This article originally appeared on moreloveletters.com 12 July 2022.
I’ve been a stay-at-home parent on and off for a little over eight years and I feel like I’ve finally come to terms with it.
My journey began with the maternity leave of my first child. When that meager three months was over, I wanted to go back to work part-time, but the company employing me at the time only wanted me back full-time. I resigned instead. After six more months at home, I found a part-time position with the county. Rinse and repeat maternity leaves, and part-time hours each time I had my second and third children. So I never really felt committed as a homemaker or dedicated to my career.
Then the COVID pandemic happened. Things were extremely difficult trying to do everything at home while most public spaces were closed, but it was technically possible. Then over the summer of 2020, my place of work reopened, but in September, our school did not. At least, not completely. I didn’t feel comfortable asking my wonderful mother-in-law (who filled in for childcare while my husband and I were unavailable) to be in charge of the virtual elementary schooling of three rambunctious boys, even if it was only part-time. So I resigned again.
Now I must say that I am privileged enough to get to stay at home full time to take care of my family and home while my husband makes enough money to support all five of us (a decision made easier by the agreement that we would share finances completely when married). That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its own set of challenges, including a strict re-balancing of the budget. But I’m going to make the most significant challenge I’ve faced the focus of this article. That is, finding the value in what I do.
Everyone has to come to terms with their living conditions in their own way. I wanted to go to work. I still do. I’m proud of doing good work and getting a fair wage for it. I’m proud of contributing to society, working with others, and having a useful and varied skill set. I’ve been taught my whole life that working hard, having a good career, and making a good amount of (or at least enough) money are the cornerstones of success in this world.
There is also the harmful stigma I hold inside that housewives are lazy. I know it’s rarely true, but I can’t seem to escape that stereotype: that we lay on the couch all day watching daytime tv talk shows eating bonbons. I don’t want people to think I’m lazy, but sometimes those few quiet hours — while the spouse is at work and the kids are at school — are the only break I get so I’ve got to enjoy it while I can. After the kids are dismissed from school and again when the 9-5 spouse clocks out, that’s when I kick into high gear working and caring for the family.
If I sound like I’m trying to be convincing, it’s because I am still trying to remind myself regularly that the normal rules of capitalist society don’t apply to me. Since the rules don’t fit, I often feel like I don’t fit. Like I’m on the fringes of society. That I get judged a certain way because I’m a “mom.” I mean, I was raised to dream big and achieve my goals, become anything I wanted, and yet I now see that there isn’t enough time in a day, a month, or a year to do everything, whether at home or not.
So I had to decide, consciously, that my home was where I was going to focus my time, energy, and attention. (And this is my decision — you, dear reader, may disagree and choose a different path.) Since my kids need someone to be available for them all the time and just in case — why shouldn’t it be me? That is a priceless value in itself: for these young people to feel loved and supported and not alone no matter what. To teach them by example that life isn’t just about chasing a dollar, but about caring for one another, building a beautiful community, and finding value outside of money and the collection of things.
Ways I’ve helped myself make peace with staying at home:
- Finding creative outlets. There are so many options, I’ve adopted several. I’ve always loved writing, but it became a source of stress when I was trying to make money off it — now I’ve accepted that it can bring me joy without bringing income. I’ve also found preparing food to be satisfying — I can go shopping for unique ingredients, try new things, and the best part is sharing it with my family since we need to eat anyway! And lastly, I’ve gotten into mending — my three boys rip through jeans like crazy and I’ve really enjoyed making them comfortable and cool-looking again with different fabrics, colorful thread, and cool stitch patterns. (Also, when I commit to doing things myself in the home, it can save us money, which is almost kind of like making money?)
- Talking with supportive people. Venting to someone like my mother who will always respond by saying something like, “You’re a good mother. It’s great you’re there for your kids. What you do is important. This is a time when your kids really need you.” helps so much it’s hard to put into words. And different people offer different support. Some remind me that this is only a season of my life, and things will change faster than I expect. Some wish they could stay home all day — I know they don’t realize the hardships that can come with it, but it reminds me that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, like working at a job for someone else.
- Surrounding myself with inspiring media. I listen to songs about family and simple living (country music seems to execute this the best). I read historical fiction that romanticizes the homesteader (I highly recommend anything by L. M. Montgomery). I watch comedies that mirror my situations and struggles or take me out of my little bubble completely (laughter is some of the best medicine, right?). Obviously, I know these things aren’t always accurate and can be problematic, but nothing in this world is perfect and if I can find inspiration in these things, I’m going to tap into that source to help me feel better about my life.
Perhaps this article seems a little late in coming. A lot of people who were forced to stay home because of COVID have found their way back to work. But it took me this long to come to terms with staying at home so perhaps others are still struggling, too. And now that the COVID situation is past its panic point, we can start being a bit more intentional with our choices as opposed to rushing into things.
I don’t believe I had to “find myself” again at home like so many of us do as we grow up, but I definitely had to do some soul-searching as to how I could be my best self in this situation. I can contribute to society, do good work, and have a useful and varied skill set from home. A wage isn’t the only value marker for work done. And it really is more enjoyable to bloom where we’re planted instead of struggling against the soil. A joyous home is a small corner of a joyous world.