at Home Mom; I get to be myself as a mother. And for me, getting to be fully myself is the most satisfying part of any job.
*Is it just me, or is “Stay at Home Mom” a SUPER UNINSPIRING job title? I’ll work on a better one.