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The Accidental SAHM

Aug12

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I have two beautiful little girls — a 4-year old and a 22-month old. They are fun and normal kids but I am so freakin’ bored of being stuck with them all day. I was laid off from my job a few months ago and I know that I’m a little depressed because of the lack of focus and schedule to my day (along with loss of earnings and money stress). My previous job was incredible — I worked from home but made a good amount of money and I know that I won’t be able to find something equally good because it was in a fairly narrow career range. Also my husband works a lot and is gone most evenings so I’m alone with the kids all day, most days. To make it worse we had recently moved to a new city where I don’t have any friends so I’m completely isolated. I have looked around for a mom group to join but none of them are active during the summer. So, I’m miserable, bored, and lonely and I feel terribly guilty because I’m not enjoying this time with my babies (and this will probably be the only time I get to be home with my kids after I get another job). Am I a bad person because I’m hating this?

Are you a bad person because you’re hating SAHMhood? That’s an easy one.

No. No you are not.

Next question!

Oh, fine. Let’s talk about this a little more. I just finished reading this article from The New York Times: The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In. It revisits a handful of women who purposely chose to take themselves off the career path 10 years ago in favor of full-time stay-at-home motherhood. Ten years ago, when the economy was bright and shiny and good and everyone’s husbands had high-paying jobs and marriages were never, ever going to end and baby/toddlerhood seemed like it would stretch out for years and your children would always be there to fill your life with deep meaning and purpose. I’ll give you three guesses how most of those stories turned out.

Those stories, however, aren’t really a direct parallel to your situation — those women made a deliberate choice; you’re simply trying to make the best of a crappy situation that was forced on you. And beating yourself up with guilt over not particularly loving that situation. But I bring it up because look, there are SAHMs out there who CHOSE to stay home and end up merely tolerating it, hating it, regretting it. I bring it up because lady, cut your poor self some slack.

Your email is one paragraph long and yet you’ve managed to cram almost every major life stressor in there: the loss of a job, an identity, an income; a move to a new city, financial worries, social isolation, a spouse with an incompatible working schedule, etc. Good lord. Add an illness or a death in there and you’ve got Life Stress BINGO.

In other words, it is not surprising or shocking or awful in the least that you feel the way you do. You admit that you’re depressed and isolated and unhappy thanks to all these crappy things coming to a head at once, and so I FORBID you to make yourself feel even WORSE because you don’t enjoy staying home with your kids full time. I know Pinterest makes it look like SAHMhood is all finger paints and bento boxes and I don’t know, educational party garlands (note: I’m not actually on Pinterest), but it’s a job. And a tough one at that.

My time as a SAHM came with an asterisk because I technically was always working — writing, editing, blogging. And I quickly realized that I was way, way better at that stuff than I was at keeping the house clean or making mom friends. I was bad at organizing playdates or even just getting us out of the dang house every now and then. I had very little patience for art projects and playing — after 15 minutes I was itching to move on to something else, usually work-related.

This had nothing to do with the IMPORTANCE of all those things, by the way. I think they are all very important, both for mother and child. I wasn’t “above” them or “too smart/educated/career-minded” for them — they were just skills and interests that I thought would come naturally to me after I had a baby. And then they didn’t.

Just because you love computers doesn’t mean you’ve got the innate ability to be a software engineer. Just because you love to cook doesn’t mean you have any business running a restaurant kitchen. Just because you adore your children more than anything doesn’t mean you’re automatically equipped to stay home with them full time, or that it’s the right call for you or your family long-term.

My children are loved AND adored. They are talked to and cuddled and well-fed and cared for and given a wide variety of fun and/or educational experiences. Sometimes by me, sometimes by my husband…and sometimes by a nanny and teachers and schools. Deal with it. *puts on sunglasses*

You’re in a dark spot right now. I’m glad you were able to write that paragraph and admit that you’re in a dark, unhappy spot, even if you were really just hoping to get some validation that you’re not 1) alone or 2) a bad person. (I can send you a TRUCKLOAD of that, by the way.) But you’re going to need to figure out how to get out of this dark spot. You love your girls, so admit that this situation is not a healthy one for any of you and start focusing on that job search. Accept that your next job situation might not be as ideal as the one you had before but you cannot wallow in this depressed and isolated SAHM situation either. Check out MOPS.org (here’s another post from our archives with advice on making mom friends) and see if there’s a mom group in your area (I believe they should be active year-round) and ESPECIALLY see if they offer occasional drop-off childcare through the group so you can get a break — or go on job interviews, update your LinkedIn, or whatever. Talk to your husband and let him know how you’re feeling — can he network for you through his job, take over one morning shift for you, etc.? Can someone from your old city — a friend or family member — come visit for a couple days for a nice little social shot in the arm?

