Finding peace with my new stay-at-home life

March 1 | Guest post by Amy von Stackelberg
Day 21/365.v2
Photo by Flickr user Perfecto Insano, used with Creative Commons license.

Although I've always wanted kids, I've never felt comfortable identifying as a mom (to be). "Housewife" was a dirty word to me. I admire the women I know who thrive in these roles, but they just never fit me. My identity has always been pathologically linked to my career and educational success.

I've always seen myself as the one who wears the pants and brings home the bacon. Not quite the classic career woman, I'm happier running a table saw than at a desk. That's why it was so difficult for me transition to the stay-at-home life. All the pregnancy books have one sentence about how difficult this can be, but I didn't anticipate a full-on identity crisis.

When I got pregnant, I almost immediately got sick. It was beyond the normal morning sickness, but not quite hyperemesis gravidarum. I had planned on working as a carpenter until about month fives into pregnancy. I had an image in my head of the strong woman who works the fields to the last minute. I quickly realized that it just wasn't safe for me to continue working. And once I started to feel better, I was too pregnant to go back to my regular job, and no one else wanted to hire an obviously pregnant woman.

At first it was just plain frustrating to be sick. Normally a very active person, I went into deep depression. When I started to feel better, I was able to keep busy but I just didn't feel right. I resented anyone who said "Your job now is to make a baby." That comment seemed so dismissive of who I am and what I was going through.

Those who felt I was lucky to have time off had no idea how quickly daytime TV and cleaning the house got old. Sure, I kept busy. I built some furniture, made some art, went to yoga classes, read books I'd never had time to finish. But it just didn't take away the feeling that I just wasn't me anymore.

Yes, I had always planned to take a few years off to raise kids. Back when it was an abstract idea, I had looked forward to a couple years of making cookies and finger painting.

The loss of my own income was a huge blow to my self-esteem. Having to ask my husband for grocery money felt like the most humiliating thing I'd ever had to do. Yes, I had always planned to take a few years off to raise kids. Back when it was an abstract idea, I had looked forward to a couple years of making cookies and finger painting. But I didn't think it would be so hard to slip out of the work boots and into the apron.

Reading mommy blogs made me feel worse. I learned the term "mommy wars." I couldn't identify with either the stay-at-home-moms or the career women. I was somewhere in between. I spent many weeks outraged at the unfairness of it all. I felt that feminism had failed mothers and that biology had doomed me. The whole world seemed to want me to pick one side or the other.

Then there was the pressure from those around me, most of whom thought I'd eagerly jump into the stay-at-home role like they had. Some expected me to suddenly start caring about packing lunches and making sure my husband's shoes didn't smell. Others asked me if I was going to take out my lip ring now that I was about to have a baby (what???). I was told that I'd better not get a nanny or put my child in day-care.

I would be me. I would accept that my life was going to be different, but I was still the same person, no matter what those around me expected.

In the end, I had to make a conscious decision to ignore it all. I stopped reading parenting blogs and feminist blogs that talked about the sociology of motherhood. I stopped the conversations with my in-laws that had sent me home crying. I stopped the incessant back-and-forth in my head that pitted my goals against motherhood. I would be neither a stay-at-home-mom nor a working mom. I would be me. I would accept that my life was going to be different, but I was still the same person, no matter what those around me expected.

I'm still not sure exactly when I'll be going back to work. I'll probably be forced to go back at least part-time when my meager benefits from the Canadian government run out next year. But now with some peace and perspective, it does not feel like an-identity-defining decision but more like a choice I'll make based on what is best for me and my family.

Now two months away from having my baby, I'm glad I've had the time off to adjust to being at home. What I've learned in this time off will help me be a better mother, and more successful at work when that time comes. I've learned that my worth as a human being isn't contingent on my paycheck or on how perfect a mom and wife I turn out to be. I've learned to accept help from my husband. I've learned to be vulnerable and to be patient. I've learned that the slow life can be wonderful. I've learned that when my politics prevent me from making the right decisions for me, maybe it's time to throw politics out of the equation.

