I didn’t originally plan to be a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM).
In all honesty, I think some small part of me always wanted this, but I buried it under desires I thought I was supposed to feel like ambition, independence, and pragmatism.
I worked hard in school, then grad school, and managed to get a job in my small and specialized field. Then I got a better job, that moved my husband and I across the state. I planned for a career and I had it. I “had it all” and I did the whole career mom thing for almost 2 years.
So how did I end up a SAHM?
Taken at face value: my husband got a new job, we had to move, so I left mine.
That is the simple answer. It’s what I say because it is easy for people to understand and it doesn’t get too personal.
While it is all true… it is also incomplete. It doesn’t explain the motivations. It doesn’t explain how or why I chose this life.
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I wasn’t ready to leave my baby, but I did it anyway and it broke my heart.
I’m willing to bet that no mom loves to leave their baby, but several friends had told me that by the end of my maternity leave I would be so ready to get back to work. I would crave adult conversation, they said. I would go crazy at home all day, they said.
Here’s where the trouble started, I never felt that. I extended my leave and took the full 12 weeks (the max I was allowed under FMLA), but I still didn’t feel ready.
On the first morning back, I schlepped my diaper bag, pump, purse, and lunch, dropped my tiny infant in the arms of a stranger at daycare, and went to work.
I cried in the bathroom, while I pumped, and even spontaneously at my desk. One day down, only 18 years left to go. It will get easier, they said.
But it didn’t.
If anything, I got better at it. I cried less and tried to convince myself that every day didn’t feel worse as I missed more of my son’s life. It didn’t become easier, I just became hardened.
My job was not the problem. I had good friends, an amazing supervisor, and the work was interesting. I was able to change my schedule so I could visit my son and breastfeed during my lunch.
Daycare was, also, not the problem. Our provider was right next to my office, and they were great with my son. He seemed perfectly happy there.
The problem was me.
I hated leaving my son. I hated that I was paying someone else to do something that I really wanted to do. It felt absurd, like paying someone else to eat cookies or go on vacation for me.
I hated that I barely saw my son all week. I refused to give up another precious minute of our time together, so I bailed on friends, skipped book club, and turned down babysitting offers.
There are only so many hours in the day. After work, I never had enough time with my son, let alone to do any of the other things on my to-do list like laundry, grocery shop, or actually have a conversation with my husband. It took all of my energy just to get through the necessities each day.
Mornings were just get up, get dressed, get out the door. Evenings were get dinner, get baby to bed, and get ready to start all over tomorrow. By the time the pump parts were washed, the bottles were prepared, and everything was packed by the door, I just wanted to crawl into bed and hope to only be woken once before morning.
I had all of the things that were supposed to make me happy: the dream job, the big house, the picture perfect family. But I had never been so unhappy. I would drift off trying to reassure myself, I can do this, I can have it all.
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The thing about having it all was that it felt like I never had enough of anything: not enough time, not enough energy, not enough sleep, not enough life.
In college, a friend told me that he probably wouldn’t get married because he was going to need a bunch of women: one to cook, one to clean, one to work, one to take care of kids, and one for sex. I sort of thought he was joking. One woman could do all of that. He said “No, I want it all done really well”.
At the time, I felt a bit indignant. It took me another 10 years to realize that he was right and the joke was on me.
I felt like a failure at everything. My house was a disaster zone, take-out became our usual dinner, and my marriage was unraveling. I was always overwhelmed, perpetually stressed, and felt like the worst version of me.
Perhaps, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I managed to do my job and care for my son, but short of the super-mom goals I had set.
All of my focus went to those two things and everything else got the bare minimum. I would constantly wonder how all of these other working moms managed so much better.
What was their secret?
I could sort of do it all, but I definitely could not do it all well. Though housework and meals could slide a bit without devastating effects, my marriage could not.
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My marriage suffered.
My husband worked long, crazy hours. We could go days without both being home and awake at the same time. It took effort to make time for each other and I wasn’t putting much in.
Not only did I not make my marriage a priority, I also took my unhappiness out on my husband. It was difficult to even admit to him that I wanted to stay home with our son. I was trying to change our game plan part way through. He was not exactly receptive.
To say we fought seems an understatement. We threw blame at each other, rehashed every single decision that had led us to this point, and tore each other down. We did not see eye to eye for a long time. He looked at our life from a practical money standpoint. All I could see was my emotions.
