I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for a little over a year now. It still feels like new territory to me as I navigate all the arenas of this new work, and learning is somewhat slow due to there being very little formal job training and no manual. Still, I’ve managed to learn a lot so far.
For example, imagine my surprise when I discovered that being a stay-at-home mom actually involves more than just keeping the small humans alive all day. While that’s certainly important, apparently so is cooking organic meals, making Pinterest-worthy projects that encourage creativity and growth, and providing “experiences” to explore and socialize. Oh, and the house should be spotless, the laundry should be done and put away, and I should be “couponing” and baking and working out and doing my hair every day. Also, dinner should be on the table when my husband gets home.
Phew. Ok, so the job description turned out to be a little more extensive than I’d thought. But to be honest, I’d love to have my house clean, make projects, go on exciting field trips with my kids, cook delicious meals, save money, and do it all. These are great goals, right?
Of course they are. There’s just one problem: it turns out that I’m human.
For those of you that are also human, you can understand the implications. This means that there are times when I can do it all. And those are great times. But there are also times when I can’t. Actually, there are a lot of times when I can’t.
I’m currently in the midst of one of those times; hence, this post. Because as I’m sitting in the midst of this struggle to face my own limitations, I’m feeling a feeling that is all too familiar in motherhood: guilt.
But here’s the surprising thing about this guilt: It isn’t about my children. My children are still happy and healthy and loved. When mommy is off her game, they love that we have mac and cheese for lunch and pizza for dinner and that they get extra iPad time and don’t have to clean up their room every day (because what kind of monster would make her children clean their rooms when she hasn’t cleaned the house in days?).
Nope, when I can’t do it all as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t feel guilty as a mom. I feel guilty as a wife.
Just to be clear, my husband is the most supportive and generous man on the planet. He would never make me feel guilty for anything. This, ironically, makes me feel more guilty.
This wonderful man goes to work every day and works hard to provide for his family. Then he comes home and spends his evenings helping me do my “job.” He feeds the toddler, he takes out trash, he helps with laundry, he does dishes, and he gives baths and bedtime bottles and a million other things.
And I feel guilty that I didn’t get more done during the day so that he could come home and relax instead of having to help so much.
This is the complicated messiness of my work as a stay-at-home mom: If I was a “working” mother, I wouldn’t think twice about accepting help from my partner. But because my work is our family, I feel like I have to do it all. And when I can’t, I feel like I’m not doing my share.
The truth is, I know better. I know that what I do all day at home is work. In fact, it is the most physically and emotionally exhausting work I’ve ever done. It’s also the most personal and meaningful and rewarding work I’ve ever done.
Not just because it allows me to serve my children and my family, but because it gives me the opportunity to thoughtfully serve my husband. The work I do all day is not only for our children, but for him as well. I think that kind of awareness makes our marriage better and stronger.
And when I can’t do it all and I have to lean on him, our marriage is also strengthened, both by deep humility and an overwhelming gratitude for one another.
I’ve learned a lot in my last year of working at home, but probably the most powerful lesson so far has been learning how to let the bad days make me better.