I've learned that feminism, to me, is meaningless if it keeps me from following my heart. I've learned to ignore the outside voices and do what's right for me. I've learned that my old self can fit into my new life.

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  1. I really liked your post! I too felt confused for a while after having my daughter. I took a semester off from school and lived with my husband (I was going to school in Pennsylvania where we are from, he was stationed in Mississippi). I really enjoyed my time with my daughter but kept feeling a gnawing to be back at school because I felt removed from the me who wasn't a mother. Once I moved back and it was just my daughter and I, I wanted the time off again because I felt like less of a mom. Once my family was back together after I graduated my feelings settled down because I stopped trying to define myself in a consistent way. I can be more of a mom sometimes and more of a student/working-mom other times. I just tried to stop labeling myself in those terms and just enjoy myself and my family as much as possible. I hope you are able to find balance once the baby comes, but expect more turmoil; as the baby grows, you will too. That may mean learning to redefine yourself again, in a way that makes you happy.

    4 agree
  2. Excellent post. There is so much information and so many opinions out there as to how to be the perfect mom, that it can be very overwhelming. At the end of the day, we just have to make who we are define how we tackle mommyhood, rather than having mommyhood define who we are.

    1 agrees
  3. I loved this, thank you so much for writing it so eloquently! This was exactly what I struggled (am struggling) with, but have been having a hard time putting it all into words.

  4. Amen to the defining yourself as a parent, rather than allowing outside forces to put you in a box.

    The feminism comments struck me, because for me, feminism allows me to be who I am. I don't see it as constraining me or judging me, or preventing me from following my heart. To me, pro-choice has a wider meaning than just pregnancy. Pro-choice means the power to choose who I want to be as a woman and as a mother. With all the shades of grey and nuance that entails.

    For me, feminism isn't about mandating all women should be shoulder-pad-wearing career women, or all women should stay at home with their children. It's about the freedom to choose what's right for you and your family. Susan Faludi's book 'Backlash' says it better than me:)

    I guess I'm saying that there are many feminists who whole-heartedly agree with you.

    13 agree
    • while i agree that many (most?) feminists would support the author's choice, i can relate to her disheartening experience of stumbling onto a very nice (well, mostly) feminist blog that proclaimed a "my way or the highway" attitude about some of the issues that surround how we balance the transition of Woman to Woman-with-Offspring (especially re: work/home & the stupid LABELS war—ugh!)

      all i am saying is that, well, nobody's perfect (even us feminists!) and sometimes-often?- the mommy blogosphere is NOT the place for snark-free support, love & compassion. …..ObM excluded, of course 🙂

      1 agrees
  5. "I’ll probably be forced to go back at least part-time when my meager benefits from the Canadian government run out next year."

    You have benefits that extend into next *year* and you consider them meager? Let me tell you about meager (actually, non-existent) maternity benefits…

    20 agree
    • I was thinking the same thing…I got sick and had to quit my job, with no maternity benefits, no FMLA, no disability, no nothing. My husband just has to work 2 jobs now. I am sure the benefits are meager compared to lots of other countries, but they sound pretty good to me here in Michigan!

      4 agree
      • Yeah, I have to agree. The U.S. is WAY behind other "industrialized" countries on the paid maternal leave issue. I got so fired up about it, I even testified before Congress. Not that it changed anything. 🙁 Wish I was Canadian.

        7 agree
      • Wow, that link was really informative. I had no idea so many asian/african/south american countries had paid maternity leave! I previously assumed it was only really Europe.

    • I agree. I'm a Canadian living in Australia, and until this year there was *no* such thing as paid maternity leave.

      We're lucky in Canada.

      3 agree
    • As an australian with my first bub due in 4 weeks I feel very fortunate to be expecting just after the introduction of federal funded paid parental leave.

      I remember when the scheme was announced around 3 years ago one of the supporting arguments often brought up was how with the exception of U.S, we were the only western country that didn't have govt funded paid parental leave. Maybe now that U.S is the the last western country there might be more movement/pressure for its introduction?

    • You guys are right, I shouldn't call them "meager". I'm lucky to get what I get and really shouldn't complain when so many mothers get little to nothing. It just feels meager when it's 30% of your normal paycheck and you still have all the same expenses.

