From personal experience, I can tell you that being a stay-at-home parent can be one of the most wonderful and rewarding things you may ever, ever, do, but it can also be incredibly emotional, stressful and challenging. It starts with caring for the every need of helpless little wiggly creatures… and dealing with colds and flus and teething, and colic and nightmares and diaper rash. Then there’s the guilt and worry about not being able to provide financially for your family and about being dependent on your spouse for financial support. Then there can also be feelings of boredom, loneliness and wondering if you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes you can really feel stuck and alone in the four walls of your home.
Let’s explore some of the common emotional challenges that come along with being a stay-at-home parent:
Not Finishing or Feeling Defeated Before You Even Start
Before you stayed home, you were always really on top of things. You worked full time, you worked hard and you were damn good at it — you also managed to keep the bills paid, the house clean and have the laundry done as well. You made it to the gym 3 or 4 times a week (maybe 2 or 3?) and even had time to go out with your friends for a few pints on “Wings Wednesday” or to that oh so relaxing yoga class.
Now it seems like you can’t finish… one… single… darn… thing…
There is a dried coffee stain on the counter that’s been there for weeks, there is a load of laundry getting wrinklier and wrinklier in the drier, and the vacuum cleaner itself… actually needs dusting! The bills have piled up because money and time are tight and you may or may not have fed the dog today.
One of the best ways to start dealing with this long list of things to do is to slow down and realize that it’s perfectly normal for parents, especially new parents, to have to change the order of the priorities on their to-do list — and to really take a deep breath and let some things go, so you can focus on the more important things, like keeping your kids alive, happy and comfortable.
It’s about realizing that coffee ring on the counter isn’t really hurting anyone and you’ll get to it sometime. It’s realizing that it’s totally normal and OK and helpful to let go of the expectations that you had on yourself before children. A happy, healthy child and a happy healthy mommy or daddy are much, much more important than a freshly cleaned house. Be realistic in your expectations and whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others who may look like they have it together on the outside, as you never know… maybe they are about to implode!
Maybe it’s OK to be creative and spend that extra money for a weekly grocery delivery or a having a service do a deep clean once a month, even if it would make your grandmother roll over in her grave to find out you used a maid. This is not the time to worry about how your mother, or friends, or that perfect TV family parented and kept their house. Be your own kind of parent! Do what works for you! Set your own standards!
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help! See if a friend or family member can swing by and watch the kids while you spend an hour or two a week grocery shopping. This will help you fill the fridge and also maybe give you some alone time!
And finally, be kind to yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself if things aren’t perfect and try to just let go of some of those expectations (and especially if those expectations are the perfectionist, archetypal June Cleaver kind from the 1950’s). Make the effort to change your self-talk and mindset, and maybe just learn how to be OK with unfinished chores and long lasting coffee rings. Ask yourself: Does it really matter in the big picture? Really? I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that there are some things, maybe even lots of things, that are perhaps, maybe, possibly okay to just let go?
Isolation, Desolation, Loneliness and Boredom
You were once surrounded by people in your office (and you maybe even liked some of them?). There were long Monday morning coffee breaks and lunches out with other adults that you could laugh and talk and argue politics with. Your job kept you intellectually challenged — heck, keeping track of the office politics alone probably kept your mind busy!
Now you spend many days looking for lost socks and you may actually find yourself giving the sock the “what for”, telling it out loud how disappointed in its behaviour you are when you find it in the couch cushions!
Being a stay-at-home parent can be especially isolating, and especially so, if you were an extrovert or a social butterfly in your previous work-life. And though raising children is very heart filling and rewarding, there are plenty of days when you won’t speak to a single adult all day, or feel intellectually challenged, even a little bit; the boredom can feel mind-numbing sometimes.
Though it isn’t always easy finding the time to nurture your social and cerebral needs, it’s really super important that you try to make socializing and using your brain a priority. Make the effort to plan and execute regular grown-up gatherings with friends and families with and without the children. Maybe join a book club or take a class once a week (or an online class) if you need a challenge for your brain. Maybe join the soccer or softball “beer league” in your neighbourhood, or take those golf or tennis lessons you’ve always meant to take. Plan a get together with other stay-at-home parents, or join a mom and tots group, or one of the groups that go mall walking with their wee ones. Make it a true priority to get that social interaction and mental stimulation. Making an effort to find other adults to interact with and ways to support each other can be an important way to fight off loneliness and maintain our stay at home parent mental wellness.
Another great resource is to find online support groups or forums like the ones on Facebook where you can interact and connect with other stay at homers that are in the same boat as you.
