“So, what do you do?”
We are at a friend’s birthday party. I have somehow managed to squeeze myself into an outfit that doesn’t involve a stretchy waist and a sports bra. I even did my hair, which, based on the “Wow, I didn’t know your hair was so nice!” from my daughter, was clearly an event in and of itself.
“I used to work in geophysics. Now I’m a stay at home mom.”
This is always my answer. I always preface the now with the past, as though somehow this will lighten the twinge of guilt and inferiority that I feel when I say it.
But I shouldn’t feel guilty, or somehow “less than.” After all, I’m doing one of the most important jobs in the world. Right?
“What a luxury that you can stay home.” My fellow partygoer responded.
I didn’t plan to be a stay at home mom. Pre-kid me just assumed that I would do it all. Isn’t that what Oprah taught an entire generation? That we could have it all?
The problem is, I’m not good at doing it all.
People are constantly telling me how lucky I am to stay at home with my kids. I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t take this time that I get to spend with them for granted.
Not one bit.
But being a stay at home parent? It’s not based on luck. Nor is it a luxury. I am fulfilling an essential service and my husband supports me 100 percent. We made a choice when our first child was born and we have made sacrifices and concessions in order for me to be at home with our kids.
Do I regret the decision to give up my career to stay at home? Nope. A thousand no’s.
Has our family had to sacrifice along the way? Yes. All the yeses.
Before I trigger an avalanche of “stay at home” vs “working parent” comments, hear this. Sacrifices are always made when you’re a parent. It’s the whole nature of this crazy ride. Whether you stay at home, go to work, work from home, single parent, co-parent, whatever, there is no “right” way. I am not arguing who has it harder or who sacrifices more. The reality is it’s all hard. And so incredibly worth it.
The reality also is that I know I’m privileged to be able to stay home, too. But, a luxury? I don’t think so.
Me being at home makes the most sense for our family. Financially it wasn’t worth it for me to return to my Monday to Friday, 8 to 5 job plus a one hour commute on each end. We live in a large city where childcare for 3 kids averages over $2000 per month. By the time we covered the expenses, there would be very little money left over.
But giving up my career has meant being out of an industry that is constantly changing, and technologically I haven’t changed with it. I have put myself at a huge disadvantage when I do return to the workforce and it’s more than likely that I may not be able to return to what I once had. It has meant forgoing a company pension and various other benefits.
It also means that the financial burdens of our family fall squarely on my husband’s shoulders. While he bears the load without complaining, I see him. I see how hard he works to provide for us. The nights he tosses and turns. He isn’t just the main breadwinner, he’s the only breadwinner. And this can be a difficult and stressful burden to bear.
As much as I love being at home, there is a dark side. Let’s face it. Being at home with kids can be exhausting: emotionally, mentally, and physically. The days can be isolating and lonely, even surrounded by littles. Kids? They are amazing human beings, but sometimes? They’re freaking insane. Some days it takes every fibre of my being not to jump aboard the crazy train with them. One more temper tantrum, one more dramatic flinging of one’s body to the floor, one more “Cheerios WERE my favorite food. Now they’re gross,” and I fear I may plummet into the pit of insanity.
When my husband walks in the door after a 10-hour workday, he never quite knows who to expect. Suzy Homemaker, with a golden chicken roasting in the oven, or Cruella DeVille? Am I going to kiss him sweetly and ask him, “How was your day?” Or am I going to hand him a crying baby, shake a screaming toddler off my leg, and bolt past him out the door, yelling over my shoulder, “I’m going out!”
Or what about the days I greet him at the door, the only rational-thinking person I’ve seen all day, verbally vomiting the 20,000 words that I’ve had pent up inside me?
Or the days I am so overwhelmed by not having a clue what I’m doing, and I completely lose it on him, wailing, “If these kids are screwed up and in therapy later in life, I have no one to blame but myself!”
Through all the financial, emotional and psychological sacrifices we make, we still choose for me to stay at home. We make do on one income. We are not rich, we do not indulge in the finer things in life. We are not driving fancy cars, sipping champagne and eating caviar (which, let’s be clear, I wouldn’t eat anyway because, ewww). Date night? It’s putting the kids to bed early, making nachos and cheese and snuggling on the couch watching Netflix.
We go camping instead of taking exotic trips. Our kids are restricted to one extracurricular activity at a time. There are no fancy summer camps or competitive sports teams. Their closets are full of hand-me-downs from friends and cousins. We have a monthly budget that we adhere to and we live within our means. This is our season of less not luxury.
And I wouldn’t change it. Not one second.