I became a stay home mom almost four years ago after the birth of my second child. Prior to that I was a working mom, and at one time in my life I was a single working mom. So having experienced the parenting challenges inherent in those situations, you can imagine how thrilled I was to have the opportunity to be able to stay home with my kids. I thought it would be fun and I imagined all sorts of scenarios involving playdates, an immaculately clean house and home-cooked, healthy meals I would make for my family every night. I mean, how difficult could that be? I would be home…with my own kids…ALL…DAY…LONG.
Cue the hysterical laughter.
The reality for many of us, or at least for me, is that being a stay home parent is a lot like being stuck in Groundhog Day hell. You tend to repeat the same activities over, and over, and over. My life often feels like an endless loop of housework, laundry, toddler drama, managing school drama, homework, cooking and hygiene. And the hygiene management isn’t even for me. It’s amazing how difficult it is to get a school age child to care about showering or brushing their teeth, or teaching a potty training toddler how to wipe without creating a disaster area that requires a hazmat team to clean up.
Sometimes, when I’m doing housework, I imagine that old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial where the old man goes through his morning routine, saying in a dreary voice, “It’s time to make the donuts.” Here’s my rant about housework, so bear with me…If I spend an hour cleaning my hardwood floors, in another hour they look like shit again. I do the dishes so that we continue to have more clean dishes to dirty. Laundry is an endless cycle of wash, dry, fold and repeat. Nobody likes a dirty bathroom, and with young, potty-training children in the house, I could clean the toilets daily and they may still look and smell like gas station toilets, which is just gross. And the toys…oh, dear God, the toys. I can pick them up, but the second I put one away, three more magically appear out of thin air. Is it me, or do crayons and Legos have the ability to multiply on their own?
Now let’s talk about caring for young children and running household errands. For the sake of providing a brief, yet complete picture, let’s just say that taking care of young kids is a lot like what I imagine it would be like working for a bi-polar, incontinent dictator(s), except without the threat of death or having your fingers cut off. “I want milk! No, I want orange juice. Give me some orange juice! No, I want milk! I have to have milk! Now I have to poop! Mommy, wipe my butt!” So demanding! And grocery shopping with toddlers is like willingly entering the seventh circle of hell.
In my first year as a stay home mom, I was a raving lunatic about the house. It was my job to take care of the house, and how could I do that if everyone keeps wrecking it?! One day I said to my husband, “Imagine you went to work and finished a big project. And then someone comes into your office and destroys your project and tells you to start over. I bet you’d be pretty pissed about that, huh? That’s what every day is like for me.” My husband suggested we hire a housekeeper to help me out. I got upset (over-reacted), and said absolutely not because if I’m home there’s no reason to pay someone money for something I can do myself. (Again, cue the hysterical laughter.)
I did actually have several emotional breakdowns. A couple of times I just started crying in the middle of folding laundry. I began to resent the dust on the floors and the animals for constantly shedding their hair. I was short-tempered and impatient every time someone got out a toy or dripped something on the floor that I just cleaned. I wanted to scream over spilled milk. I felt isolated, spending up to ten hours a day alone with my kids and the only person I had to talk to was more interested in playing with his toe jam than in having a conversation with his Mommy. In short, I was a hot mess.
I was depressed. I thought what the hell? Is this my life? When did I become this person? I used to have a career! I used to feel respected and like I was a valuable member of a team. Now I feel like I’m just here to cook, clean, chase kids and make everyone else’s life easier. I worried that my value would be diminished in my husband’s eyes because I no longer had interesting and intelligent news to contribute over our dinner conversation. It’s hard to feel valuable when the extent of your daily news is how many times our son went pee-pee on the potty, how many loads of laundry I did, or how I struggled to help our daughter with her fourth grade math homework. (And fourth graders do hard math these days, so don’t judge me.)
There are some women who seem to be able to do it all. They can keep a nice house, go to the gym every day, cook homemade meals with organic, unprocessed ingredients, grow their own vegetables in a garden, volunteer at their kid’s schools, and also volunteer at church every week. They make it look effortless. I’m convinced that these women take drugs, or they’re just really good liars, but that’s pure speculation on my part. Regardless, I’m not one of these women, and I’ve learned to be perfectly fucking okay with that.
I have now allowed myself to try and let go of most of my self-imposed expectations, and I accept having a not-so-perfect house. I understand and accept that my sanity and my family’s overall happiness is more important than clean floors and picked up toys. I understand that playing games with my son and reading books with my daughter is more important than trying to live up to an impossible standard of perfection. I’m learning that sometimes doing less really does equate to more.
What changed? First of all, my Wanda reminded me that depression is an asshole, and we don’t choose to be friends with assholes. Second, I reminded myself that attitude is everything. The outcome of any given situation is largely dependent on the attitude you adopt while dealing with it. And up until that point my attitude sucked. I also realized that I have to take advantage of this gift of time I’ve been given with my kids and my family and stop stressing about unimportant things. Now, when my son walks up to me at 10am on a Wednesday and says, “Mommy, can we just snuggle?” instead of thinking about the dishes in the sink or the laundry in the dryer, I just embrace that time with him. In those moments, I feel like I have the best job ever.
Sure, I look around my house and see stuff that needs to get done. Some days I tackle those things and some days I don’t. Some days I get a small amount of time to myself, but most days I don’t. Some days, I want to walk outside and beg a stranger to have an adult conversation with me, but I never follow-through on that impulse because that’s just weird and I don’t want to be the neighborhood weirdo.
I’ve learned to embrace yoga pants and pony tails. I’ve accepted that I will not wear make-up every day, and some days I just feel fortunate to get a shower alone and my teeth brushed before noon. I still battle with the stay-home-mommy-blues, but I take what good things I can get, where I can get them. I’m trying to find a balance between making myself happy and doing what I need to do for my family. This is difficult, but I keep trying.
And the most incredible validation comes when my husband walks over to me, usually after spending a weekend taking care of the kids, kisses me and says, “I don’t know how you do this every day, but I’m so thankful that you do, and I appreciate you so much.” That makes me feel respected and like an important member of our family’s team. And I thank God every day that I have a supportive and understanding partner, because if he walked in after work, looked around the house and asked me what the hell I did all day, I swear to God, I would punch him in the throat.