When my husband and I decided that I would be a stay-at-home mother, I was both thrilled and terrified. I looked forward to being there for everything, but I was a little nervous about what it would mean for my identity.
Always having had a career, I am one who needs to get up and go. My mind craves routine and my body needs physical exertion. I knew that I would love being there to take care of our daughter, but a part of me wondered, what would I actually do all day?
Of course, any stay-at-home parent will tell you that there is plenty to do during the day. Feeding, changing, and taking care of young children all day is a job in and of itself. And when you are home all day instead of off at work and daycare, the messes are never-ending. So, yes, there’s plenty to actually do. But moving from one room to the next playing and then picking it up on repeat all day can be mind-numbing.
Like a lot of stay-at-home mums I had to make friends with solitude quick. You have your children there, but that’s different from the company of adults. Being at home when you’re used to being out in the world is lonely. Adult conversation is missing most of the time. Sure, there’s plenty to do, but it can be monotonous.
I’m in Facebook support groups for stay-at-home mums and the thing I see the most complaints about (after unhelpful partners, which is enough for a post of its own!) is loneliness. Being lonely often ends up the dirty little secret of stay-at-home motherhood. When you try and open up about the feeling, people will chastise you: “How could you be lonely when you’re with your children?” Or you get the guilt about how lucky you are to be home with them.
And we are lucky, and we know it. Which makes the feeling even worse. Because not only are you a little sad and feeling alone, but on top of it you feel guilty about that because — let’s face it — you get to stay home with your children. This is a privilege.
While the number of stay-at-home mums is on the rise, a lot of times we feel like other people don’t understand us. The world might look in from the outside and see a Pinterest-perfect picture, but inside we feel pressure.
The onus is on the stay-at-home parent to carry the bulk of the discipline, meal-planning, activities, early education, and later, homework help. Articles, grandparents, and pediatricians remind us constantly of all the ways we should be expanding their young minds.
There might not be a set schedule, but we can’t just laze about. We need to keep them active enough to stave off their boredom and our own. Bored children have come to feel like a personal failure to me. I understand that there is creativity to be found in quiet moments. But the facts remain that as a stay-at-home mum I feel a responsibility to keep my children entertained.
We each feel these things to different degrees, but they’re there. And it’s work. When the bulk of the work you do, though, is not measurable and sometimes not even visible, a person can start to feel… worthless.
Worthlessness and loneliness are a pretty shitty combination. That’s when a lot of mums start to feel depressed. I’ve been there, and it wasn’t pretty.
Right around the time our first daughter turned eight-months-old, I felt out to sea. Our small apartment was easy enough to pick up in twenty minutes or less, but the mess seemed to recreate itself just as quickly. The baby’s mind was expanding fast, and gone were the days of cuddling on the couch for an hour here or there, or even filling hours-long blocks of time with books and toys.
All of my friends worked and we didn’t see each other during the day. My husband got home late at night, ate dinner, and logged back onto his work computer. I couldn’t carry on a conversation with an infant, obviously. A lot of my efforts went unnoticed. (It’s not like the baby was detailing for her father all of the cute little activities I’d put together in a day). And I started to feel like… nothing.
This was around when I decided that I was no longer going to be a “stay at home” mum. While in the past we’d made play dates when we could and attended baby classes when it was convenient, I vowed to myself in the hour of my deepest depressive rut that I was going to change things for myself.
Being out in the world is refreshing. It’s a chance to explore new things, meet new people, and breathe fresh air. It’s exciting for kids who can feel the walls closing in on them at home, but just don’t know how to express that. It’s a positive reminder of accomplishment; giving them something to talk about later, too. Parks, malls, museums, libraries, and nature paths are all perfect ways to reinvigorate.
Now, we get of the house every single day. Even just for a walk around the neighborhood or a drive to Starbucks. I have put the work in to make friends — and we see them often. This is wonderful for kids, but mostly has been an investment in myself. A reminder to enjoy the good feeling of fresh clothes and the treat of an overpriced coffee. A confirmation that face-to-face contact with other adults makes me feel good and I deserve that.
Being a stay-at-home is wonderful, but it’s okay to admit that I get lonely, and a little depressed. No one else is going to swoop in and fix that, and it certainly isn’t the job of my children. I owe it to them just as much as to me — to get out and experience the world. Home will always be waiting for us when we return — and it’ll feel even sweeter once we’ve left for a little while.