You didn’t ask for practical ideas so I know you probably have all of the above covered and I’ve just gone on an assvice tangent. But again, please repeat after me: You are not a bad person. You are not a bad mother. You are in a swirl of stressful transitions right now and letting some idealized vision of motherhood add to your stress. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “The Accidental SAHM”

  1. Ally Aug 12 at 2:28 pm Reply Reply

    I am a mostly SAHM (I tutor math in the evenings). Working isn’t really an option, because a NC teacher’s salary would not cover the cost of childcare for 4 kids. Even though I have always wanted to stay at home it’s hard. So hard. Way harder than teaching math to high schoolers. One of the best things I have ever done in the last few years is join the Y and go often. I have met so many great women and I always feel better after a workout and a break. On the days where I feel like I can’t even go near my children because it’s just too much I drop them off in child watch and read a book and just take some alone time. 

  2. Myriam Aug 12 at 3:01 pm Reply Reply

    I’m not cut out to be a SAHM. No way. My kids would be bored out of their minds with me all the time. I’m 3 months away from giving birth to my 2nd child, and because I live in Québec, I will benefit from a 50-weeks paid maternity leave. And you know what, my older daughter will still go to day-care full-time. I don’t have the stamina, or imagination to entertain a 3 yo all day. I’m a better mom BECAUSE I work outside the home, and I can garantee that if circumstances brought me to where you are, I would feel just like you, but maybe without the guilt. You are not alone, you are not a bad person, you are not a bad mother. I hope you can find a way to make this work for you. Good luck.

  3. Stacy Aug 12 at 3:33 pm Reply Reply

    I think the key thing in being happy in any situation is CHOICE. It wasn’t your choice to be in your situation, it was chosen for you. So it’s understandable to not be happy about that. Some people might be glad they were let go, but not if you were happy with your situation. I would do what I could to find a way to be happy. Getting another job, getting some part time child care (I didn’t have the money for this so I did a swap with friends). Do whatever it takes to make your situation better for YOU. 

  4. IrishCream Aug 12 at 4:13 pm Reply Reply

    You’re not a bad mom AT ALL. I have two girls (1 and 3) and I would not be happy in your situation either. I would not be a good SAHM (for the reasons Amy said…it’s not where my skills lie, not because I think it’s a bad life choice for anyone else). I need structure and work to feel sane and be the best parent I can be. And you’re in an especially tough spot, since you didn’t even get to choose.

    Have you checked out your local library? That’s where we made parent friends when our first was a baby. A lot of them have weekday story times, or even toddler playgroups. Free! Also your local playground can help you meet people; if you go at roughly the same time of day or day of the week, you’ll have a better chance at running into the same families and starting up conversations with familiar faces. Your pediatrician’s office would probably also have a list of resources for activities and meet-up groups. Good luck! It sounds like you’re making the best of a bad situation right now, and that’s awesome. And it won’t always be like this. Your oldest will start school, you’ll make more friends, another job opportunity will open up…one way or another, this bad patch is temporary.

  5. Susan Aug 12 at 4:24 pm Reply Reply

    Check out Meet-Up.com if you haven’t yet – there are a bazillion and one SAHM/WAHM Meet-Up groups for all kinds of interests in my area and I know it’s a national site.

    I work 3 days a week and am home with my almost-3 yo and 4.75 yo and most days I’m ready to start drinking around 2 pm.  Mercifully my boys are very good at entertaining themselves, which means I often find them coloring on the cat or clogging up the guest bathroom with toilet paper… I am dreading the winter months when I can’t shoo them into the backyard, so I was excited to discover our rec center has weekday yoga classes (and a childcare center).  Mama gets some stretching and stress relief, the chiltlins get to spread someone else’s toys from one end of a room to the other, for about $15 total. 

    [Incidentally my salary goes almost fully to pay the cost of preschool for them on the days I work, but it's absolutely worth it for all of our sanities].

    In our area we also have a free parent magazine (at the grocery store) that promotes all the kid-friendly attractions (zoo, children’s museum, nature center, etc) with any special events listed – that’s a good way to get out of the house and have some social interaction with other moms and kids.

    I also just started a master’s program (1 evening class/wk for 10 wks) so that I can re-transition my career once both boys are in school full time – it’s gonna take forever (and add to my student loan debt) but the mental stimulation (a room full of people NOT talking about potty-training, picky eaters, and healthy snack options – wahoo!) is really valuable. 

