Dear stay-at-home mom,

Remember when motherhood was the dream? When we were little girls who stuffed pillows under our shirts and pretended to be pregnant? Babies and Barbies were practically a birthright for our gender. We learned to cradle and care for them before we could even walk. Mothering isn’t just an instinct—it’s ingrained in us.

And now, we’re here—our baby doll has come alive.

Now we’re here, in our homes—alone—wondering if we’re doing any of it right.

Before my husband and I married, I declared I would be a stay-at-home mom. With little pushback from him, out popped two children, and I proceeded with my plan to be Susie Homemaker meets Carol Brady. Cook, clean, care for our kids, and reach a new level of personal fulfillment I never had before.

But the problem was, I did very little research on my new profession.

Most jobs come with a manager or a manual—something or someone to give direction, to correct errors, or to provide a much-needed coffee break. But stay-at-home moms get no such thing. We learn as we go. We try to establish routines and plans, but children are tricky and sometimes miss our sleep in until 7 a.m. memos. They are also oblivious to our need for sick days, quiet time, or mental health restoration.

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It’s hard to work under a boss who doesn’t hand out bonuses. Typical jobs offer a pat on the back when you’ve met your quota, but babies can barely smile at you. We work overtime: breastfeeding, swaddling, pumping and dumping—all while juggling misplaced hormones and a mushy postpartum body. We tote toddlers on our hips, intervene during tantrums, and cook meals that no one eats. There were days I took my children to museums or taught them their letter sounds, but no one was around to witness it.

I was with another human all day but felt horribly unseen.

Staying at home is a privilege, but soon after I stepped foot into my new role, I was met with a mix of elation and isolation. Most days, I felt like I’d done everything yet nothing at all. I was over-touched, but not talked to enough. I’d been constantly moving, but never really exercised my mind. I often found myself staring at the clock, willing the magical sound of the garage door to arrive.

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Once upon a time, I kissed my Prince Charming as he entered our home, but now my husband was an extra body, someone to pass the torch (and bedtime routine) to. He was my co-parent, but as the months of mothering went on, the weight of raising our children felt uneven. It wasn’t intentional, but tiny bits of resentment started to creep in with every thought of a quiet drive home or a long lunch meeting free from macaroni and cheese.

But this was what I wanted, right? I chose this life, and I began to feel guilty about it. I’d been given the wonderful opportunity to stay home with my children, a gift many can’t afford, but no one mentioned to me that child-raising is the hardest kind of work (without the punch card and cool business suit).

So, fellow stay-at-home moms, I want you to know this:

I see you.

I see the work you’re doing in raising these children, and it is the hardest, most undervalued kind of work.

I want you to know no one else was considered for this job. It was always you. You never even needed to apply because you were always qualified for this child.

You are a team. And although at times it may feel like you’re not a top-earner, that you’re failing, that you’ve given them too much screen time or fed too many fast-food meals to count—know you are doing the work of the mighty. Know these children see your efforts, and they may not be able to say it now, so I will.

You are a good mom.

You are a sacrificial and serving mom.

You are a woman who is giving up a few years of her life to guarantee another human has the best years of theirs.

You are creating memories even on the mundane days.

You are providing the consistency all children deserve.

You are teaching them it’s great to have the best day ever, but it’s more realistic to not. So even in your flops and failures, they are learning the invaluable lesson of resilience.

You are a chef, chauffeur, social event coordinator, speech and language developer, housekeeper, counselor, child development specialist, toy fixer and finder, nurse, librarian, physical education teacher, leader, mother, and friend.

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You are employed by the greatest company—your child.

You won’t enjoy every minute and that’s OK, no job is without its setbacks, but one day you’ll look up and you’ll have a bit more of your life back. Your meals will be warm, your clothes unstained.

You’ll remember that the years you spent pouring into another person never went unnoticed.

Stay-at-home mom, I see your hard work.

Watch your child smile and remember it’s paying off tenfold.

Previously published on the author’s blog

Stephanie Hanrahan

Stephanie Hanrahan is wife to a sick husband, mother to special needs kiddos, and a woman who often unravels then finds her footing again. Learn how she traded her pretending for a panty liner on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog Tinkles Her Pants, where she leaks nothing but the truth.