CircleBumpCheckedFilledMedicalBookmarkBookmarkTickBookmarkAddCheckBoxCheckBoxFilled

I Was an Accidental SAHM—and I’m Done Feeling Guilty About It

What I learned about how American moms are being short-changed when I “leaned out” of my career.
save article
profile picture of Kristen Bringe
Published January 31, 2024
NEW!
mom sitting at table at home thinking and pondering
Image: Ground Picture | Shutterstock

While 12 weeks pregnant with my now-5-year-old daughter, I unexpectedly began a lengthy and bumpy career transition. After an unfortunate incident involving me being pregnant and my employer being an out-of-control misogynist, I decided I was all the way done. Done with my job, done with my field. It was the last straw in a pile of too many. But I didn’t know what to do next—a conundrum exacerbated by my fear of failure and yet-to-be-diagnosed ADHD. Add a new baby and a global pandemic to the mix, and I was a veritable recipe for an accidental stay-at-home mom.

Crash-landing into my new SAHM role was shocking, to say the least. I became depressed. Unamused. None of this was going according to my plan, which was that I was going to strong-working-mom my way through motherhood (which no doubt would’ve landed me in a completely different existential crisis). But nonetheless, I had a plan, and this wasn’t it.

On top of feeling like a square peg in a round hole, I was also surprised to find myself filled with shame about my new job title. I felt like I was letting everyone down: myself, my working-mom friends and, most distressingly, my daughter. I didn’t realize then that my out-of-date, “feminist” standards were the problem.

Through lots of therapy and unpacking of my unconscious beliefs during the past five years, I’ve learned that the shame I felt about being a stay-at-home-mom came from leaning into “lean in” feminism a little too hard.

For those who need a recap, in her 2013 book Lean In, former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg encouraged women to #girlboss their way to the tippy top of the career ladder by sheer will. She started a movement—but as scores of her disciples found out the hard way, the movement set an impossible standard for women. It unfairly placed the onus squarely on women to improve their career and life circumstances despite an inhospitable work landscape.

Related Video

The “lean in” movement was criticized from the beginning, but the words inside those pages stubbornly seeped into the fabric of American womanhood. I’ve never even read the book, but apparently ended up centering my entire sense of motherly worth around its message.

In her famous 2012 article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote, “It is time for women in leadership positions to recognize that although we are still blazing trails and breaking ceilings, many of us are also reinforcing a falsehood: that ‘having it all’ is, more than anything, a function of personal determination.” In other words, It’s time we stop gaslighting the women and girls of America. Unfortunately, her words are as relevant today as they were over a decade ago.

Thanks to my long-overdue awakening, I now have a different understanding of what it means to be a feminist role model, and it starts with radical acceptance. The pressure on women to perfectly “Boss Babe” while “supermomming” in a country that doesn’t do its part to support us is too great, and I’m starting to believe the most feminist message I can send my daughter is the truth: that the cards are still stacked against us, and we’re all just doing the best we can.

It’s like American moms are unwilling participants in a lifelong experiment testing what happens when we’re given an impossible set of tasks and only a fraction of the tools we need to complete them. I no longer believe that winning means hitting the most targets against all the odds. I believe it means taking care of ourselves and seeing clearly that we’re being set up to fail.

Until there’s paid parental leave, subsidized early childcare, a school schedule that aligns with work schedules and pay equity, American moms can’t win. We can’t “have it all” in work and family life in a society that doesn’t embrace our whole selves, see our differences and honor our physical and emotional needs.

Staying silent about this inequity while muscling our way through a patriarchal work environment sets our daughters up for shock and disappointment. Painting them the whole picture is, of course, a delicate dance—I would never want to inadvertently send the message to my daughter that her existence itself has burdened me. But I do think part of my job is giving her age-appropriate context about the world she’s seeing and inheriting.

As American moms, we’re all struggling, and we all have some level of mom guilt about our circumstances. It’s my hope that we can stop mom-shaming and sizing up our lives against unattainable standards. It’s time we struggle together. We’re all on the same side of the table. The patriarchy is still winning, and that’s not on us.