    Good luck, and yes – stop beating yourself up!

  6. AlexMMR Aug 12 at 5:50 pm Reply Reply

    My mom was a part of that generation where women broke the mold by being working moms.  I always thought it was for money and security but a few weeks ago I asked my mom if she was disappointed in me that I decided to be a SAHM instead of having a career.  She said “Hell no!  It’s the hardest job in the world.  I couldn’t do it.”  I got a whole new perspective on why she was a working mom.  It wasn’t for the money (though that’s always a motivation), it was because she felt being a stay at home mom was too hard and she wasn’t able to do it.

  7. Joni Aug 12 at 11:16 pm Reply Reply

    You should check out MOMS Club (MOMS stands for Moms Offering Moms Support – momsclub.org). They’re a national group with locally run chapters just to help support the SAHM. Look on their website to see if they have a chapter in your area. They’re a lifesaver!

  8. Autumn Aug 12 at 11:25 pm Reply Reply

    I was a SAHM for 7  months when my daughter (now 23 months) was born, one month longer than originally planned cause she crashed the party a month early.  By month 5 I was going CRAZY and depression land was approaching.  She was an easy happy baby who slept and nursed great, but I was just bored and lonely and in the middle of a MN winter.  THe only thing that helped was I knew I was going back to work April 1.  I was so excited to go back I practically ran out of day care when I first dropped her off.  I just wanted to be “me the professional” again.  

    So I think you are normal dealing with a rough hand dealt to you by life.  It will get better.  Not everyone is stay at home material.  My husband freely admits he couldn’t handle the 2 days a week I’m home with her now.  

  9. Dr BS Aug 13 at 10:45 am Reply Reply

    I was in a similar situation 2.5 years ago. We moved for my husband to take a new job and decided I would stay home with our 10 month old. I was thrilled to get the chance. About a month into I realized how much of my identity was ties to my career….it is what I was! My husband’s new job requires travel about 70% of the time. I too was lonely, bored and a bit lost. I also felt terrible because I had wanted to stay home and ‘should’ be enjoying myself. The things that kept me going were the gym (a work out and a guaranteed shower), the local library and parent-free kid activities (swim lessons, soccer, gymnastics where I get to sit and watch). I have since returned to work part time (2 days per week) which I find is a great balance and really enjoy.

  10. Kristen Aug 13 at 11:58 am Reply Reply

    If you are looking for any more ideas… When I was on maternity leave, my goal was 1 adventure a day.  I called them adventures, but it was anything to get out of the house with the baby.  Most of them were free (the park, walk around the mall, etc), but we did join the zoo at one point.  It helped that I planned adventures for the week.  If I waited until the day-of, I didn’t have the motivation to follow-through.  Can you look into a zoo or children’s museum family membership?  Also, check out your city’s parks and recs dept (yay, Leslie Knope!).  I love perusing our catalog even though just about all of the classes for toddlers are M-F (and I work now).  The price is so reasonable.  What about a church?  Even if you aren’t very religious, it might be worth it to go to a service to meet other families and get free childcare during that time.  They also might have a preK program.

  11. karen Aug 13 at 1:09 pm Reply Reply

    I so needed to read this today. One of my old college friends, she and her mom firmly believe that any mom who leaves their children with “strangers” (i.e. daycare) has some sort of pathological genetic deficit in their maternal brain. Seriously. Get out of la-la-land people.

    To follow on to Kristen’s great suggestions, when I’m home with my kids I also do the one adventure a day thing and I loved it. Sometimes they’d fall asleep on the way home and then I had a whole list of drive throughs I visited. McDonald’s french fries with an Oreo McFlurry anyone? Also, I had a list of small fenced in parks where I could go and just sit on a bench and watch while my kids played.

    I grew up in a large extended family, with lots of stay-home moms, but none of my aunts were overly concerned about how entertained we kids were each day. We did fun things, went places, but there wasn’t this intense need to monitor us. I think we put too much pressure on moms to create this perfect carefree existence for our kids all day and that’s a big reason why the SAHM job seems like such a mismatch for people who aren’t into entertaining kids 24/7.

    Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now. :)

  12. Jeannie Aug 13 at 5:06 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to chime in with “I’m a better WOHM” as well. I knew from before I got pregnant with my first I wouldn’t stay home, for a host of reasons — I like working.  I like my job. I like the security (DH also has a good job, but not in a field known for stability.) I worked part time until my youngest was 3. 

