The Guilt of Being a Stay At Home Mom
It’s pretty well established—-and promoted ad nauseum by the media—-that many working moms feel guilty about being working moms. They worry about not contributing enough to their families in the forms of quality time and physical presence. They resent feeling unable to raise their kids themselves and having to leave it to day care, nannies, or other family members. They feel like half-moms in a million ways because they spend 8+ hours a day with their coworkers, and maybe 3-4 hours with their kids. We’ve all read the articles and seen the stories on the nightly news. We’ve all sympathized or been there ourselves. I was a working mom with P. I get it. The guilt is oppressive and makes you question the quality of your mothering and the decisions that have lead to your daytime separation from your children. You think, “If I could stay home with my kids, their lives would be so much richer and our familial bond would be so much stronger.” The grass is always greener, right?
Well, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) with N now for more than 6 months, and I have to say, I feel guiltier about that sometimes than I ever did about being a working mom. Moms are great at feeling guilty about whatever it is that they’re doing, or not doing, for their kids any any given moment, but this a new-and-improved mom guilt.
It’s guilt that begins with the counterintuitive and blasphemous thought that maybe, just maybe, you might be a better mom as a working mom than you are as a SAHM. It is more than the typical am-I-mom-enough feeling of inadequacy. It’s guilt for not doing enough for your child to stimulate their growth and development—-even though you’re right there—-because while yes, you’re home and tending to your child, you’re not devoting every waking minute to them. You’re also juggling running your home while trying to maintain some semblance of your individuality. So you’re leaving your baby in the high chair while you unload the dishwasher, or sticking them in the Jumperoo while you fold 6 loads of laundry. You’re letting your toddler watch TV for longer than you want so you can just finish whatever you’re in the middle of, or telling them “In a minute!” for the sixth time when they ask you to play so you can read one more email. You feel like you should be doing something with your child right now, but you just have to do this thing first really quick. Oh and then this other thing. Oh and then this thing, too. Before you know it, your kid has been doing nothing for 45 minutes, and you think “This is not how I expected being a SAHM to be. I’m not doing the great job I thought I would.” You think, “Maybe day care really would do a better job than me because they’d at least interact with my kid and I leave him sitting around all the time.”
My girl P is the social, intelligent, happy little girl she is today because of both day care and my influence. Our bond is extremely strong and she started day care nearly 3 years ago when she was just 4 months old. And maybe it’s because I’ve seen first hand what day care can do for a child that I think about the benefits for my boy N almost every day. Especially now that he is nearly 7 months old and paying attention to his surroundings, and I am still leaving him on the floor to entertain himself while I do 17 “quick” things. I give him lots of attention, but I know it’s not nearly what he’d get if he were at day care. Day care (or nannies, etc) is paid to be there for your child in a way that you can’t be while you’re cleaning, cooking, organizing, filing, shopping, or taking a freaking nap. At day care, kids are singing and learning, they’re practicing motor skills, they’re socializing with people other than you, they’re following a strict schedule, they’re managed by a team. There are huge social, emotional, and educational benefits to all of that, and it’s hard sometimes not to think that they are greater than the ones associated with being home with your child yourself. At home, kids just don’t have as much structure or receive the same kind of attention. It’s simply not possible unless you shirk all home-based duties and consider care-giving your full-time job. I don’t know any SAHM who is able to do that. It’s impossible for me and the others moms I know to be home and not also be doing laundry or straightening up or cooking something while also trying to engage or entertain the kids. It’s impossible for me to focus on my kids the way day care would. Even if there are 10 other children in the class competing for the care-givers’ attention, that’s 10 more people to interact with my child in ways that I’m not when they are home with me.
I’m certainly not saying that no mother should raise her own kids because day care does it better, nor am I saying that I want my kids to be stimulated every minute of every day without any chance to experience boredom. I’m saying that day care and I may do a better job as a child-rearing team than I do alone all day. And I’m saying that I bet I’m not the only SAHM who feels this way. Being a SAHM is sometimes glorified as this ultimate way of contributing to your family, and I’m finding there is enormous guilt associated with discovering that for you, it may not be. The grass on this side wasn’t as green as I thought it’d be, but then again, it never is.