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SAHM Detour

An Unexpected SAHM Detour

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

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!
L

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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Natalie
Guest
Natalie

sigh. I have nothing useful to add to Amalah’s advice jut to stay make sure you discuss this now and stand up for yourself. My daughter is almost two and while we talked about this issue I never really thought it was necessary to split chores and stand up for what I wanted. Now I work full time as does my husband but all of the house work and child care is my responsibility because my job only pays for my school loans and things like groceries while his pays for the mortgage and other bills. I have been deemed… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

You know, you might be able to find another job and make the decision later. It’s hard to know how you will feel after the baby comes now. I have stayed at home and gone to work and their are pluses AND minuses to both situations. But I do Agree that as I am currently unemployed, I am a little more resentful about housework that I do as my kids are in s bool and husband works.  And I plan to rectify a lot of that when I start my new job Monday! Post back and tell us how it… Read more »

Mary
Guest
Mary

I have been doing this motherhood thing for almost 21 years, so I have a few things to say on the subject. I never, ever expected to be a stay home mom. My generation believed that we were so lucky and privileged to have an education, and we should use it. (do I sound really old when I say that? I’m not, but things were very different 20 years ago!) I didn’t exactly plan to get pregnant, and I worked up until the night before he was born. On the day he turned one week, I was back in the… Read more »

HereWeGoAJen
Guest

I agree with Amy on all the pep talk stuff. My practical advice would be to get the house as organized as you want it and as streamlined as possible before the baby is born because babies are a huuuuuge time suck. And join some kind of mom’s group (the one I am in will accept you when you are pregnant, pre-actually-born kids) because babies are a weird combination of never being alone but also not having anyone to talk to.

Julie
Guest
Julie

I certainly second the advice about making some time to get out to mom’s support groups now. For one thing, it will give you a social outlet now. It will give you people to talk to who have been where you’re about to be and can give you practical advice about what to expect, local resources, where the good walking parks and playgrounds with baby swings are, a possible source of hand-me-downs, etc. And when the baby does come, you won’t be facing the intimidation of a new social environment coupled with the challenges involved in simply getting out of… Read more »

Nicole
Guest
Nicole

Thank you Amy. I wish I had this pep talk when my first daughter was born. I went through this transition 2 years ago and just now feel like I have an emotional handle on it…right before #2 arrives. Luckily, my husband had a realistic view of how his house ran as a child. He has given me the space to be the mom I wanted to be. I’ve worked part-time, freelance, volunteer, and temporary positions in the last 2 years as my brain needed and opportunity presented. I’m not ashamed to say I have a housekeeper every other week.… Read more »

JIllian
Guest

My husband is a stay-at-home dad. Something that was really helpful for both of us was to get clear on exactly what his job is. We feel that it’s to be as present for our kids as he would be for a boss in the office. With whatever free time he gets (mostly during naps) he gets as much of the house under control as possible. But if I come home to a sink full of dishes and an explosion of toys and laundry (as I often do) I’m happy to hear that they spent their time going to the… Read more »

bwcagrl
Guest
bwcagrl

I also found myself unexpectedly in the role of SAHM to two kids. For my own sanity I had to set up a routine for myself and the kids – one that included a little time for each day for a little of everything. I also whole-heartedly recomend flylady.net for developing good routines for the home…my house STAYS clean almost by itself now because a few minutes a day makes a huge impact. My routines are so routine now that I don’t even have to think about cleaning…my daily ‘chores’ are habits just like brushing my teeth. During the summers… Read more »

Stefanie
Guest
Stefanie

I found myself in your situation as well when my daughter was born, and expected that I would be able to take care of the baby, keep the house clean, cook dinner every night, etc.  By thinking that, I definitely set myself up for failure!  New babies do take up all of your time.  We expected to let our cleaning lady go after my daughter was born, but ended up having her come more often.  Saving that money would have been great, but was not worth the stress I felt with the house so messy. My daughter is now 1,… Read more »

Hillary
Guest
Hillary

I just want to add that you may want to reset some expectations. Remember that if you were both working, your baby would be with a sitter or at daycare, and when your child is at daycare all you are paying them for is caring for your child. Think of yourself at home like a daycare teacher; don’t expect that you’ll be able to provide childcare AND housekeeping AND grocery shopping/cooking every single day. That is unrealistic and won’t serve your child very well! Think of the time your husband is working as the time you’re running a daycare, and… Read more »

HomeValley
Guest

I am also an “accidental” SAHM – I was laid off during my maternity leave (a whole OTHER issue), but I am really, really enjoying it. It was never my intention to be at home… But then this tiny little baby seemed to need me so much, and I just couldn’t imagine leaving him every day for work I wasn’t extremely passionate about (I think the only thing I was passionate about was the income, if I’m being honest). I am 6 months in, and it’s working better than I ever imagined. I have to agree with Amalah’s skittishness about… Read more »

