What It’s Really Like to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

No, stay-at-home moms do not have a ton of time to kill and aren’t sitting home depressed or going crazy (well, at least not most of the time). Now’s the time to dispel the myths about SAHMs.
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By Bonnie Vengrow, Contributing Writer
Updated March 2, 2017
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Image: Christine Schneider

If you would’ve told me that I’d one day willingly leave my job to raise a child, I would’ve laughed in your face (or, at the very least, behind your back). Not only did I love working, I regarded SAHM-hood with as much enthusiasm as a Pap smear. Be home with a baby all day? No way, not me, no thanks.

But after 12 love-soaked weeks with my newborn son, Joshua, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to the daily grind. So I traded in my BlackBerry for a baby carrier and became a full-fledged at-home mom. Though mostly great, the transition hasn’t been without some hiccups. Turns out, being at home isn’t as easy as it looks. Here are some surprising things I’ve learned.

Even if you hire a cleaning service, you will clean things. Constantly

The other morning, Joshua and my cat conspired to defile the new area rug. The cat yakked up a big fur ball while my kid dumped a cup full of milk onto the rug, mashing it into the fibers for good measure. Aggravating? You bet. Typical? Oh, yeah. Even if you managed to give birth to the only hygienic kid on earth, wiping up spills, boogers, poop and mystery messes is still a major part of the SAHM gig.

You’ll show off your guns (yes, I’m talking about arms)

Pushing a stroller, picking up baby, reaching for fallen sippy cups — it’s no surprise that after a few months of being a SAHM, I was in the best shape of my life. Caring for a child all day is like being in a gym for nine hours straight, but without the muscleheads, throbbing music and sweat-soaked machines. (And can we talk about mommy arms for a second? They’re awesome!)

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Your partner is your sugar daddy

Asking your partner for money can be a pride-swallowing, hand-wringing experience, especially if you were financially independent before baby. This is tricky terrain that’s best planned out before you give up your full-time job. The general rule of thumb is to try to live on your partner’s salary for a few months before quitting, but you should also lay out how much you’ll need each month for household and personal expenses. And don’t forget to talk about how you’ll access the money. Trust me, the last thing you need is to be fresh out of baby wipes and cold hard cash.

You haven’t worked this hard at making friends since summer camp

I don’t want to go to a dark place or anything, but there’s a nugget of truth in all that Debbie Downer talk about SAHMs feeling isolated. Let’s face it: You’re spending most of your waking hours with your child, so you’re bound to feel more than a little cut off from the adult world. (After all, most of the people you know are at work all day.) The best advice is to get out there and find some other moms you enjoy being around. Some good places to start looking are at a playgroup, the park, church, even in your pediatrician’s waiting room.

Your performance review is your baby’s well visit

Speaking of my pediatrician, I like him and all, but at every well baby visit, I feel like he’s judging my mothering skills — and I’m barely eking out a passing grade. I know it’s my first-time mom insecurities rearing their ugly head, but I can’t help it. The way I see it, I gave up my job to raise this little boy, so if he’s not walking by 12 months or has stopped sleeping through the night, it’s clearly because I’m doing something wrong — and I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.

TGI Naptime

When Joshua was born, everyone advised me to “sleep when baby sleeps.” Um, not a chance. When he’s awake, he requires near-constant attention, so naptime is my only opportunity to snag some moments for myself. I like to think of it as my mini vacation, a luxurious stretch of minutes just begging to be filled with fun, frivolity and, okay, an occasional episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County.

You’ll think you’ve got ADD

There’s a little-talked-about side effect of caring for a baby full-time: You won’t be able to finish anything, from a simple sentence or a bowl of cereal to cleaning the toilet. In the beginning, it’s because you’re constantly switching gears to stay a step ahead of your little one. But after a while, that pace becomes a habit, a fact that hits you when you look at the pile of dog-eared, half-read magazines waiting patiently on your nightstand.

You’ll feel relieved when friends complain about their day care or nanny

I’m not proud to admit this, but when my working-mom friends gripe about their day care center putting on the TV all day or the sitter leaving their child in a wet diaper too long, a little part of me is relieved that my son doesn’t have to deal with that. Obviously, I’m not a perfect parent, and of course I’d never want to see harm come to my friends’ kids, but knowing that I have total say over my son’s day-to-day is pretty comforting.

People will assume you do nothing all day

Some people have asked me, “What do you do all day?” It’s a well-intentioned question but totally out of line and can make even the hardest-working SAHM feel like crap. The truth is, I could list every chore, diaper and errand I’ve tended to that day and how I’ve been going nonstop since 6 a.m., but unless you’ve been there, it sounds like child’s play.

Everyone has an opinion about SAHMs — and they aren’t afraid to share it with you

When I was in college, I switched majors from animal science to journalism, and no one batted an eye. But when I became a full-time mom, suddenly everyone had something to say. Some were enthusiastic (“You have a new boss now,” my mom gushed), but others were skeptical (“Don’t you have a master’s degree?” a friend asked accusingly). You’d think I was talking about running off to join the circus, instead of taking a few years off to raise my child. I get that it’s a touchy subject, but at the end of the day, I’m doing what I think is best for my family. Sometimes you have to remind yourself of that.

Your definition of success will change

I love affirmation and recognition as much as the next gal. But I’ve got to be honest: I recently watched Joshua take his first steps, and it far surpassed any sense of satisfaction I’ve ever gotten from a promotion, fancy new job title or bonus. Hands down.

It’s not always perfect. But sometimes it is

When I first became a SAHM, I thought Joshua and I would spend our days frolicking at the playground, strolling adorably through our leafy neighborhood or sitting quietly under a tree reading a book together. Besides the fact that we don’t live in a Crewcuts catalog, real life got in the way. As I quickly realized, crying, crankiness and dirty diapers can kill even the best-laid plans. But still, every now and then, the stars align and those picture-perfect days happen. And when they do, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that I’m able to spend every moment of them with my boy.

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