      6 agree
  6. Fantastic post. I hope you'll write again a few months after your baby is born, I'd love to see how it all unfolds!

    I struggle every day to redefine myself as a woman AND mother. The one thing that makes it easier is to remind myself to be the kind of woman I want my daughter to look up to.

    1 agrees
  7. Thank you for this post. I was let go from my job less than a month after finding out I was pregnant. I had "morning" sickness the entire nine months and just never felt like my normal self. Then came labor, recovering from a c-section and a newborn in the NICU. By the time I was finally able to come up for a breath of air, I realized that time was ticking on finding a source of income. I have worked and earned my own money for almost fifteen years. Being a kept woman sounds nice, but feels uncomfortable in reality. My husband is fine with the situation, but I dread having to ask him for money. Everyone says "your job is being a mom" but the lack of a paycheck says otherwise – at least for me. I keep repeating in my head "I have no worth." My mom quit her job when she had my brother and stayed at home until I was in high school. So did most of the women in our neighborhood. Staying at home to raise children is not a new concept, but so often I feel like no one understands how I'm feeling. If being a mom is my job, am I working 24 hours a day? How do I handle having a baby as a career? I'm taking small steps towards a home-based business and I am continually convincing myself that it's ok to let my son play on his own while I do it.

    3 agree
  8. I feel this so hard. I was working, got very sick the entire term of my pregnancy. Lost my job, tried to go back to school but couldn't make things balance. Now I'm thinking about having another kid, because I always thought I'd want 2.

    So here I am. I feel like I'm waiting around for my life to start, but it's already happening.

    3 agree
  9. Great post! 9 years ago my husband and I moved for his job just as I graduated from school. At the time we had a 2yo & were fostering a 5yo family member. I was looking for an entry level programming job in 2001, right after the .com had burst & left a ton of very experienced programmers jobless. We quickly realized my pay as entry level would be so low that IF I found a job I'd end up with only a few hundred dollars a month after childcare & taxes. I was devastated. I grew up with my Grandmother telling me over & over "Never be dependent on a man." Here I was no career & giving up before I started. I was depressed & angry for 3 years. I remodled our new house, on my own, secretly continued to apply for jobs & resisted making any new "mommy friends." Then something shifted. I had a second child, I made some friends, I finally learned how to cook…one day I realized the role I played in my husbands career path as support was important if he was to ever enjoy his family. I don't know how, but it allcame together and over time I've defined this job my own way. We now have 4 beautiful daughters & my life is constantly being redifined & reshaped & I've learned to be just fine with that. 🙂

    7 agree
    • You just gave me an idea on how to reframe my approach to the mommy career… I am an Entry Level Mom! My strongest skill is taking care of the baby, my cooking ability is developing slowly but shows potential, and my mom friend quota is pitiful. I didn't start off as an expert in my previous line of work. The mommy career track is no different. My expectations have been too high for someone with no formal training or previous experience. I will grow into the position with time. Now I just have to wait for my son to start talking to receive my performance review 🙂

      10 agree
  10. "I’ve learned that feminism, to me, is meaningless if it keeps me from following my heart."

    THIIIIIIIIIIIIIS.

    This.

    7 agree
    • Feminism is ALL about following your heart. Feminism means women get the freedom of choice, to choose what is best for themselves, their babies, their families, and their hearts (whether that be as a stay at home mom, career woman, or somewhere in between!)

