The truth about being a stay-at-home parent

A while back, I gave some tips on how to become a stay-at-home parent for the many parents I know who are struggling with going back to work after having a baby. But I probably should have written this post first. Here are some sobering notes about this noble but often thankless job:

1. Your house will still be a disaster.

Many people dream of not only being a stay-at-home parent, but also being a blissful homemaker. You know–baking all the time, maintaining a guest-visit level of cleanliness, having time to do those small projects (cleaning out that closet, sewing curtains, etc). But you won’t do any of those things. And because you’re home with your child rather than away at work and daycare, your house may even be MORE of a disaster.

Wear slippers so you won’t feel the crunch and stickiness constantly underfoot. And lower your expectations.

Disaster

2. Your social life may suffer.

You will have dreamed of getting together with your friend around the block for playdates and coffee outings, or going out with your single girlfriends for drinks in the evenings. But you’ll struggle to see that friend down the road more than twice a month, as your kids have completely different nap schedules. You’ll be too exhausted to do anything other than deepen the butt print on your couch at night while you watch “Gossip Girl” reruns on Netflix and try to maintain relationships with friends via Facebook. I hope that I will be able to rely on my kid’s school years to help develop new friendships and provide opportunities to get out more. But the reality is that while I have picked up a few new mom friends at the playground, I’m currently filling the role of BFF to my toddler these days.

3. You will probably get fat.

You might be blessed with a good napper whose daytime snooze allows you a quick workout by yourself. But if you’re like me, your kid will only nap on your lap. Or you’ll be too busy during nap time trying to scrape congealed strawberry jam off the floor. When I was working with my baby at our now-closed retail store, I brought my lunch to work and kept to a strict and healthy daily menu. Now? I frequently don’t eat lunch, but compensate by grabbing spoonfuls of Nutella or handfuls of chocolate chips every time I tear-ass through the kitchen after my kid. You’d think maybe walking to the park every day and never getting a chance to sit down would help, but somehow it doesn’t. Maybe it’s a result of postpartum changes to my body and metabolism or lack of sleep as much as it’s about diet, but either way, staying at home has not been kind to my waistline.

4. Your wardrobe will suffer.

It’s all about comfort and what washes well–what can bend easily into the sandbox and what can withstand constant splatters of poop, spinach pesto, and embedded cheese. I’m trying to ensure that I won’t be a prime candidate for “What Not to Wear” in a couple of years, but if that does happen, whatever–I’ve always loved Clinton Kelly anyway.

If I am not careful, I will look like this every day. Messy room included.

If I am not careful, I will look like this every day. Messy room included.

5. Your kid might be clingier.

Individual children’s personalities certainly come into play here, but it makes sense that children who are with mom or dad all day may be less willing to leave that parent. It might even be that the parents’ anxiety over leaving the child rubs off on them, too. Either way, you may very well be creating a situation in which your kid has a hard time being away from you. This is really challenging. Even my very sociable, happy daughter used to freak out when I’d leave.

Hold faith that this won’t last forever (my daughter, now a few months over 2, is much better), and utilize opportunities to gradually let your kid practice more freedom, such as part-time nursery school and local children’s programs. It’s tough now, but in the grand scheme of it, we’re only talking a few years of kid-attached-to-the-leg. I think we’ll survive.

6. You never have a day off.

I mean, you’re basically enslaved. There are no breaks. No lunch. You can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself. Your weekends are the same as your weekdays, with some additional help. But even if you get to sleep in a bit, you’re ultimately just as busy on weekends, holidays, etc. Your job (the kid) never goes away. It’s the ultimate blending of work and non-work life. Work-life balance? Not here. In fact, it’s really not even appropriate to call staying at home with a child a job; it’s a lifestyle, a vocation.

Sometimes this reality whips you in the face like an errant puzzle piece thrown out of frustration. On the hard days, it’s crushing, this thought that you’re always “on.” But I’m pretty sure I will be a Freaking Machine when I do go “back to work.” This shit is hard, and so that I’m doing it and surviving must speak well for me.

7. It doesn’t make you a better parent.

You might think that because you stay at home with your kid all the time, you will become more intuitive, sensitive, confident, and better practiced in the art of parenting. But for the most part, you will feel every bit as clueless as your work-outside-the-home counterparts. In fact, you will sometimes see working parents manage their children better than you do, and you will wonder how they can nail it AND hold a paying job.

