I hate being a stay-at-home mom.
There. I said it. Call me all the names you want. It will still be true.
I hate having my daily life revolve completely around the care and upkeep of everyone else. I went to law school rather than medical school in part because I acknowledged to myself that caring for the basic needs of others could not be the central focus of my existence.
I hate that any achievement I make (A delicious dinner! A clean bathroom! A watered garden!) is almost immediately undone or disappears. There is nothing that I do that is of lasting, tangible impact. In my last job, I created things, I wrote things, I drafted new laws. In this job, I make a pie that is gone in 36 hours and for which not a soul says anything, except a passing “that was good” from James, which is why he’s my favorite.
I hate that nothing I do merits more than a cursory “thank you” from anyone. Ever. In my marriage, I tried everything I could think of to solicit some kudos for my cooking, baking, cleaning, painting, yard-tending, animal-keeping, laundering, etc., but nothing worked and I gradually learned the age-old lesson of all housewives: if you’re really good at what you do, your family will take you for granted because people only notice the problems or mishaps in the minutiae of their lives, not the aspects that run smoothly. A lack of complaints is really the highest compliment a housewife can expect. And I hate that.
I hate that the harder I try to be seen, the more invisible I become. Yesterday, I took the girls shopping. I bought one girl a bike and another girl some clothes and some sports equipment, and another girl an accessory for one of her toys. For the bike, I got a big hug (which I savored greedily), but the others prompted nothing in the form of recognition or gratitude. It wasn’t a matter of the missing “thank you” as much as I was hoping that they would see that I cared for them and their needs. But, of course, they are children and that was lost on them. As soon as the goodies were placed in their hands, I receded into the ether, gone until the next time they need something.
I hate that I don’t have grown-ups to talk to about grown-up things. I went to dinner last night with my friend Gwen, and found myself waiting at the table for her arrival, nervous that I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say. I was fairly certain that she wouldn’t be enthralled with news that the big dog is shedding like a maniac or that our lawn has turned brown in patches and I’ve no idea why or that Jay’s bike tire has been flat for weeks and I can’t seem to get around to fixing it. But when she sat down across from me and started talking, I could feel my innards begin to untwist and relax. And before I knew it, we were gabbing away about work and men and kids and faith. I can’t count the number of times she said to me, “I can’t believe how much you’re juggling right now! I don’t think I could do it.” It was like soaking in a warm bath of acceptance, validation, and understanding for a few hours. But than I emerged, got into my car, and felt my guts tighten up again.
I hate feeling sorry for myself. I know — really KNOW! — that I, and I alone, am responsible for my current lack of employment. I knew when I sent the final email to the Mayor that I would likely be terminated for refusing to adhere to his way of doing things. I also know that there are fateful reasons for my being unemployed right now; I know that it is necessary for me to be home with the children this summer, to ease their transition and grease the blending of our families. I can easily appreciate that I am immensely selfish for resenting sacrificing one simple summer for the sake of 5 precious children. But there are definitely days, like today, when resent it I do.
I hate feeling tired and frumpy. No amount of exercise or nutrition or sleep helps me shake this low-energy mood. The endorphin high from working out lasts only until the next “MOM!!!!!” is screamed amidst yet another sibling argument. There is no need to dress nicely when I am simply chauffeuring and cleaning up after children, so I sport the de rigeur summer uniform for the stay-at-home mom — jeans shorts and a cotton t-shirt — each and every day. Sometimes I even put in earrings, but that only prompts the children to ask why I’m so dressed up.
Being a working mom is really tough. This I know. I’ve done it with babies and I’ve done it with bigger kids. I’ve commuted almost an hour each way, through all kinds of weather, while worrying what I was going to get on the table in time for dinner. I’ve missed school plays and soccer games and sick days for meager paychecks that barely covered the cost of child care.
During my first tour of duty as a stay-at-home mom, I was relieved beyond belief to be free of the guilt that hangs over the working mother like a London fog. Finally, I thought, I will have the time and attention and focus to devote myself to my children and family and home! Our lives will be unstructured and stress-free and full of laughter and fun. But you know what? I am no more qualified to be a stay-at-home mom than I am to be an astronaut. I am simply not suited to it. I don’t have the aptitude or the training or the fearlessness to embrace the challenges inherent in the job. When I re-entered the salaried workforce after my divorce, I did so with a guilty pleasure about which I am still ashamed.
This second tour of duty as a stay-at-home mom was involuntary for the most part. When I refused to turn a blind eye to the political corruption in my previous job, I failed to recognize that the absence of another job in the wings might result in my conscription in the Stay-at-Home Moms Corps. Never, not once in all the time that I was unhappy under the new mayor and feeling increasingly put upon having to work for a foul administration for a pittance of a paycheck, never did I wish that I could be a stay-at-home mom again. Yet, here I am.
To be honest, I’m not terrible at being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I’m actually pretty good at it. But this is only the second job I’ve ever had that I was good at but didn’t like. The first was being a waitress at Bob’s Big Boy when I was 15 and had to wear a brown plaid, polyester uniform and orthopedic shoes. I have to say, in all seriousness, that the waitress job was only marginally worse. At least I got tips.
I know that at some point, all the job applications I’ve completed, all the resumes and cover letters I’ve sent out, all the interviews I’ve smiled my way through, will eventually result in a new job coming my way. And I am equally certain that said job will appear at precisely the correct time in the universe’s schedule. But until then, I’ll make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while wearing my hair in a ponytail and repeating “Would someone please get this hairbrush off the kitchen counter?” for the 534th time.
Because I’m a stay-at-home mom. And that’s what we do.