It’s funny how we can make different choices as women—choices that we’ve been taught to think of as opposite choices—and be very much the same. When I got pregnant last year, a small group of people on Twitter became my parenting circle of trust. We had similar philosophies, similar problems, feminist outlooks, and… generally acted exactly the way we did before getting knocked up (now with babies). These women helped me out so much that when I was feeling like a failure as a New Mothers Group dropout, Maddie pointed out to me that I already had my Mothers Group, it was just on the internet. Brandi was one of those ladies. The thing is, Brandi stays home and I have a kid in childcare. Those choices may seem different, but they both come from wanting what’s best for our families, and wanting to raise feminist boys. Earlier this week Liz talked about being a work from home parent. Next week I’ll talk about daycare. But now, Brandi is talking about being a Stay-At-Home Parent (which turns out to be not so different from me after all).
I am a stay-at-home parent.
There, I said it.
That feels a bit like a dirty little secret. At times I would almost rather lead with, “I like vampire romance novels,” than tell people I am a parent who stays home. Why? Like everything else about parenthood, it’s complicated and weird. I don’t plan to be a parent who stays home forever, for one thing, and I don’t think I’m the only parent in our house who is capable of being the one who stays home. In fact, at some point in the future, we’d like to switch places.
How did I become a parent who stays home? I was in school, pursuing a degree in nursing, when I began to feel like I was ready to have a baby. Not the best timing, admittedly. We talked it over for a while. I had this notion that we’d get pregnant in this tiny eight-week window, I’d have the baby over the summer, he’d be old enough for day care by the fall, and I wouldn’t miss a beat. I laugh at how cute I was. Getting pregnant took five months, putting my due date in the middle of the fall semester, so I now knew I would be taking at least one semester off. Then I started looking into the cost of childcare, and promptly fell out of my seat. At minimum, we were looking at $760 per month, but on average somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 to $1200 per month. We are comfortable on one income, but we like to do things. Like eat. So a more indefinite break was in the cards.
Another interesting development occurred along with my pregnancy: the more we talked, the more apparent it became to both of us that we both wanted one of us to be able to be around for the baby for the first little while. “The first little while” being a very flexible term. He had a job that paid all the bills, and I did not and do not want to go back to the job I had before going to school. I hated it, hence the return to school at twenty-eight. So, mom stays home!
I like being a parent who stays home. Most days. There is magic to be found in between the feedings, diapers, tantrums, and naps. Some days, the magic is the nap, or when dad gets home and I can hide for a minute. Other days, its first steps, the first (or any) time he says, “Love you,” or when he leans over with pursed lips and “mwah” asking for a kiss. Which he thanks me for. To miss any of this would be hard.
I revel in those little things because they are magic, and I have to or else I would go nuts. The slapping noise of his chubby baby feet running down the hall can be the only thing that gets me through some days. I miss adults, and conversations that don’t completely revolve around kids. When I’m with people who do work, it can get awkward because I don’t have a “job” and they are unsure how to relate to me. I also tend to pull back because I don’t want to be thought of as that woman who is only capable of talking about her kid, but a little of that has to take place in order for my brain to move on to other things. Showing pictures or telling kid stories can begin to feel like a big taboo, and it just feels easier to keep my mouth shut. Or, if they are a parent as well, quite often they start down the “you’re so lucky to stay home” road. When I try to talk about things other than babies to other moms who stay home, or even attempt to discuss the general weirdness of parenthood (this tiny human danced in my belly for nine months, and lived solely off my boobs for six. Tell me that isn’t mind-blowingly weird?), most look at me like I grew something gross in the middle of my forehead. Then, to try to bring up the need for regularly scheduled breaks? Game over.
The pressure from both sides sucks. Being at home with my dude doesn’t automatically make me a more patient, better parent. Nor does it make my house any cleaner, or make dinner happen perfectly every night. I don’t have different activities planned out for my son every day, nor am I any craftier than I was before he came along. All the Pinterest and Facebook posts from parents who stay home making cutesy lunches and handmade toys for their kids in their very put-together homes make me simultaneously throw up in my mouth a little and feel like the World’s Shittiest Mom. Throw in the realization that I am not, as a whole person, completely fulfilled by staying home, and yeah. Many days with tears. Until I remember that my son doesn’t care about any of that. He’s happy. He knows I love him. That’s what matters most.
Life-role balance is something I’m working on every day. I’m a human, woman, wife, mother. I plan to go back to school and have ambitions of becoming a Nurse Practitioner or Certified Nurse Midwife. Will going back to work completely fulfill me? Nope, I don’t expect it to, just like being at home full time right now just mostly fulfills me. What makes up the rest of the fulfillment? Time alone with my husband. I like him. That’s how we made the little human in the first place. Time alone with myself, very very important. I’m eighteen months into this parenthood thing and am truly just beginning to figure out what I need to do to take care of myself so that I feel like a whole person. I need to be a whole person, not just mom, not just wife, to give both my husband and son the best of me. I believe my son benefits from seeing his mom as more than just mom, and he needs breaks from me just as much as I need them from him. I can’t be the end all.
Other parents, all parents, but especially those who stay home: do the things that make you feel whole. You’ll be a better parent for it. Other people: when you meet a parent who stays home: let them get the kid talk out of their system, then dig a bit and find out about the whole person. This gig is hard, and weird enough, without it relegating you to the sole role of someone’s parent.
Photo Vivian Chen