Kids. It's a Rough Life
For You Stay-At-Home Parents
“You get to do whatever you want all day”
“You get to kick back when you want and just lounge around”
“You can go wherever you want, whenever you want”
Just, NO. This stereotypical assumption of what we stay-at-home-parents (SAHP) do is so yesteryear. So, I’m going to shed some light on the reality of it. Now, I absolutely love those little motivational pick-me-ups for mothers that you find floating around Facebook and Instagram. Something your mom friends will share with captions like ‘More people need to hear this’ or ‘If you’re having a bad day….”. You know what I’m talking about- some cutsie message from some ‘woke’ mom somewhere who tells you how hard you work and how well you’re doing and how proud of yourself you should be. Those cliché little posts give me goosebumps with their truth and honestly and sometimes make me tear up. Does that make me too mushy gushy? Maybe. Does being too mushy gushy make me stereotypical? Probably. But does it even matter that it’s stereotypical of me? It’s a sad state of affairs if one little motivational post can send someone into a philosophical quest about if and why they’re stereotypical. Who cares! But it's important to note because it sheds light on the scary truth that we stay at home parents are struggling. Struggling with identity, drowning in responsibility, lacking in confidence, struggling with the very fact that we are struggling.
This is so heartbreaking because SAHPs and child caregivers are some of the most critical people to our society, yet are so underappreciated. I’m not saying that as a disgruntled stay at home mom looking for attention. Really- we are shaping the people who will grow up to be OUR leaders and who will dictate the direction of OUR society. Like when we are old farts who can't do anything for ourselves, we better hope the kids we raised and those tiny little hands we held, appreciate all we've done for them and turn back around to hold our hands as we did theirs. We are teaching values, setting moral compasses, molding them into the kinds of leaders they will become.
Doing all this future-shaping is hard work. It begins with sacrificing your body: everything you eat, drink and do directly impacts that little alien in your belly. It is undergoing extreme physical, mental and emotional changes for 9 months, only to get to the end and realize you’ll never be the same again. And after those 9 months that seem to drag on FOREVER, you realize the hard part hasn’t even begun. Now you’re in charge of keeping this tiny, floppy, really demanding little human alive. On call 24/7, you lose sleep. You basically turn into a cow. The emotional roller coaster you couldn't wait to get off of, gets wilder. The baby is out of you, but you still cant eat or drink the good stuff (or bad stuff). You realize that places you once loved to go to no longer welcome you. Things that you were passionate about before seem small and insignificant. You are consumed with keeping this gosh darned little thing alive. You wonder: how can something so beautiful and so miraculous cause such so much disarray in my life? Will things settle down? Does life every slow down? How can this little creature that I grew, so fundamentally change how I see everything? SO many questions about absolutely everything. Also, how can it be so stinky?! So, so stinky...I will never understand.
Oh yeah, and everyone you know and everyone you don’t know will try to give you advice. On EVERYTHING. Your car seat choice, the fact you’re out and about, the fact that you’re not out and about, your baby looks over dressed, your baby looks under dressed, pacifier or no pacifier? Don’t put the car seat in the shopping cart, your baby’s feet are cold, your baby’s feet are hot, breastfeeding is better, you should exercise more, are you co-sleeping? I mean it, people will offer advice and ask about absolutely everything, sticking their nose where it has no business. That inherently means they will also judge everything. For some reason, how people ‘do’ parenthood seems to be one of society’s favorite things to judge. Why? I have no idea. Even people without kids like to offer their 2 cents. GAH!
Interested in knowing what a typical day is for a SAHP? I'm going to tell you anyway. I'm one of the lucky ones because the first of my children don't wake up before 8:30 on most days. But once they wake up, it's a delicate balancing act between getting them fed, keeping them from running outside and down the street, cleaning up after everyone, answering the million questions they conjured up while sleeping, trying to keep track of your 3rd cup of coffee and making sure one of them doesn't slurp it up, but also desperately trying to enjoy it all. It can be hard to find the joy in those moments when you're just trying to survive the kid-stampede. When things finally calm down and you've picked up after everyone and put the kitchen back together, you realize that somehow that's taken all morning and lunchtime is dawning- which means the charade begins again.
