Wednesday, October 2, 2013

SAHM: My five biggest challenges

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about my 5 favorite things about being a stay-at-home mom.  I stand by those things and I'm still confident that this is the best situation for our family right now, and I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to do so.  However, it would be lying if I said it was all rainbows and butterflies (or, if you went by the blog history, candles and decorations).  There are plenty of challenges in this lifestyle - particularly in contrast to academic study and a professional job, which had consumed the majority of my time since childhood.

I want to be clear about two things before I dive into this post.  First, I'm aware that these are all #firstworldproblems.  Although there are things that are challenging and frustrating, comparatively (compared  to people of all sorts who are facing disease, poverty, and other real challenges) I have it really easy.  Second, in writing the first 5 favorites post and this one, I'm not trying to make a statement about other women who are in other situations - or even about those who are in similar situations.  I'm not pretending that my lifestyle is the hardest ever.  I've worked in two very demanding professions, and so I know there are plenty of challenges for full-time employees.  I haven't had a job outside the home since Anna was born, but I don't need to do so to know that being a working mom is immensely challenging.  And I'm certainly not pretending that my life is as difficult as other moms who have multiple kids, or sick kids, or absent husbands, or really anything other than one easy, happy little girl.

But - I think there's a fallacy that if whatever we're doing is not the hardest thing that anyone in the world is doing, it cannot be hard at all.  On the contrary, there are aspects of my life that are challenging at least to me.  Are they as challenging as what many other people face (with much more grace) everyday?  No.  But they are still challenging.  This post is intended to be an analysis, not a complaint, so I hope you will read it in that light.  I think by identifying the source of frustration, I can more adequately address those same frustrations.  For any stay-at-home mom friends who are reading, I would hope that you might have a "me too" moment and feel a small relief knowing that you're not the only one....but in general this is just meant to be a reflection on myself and my situation right now.

Also, I was going to post this a while ago, but then didn't because I came across Haley's post "I'm a Mother, Not the CEO of My Household,"  which touches on a lot of the same challenges, and it's better written than anything I produce.  I was afraid that people would think I was just regurgitating what she wrote given that it was circling the blog-world around the same time I happened to be thinking through things on my end.  But, I've realized that in general I'll never have anything so totally earth-shattering to say that no one has ever thought it or written about it before - and my own experience of my life is still unique and those of you still faithfully checking the blog (hi, Dad!) care about what I have to say, so I'll just go for it.

And so, without further ado, the five challenges of being a stay-at-home mom (or, why it's harder than it looks!)

1) I don't have any coworkers.  Anna's stint as sous-chef doesn't exactly count.

 We humans are communal creatures, and women especially crave the interaction with others - particularly others who are in a similar situation.  It's not uncommon for a day to pass where I don't speak to another adult from the time Justin leaves until he comes home.  Other days, there's not much more than a brief interaction with a store clerk.  There's a reason that people love congregating around a water cooler at work - it's refreshing and revitalizing to compare notes with someone else, to know that you're not the only one who's stressed out by the looming deadline or worried about the boss's recent email.  In the absence of someone to exchange a "look" with during an tense or crazy moment, stress mounts and invariably you (I) can feel like you're going nuts.  I experienced that in a job once, feeling isolated; and before I found others experiencing similar stressors in that office, I began to think that maybe the problem was me, or that I was only just imagining the situation to be stressful.  I think the same can be true as a stay-at-home mom.  Until you run into friends at a park and find that the latest antics of someone else's toddler are also driving her mother easily feels like you're the only one.  I can get down on myself, thinking that I shouldn't be stressed out by one easy kid - but the reality is that chasing a toddler all day long is exhausting - if not physically, at least intellectually.  It can be more of a mind game than anything.

2) I don't get to wear heels.  Or, perhaps more tragically, I don't have an excuse to buy more.

It's not that I'm actually genuinely missing dressing up everyday (in true grass-is-always-greener fashion, didn't we all LOVE dress-down day while working?!), but I think it's symbolic of the transition from a professional setting to working at home.  Even on boring days at work, there was a little bit of glamour (at least in the world's view) in being dressed like a professional, being out in the world.  Going to work made me feel like I was contributing to something big and important, even if the day's tasks weren't particularly noteworthy.  Raising Anna is infinitely more important than anything I did before, but it doesn't really feel like  it in the middle of the day's fourth diaper change.

Mothering and homemaking is far more physical than a desk job, and a whole lot messier, too.  I'm a girly-girl who likes to dress-up, but I'm too afraid to ruin my good clothes to wear them to clean the bathroom or make dinner or change Anna's diapers.  The physical demands of the job (including - among other things - supervising the "let's see how many things I can throw into the bathtub while mom gets ready" game) combined with the fact that I don't have to wear anything nice (or necessarily change out of my pajamas) contributes to feeling like I fall into the whole frumpy stay-at-home mom stereotype.  The self-esteem boost you get from feeling like you look good (or, at a minimum, feeling freshly showered) goes a long way towards overall outlook and productivity, but too often the day-to-day lifestyle around here doesn't contribute to that end goal.