      4 agree
  11. I can definately identify with this. After my husband and I both lost our jobs in January, he was lucky enough to find a new job, which leaves me at home with our three year old. I'm going crazy being stuck here at home alone, especially since we only have one car and living in a rural area, neither walking nor public transportation are really an option. I feel sort of like I'm boring now that I stay home all day, so I'm trying to find more interesting ways to fill my and my child's time. I'm glad that you were able to make this work for you. Hopefully I'll be able to do the same if I can develop a more positive attitude towards things.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this. I found out I was pregnant a couple of weeks after being laid off. It's turned out to be something of a blessing because I do have hyperemesis gravidarum, and have been sick for the past couple of months. I look forward to feeling better, hopefully soon (for most women, the sickness alleviates after the first trimester), but I'm also kind of terrified of not being able to go back to work. Who wants to hire a pregnant woman, after all, considering that she’ll have to take a big break to have the baby in half a year or less? And then, after I have the baby, I'll have been out of work for a year. At least for that, the bad economy is something of a help to me, since I won’t be the only one in my profession in the long-term-unemployment boat. I count my blessings and know I'm very lucky that I have a husband who can support me financially, that government help is available to me, but it's still very difficult to feel like I’m losing my career identity because of my mommy-to-be identity. It’s one thing to choose to have a stay-at-home life, and another to have it thrust on you by circumstance. All I can do is just try to accept where my life path has taken me, try to make the best of it, and remember that this too shall pass.

  13. Sounds like someone has been in my head. I was just come from working 45 hours a week to 16 hours a week. Ever since I found out I was having a kid, people thought I would not able to do my job in management. I lost my hours when I came back from my paid leave from 45 to maybe 20, sometime 18 hours. I left retail management since I didn't agree with their ethics. Anyway I work in hospitality as a back up and again backed against a well because I asked for daytime hours….just found out my 2 year old has been diagnosis with mild autistic spectrum disorder. Now I am wondering if I failed as a working mother and asking myself if I could ask my fiance' for money since we are down to one income. Slowly I am learning that I have to asked for help and yes you can stay at home, and to find a new career in what I want to and make myself happy for once.

  14. It sounds like you've made the most 'feminist' decision you could have – the choice that's best for you.

    6 agree
  15. This is a wonderful post! As a new mom, I have definitely with the identity crisis of motherhood on some scale. As a former workaholic, I hate spending money now because I feel like it's not mine, since I didn't earn it directly. I work daily toward a balance between just myself, and myself the mom. It's really nice to know that I'm not alone in this struggle!

  16. I can relate to so much of this. I, too, feel like an "accidental" stay-at-home Mom. I never planned to stay home and was very career-focused until I had my first child. After seven months of working full-time as a litigator and trying to balance that with being a nursing mother to a newborn (with a husband who worked when I was off on the weekends, so we never saw each other), I was fortunate to get to cut back to part-time for a year. Then I had my second baby and was told the part-time gig was over. I had a choice to make and I chose staying at home for now over working full-time. It was VERY difficult for me at first and I was very depressed. But like a lot of others who have commented, I have made peace with it gradually by making friends, rediscovering some hobbies, and insisting on time "off" so I don't lose my sanity. Life surprises us sometimes.

  17. OMG. You just wrote about my pregnancy…well, pretty much…except I'm not an awesome female carpenter…we moved to a dif. state when i was 4 1/2 month pregnant and no one would hire me, not even for temp work. I cleaned my in-laws house from top to bottom almost daily. I'm more acquainted with daytime TV than should be admitted, and the first time I had to check-in with my hubs to buy clothes was beyond embarrassing.

    The first 2 months I was home with the baby, I was going insane…waiting for the time when I could find a part-time job. Month 3, I was starting to warm up to the idea and now at month 4 I can honestly say I LOVE STAYING AT HOME WITH MY BABY! Yep, converted. And since I'm going back to school this fall, I'm savoring every moment, even the really frustrating ones.

    Maybe I've gone mad, but I'm happy to put my career on hold for a bit. And those daytime court TV shows can be at least a little entertaining 🙂

  18. Although I have no children, I so totally relate. I just graduated from college in December and we moved to a very small area for my husband's dream job. I quickly learned that the positions that I went to school to learn how to do have been occupied by the same people for the past 20 years. I'm still hunting, but I either get a whole lot of "Hurry up and stop relying on a man to support you! You're a STRONG WOMAN RAWR!" and "You're a career wife now – it's your job to stay at home, clean, cook, make sure his socks are darned and bake cookies for the church bake sale and visit the sick, blah blah blah why don't you start focusing on trying to start a family." Never mind the fact that my husband and I ARE a family, but no one ever tells you how to navigate such big shifts in who you think you are vs. what your circumstances dictate.