Doubting Your Parenting
When you’re a stay-at-home parent, you seemingly eat, sleep, and breathe being a parent. From first thing in the morning until the last thoughts before sleep, somedays there is almost no break from it. It can really be all-encompassing, which makes it very easy to become somewhat obsessed and worried that maybe you’re not really doing a good job. It doesn’t help that the interwebz is full of “helicopter parenting” blogs, articles and advice columns that have totally wacky super high expectations that no parent, anywhere, actually meets, or could possibly ever meet. You may begin to really start questioning every little parenting decision you make and wonder if you’re harming your little dumpling’s emotional and intellectual development. I mean really, you’ve only read the 20 latest, greatest parenting books and you only have them in Gymboree once a week, playschool twice a week or maybe you got angry with them and raised your voice last week and you still feel a bit guilty.
A great way to deal with this doubt is by connecting with other stay-at-home parents in person or in an online chat room. These connections can really help you gain perspective on your situation.
Also when you find yourself beginning to worry and obsess, maybe step back and look at the “bigger picture”. Ask yourself: “Is my family happy and healthy?” Am I worried about something truly important, or am I “just worrying”?
Do some research and really know what is normal child development at various stages. The more you know about what is “normal” the more you can relax and realize that you’re really doing just fine! Here is a link to a great site that has The Developmental Stages laid out really well — Developmental Stages, Tasks and Milestones
Cut yourself some slack and be the parent you want to be, not the unrealistic ideal parent that we think we NEED to be. Here’s a really great irreverent and funny book on being the best parent you can and allaying some of those doubts:
Special Challenges for Stay at Home Dads — The Stigma
At a few points during my parenting years, I was a stay at home dad. I was even a stay at home dad with a shiny, fresh newborn! So I know personally that being a stay at home dad has a few special challenges. Maybe most importantly is realizing that the sexist system that has held down women in the workplace (and elsewhere!), also takes pot shots at you if you’re a stay at home dad and you’re not in the workplace where you belong. You’ll get questioned by family and friends who might be surprised or even judgemental about what you’re doing.
You might get comments and questions like:
YOU’RE stying at home? (said with skepticism and incredulity)
Are you actually changing dirty diapers and cleaning the house? (again skepticism and incredulity)
So you’re Mr. Mom now?!?!? (yup, more, skepticism and incredulity)
Wow. Do you know what you’re doing? (like a man just isn’t capable of childcare)
Must be great to not have to go to work? (because childcare isn’t work?!?!?)
Did you lose your job? (seriously?)
Being a stay a stay at home dad has the added difficulty of challenging a very set and very archaic social rule. Men work and women care for babies. A stay at home dad breaks this rule and this can leave the dad feeling socially judged and maybe even ostracised for not being a “real man”. No matter how hard a man tries, it’s hard not to feel this kind of social pressure and not feel stigmatized. This added pressure can really make a stay at home dad begin to question their choice in takig the parenting role. They can also feel the stress of putting their career on hold because, well, men just don’t do that. They feel like they are spinning their wheels or falling behind. For all of these reasons being a stay at home dad can be a stressful experience.
One of the best things a stay at home dad can do to allay these feelings is to get support! Having open-minded, supportive and encouraging people to talk to can be a great help. A great resource for stay at home dads is the Stay at Home Dad Network that has great information and online support groups.
Motherism? There’s a Stigma for Stay At Home Moms Too!
Just like there is a social and cultural stigma for stay at home dads, one exists for stay at home moms too! Mom’s who stay at home and put their career on hold can also feel prejudiced against. Although feminism is a wonderful thing, it also has sprouted some unhealthy ideas and thoughts. Women who stay at home often feel they are looked down on by others who make a different choice and stay at work, a word coined for this is motherism. UK Researcher and Psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman, addressing a conference organised by the Mothers At Home Matter group stated that:
The implication is that by being a full-time mother you are “subjugated and servile” and even sexually unattractive once you are a mother – a quality only associated with women who return to work with their high heels and clipboards.’
Motherhood must not hide its light under a bushel. Greater maternal contact in the early years, especially during infancy, is greatly advantageous to the child.
So whether you’re a stay at home dad or mom you may find you may experience some social friction from colleagues, friends and family. The best way to deal with this perhaps is to really stay strong and positive about the choice you’ve made to stay home. If you truly value the stay at home parent role? Stick to your guns and defend it! Regardless of what society says, you made the choice to spend that crucial one on one time with your children and why waste your effort and emotional energy worrying about self-doubt, or what other people think? Also get support! Find an in person or online stay at home parent support group — there is strength in numbers and it’s super helpful being around people who really understand what it takes to stay home!
If you’re really stressed and overwrought though, sometimes, talking with a third party, like a therapist, can help you gain perspective on your life and how being a stay-at-home parent may be affecting you. If you’re interested in talking to someone, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.
Harding Eleanor. The rise of ‘motherism’: Stay-at-home mothers face prejudice assuming they are lazy, stupid and unattractive, expert warns. http://www.dailymail.co.uk//news/article-2469315/Dr-Aric-Sigman-Stay-home-mums-face-prejudice-assuming-lazy-stupid.html#ixzz50hOXNdlT http://mothersathomematter.co.uk/