Are we driving ourselves crazy with unrealistic expectations of what staying home is like? OF COURSE WE ARE.
I’ve gotten so much guidance from you over the years that I probably owe you my first born. But… I really like him, so maybe we can make a substitution. What’s the current baby to wine exchange rate?
Six months ago I gave birth to a brilliant, adorable, happy baby boy. Being a mom is amazing and exhausting and I absolutely love it. However, I’m a little worried about what this new life phase means for my marriage.
On some level I always knew that becoming parents would change our relationship, but I don’t think I was prepared for exactly how much. There have been positives – I love watching my husband be a father to our son, and he is even more patient and kind, if that’s possible – but on the other hand, I feel like we’re missing that spark. No flirting. No witty banter. No long, engaging philosophical discussions.
I know some of it is hormones, lack of alone time, and sleep deprivation, but after a lot of thought (over-analyzing), I’ve identified two other major contributing factors:
1) SAHMing – I wanted more than anything to be home with this kid, but I didn’t realize how much confidence work gave me. Despite the inevitable frustrations, my job made me feel smart, productive, and valued. In this new role I feel frumpy, overwhelmed, and incompetent. Just keeping my little one fed, changed, and mostly happy takes all my time and energy. All the bonuses to staying home that I pictured – healthy gourmet dinners every night, organized house, clean bathrooms – are just not happening. I’m not interested in spending all day at a desk any time soon, but I want to find something that makes me feel like an accomplished, equal partner to my husband again.
Side note: Did I mention we’re “sharing” one car? Stay-at-home-mom is a literal term for me.
2) Baby word vomit – I cannot stop talking about all things baby. Breastfeeding. Cloth diapering. Sleep plans. Teething. Flame-retardant chemicals in polyurethane foam changing pads. That sleeping baby is quiet… Too quiet… Lemme just go check real quick, then I really want your opinion on the whole polyurethane foam thing.
I can see the desperation in my husband’s eyes to talk about something, ANYTHING else, but I can’t help myself. It’s like I have a compulsive need for discussion and validation of every minutiae of parenting. God, I sound crazy.
So bottom line… Is this a normal phase or can I “fix” it?
The Not-So-Good Wife
Oh my God, SO NORMAL. And so something I wish every person who thinks the SAHM gig is “easy” or “perfect” or “the right choice for everybody” would read. I mentioned recently that I found a large swath of pros and cons to EVERY arrangement I’ve tried, and your list seriously mirrors mine. A lot.
(Once upon a time, my husband suggested trading in one of our cars and sharing for awhile. Just temporarily, so we could go without a car payment for a few months or so. After thinking it over, I lovingly yet bluntly told him that if I were to spend my days literally trapped in the house without a car — and had to weigh/schedule/screen any potential outings, errands, playdates, etc. against his need to get to work — I would likely make it one week before I stabbed him in the neck with a fork while he slept. Thus, we have remained a two-car family.)
Let me point out one little detail here: Your baby is six months old. I know it FEELS like half a year should be enough time to adjust to such a profoundly huge life and schedule change, but…no. Six month olds are demanding, unpredictable and absolutely a full-time job in and of themselves. Yet the myth that SAHMomming will equal a spotless house and home-cooked meals, PLUS ample opportunities for Mom to write a novel in her “spare” time, or turn some other hobby into a successful business venture, remains pervasive and out there. And it’s driving us all crazy when we realize that most days, staying home with small babies and children actually means overflowing laundry hampers and trying to get out of our pajamas before our significant other gets home.
Also normal: The unsettling feeling that you aren’t an “equal” partner because you aren’t earning money. This is also exacerbated by the do-it-all SAHM myth, since I’m SURE you believed that you’d be adding all this value by being a full-time housekeeper and gourmet chef who ran all the errands and balanced the checkbook WHILE ALSO being a full-time daycare provider who could provide non-stop one-on-one interaction and enrichment and daily outings to the playground for your child. I’m not mocking you for that belief, of course, because no matter how silly and unrealistic it is once you write it all down and re-read it through the lens of what modern parenthood is actually like…I believed it too. (I mean, I was going to do all that PLUS complete a dozen freelance/blogging writing deadlines every week! All by myself! During naptime! HAHAHAHAHA.)
And then the reality is that even if you WERE accomplishing all that, there’s the uncomfy truth that our culture still seriously undervalues “women’s work” like childcare and housework. We can all talk big talk about how important motherhood is and modern feminism is about choices, but then there’s still that tiny nagging voice that still judges our “value” by the number on a paycheck. That we no longer get. Huh.
Point is, I think some of the problems can only be “solved” by letting go of your pre-baby expectations of what staying home would be like and what you are realistically capable of. FOR NOW. Because again: six months old! You will find a rhythm, I promise. It might not be quite the symphony of accomplishment you once imagined, but it will get better.
As for the rest of it — the uneasy feelings re: loss of identity and equal partnership in marriage — well, I can’t offer you some one-size-fits-all magic solution. Just the reassurance that it’s a very common, normal struggle that a LOT of us have muddled through. And that muddling process has taken longer than six months, so cut yourself a break for still feeling a bit off-kilter about it all.
My parents never had more than one car, even though they lived in suburbia, far from buses and public transportation and the only thing within walking distance was a 7-Eleven and a dry cleaners. My mom did it; I have long since come to peace with the fact that I CANNOT. Date nights are also a must for us. We don’t have any rule during them about “no kid talk” or anything on them, but it’s still critical for us to get out of the house together. We eat someplace we wouldn’t take the kids (even if it’s just a super-cheap bowl of ramen or plate of sushi, or anyplace without a grilled cheese on the menu). We see a movie or what the hell, let’s stick around at the bar and have a cocktail until we know for sure the kids will be asleep when we get home.
My blog and social media outlets are a BIG help for curbing that “all baby talk all the time” thing you mentioned — they let me converse with people who DO want to hear about cloth diapers and flame-retardant chemicals, while also usually providing me with a funny link or news story to tell Jason about when he gets home. (Jason, for the record, struggles with not letting HIS job dominate our evening conversations. You talk about what you do all day, be it diapers or software engineering. So I’m usually the one who’s like, what do you MEAN you haven’t seen the Sh*t Girls Say videos yet? Holy crap, open your laptop RIGHT THIS INSTANT IT’S HILARIOUS.)
And I’ll be honest, I eventually figured out that staying home in the traditional sense just wasn’t for me, and focused on ramping up my working-from-home efforts.
Yet, for the record, still and to this day: My house is a damn mess. I am always behind on laundry and am known to move some of the same piles of clutter from surface to surface for months at a time. I have a part-time babysitter who takes over while I write because I am not capable of prolonged multitasking, and would rely on TV too much without her. We used to have a housecleaning service twice a month but stopped that when the babysitter asked for a raise and I knew the kids love and need her more than they care about spotless bathrooms. I have not showered yet and am wearing Old Navy yoga pants and there is a suitcase on the floor over there that I have been meaning to unpack since we spent a night away for my birthday a few weeks ago.
But I got two children up and dressed and fed and off to school this morning, cuddled and nursed my baby and fed him homemade zucchini and brown rice, and got felt up by my husband while we waited for the coffee to brew. Then I got on the computer and fielded emails and sponsored post opportunities and read a wonderful thank-you note from a previous advice-question-asker. Then I wrote this column. The baby and I are planning to meet Jason somewhere for lunch and then hopefully I’ll be able to get some more work done during naptime, before it’s time to meet Noah at the bus.
All told, today is going pretty well, so far. And that’s enough, for now.
Illustration by the talented Secret Agent Josephine