In the years it’s taken for me to dive into a new career path, I’ve had a lot to consider. Unlike the first time I chose a career, this time I’ve had a complete understanding of what it means to be a working mom in America. To what extent should I prioritize a flexible schedule? How would we manage childcare if I chose something with less flexibility? Would my daughter benefit more from me being more present in her early childhood or from watching me chase my dreams, thus giving her permission to do the same? These are all filters through which men don’t put their career aspirations.

In the end, I decided that chasing my dreams would always be worth it, and I’m pursuing (you guessed it) writing. After five years as an accidental SAHM, I’m stepping back into the career world—this time with a new sense of bravery, clarity and humility. To all the moms who never left and to all who never plan to return, I stand with you. May we all find peace in whatever role we’re in and have grace for each other, knowing we’re all just doing our best to get through a Tuesday.

Hopefully, with the help of allies, we can move the needle enough so that our daughters’—and our sons’—futures will look brighter: freer, more inclusive, more empowered. I believe this is a major fight of our generation. If only we weren’t already so tired.

save article
ADVERTISEMENT

Next on Your Reading List

Victoria Monét and two-year-old daughter Hazel Monét Gaines celebrate their Grammy nominations by indulging in Jimmy John’s Red Velvet Cookies while preparing for the awards show on February 04, 2024 in Los Angeles, California
Victoria Monét and Daughter—The Grammy’s Youngest Nominee—Make History
By Wyndi Kappes
allison holker and family
Allison Holker Boss on Dancing, Resilience and Finding Her New Normal
By Nehal Aggarwal
Kristin Davis at the New York Pemiere of "And Just Like That..." A New Chapter of Sex and The City held at MoMA on December 8, 2021 in New York City
Why Moms Are Loving Charlotte's ‘and Just Like That’ Monologue
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
78 Percent of Moms Are Overwhelmed by Pumping at Work
78 Percent of Moms Are Overwhelmed by Pumping at Work
By Wyndi Kappes
mother holding sleeping baby at home
Caregiving Reduces Mom's Lifetime Earnings by 15 Percent, Report Says
By Wyndi Kappes
mother working on laptop while holding baby
These Are the Best States for Working Moms in 2023
By Wyndi Kappes
working mother sitting at home with baby and breast pump
What the PUMP Act Means for Working Parents
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hugs his daughter Poppy on the ninth hole during the Par 3 Contest prior to the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 5, 2023, in Augusta, Georgia
Kids Take the Masters by Storm Dressed as Adorable Caddies
By Wyndi Kappes
mother wearing baby in wrap while working on laptop at home
Study: Parents Work Longer Hours Than Non-Parents Amid Recession Fears
By Wyndi Kappes
P!nk attends the 2022 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 20, 2022 in Los Angeles, California
Balancing Acts: Pink Shares Her Journey as a Rockstar Mom
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
Sanya Richards Ross and family
Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross on Motherhood and Finding Balance
By Nehal Aggarwal
Reps. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., Andy Kim, D-N.J., left, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., conduct a news conference to announce the Congressional Dads Caucus outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, January 26, 2023
Congress’ New Dads Caucus Advocates for Working Parents
By Wyndi Kappes
Shonda Rhimes attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.
Shonda Rhimes Shares the Secret Behind How She Does It All
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
MommiNation founders talking at fundraiser event
How MommiNation Is Helping to Empower a Community of Black Moms
By Jen Hayes Lee
Rihanna is seen outside the Dior show, during Paris Fashion Week - Womenswear F/W 2022-2023, on March 01, 2022 in Paris, France
Rihanna Says Being a Mom Pushed Her to Perform at the Super Bowl
By Wyndi Kappes
mother working from home with baby on lap
New Report Explores if Remote Work Is Really Working for Parents
By Wyndi Kappes
wood desk at the texas state capitol
Moms Are Largely Missing From the Law-Making Arena, New Report Reveals
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
pregnant woman working from home at desk in bedroom
Remote Work May Have Led to a Mini Baby Boom, Study Says
By Wyndi Kappes
gabrielle union and dwyane wade smiling with their daughter
Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade Champion Community at Home and Work
By Ashlee Neuman
Amanda Kloots and her son, Elvis
Amanda Kloots Talks About Life as a Single Mom and Multi-Hyphenate
By Lauren Kay
ADVERTISEMENT
Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List