    1 agrees
  19. Thank you!!! I'm a reluctant full-time parent (as I like to call it), pushed into it by unemployment. It took me a while to come around but I think I have arrived at a similar peace.

    I've read articles about the" new" stay-at-home moms and the different ways they go about doing it but none (until yours) mention any reluctance about doing so.

    P.S. my daughter goes to day care twice a week, a place she loves, for the socialization and a break from me; I in turn get some me time. Hybriding can work!

    2 agree
  20. Although I havent had to take a break from work yet (8 months pregnant atm), I completely understand the not identifying with either side of the "mommy wars".

    I didnt grow up wanting to have kids, I'm not really maternal and I know that I could never be a full time stay at home mother.

    That being said, I'm not really a "career woman" either. I dont want to make lots of money and work long hours or be in management. I like my job (as far as jobs go) but I've never defined myself by it.

    My compromise is that I will return to work part time, stay home part time. But that means I'm not on either side of the fence. SAHM's wont see me as one of them, and neither will the women working full time paid jobs.

    2 agree
  21. I am surprised at how much I related to this post.

    'I resented anyone who said “Your job now is to make a baby.” That comment seemed so dismissive of who I am and what I was going through.'

    That part hit me really hard. I am 34 weeks pregnant and still working. Thankfully, I've been perfectly healthy throughout so there's been no reason to stop doing my normal routine. But I still find myself hearing this sentiment from a lot of people. I know they are just trying to help and want to make things easier for me, and I really appreciate that, but it still hurts sometimes to be made to feel like I can't do something I know I can do just because I'm pregnant.

    This was a great post- I'm so glad I read it.

    • Yep, if there's any time to get a thick skin to well-meaning-but-dumb comments it's during pregnancy.

  22. Thank you so much for this post – I had always assumed that I would LOVE being a stay-at-home-mom (my mom was a KICK-ASS "housewife" who carted my 2 sisters and I around everywhere and waited to go back to work til we were in middle school) but when our first daughter arrived a little ahead of schedule (how silly of us, schedules . . .) I ended up having to take a year off from my grad program. My husband has been having a super stressful year at work and it has put a lot of pressure on him to provide for the three of us. While I felt very fortunate that we could afford for me to stay home, I also began to feel like I didn't deserve to take time off or do fun things on my own because the hubs never got a break himself. Ultimately things improved when we had a long talk about how each of us was/could be contributing to our fledgling household and what kinds of "just for me" activities we could each do in order to take a breather, get refreshed, get out of the house! Our schedules haven't changed that much tangibly, but being able to clear the air about how we were both feeling was WONDERFUL.

    1 agrees
  23. I think the problem with feminism is a problem with American culture (and it sounds like Canadian too?): when women entered the workforce, we could make the family more work-friendly or work more family friendly. Neither happened. Economic policies (minus European family leave) pretend that families are a second priority and families are structure that work is a secondary thing. Instead of a holistic view, we have neither. I think that is a social failure more than a feminist one, though certainly one that feminism has not addressed.

    3 agree
    • Good point. And some work environments are less family friendly than others. This is why I've decided to leave the trades as soon as possible. It's just not a culture that is supportive of family life at all.

      I think that even though economic policies need to change a lot to put families first, we as individual families need to make hard choices as well. We're conditioned to expect a certain level of material wealth (and society expects it of us – I can't tell you how many people I know are aghast that I'm planning to use public transit instead of having my own vehicle this year). Do we really all need a house, two vehicles, three TV's and the newest home furnishings? If we do, that's fine, but these things can come at a very high cost to family life.

      2 agree
  24. I don't quite have time to read through all 40 of the comments above, so maybe I'm saying something someone has already said. And I also don't know anything about carpentry, so I could be totally off base. But! I do wonder if perhaps your chosen line of work will better lend itself to re-entering the workplace when/if the time is right in the future than it would for mothers who do work desk jobs. In an office, I know there's a lot of worry about whether or not a woman will remain "relevant" in the changing work environment. New software comes out, new skills are needed. Again, I know nothing about carpentry, but my guess would be that you might be luckier than may women who are "out of the workforce" for more than the handful of months for maternity leave.

