December 14, 2012

The Courage of the Stay-at-Home Mom.

Choosing to stay home with your child is a leap of faith that goes beyond simply leaving your job.

“Leap and the net will appear.”

~ John Burroughs

I have this quote stuck to the side of my fridge with one of my son’s Cars magnets. I’ve kept it with me for years to remind myself to take risks and not be afraid of unknown journeys. The quote was never more apparent than the day I brought my newborn son home from the hospital and my days as a stay-at-home-mom, or SAHM, began.

It’s been quite a ride. While I’d like to think mothering came naturally to me, it was more something I learned through trial and error—lots of them. By some luck, I managed to do a pretty decent job with my son and added a baby girl to the mix without too much chaos. I guess you could say I’ve found my groove as a SAHM.

But what I didn’t expect was the isolation, both socially and personally. I don’t know many other SAHMs. Most of my close friends are working moms and those SAHMs that I do know are busy shuffling their children from place to place, taking care of their families’ needs and, somehow, trying to squeeze in time for themselves. Attempting to coordinate a play date with another SAHM is like navigating a sea of nap times, preschool schedules and swim lessons only to finally come up with a measly 30 minutes in the weeks ahead. And I take ‘em! I snatch them up and treat them as if I have a treasured meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Life for SAHMs isn’t like it was in decades past.

Most parents work these days, primarily out of necessity, so many neighborhoods aren’t the bustling streets they once were. On my block, you’ll only find me, a few retirees and the OCD guy across the street who likes to wash his car on rainy days—twice. When I walk my kids through the neighborhood, it’s eerily quiet.

Often, the only greetings I dole out are to the landscapers and the mailman. On rare occasions, I may spot another SAHM, but resist the temptation to follow her home for fear of appearing to be a stalker. Likely, it’s a new mother on maternity leave who will rarely be seen on the block once she returns to work.

Then there’s the loss, or maybe I should say change of one’s identity. For a SAHM, once she chooses to leave her job to stay home with her child, she instantly becomes a “former” this or that. For me, the choice came after I had already made a career change a few years before I became pregnant. I had left my corporate job to become a yoga teacher, then spent years building a client base and small following.

That all disappeared once I left to become a full-time mom. That meant an identity shift, an about-face really. Sure I could return to the teaching circuit again, but it would take me years to regain my prior momentum. For women in the law, finance or sales it means giving up clients that will be all but non-existent when they decide to make their return years later. It’s a choice that means leaving your career and risking the possibility of never returning to your former self.

“Leap and the net will appear.”

Sure, after years as a SAHM, you’ll find a new identity and find comfort with who you’ve become, but every now and again you’ll run into that person at a dinner party who says, “Oh, you’re a stay-at-home-mom? Hmph.” Then…crickets. The conversation dies. I’ll usually make an effort to talk about the person’s own work, but if that fails then I’ll graciously take my place next to the inevitably interesting “shy new girlfriend” or “starving artist husband” who has been outcast too.

It’s a shame. Most of us SAHMs come from interesting places and have some amazing stories. Of the SAHMs I know, one was a high-school English teacher, one an accomplished yoga teacher and another an attorney. All are educated, well-read and fun. A sense of humor is a prerequisite in mommydom. We love what we do (on most days anyway) and despite popular conception, we are able to hold adult conversations. And we might, just might, make you laugh.

What I think most people miss when they see a SAHM is the amount of courage she’s had to muster to jump off that cliff, leaving her familiar career-minded, child-free self to dive into a new skin.

It’s a test of endurance and patience unlike any you will ever experience. It takes a great deal of self-confidence to emerge from the free-fall and land on your feet. There were many days I was certain I was going to end up splattered on the pavement, but somehow I found the courage to make it through another day. Unlike many other jobs, there are no manuals, no job reviews, no promotions that will tell you you’re on the right track. All you have are your instincts and the courage to follow them.

“Leap and the net will appear.”

I’d like to think I’m doing a great job, that I’ve mastered all things that encompass motherhood and have earned a doctorate in parenting, but I know that it’s a never-ending education that changes with each child’s milestone.

I do know that my husband deeply appreciates my sacrifice. I do know that I have the special privilege of being with my children every day. I do know that despite all of the challenges of being a SAHM, I am happy.

I leapt. And I was caught.


Ed: Brianna B.

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