Between settling fights, answering questions, changing diapers, wiping butts, feeding little mouths and picking up after a tornado looking cannily like you has gone through every room, you, Mama, are exhausted. One kid, 3 kids, 5 kids, it's all the same: you have no choice but to survive. You have no option other than to feed them when their bellies rumble. You have no one else to clean the poop coming up his back or the pee-wet pants because she didn't make it to the toilet in time. You are their lifeline- they will not survive without you. THAT, my friend, is a REALLY BIG weight on anyone's shoulders. You have nothing but love for those little mini-you's, but when you play catchup from the moment they wake up, that love gets drowned in the screaming and shouting and fit throwing. It's forgotten when you're being kicked and your hair is being ripped from your scalp and they're playing whack-a-mole with your face. You and all of your love drowns in the heaping pile of laundry that appeared out of nowhere, even though you did 2 loads yesterday. The adoration you have for them gets shoved under the couch with the hundredth lego or the four hundredth hatchimal. Nevermind the dishes, the pets, the self-care, the muddy foot tracks on the floor, the unmade beds and sticky counters. Just think of the hats a SAHP wears: chef, maid, caretaker, teacher, landscaper, pet walker, personal therapist- these are all things that other people do for money.
The toll this can take on your emotional, mental, social, physical and sexual health is profound. The pressure to keep a straight house and happy kids and seem fine doing it, is a load of bullshit. But it's real. When you see someone else's house in perfect order, you wonder why you can't do that. Seeing someone else's house littered with toys, wrappers and in general disarray from having children, you're reminded of what you don't want to let your house become. Either way, you're reminded that you have this to do or that to finish at home. And then those moms at the park crawling under the play structure playing hide and seek with her cutely dressed little girl, eliciting happy giggles and heart-wrenching smiles. UGH! I go to the park so I can sit on a bench and not entertain my kids, not pick up another basket of shit they dumped out and not worry about them breaking something. More often than not, they're in tattered rags that pass as clothes because it was the only thing I could convince them to wear, or because I hadn't finished their load of laundry from two days ago when I started it. We go to the park a hot mess, to be a hot mess. To get away from chores and things to do. To find an adult to talk to so you can remember how to talk to an adult. To get the kids off of you and see something other than the same 6 walls you spend most days walking by. To get some fresh air without having to chase a kid or dog down the street so that Linda from two doors down doesn't show up with your kid in tow, "Oh hey there, just thought I'd bring this guy back home. You look tired, how are you doing? I know you have your hands full." JUST. FUCK ME.
When the day is done and you get a minute to sit down and relax, you think back through the day and kick yourself for not laughing at the joke they tried to tell. Or not letting them use the rest of the pile of paper to draw, because they'd already drawn each family member 4 times and you couldn't stand to see another drawing or sharpen another pencil....or because you just didn't want to stop what you were doing to go get the damn paper out for her. Kick, kick, kick yourself. You should've smiled more. Should've held them tighter. Should've spent more time appreciating what they were giggling about. Nobody better understands the struggle of 'I could've done more' than a parent who just tried to survive the day.
There is no way justifiable way to explain the roller coaster of emotions that a stay at home parent goes through. The little crises that build up and drown you. There are no words that explain the joy that you can feel while at the same time being a hot, sobbing mess. It isn't possible to feel the awe for what you have and what you can accomplish in creating and raising these beautiful kids, but then also so deeply question who you even are anymore. It isn't possible to make someone else understand. But it is important to try. It is important to tell the world the ugly side of stay at home parenthood. It's not just playdates and happy giggles with your kids all day. It can be dark and lonely, and for those of you incredible parents who struggle with this underworld, you need to know you aren't alone in those struggles. I feel what you have felt. I cringe the way you have and I have yet to find who I am within the whole mess of parenthood....who I truly am. I hear your cries, I feel your pain, I see you trying to keep your head above water. I'm here. I cry with you, I hurt with you and I have a lifeline. Let's talk about it. Let's listen to each other. Lets complain and laugh at what we complain about. Let's not feel ashamed for needing to vent. Let's help each other put words to what we feel. I love my life and what I do, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. But let's be honest about what it entails and let's help each other grow!
I've opened the dialogue, now talk to me, peeps!