This September I begin my third year sending my kids off to school as I head to work. It was both scary and liberating to enter the work force again, to receive a paycheck (be it ever so small), to feel officially and legally employed after years of working hard for free.
I don’t really miss being home with young kids all day, but I do miss that season of life. And like so many seasons, I feel like I was just really learning how to survive Stay-At-Home-Mom-hood as I left it behind.
Here are 4 things I wished I’d known about being a Stay-at-Home-Mom (or at least learned more quickly, and remembered more readily):
Being a SAHM is a choice, but also a privilege and a gift.
We made a lot of sacrifices for me to stay home, and we still pinch pennies to survive on 1 1/2 salaries. I knew from the beginning that it was a privilege, and it was my choice. I wanted to be at home, not for the rest of my life, but for the baby and pre-school years. My husband works a crazy schedule to support us, but also to do what he loves, and I gladly held down the home-front for those early years.
But it was so easy to lose sight of my reasons, to complain instead of giving thanks. It helped to remind myself of what I was gaining, and also that this season was not forever.
Being a stay at home mom doesn’t mean you are a better mom than if you had a job outside the home. But for those of us who choose this, being a stay at home mom is a privilege and a gift. I wish I’d been more thankful, and quicker to remind myself that God sees me, even when no one else does.
Being the at-home parent does not mean you’re the only parent.
It took Matt and I a loooooong time to learn to co-parent in a way that is healthy and mutual.
To be honest, being a SAHM was hard on our marriage for a while there. I abdicated choices to be involved in relationships or opportunities outside of our little bubble of home and church, which left me feeling resentful and trapped. When I needed Matt to watch the kids, I found myself approaching it as if I was looking for a babysitter. This isn’t fair to either one of us – he is their Daddy, not a babysitter, our children are equally both of our responsibility.
I think this pattern takes a strong hold especially for those of us who choose to breast-feed. Our actual physical presence is necessary for a year or more, and I just got in the habit of thinking my body was necessary to my kids at all times. Also: I like to be needed, so being the main requirement for my children’s health and happiness felt good to me. Until it didn’t.
I needed to step back and give Matt room to know his kids, to learn to parent in his own way, to attach to them and let them learn to need his presence and the safety and security he brings.
And I needed Matt to think about the kids as he planned his weekly schedule, to not just assume that I’d be constantly available. Even when I ended up carrying most of the at home responsibilities, I needed us to have conversations about what we both wanted and needed, and work together to both care for the kids and have full healthy lives for both of us.
I wish I hadn’t let my resentment grow: In an effort to be a submissive wife and good mother I wasn’t being honest with myself or my husband. When we did finally begin to hash some of these things out, Matt was more than willing and eager to be a co-parent.
Being a stay at home mom does not mean you have to be working and busy at every moment of every day. You still need rhythms of work and rest.
If I could travel back 8 years to when I was negotiating my 5th grader’s growing time commitments and a very busy toddler, I’d say: Get more sleep. Don’t feel guilty about doing things you enjoy. Find a balance of work and rest that feels good to you.
I think I let those early days of constant mothering lull me into assuming that constant work was required at all times. (And adopting signs up up for at least a couple of years, if not a decade, of high needs parenting, perpetuating the lack of rest or self-care.)
I wish I’d read more. I wish I’d put a blanket in the back yard and laid down in the sun with my toddler, letting him play around me. I wish I’d learned earlier on how to find Sabbath rest as a mother.
Right as my days of stay-at-home-motherhood were coming to an end, I learned to let my resentments be red flags to tell me what I needed. Many days I was thankful and happy with my life. But when I felt sorry for myself, there were certain things I missed, things about which I said, “I never even have time to….” I learned to make time and space for some of those things. Reading. Writing. Grabbing coffee with a friend.
Being a stay at home mom is a season, and like every other season, it will pass. You’d best know where your value really comes from.
I moved into stay at home land from full time ministry with students, a job where I was often thanked, sometimes praised, in which I felt useful and significant.
It took years for me to get over that, to learn that I was just as significant in the invisible and often thankless moments I spent doing laundry, changing diapers, cleaning up messes. I have learned to find value in this hidden life, in loving and raising these boys we’ve been entrusted with, and to seek the heart of their Father and mine.
Now my children are growing. They spend the majority of their days outside of our home, being taught by others, influenced by others. We still gather around our table most evenings, but I know that those days are numbered. We launch our oldest out on his own next year, entering yet another season, a mixture of new life and loss.
Again I am learning the lesson of significance: That my value does not come from this role (or any other.) Every day, I need to seek the heart of my Father who values me, whatever season I find myself in.
She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her,
“You’re the God who sees me! “Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!”
(Genesis 16:13, The Message)
If I could travel back in time and sit down for coffee with my stay-at-home-mom self, I would look her in the eye and I would say:
God sees you. You are known and valued and loved, and what you are doing matters.
That is just as true for me today as it was in those years. And it is just as true for you as it is for me. You are seen.