Finding peace with my new stay-at-home life

Guest post by Amy von Stackelberg
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.

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.

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.

Comments on Finding peace with my new stay-at-home life

  1. 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.

      • 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!

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. I’m really surprised at the amount of “ask my husband/fiancé for money” Comments I see, what happened to the joint checking account???

    • 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 _____?”

  5. 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 🙂

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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!

  8. 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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