You will frequently worry if you’re doing it right. As if there’s a right way to do it. Insecurities abound as a parent, and you will always wonder if you could be doing more to make your kid smarter, more polite, more advanced, and just generally awesome.

You will have days when you know you’re not doing a great job. You’ll be tired and cranky. You might yell at your kid. I try to remember that even in a job outside of the home, you sometimes have “off-days.” And we all have our strengths and weaknesses. That working parent who staves off the impending tantrum with easy grace undoubtedly struggles with other parenting problems. None of us is perfect. And then on other days, you’ll kick ass.

Sure, I'm a great mom. My kid still hates me sometimes, though.

Sure, I’m a great mom. My kid still hates me sometimes, though.

8. It’s hard on your relationship.

Your partner may possibly never understand what your job is like, no matter how supportive he or she is. The constant nature of being a stay-at-home parent is something few other professions can claim to understand. And yet, your partner will be working very hard too, and will probably feel a lot of pressure as the primary breadwinner in the household. There will be times (many times) when each of you feels like you’re pulling more weight than the other. You will both be exhausted, and yet your demanding little offspring is still there, needing food, diaper changes, and attention. You will sometimes find yourself competing against your partner in the Pain Olympics.

So be prepared for this. Be open and honest–you might even have to reiterate feelings you’ve expressed before. So what? Talk about it and do your best to support one another, recognizing that you’re in this together.

9. You will frequently wonder if it’s the right decision.

Whatever your reasons for staying home with your child and no matter how happy you are, you will probably wonder if it’s the right thing. You will worry about the career you’ve put on hold, and how much you will struggle to get back into the workforce. You will worry about intellectual deterioration as you read “Moo, Ba, La la la” for the 8,000,000,000th time. You will think about the possibilities for your family if you were earning your potential income.

The working parents are wondering about their choice, too. The grass is always greener and all that. I try to keep in mind that there’s rarely one right way to go about life. Ultimately, I know I won’t regret this time with my kid.

***

Are you thoroughly scared? Some parents feel they are better parents when they work outside the home, and I respect and appreciate that. I promise, though, that despite how tough it is, if you feel it’s what you want to do, it’s totally worth it.

IMG_3166

What I accomplished today: Newspaper Hats.

 

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6 responses to “The truth about being a stay-at-home parent

  1. Aint that the truth. Number 1 especially. I dinno about 3 and 5 though. I dunno maybe I got lucky though, my metabolism was always fast burning and ok it took 2 years, but I am a skinny witch again despite not dieting or exercising any more than I ever did, downside is I’m a prime candidate for osteoperosis when I’m older, so maybe I’d prefer to be a bit bigger. I think there is a interesting point to make about number 5 though, sometimes it can go the opposite way, my son is so willing to go with other family members precisely because I’m just boring old mum who he otherwise has nearly 24/7 anyway, and my cousin was the same way for his mum.

    • That’s a good point, and I can definitely see that happening. My daughter is starting to do this a bit–if we’re in a big family group, I may as well not be there. Way too busy for me. And often when there’s another adult around she’ll ask them to do things for her, like help her out of her highchair and such. She’s also really missing Daddy these days–if she’s kind of whiny and crying for no apparent reason, I’ll ask what’s wrong and she tells me she misses Daddy. Adorable and heartbreaking at the same time!

      Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Hi. A fascinating post. I think whichever path we chose, stay at home or working mum, we always doubt ourselves, think we should do better. Be happy, you are all doing a great job, the toughest job in the world. You are giving your children roots and wings. http://wp.me/p4X4U3-2K

  3. Your blog is always in my head!! This is exactly what I needed today after a really tough, stressful, sleepless week! Literally, in the middle of reading number 7 while breastfeeding (something I feel bad about doing, but it’s like the only minute of the day I get a breather other than her naps), Kieran and I had a fight about it (since I’m always telling him to stop looking at his phone around her). So, I threw my phone to the other side of the couch, cried, and tried to explain that I never get a break like he does at work… Then I just came back after putting her down for her nap to read number 8.

    Seriously. Hardest job ever.

    • Oh yeah, I read on my phone a lot while breastfeeding, for the same reason. It’s just a time to sit and relax, a rare gift.

      Yup, it’s a tough job. So, so constant. I almost felt guilty posting this AFTER having cheered for staying at home. Everyone always says it’s hard to be at home, but you can’t really, truly appreciate it until you’ve experienced that relentlessness of being needed constantly.

      But it’s great, too, right? haha

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