An Unexpected SAHM Detour
Last year the husband and I decided to finally take the plunge and try for a baby. 15 weeks ago, I got knocked up! Three weeks ago, I was laid off. As you can imagine, this was not exactly how I pictured my prenatal adventure. In my head, I would work until I had the baby, take a lengthy maternity leave, and then go back part time because really, let’s be honest, I didn’t have enough work to fill a whole week. Surely my company wouldn’t mind. Well, I guess they noticed…
ANYWAY, the husband had expressed some interest in my staying home after the baby was born even before the layoff. We can mostly handle it monetarily, especially if I do a little freelance work from home, and he was raised in a very traditional “dad goes to work, mom stays home and takes care of the kids and cleans the house” kind of home. I, however, was so not. My parents separated when I was 4 and while it was as happy a divorce as ever existed, my mom worked all the time. She paid someone to clean our house and even then it was cluttered. I’m not opposed to giving it a shot, but I have no idea how to even begin to live up to the husband’s stay-at-home-mom standards.
I know that once Noah was born you decided to leave your full-time job (not that I’ve read all your archives over the past several years or anything…) and I was wondering if you or your readers had any advice for someone who’s suddenly expected to do the dishes AND the laundry AND make sure there’s no cat vomit on the floor? How did you handle the transition? Motivation and organization have been my biggest problems so far, and I’m trying to get it sorted out before the baby arrives because I know it’s only going to get harder then.
Thanks in advance!
Do I have any advice for someone “who’s suddenly expected to do the dishes AND the laundry AND make sure there’s no cat vomit on the floor?” No. Because that, childhood memories of June Cleaver aside, is simply not the reality for all SAHMs today. It certainly wasn’t for me. It still isn’t. And as long as you continue to “do a little freelance work,” it probably won’t be for you, either.
I gotta tell you, I get itchy and nervous whenever I hear wives describe their husband’s memories and expectations of staying home. (Anybody remember this column? ) I get nervous when I hear husbands automatically wanting their partners to take on the role they remember their mothers taking decades ago, maybe without a perfect memory or all the facts about how their childhood household really functioned or everyone’s relative contentment level. I also fundamentally dislike the “well, YOU stay home, and thus all household chores belong to YOU” division of labor. I guess that works out for some couples, but for a woman who never planned or expected to stay home full-time and who has just been uncomfortably and unceremoniously pushed into it…well. I worry.
Your lack of motivation is not a sign that you’re “bad” at this or doing this “wrong.” You were just laid off from your job. You didn’t consciously make this decision to suddenly sit at home and face down hour after unstructured hour. I DO think it’s great that you guys think you’ll be all right and are willing to give a different arrangement a try, but it’s soooooo totally normal to find yourself mourning and struggling to adjust to your new reality. A reality that includes tasks that you probably never valued that much (laundry, errands, all basically essential nuisances, maybe), and the occasional intrusive guilty thought about not “contributing” financially or depression about it “not mattering” what you do during the day…hell, I worked my tail off to make my stay-at-home/work-at-home life happen and I still went through a very confusing grieving process once I did it. So allow that to happen, if you haven’t already. It’s okay not to be thrilled, or to be anxious, or to second-guess the master plan.
In the meantime, try to give your days some structure. Have set tasks you do each day in order or specific days of the week. Keep a physical to-do list if that helps you stay motivated and on-task. Set rules for yourself about TV and Internet use. Start a blog, a scrapbook, a hobby. Find a prenatal fitness or yoga class to attend and meet other moms-to-be; arrange regular lunches or nights out with your old coworkers or friends. And if the dishes don’t get done on days where you have a social engagement, don’t sweat it. These interactions are important, and don’t ever think otherwise.
And be honest with your husband about your feelings. I’m sure he KNOWS he didn’t marry his mother, and that he KNOWS you’re doing this with no blueprint from your own childhood to go from, but still. Make sure you guys keep your expectations of each other grounded and realistic. Having a spouse who stays home should not absolve the other of all household responsibilities. Figure out exactly what the new division of labor looks like, down to who takes the trash out at night and mows the lawn on the weekends and takes suits to the dry-cleaners. Let him know when you need help or a break or for him to take care of dinner one night. Let him know if sometimes you think you might want to look for part-time work after the baby arrives, or need some help in the form of a sitter or cleaning service when the freelance work kicks in.
But mostly, be patient with YOURSELF. I’m sorry this response has been so light on the practical stuff and heavy on the motivational pep-talk. But this is a huge adjustment — I don’t think anyone can ever appreciate how huge it is until they’re in the thick of it. I know I didn’t. You don’t need someone else’s expectations of stay-at-home-mom-ness looming over you like a shadow. You need to find the way it works for you and makes you happy. And seriously, the baby may arrive and you’ll take one look at him or her and realize that the lay-off was a tremendous gift and a push into exactly the life you wanted. Or not! Even if you end up pursuing a Plan B in the end, all that really matters is that your home is a happy, supportive one — with clutter and unfolded laundry or without.