    • Yes and no. It will be easy for me to find small jobs or perhaps to go back with my previous employer part time for a while. It's a great job to fall back on forever, no matter what else I do. However, I don't see it as being sustainable in the long run because the culture isn't family-friendly. Most positions require overtime (certainly any supervisory or higher-level positions would), there are hardly any part time positions and no flexibility for dropping off kids or kids' sick days. Being a woman in the trades requires you to work harder than any man to prove yourself (even when you've been doing it awhile), and have an intense dedication, and I don't think there would be much tolerance for a woman who puts her family first. Now that I've said that, that sounds like most jobs. I think we all have a tough time no matter what.

      2 agree
      • Thank you so so so so much for this article! I don't think I can even put enough "so"s in to express my gratitude. Finally! I saw my own story spelled out almost word for word! I was working restoring houses when I became pregnant and with all of the bad stuff I was exposed to had to almost instantly quit my job. Now 9 months after the birth of my son I'm still trying to sort out the issues of rediscovering my identity as a stay at home mom. Your article made me feel much better, at least much less alone. Thank you again for your eloquence and candor!

  25. Well-spoken! Long before I was pregnant I had built this Shangri-La of motherhood around the idea of staying home with my children and writing and having a clean house — you know, I had the housewife stereotype in mind.

    Enter about nine months ago, when we moved to a town with lower rent prices and no support system — I jumped into working at home with my toddling son. It's hard, and nothing at all like I imagined it (all play dates and getting coffee and walking to the park). I'm a terrible housewife, I hate cleaning, my work hours suck, and there are days here I feel nothing like myself.

    I find your post heartening. <3

  26. Thank you so much for this post.

    I'm 18 weeks pregnant and I've been stressing myself out about leaving work. Now I'm thinking instead of working all the way up to my due date, maybe I should actually leave a month early so I can adjust. haha

    Great post though… It's hard to be so attached to your work and life style to only having less than a year to adjust to all the new things happening.

  27. I'm really surprised at the amount of "ask my husband/fiancé for money" Comments I see, what happened to the joint checking account???

    2 agree
    • I know plenty of happily married couples who don't maintain joint checking accounts, or have personal accounts for things outside of household expenses and keep the joint account exclusive to bills/household expenses.

      We are a joint-account couple — I can barely maintain one bank account — but I suspect it's not as common as it used to be. One of us generally does end up asking the other, "Hey, is there money for _____?"

  28. Well put! Thanks for making the time to put your thoughts into words.
    I've always wanted kids and have been a mum for 13 days now. I also really love my dream job / vocation which is acupuncture, but found that about 6 months into the pregnancy I wanted to focus on "growing the baby" rather than caring for my patients. Am curious when I'll want to have patients again. Until then, I've decided to call myself a full-time mum because SAHM just sounds like it's all play and not doing anything rather than the (I find satisfying but) blimmin' hard work that it us.
    Cheers from New Zealand, Rebecca 🙂

  29. Well put! Thanks for making the time to put your thoughts into words.
    I've always wanted kids and have been a mum for 13 days now. I also really love my dream job / vocation which is acupuncture, but found that about 6 months into the pregnancy I wanted to focus on "growing the baby" rather than caring for my patients. Am curious when I'll want to have patients again. Until then, I've decided to call myself a full-time mum because SAHM just sounds like it's all play and not doing anything rather than the (I find satisfying but) blimmin' hard work that it is.
    Cheers from New Zealand, Rebecca 🙂

  30. Great post! I was a stay at home mom for 2 years, but I also never identified with the typical stay at home mom. I went back to work full time when my son was 2, and now I'm thinking about part time now that he's 4 and almost in kindergarten. The best thing about the feminist movement is choice. Choice to stay at home, choice to go to work or both!

  31. I just re-read this again after being home for almost 5 months. Everyday I am conflicted, I love watching my son grow and learn, but find myself with pangs of jealousy every time I think of my "old life". Thank you for writing a piece that continues to resonate over and over again.

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