One particularly bad day, I found myself screaming at my well-intentioned husband for unloading the dishwasher without realizing it had not been run. I was crying and literally throwing dirty plates.
This was not sustainable.
We both knew that our marriage would not survive if we continued this way. I wish I could say that we immediately fixed everything, but this was real life and change takes time. This was just our first step.
I had to face reality.
I had to accept that I could not just up and quit my job. There was no easy solution.
We had built our life around two incomes. We had moved away from family and friends for my career. My husband had left a job he loved for lower pay and worse hours, all for me. We had two mortgages and student loans. I was the breadwinner.
From a practical money standpoint, my husband was completely right: we could not afford to live off his income. I knew that, but it didn’t change how I felt.
Gradually, I was able to see where my husband was coming from and the tensions between us began to lessen. We slowly started to repair our relationship. We tried to listen for understanding and speak more kindly. We had to let go of our past mistakes.
It took time and a lot of effort, but eventually we were able to have real conversations about our situation instead of just arguments. I was still unhappy, but at least we could talk about it. We weren’t adversaries anymore.
Knowing that there was no immediate fix, we tried to come up with ways to make our current situation better.
Before our son, I had taken on the majority of the household chores, but now I had to admit that I needed help. As soon as I asked for help, my husband jumped right in. He took over the grocery shopping, vacuuming, and washing the dishes, bottles, and pump parts. Though his work schedule still made it difficult, on the days he was home, things ran much smoother.
We became a team again, trying to find solutions together. While, the situation still wasn’t ideal, we tried to make the best of it and hoped that someday we could change it.
We started to tackle our finances.
If I was ever going to have a chance to stay home, we were going to have to get creative, so I started looking for ideas. I scoured Pinterest for ways to save, but this was not going to be enough. Even with two incomes, we already felt like we were living on a tight budget.
The thing is, we weren’t actually keeping track. We needed to take control of our money so I started looking for personal finance advice. I found The Total Money Makeover and it gave me a sliver of hope. Maybe, just maybe, we could do this.
We started a budget and it was amazing to see exactly where all of our money went each month. We used the every dollar app and kept track of literally every cent we spent. The budget allowed us to see where we could cut back.
Also, following the book’s philosophy, we began seriously paying down my student loans. They were a large monthly expense that we would never be able to pay on one income.
We completely changed our spending habits. We cut back on discretionary spending like eating out, new clothes, and cable and started meal planning to save on groceries. We put all of that “savings” towards my loans and paid them off in about 8 months. Sadly, even with no loan payment and maintaining our budget cuts, we still could not get by on my husband’s income.
We made huge changes.
Despite our efforts to improve our relationship and our finances we were still stuck.
I still wanted to be home with my son and we still could not afford that. We needed a radical change.
My husband and I came up with a list of our options with pros and cons for each. The list included any and all ideas, no matter how crazy, everything from maintaining the status quo, downsizing for a smaller house and mortgage, to moving across the country or multiple other places.
My husband had actually been considering a new job ever since we had moved. He had been looking locally, but the job market was rather bleak. After assessing our options, we decided together that he would open up his job search. We would go literally anywhere for a job he wanted, if the salary allowed me to stay home.
As far as plans go, it felt rather flimsy. So much was out of our control. But it did give me hope.
Almost a year later, my husband started his new job. That time was full of ups and downs as different opportunities came and went. There was lots of waiting, wondering, and even doubting, but the worst part was the uncertainty.
Would our plan ever work out? What if we were chasing an impossible dream?
It felt like time crept by so slowly until he got his offer, then it went at warp speed. He had to leave to start, while I stayed behind to keep working while selling our house and moving.
The last couple months, when I was alone, working, packing, and trying to stage a house with a toddler, were the hardest. My hat’s off to the single moms out there. I only got through because there was an end in sight.
My last day of work, I was more emotional than I had expected. It was difficult to say goodbye to my friends, my work, my career. Had I made the right decision? But over the following days I felt the tension, stress, and anxiety I had been carrying for two years fall away.
I could breathe again.
This was how I became a SAHM. Keep reading my next post to find out why being a stay-at-home mom makes me a happier mom. Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list for more insights for SAHMs.
Thank you so much for publishing this post — I feel the same way and I SO appreciate you sharing your realistic approach instead of telling me to “just save” and “just try harder”. Just accepting the fact that it’s not possible RIGHT NOW is so hard, and thank you for pointing out that might have to be the first step even though it’s the hardest. So glad you made it and thank you for the inspiration.