Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Plight of the Stay At Home Mom

Dear Friends,

Look, I don't like to complain.

Wait, who am I kidding? I love to complain! It helps to relieve stress, it can be expressed in the form of nicely organized lists, and besides, I'm good at it.

But when it comes right down to it, I know I've got it just great here. Let me first highlight a few of the remarkable and invaluable benefits of being a Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM)—in a nice, neat list:

1) The children get 100 percent me. Wonderful for attachment, emotional development, constancy, security, and steady love, love, love. Oh, and it's good for the kids, too.

2) Ideal for unschooling. More on this in future posts, but let me summarize briefly: child-led learning via shared life experiences. I am fully present to share and learn and discover with the children.

3) I have always wanted a job with no commute, no set schedule, and no dress code. I used to eagerly anticipate "casual Friday" jeans, but heck, now I get to wear pajamas all the time!

4) Such a savings on buying professional clothing, paying dry cleaning bills, and spending time coordinating shoes with belts. Now I might as well sell my iron on craigslist. (Oh, hey, that's a good idea--anybody need an iron in like-new, barely-used condition?)

5) More homemade meals, more homemaking, more housekeeping...but wait, I said I wasn't going to complain....

6) More flexible hours. For instance, I am typing this at 5:45 a.m. with one hand while nursing a finally sleepy, teething toddler who has been up since 2:53 a.m. working on erupting two-year molars while watching Bob the Builder construct houses on-site. (See, my daughter may be a budding multi-tasker already, too.) On second thought, maybe I don't want to delve into the 24/7 work hours of a full-time Mommy on the "benefits" list....

Full-time. Full-time. It's not the 40-hour work week anymore. Dude, that would be a breeze, compared to the 168-hour work week I've got going now. I've never worked harder in my life than in my current position as Mommy. And for the first year, I actually tried to do both: work outside the home and be a full-time mommy. Even though financially we were able to make ends meet on just one income (ah, if only we had one of those right now! More on the subject of my husband's unemployment below...), I initially resisted stopping work outside the home. It took me almost a year to figure out why.

Prior to 2005, I had spent my entire adult life as the primary breadwinner. I felt capable, competent, and confident. I was respected, relied upon, and—gosh—paid. The transition from former full-time career woman to SAHM, who completely relies on someone else for financial security—and food, clothing (well, fresh pajamas), housing, etc.—was incredibly difficult for me. It turned out to be a huge identity adjustment. It wasn't just a matter of a change in my source of income; it was a shift in who I am.

Although I tried to keep steadily (albeit part-time) working while full-time mothering for the first year, I was overwhelmed. Fortunately, between my own introspection and a series of conversations with my insightful and concerned husband, I came to my senses. It became evident what was best for us all. As my parenting philosophy developed, I discovered that my enjoyment of work, my professional accomplishments and my self-esteem boost from career successes, were far superceded by my joy and zeal for living Life with our children.

So, great! Faith conquers fear. I was afraid to rely on someone else to take care of me financially. I had worked hard to establish myself professionally, so I was afraid of losing ground on the career-building steps I had taken, and the professional relationships and networking opportunities I had cultivated. I had difficulty trusting my trustworthy husband to be there for me 100 percent. (Without going into great detail, let me just share that my husband is the first responsible grown-up with whom I have been in a relationship as an adult. More some other time about why I used to choose partners who seemed to need a parent themselves!). I was afraid I would lose myself in dirty diapers, baby drool, and applesauce-soaked onesies.

Well, I was called upon to take a leap of faith, and that I did. I jumped off this full-time mothering cliff and realized I could soar! Although the responsibility is immense, the rewards are bigger and better than anything I could have imagined. Even future professional successes I might envision would be empty without this amazing family to share them. Right now, I love being a SAHM, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I love cooking and doing art projects and snuggling in the middle of the day and packing a picnic if it's sunny and building elaborate train tracks if it rains. I have profound freedom and flexibility in my time with the kids, and I am immeasurably grateful for that.

So how can I possibly complain? I have embraced a broadened and preferred identity. I have a family to share everything with. I am building my confidence in a new field: mothering these children. I have no set schedule, no dress code, no commute, so now what's wrong? Weeeeeeeeeellll, it's that little thing I alluded to earlier: no income. Talk about having your faith tested!