    I don’t think you’re crazy feeling down with all those life stressors. Take it easy on yourself!!

  13. -k- Aug 13 at 6:37 pm Reply Reply

    We were never meant to raise children in isolation. LW, you’re there with your kids all day AND alone most evenings? NOT EASY. I work part time from home and I need it. I need the break the sitter provides, I need to have the power that comes with contributing financially (or to not *not* have it).. and hell, I need my husband to come home and relieve me in the evenings.

    I didn’t expect to. I’m not overly work-oriented, I am a total homebody, and I love the hell out of my kid. Before she was born I thought I might want to stay home with her. But holy god it is intense. Don’t feel bad for thinking it, feeling it, saying it. Here’s hoping you find a way to get a break- I’m convinced that for many of us time without them is key to being able to appreciate time with them.

  14. Kat Aug 13 at 7:49 pm Reply Reply

    I love how supportive and kind everyone is at Alphamom – there really is no one way or best way to raise children, and you certainly aren’t a bad person for being a little bored and lonely while making this huge transition.
    All the tips above are great. I have never been a SAHM for more than a few months of maternity leave, but I definitely needed the daily “adventures” to get me out of the house and into a better mood. Exercise – even just a brisk walk around the block kept me sane! Best wishes, big hugs and you will make it through (and don’t beat yourself up – you are doing great!)

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Aug 14 at 10:07 am Reply Reply

      YES! We love our thoughtful and commenters. Thank you for the nice words. :)

    • Tasterspoon Aug 28 at 6:20 pm Reply Reply

      Seriously, I love this comment stream. I chose to stay at home as of about six months ago (when my second was six months and the first just two) and I still suffer and complain and feel sorry for myself all the live long day.

      It is exhausting – you need to be ‘on’ all the time; it is relentlessly guilt-inducing (why am I playing tea party when I should be picking up this mess/ why am I doing laundry when I should be stimulating my child’s imagination?; it can be both mind numbingly boring (see: tea party) and creatively taxing (what, tell you another completely made-up story about you and your stuffed animals having adventures?) – I was never a coffee drinker or nightly cocktail person until kids.

      No additional advice, except to say that I DO rely on my local mom’s club to an embarrassing degree. Some clubs are better than others, I know. Yes to Meetup also. Moms in my neighborhood are starting up a standing toddler playdate, but we already have a neighborhood email list to work from. You don’t have to be outgoing, in fact, most of the moms at our mom’s club standing playdate said they joined BECAUSE they were introverts and striking up conversation at the playground was just too daunting. But if you don’t want to be at home, get the heck out of there as soon as you can. It’s not fair to anyone.

      Can you get a mother’s helper or some such to help you in the early evenings? Whether they’re looking after the kids or making dinner, just another body around to share the burden and laugh about the witching hour might help a lot.

  15. Corinne Aug 14 at 1:53 pm Reply Reply

    When I was kind of a part-time SAHM (my husband and I both worked part time and alternated being home with our baby) I found that things worked best when I had a schedule/plan, and when I got out of the house.  

    Things that are free:
    Going on walks (also gets you sunlight, and exercise).  Wagons are great for 2 kids of varying ages.  Going to a local park. If the weather is bad, go walk around the mall.  A lot of them have child play areas.  Our Barnes and Nobel has a duplo play area too.  If you see other moms, introduce yourself. 

    Things that are worth a small fee:
    Mama and Toddler yoga class.  It’s a great way to meet other moms with kids your age.  
    Join a Gym – a lot of them will have childcare included – get some exercise, some you-time, and maybe you’ll meet some other parents.
    Use the childcare at the grocery store.  I know it sounds horrible to have your “me-time” be grocery shopping, but sometimes that’s what we get.  And if you sit down for 15 minutes in the prepared foods section/cafe-area and read a magazine before you start your shopping, more power to you!

    See if you can get a membership for a children’s museum/science center, zoo, etc.  A lot of time’s they’re fairly affordable ($100/family/year) – we ask for them as gifts.  It’s nice to have a place to go if things are just not going well – even if you’re only there for a half hour.  Then you don’t feel guilty, but with driving time etc, you can probably kill an hour of time.  

    It’s okay to let them play together and you do something else.  It’s also okay to say “let’s have a movie day” and put on a disney movie and have snacks.  Have some planned TV time in the morning so that you can take a shower and feel good about yourself.  