Nadya
Guest

For me the tables turned. My boyfriend is the stay at home dad and I work. He got laid off and I am still here kicking in corporate america. Daycare is way to expensive and since he was laid off he took the job. I don’t think I could ever be a stay at home mom. Not because I wouldn’t mind staying home with my baby but because I realize you don’t get the respect you deserve. You single handedly wash bottles, do loads and loads of laundry, cook, pacify the screaming baby,make bottles, try to fit a shower in… Read more »

BMom
Guest
BMom

My job also ended when I was about 10 weeks pregnant… and I’d never planned to stay home. So, ditto to a lot of what Amalah said here… friends, moms groups, storytime at the library, whatever. What really helped me during the unstructured time before B arrived, in addition to some of Amalah’s suggestions about routine and all that, was some structured volunteer work. For me, it was at my church helping in the office, but it coule be all kinds of things. It was also an easy thing to stop doing as my due date got closer. Now I’m… Read more »

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

I got laid off when my company shut down 1 week before my due date (July 8) It was actually quite awesome because I got severance + unemployment instead of an unpaid maternity leave. I thought that I would do school (full time masters program) mostly at night and have childcare part time (for the new baby + old baby (13 months older) I soon realized that I was way not cut out to do more of the childcare and hyper sensitive to the balance of power and household chores issues. Partly that was because up until that point we… Read more »

Leigh
Guest
Leigh

When my youngest was a baby and I had a three-year-old at home, my husband once came home to a not-sparkling house and asked the infamous question, “what did you DO all day?” So I made him a list. The next day I wrote down every diaper change, every snack made, every phone call to the plumber, every Cheerio swept off the floor. It even overwhelmed ME, reading all the tiny little things that took up my day. He never asked that question again, and actually hung the list above his desk.

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

Unrelated to the question at hand – Often times when I open the link to this page, I can’t see the beginning of the question – typically whatever is next to the graphic. Sometimes I can highlight it and then see it, but not always. In this particular instance, I can only see “Hi Amalah (BIG Whitespace and Advice Smackdown Graphic) ANYWAY, the husband had expressed…” Perhaps its only a problem on my computer but since I’ve had it happen often just thought I’d mention it. Love you Amalah!

Zanbar
Guest
Zanbar

Sorry I had to respond to NATALIE… I really feel for you as I also have a nearly-2-yr-old and have really had to fight not to be expected to do everything around the house. Actually, I think I am doing rather well, although I was on the phone with my mother-in-law this morning, in tears because sometimes it feels that he JUST DOESN’T GET IT!!! She was like – ‘Men, they’re all the same, you’ve just got to train them’. It’s about incremental steps, pointing out EVERYTHING that is taken for granted, and getting him to agree to take on… Read more »

Jo
Guest
Jo

It is such an overwhelming, exciting thing to be expecting your first baby and regardless of choosing to stay at home or accidentally staying at home or working or working from home, it always brings about a huge lifestyle change. No one I’ve ever spoken to knew what it would be like to have a baby until it happened. I was even the nanny for newborn twins (twice – for two separate families!) for years, and planned in my head to always be a stay at home mom when the time came for me and still, motherhood came as a… Read more »

SAHM
Guest
SAHM

I have been thinking about this since Amy posted it, and have hesitated posting a comment. I too worked full-time before we had our son a year and a half ago, and it was a big adjustment for me to go from lots of adult interaction and sharing the household responsibilities to being quite isolated by motherhood and also taking over most of the household responsibilities. My feeling is that yes, you have been unexpectedly laid off, and are not necessarily choosing to stay home. BUT, it’s important to note that you are ABLE to stay home. I’ve lost count… Read more »

ksmaybe
Guest
ksmaybe

I haven’t read the other responses (only so much time while my kids eat breakfast!), but I wanted to toss in from my experiences, that regardless of expectations of either party, be prepared for tense moments. DH’s mom worked for most if not all of his childhood, Still, he feels like he can’t say anything about things that don’t get done, or that he would like to see done without my taking it personally. He’s probably right. It’s hard to negotiate who’s responsibility tasks are and it’s hard to not feel completely responsible for everything, no matter how great you… Read more »

Lindsay
Guest
Lindsay

I want to second a lot of the things that Mary (3rd comment in the list) says above. My mom was that perfect housekeeper, and even trained me that way from when I was little… and I still can’t ever live up to my own expectations of doing it as well as she did. I think there are two main things I can contribute to this conversation: 1. Start looking now for a babysitter. Figure out which of your neighbors have responsible teenage daughters, or ask for recommendations in the nursery at your church (the nursery workers probably know who… Read more »

cass
Guest
cass

Hi there, I’m the mommy with the war at home, which you linked to in the above post… I’m happy to report that hubby and I have settled into a routine with the kiddo and things around our house are MUCH happier now. (And the kiddo just turned one! HOORAY!) Is hubby still wishing he was at home with the kiddo more? Yes. Does he still wish the kiddo was with me or another family member instead of day care? Yes. But he’s had more than a few days and nights alone with the kiddo since then and knows that… Read more »