Fortunately, my husband is a reliable (and loving and generous and dear...) provider. Unfortunately, being a proficient, knowledgeable, hard-working, responsible, and loyal employee is no longer assurance that you will still have a job. Companies no longer "take care of their own." So, it's here today and gone tomorrow; be cautious walking to your desk, 'cuz one morning you may be confronted by news of an unexpected early-morning meeting added to your schedule late after business hours the evening before, entitled "Structural Re-Organizational Meeting," the guest list of which includes yourself, your immediate supervisor, and--gulp!--HR. Pack your plants and family photos, and you'll be back home by 10 a.m. with a banker's box, a sheaf of severance papers, and a bewildered expression.

So, how does a SAHM handle this news? Geez, I thought we were all set (kind of). We'd made all sorts of adjustments, transformations, acceptances, and budget cuts to embrace our one-income household. If there were ever a more appropriate time for the Serenity Prayer, I'd be surprised. My husband becoming unemployed is entirely out of my control. And, for better or worse, his regaining unemployment is pretty much out of my hands, too. Very briefly--for about five seconds--we considered my returning to work. But our kids are too small and (thankfully, blissfully, healthily) attached to Mommy. Plus, I can't earn the same money Ben can in his field.

My new job, then, is to not freak out. Keep a calm port. Provide loving moral support. Do not nag or keep tabs (ah, the hand-wringing approach does neither of us any good!). I am being called upon to dig deep in my emotional and spiritual wells to just be. And trust. And think creatively and offer ideas.

It has been nearly five weeks now (ahem, yes, I'm counting) of accepting the situation, calming myself, reassuring and encouraging my husband, keeping normalcy for the children, and further whacking our budget to live like country church mice. As a friend of mine noted, a spouse becoming unemployed when there is only one household income is the stay-at-home-mom's (or dad's) "worst nightmare." Well, yes, of course financially it is. But you know what else? This is also an unanticipated opportunity to count our blessings. We are healthy. We are safe. We are warm. We are surrounded by loving extended family and friends like you, who have reached out and given generously to us with prayers, suggestions, networking opportunities, pizzas, moral support, and love. And that can soothe any mother's and family's spirits.


  1. Keep counting your blessings. Your family will get through this. Hopefully, soon the job market will pick up.

  2. Thank you, Viki, for your encouragement! It really helps!

  3. The greatest payment in your new executive position is LOVE! & you are loving it, I know.

    Happy blessed Easter!
    Hugs, Marydon

  4. As I was going through Family History files today, I found a page written by your grandmother (Nana) as she and your grandfather (Pa John) celebrated their 50th anniversary. She writes about each of their growing up years and how he loved football and she loved music; how they married at a young age; how they embraced their faith and shared values. She talks with pride about their children and grandchildren and their accomplishments. But most importantly, she states, "Our family life revolved around home, church, and education. Ours was a typical Upper Peninsula family with emphasis on SISU—which is Finnish for integrity, perseverance, and the ability to live with what life offers."

    It is that last line that caught my eye and made me think of what you and Ben are working with right now...and I think you have it "down": integrity, perseverance, and the ability to live with what life offers...SISU!

    Carrie, thank you for sharing your journey!

  5. Carrie, I was in just your situation six years ago and my husband lost his job, he was out of work for 14 months but we did survive and cope with all the form filling job hunting etc, etc we had to cut to bare minimum but we survived! Then he got a low paid job with the firm that bought out his previous company where he had a top job.It has been tough but he has worked his way once again to a good position in the new company and trade is picking up and they don't look like folding any time soon. Prayers and good positive thoughts are the way to go I am sure and mine go out to you, I think you are doing all you can by trying not to stress, fear is our greatest enemy, you will get through all the hard times and they will enrich and give you strength even if it doesn't seem like it now. Just keep loving your wonderful children and husband.

  6. I spent many years unschooling my children and have to say it was the richest part of my life. You will never regret time spent with your children. Have a great day! Twyla

  7. i loved reading ur blog. I am sailing in same boat as yours. My hubby does not help me with baby. he does a 12 hour job and i do a 24 hour job. but only you can do it..because you are a mom...only women can do this. you are great.

  8. Thank you for your encouraging words!