    Include the kids in cooking.  It can kill a lot of time, and you get a meal out of it.  Things that work well – banana and blueberry pancakes.  (I use this recipe http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Banana-Pancakes-Recipezaar_5?columns=3&position=9%2F36 with regular milk and whole wheat flour, and then add in frozen blueberries).  Kids can stir, help mash the banana, pour ingredients.  And then as long as you don’t add much syrup, they’re actually really healthy!  

    And last but probably most important, please consider talking to a professional about your depression.  Depression sucks because it makes it super hard to do anything (including pick up the phone to make an appointment to talk to a doctor).  Even if it’s temporary with good cause, if it’s making it difficult to improve your life, talk to your doctor or a therapist – there are solutions, medicated and non-medicated.  You don’t have to be miserable.  

  16. Liz Aug 14 at 5:43 pm Reply Reply

    Amy mentioned that you have to accept that another job situation might not be as ideal, but I just wanted to chime in and expand that point.

    My personal situation doesn’t involve staying at home vs. working, but I think it can still relate: I left a very long-term job that had turned into a real “best of times, worst of times” situation. My new job is mostly pretty boring. Sometimes I find myself pining for those old “best” times, where I got to do some really cool things. But then I have to remind myself that the excitement also came with the “worst” times, where I would take a break at 6pm and cry my way down the street for a hot chocolate, because I knew I was going back to the office until 10pm for the 15th day in a row.

    I was hating my life! So hey, the boring job is DEFINITELY better than that. And now I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for something that may have some of that old excitement I miss, without the crying and stress.

    I guess that’s a tangent/backstory (sorry!) to say it this way for you: you know that the current situation is unhealthy for you. So look for a job, and whenever you start to unfavorably compare something to that old “incredible” job, stop and remind yourself to also compare it to staying at home, which you know is not right for you. As long as it’s better than not working at all, it’s a step in the right direction, and then you can keep looking for bigger steps down the road.

  17. Kim Aug 15 at 6:49 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, yes, yes to the one-thing-a-day idea.  It was what saved me during my transition to SAHM-hood.  And I chose this, I can rock the art projects, I really enjoy structuring my own time,  but let’s face it – there are days when I really missmy old job.  I was good at it, and there was feedback and colleagues and I could leave at the end of the day. No choice is perfect, and if you didn’t choose this – well, twice as hard.  But the more child-oriented activities you can find, the more likely you are to make friends.  I also recommend a co-op preschool – ours has a great community built in, and it’s cheaper than dropping off. Good luck.

  18. Suzy Q Aug 16 at 7:20 pm Reply Reply

    I am not a mom and so have no advice to offer.  Um, it takes a village?  Sorry.

    I am, however, very curious as to what your job was, as I am planning to transition to working for myself full-time at home within the next two years.  I am also in a niche business (and I work from home sometimes but am employed) but don’t really want to do it ALL the time.  I need to spread my wings a bit with some new stuff.

  19. ChloeB Aug 19 at 1:16 am Reply Reply

    I was home full-time with my son for 10 months before I went back to work part-time, and a few things made me feel less stir-crazy and more human:
    - I got a shower every morning before my husband left the house. Not sure if this is an option with your husband’s work schedule, but getting up and dressed for the day made everything else flow a bit more smoothly.
    - Get as much done as you can (within reason) while the kids are awake, so when they nap, you can have some time to yourself. This is the reason my 5 year old still has an hour of quiet time in his room with books/coloring/lego while his sister naps after lunch – so I can regroup before the afternoon! (We use a CD thats 1 hour long, so he knows he’s in his room until the music ends.)
    - Set yourself a bit of a weekly routine, so you don’t just end up filling in time at home every day. For us our mornings went Monday – supermarket, Tuesday – library story time, Wednesday – trip to a park, Thursday – visit my grandmother, Friday – playdate or park again. I found it was easier to get out the door to do something if I didn’t have to think about it too much. If plans fell through or the weather was rotten, I would sub in cooking/craft/playdough, etc, but getting out of the house and hopefully into some adult company made a huge difference. And a trip to the supermarket is totally a full outing with 2 kids in tow!
    - Meal-planning (at least loosely) so you can start prep-work for dinner earlier in the day and you don’t have to think too much about whats for dinner. It takes some of the pressure off the evening chaos if all you have to do is cook pasta and reheat a sauce or dish you made earlier.
    And just to add, much as I love my kids, being at work 2 days a week makes me a much better and more patient mother to them the rest of the time. Spending so much time with just the kids is completely draining and made me feel like my brain had melted and run out my ears. Some of us are just better people if we get to go to work sometimes.

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