When I gave up my full-time job to become a stay-at-home mom, part of me felt like I deserved it. I’d been at the same demanding job for 14 years. I’d placed two precious infants in daycare. I’d been a mom for more than a decade with too few precious moments to show for it.
Being a working mom kicked my ass in a multitude of ways. The 4:30 AM wake-up call. The crazy LA commute. The high stress, and low, low flexibility. With my youngest son first to be dropped off at daycare and my oldest last to be picked up, my family’s normal was far from joyful.
I’d felt the disconnect in our home for years. My husband had, too, but it wasn’t until he asked, “What are we even doing? Who is all this for?” that I began to wonder. From wonder came planning, from planning came praying, from praying came courage, and from courage eventually came quitting.
What I didn’t know then was just how much guilt would follow me — and from the most unexpected places.
Like my sons’ elementary school. For years I didn’t give school volunteering a second thought. PTA? Please! I couldn’t make Wednesday 9 AM meetings! Room mom? Really? I had a hard enough time being a regular mom! But now that I could, did it mean I should? That I had years to make up for? I wasn’t sure.
And what about sports? Up to this point, organized youth sports were an absolute no-can-do with our rigid work schedules. But now that they were a can-do, were they an ought to?
Then there were “friends.” You know, those acquaintances who maybe like you a little more than you like them? The ones who relentlessly hound you to get together? Gone were the days of, “Oh, yeah, we should totally hang out when my schedule opens up!” Guilt proclaimed open season on my now open schedule.
Even my body got in on the guilty action. When was the last time I had a blood test? Or a dental cleaning? Or saw my gynecologist? Mondays at 1 PM worked for me, as did Thursdays at 9:15 AM. A flexible schedule meant no more excuses. And speaking of flexibility, when was the last time I squeezed in a little yoga, or even any exercise at all? I always told myself if I had the time to exercise, I’d have the body to follow, so why didn’t I? And did I even shower today?
No, I didn’t find time to shower, even though I somehow used to every. single. day. before dawn’s early light. And I didn’t just shower back then, I did my hair and makeup, too. I even wore heels and jewelry! Now, my husband can’t get over how “beautiful” I look on the rare occasion I wear actual pants and apply two coats of mascara. The self-shame wasn’t pretty.
Personal contempt even followed me into the kitchen. I made a lot of promises to my cookware on all those take-out evenings. I swore one great day I’d gladly prepare nutritious dinners for my family, only now I didn’t. I felt the opposite of glad, which only made me feel worse.
Maybe it was because my kitchen was a mess. Heck, the whole house was a mess by my stay-at-home standards.
But of all the guilt I carried, perhaps the worst involved money. Having been an equal earner, my obsession with earning my keep consumed me. Was I doing enough? Was this too much pressure on my husband? Spending money on myself when budgets were tight felt downright awful. Did I really need a new bra? Or a dinner out with my girlfriends? Unexpected expenses felt like a personal offense. I wondered if we’d be able to sustain it and whether my family was committed to the sacrifice.
Four years later, the answers to these riddles continue to evolve. I’ve been able to let go of certain sensitivities, but others still remain. Right or wrong, I’m learning that for me, a measure of guilt will likely always be part of my stay-at-home job. I’ll always wonder if I’m doing enough. I’ll always wish I could do more, but at least my place at home reminds me who all this is for.
My value is found in the morning smiles, school assemblies, and unexpected hugs. It’s in the restful weekends, family meals, and serenity in our home. To make peace with the guilt is remind myself that while I can’t do it all, what I do means so much.More On