3)  There aren't any deadlines.  Unless you count the race to finish cooking dinner before Anna takes every single canned good out of the pantry.

We need to eat dinner every day, and we need to have clean clothes ready by the time we've worn everything else in our closets, but those don't compare to the type of hard and fast deadlines that I was used to in both academia and my career.  I'm a procrastinator at heart who works best under pressure (remember my company's coming post??) so the open-ended nature of homemaking can be a challenge.  The house needs to be cleaned but nothing necessitates that being done Tuesday versus Wednesday.  Incidentally, the flexibility of schedule is one of the things I cited as a good thing to this vocation - and it is.  But I need to constantly compete against my natural tendencies to put things off until later, while simultaneously dealing with my inability to set reasonable expectations of how much can be accomplished in a day, period, let alone accomplished in a day while simultaneously being the full-time caregiver for a one-year old.

4) The to-do list remains the same.  Change diaper.  Check.  Change diaper.  Check.  Change diaper...

I will admit to being one of those people who has added something already completed to a to-do list just to be able to check it off (although this has only occurred when I was also writing down many many undone items as well!)  Whether it's a good, bad, or neutral character trait, I'm not sure, but I thrive on a sense of accomplishment.  I like to know I'm getting things done.  At work, I had recurring tasks, but there were also plenty of big projects that I could check off and feel a sense of completion.  In my day-to-day, I may do many things, but few - if any - remain done for longer than twenty-four hours.  Food gets eaten as soon as its cooked, clean laundry is worn and back in the hamper shortly after it's put in the closet, and those darn dirty diapers sometimes pack a one-two punch that has you changing another fifteen minutes after the first.  The monotony of (often mundane) tasks is frustrating in and of itself, but it also feeds into the questions planted in a stay-at-home mom's mind by the societal pressures that say "shouldn't I be doing something MORE?"

5) I don't get an annual review or a performance evaluation.  Anna is vocal if I do something she doesn't like (most recently, not allowing her to play with the pepper grinder at dinner), but has yet to say "great job, Mom!"

I don't miss the process of completing a self-evaluation or the nervousness that precedes a performance evaluation meeting, but once that was all over and done, it was nice to know where I stood.  I was - and am - driven to be a high-performer.  At the end of a semester or after an evaluation at work, I knew whether or not I was reaching specific objectives - whether or not I was accomplishing the goals of the position, and ultimately, whether or not my hard work was in vain.  Most days I think that I'm a good mom, but I ultimately have no way of knowing.  Given the infinitely larger responsibility of this position, the desire to know that I'm on the right track is even more appealing - and the inability to feel concretely evaluated all the more frustrating.  As much as we try to fight it, women of my generation are chronically plagued with not feeling "good enough," and working continually without external validation (aside from the loving praise from a wonderful husband, which is not to be minimized) doesn't help that situation.


Simply writing this post has given me a lot of encouragement.  By forcing myself to think through what is challenging to me, I've internally validated that there are real, specific things that can cause me stress.   The things that make me upset or frustrated are not completely imagined.  When I've had a bad day, it's not for "no reason," as I find myself telling Justin when those days do occur.  Also, admitting that it's challenging, and that it's OK that it's challenging is also a relief.  I think that we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that because we've chosen something as the better path, it can not or should not have any negative associated with it.

As real as the challenges may be, re-reading what I've written, it seems that there are many simple solutions to my problems.  Get with the program, Emily!  Just be more motivated, more disciplined, less worried, and your life will be better - not only happier, but better able to serve Anna and Justin. Chances are, that would be true, but we all know we can't just snap our fingers and arrive magically at a new and improved self.  The human condition is one of continual improvement, constant struggle to fight against our selfish and lazy tendencies, to find the former glory of the person God created us to be.  As I continue on in this vocation as a mother and a wife, I'll continue to course-correct to steer closer to that ideal.

But you know what?  Despite it all, I wouldn't choose to go back to work.  Not even if you paid me.


  1. Definitely not the only one who looks at that pile of laundry and goes "again...really?!"

  2. It took me years to figure out that I NEED to get dressed in cute clothes every day or else I just feel really tired... I just wear an apron a lot so that the kids don't get food all over me!

  3. Wow! I just had a "me too!" moment all over my computer screen! Emily, I clicked over here from Rosie's blog and I assure you I'll be coming back, this post is great!

  4. great article! your challenges almost match mine to a T. Just to encourage you, it actually gets easier when you have more kids- there of course are different challenges, but they seem to occupy each other, and you find your groove more as a mom. I also found that there were habits I had created with only 1 child in house, that I just could not maintain with 2, and it actually was a blessing! Anyways, thanks for writing. happy blogging.

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