Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It All Falls Apart (Or, Defining Myself as a Stay-At-Home-Mom)

This picture pretty much sums up how I've been feeling lately. No matter how hard I try, it all falls apart anyway.
Let me try to explain.

I tend to define myself by what I'm doing. It's a bad habit. I'm fully aware of that. Nonetheless, it's the truth. What I'm doing gives me purpose and I tend to commit myself entirely to whatever I do.

When I was in school or working outside the home I could say, "I'm a student studying international law and human rights" or "I work in crisis intervention" and people would say, "oooh, that sounds interesting." It was an easy way to distinguish myself without revealing much personal information. People would think what they thought about me after hearing those statements and I didn't worry about it. I figured it was sufficiently impressive. I've always had a need to prove myself.  

When we moved to Texas I became a full-time Stay-at-Home-Mom (SAHM). It quickly consumed my life. That's why this blog is called S.A.H.M i AM. I was trying to create some space for myself and also acknowledge my current role as a mother. Without an outside job I didn't have anything else to define me. Nobody here knew me as anything else.
I've come to realize that being defined by what I do is more complex now that I'm a SAHM. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's living in the South. I don't know. Most likely it's just decades of stereotypes of what a mother/homemaker/wife is and does.

How good a job I'm doing as a mother is defined not by how happy my child is (although that's important also) but by how on top of everything else I am. Months ago my husband came home from work and looked around at the dirty dishes in the sink and the toys strewn across the living room. Dinner wasn't ready and I was a little frazzled. He took it all in and said, "so what did you do all day?"

Because the house wasn't clean I couldn't have possibly accomplished anything, right?

(Disclaimer: My husband is wonderful and didn't mean anything negative by this statement. He just wanted to know what we'd been up to and it came out wrong. He helps out as much as he can around the house. He's just not home as much as I am).

Anyhow, I feel like that statement pretty sums up how I've been feeling about staying home. It comes down to the house and not the kid. Which brings me back to my first point. Because my house is in constant state of self-destruction, despite my best intentions, I'm constantly defined by something that is falling apart.

Which is probably why I feel like I've been falling apart and going a teeny bit crazy.

No matter how many times I do dishes during the day or pick up toys, there are always dishes in the sink and toys on the floor when I go to bed .

I'm sure it's because at a certain point in the day, I quit prioritizing the cleaning. I reach a point where I realize I can't keep up. It's like that I Love Lucy episode where she's working at the candy factory. No matter how much I try to live in the moment and enjoy the process, no matter how much I try to involve my daughter and turn it into a playful learning experience, I don't find housework inherently fulfilling.

I know why I stay home. My gut instinct was to be with my baby. That's why I'm home. I want to be with my daughter. I don't want to miss a moment with her. I want to share every opportunity to teach her and learn from her. I don't stay home because I love housecleaning.

But my knowing all that doesn't change the fact that I feel like my success as a SAHM is judged by the cleanliness of my house. I definitely get up early and clean like a maniac if we have guests coming over. I'm my own worst critic.

I can't let go of the compulsion to do something that is considered "legitimate" work by the outside world. Even though there are plenty of people who will tell me that what I'm doing is "the most important thing of all" I don't think they believe it. I think that's part of why I write. It gives me a certain amount of legitimacy. At the very least it gives me an out--the dishes didn't get done because I had a deadline. It doesn't matter that the dishes wouldn't have been washed if I didn't have a deadline.

The state of my house is more tangible than my daughters health and development. And because I'm home all the time I must have a bunch of time on my hands, right? I make bread and yogurt because I'm desperately trying to fill the empty hours, not because I think it's important for my family's health.

I kept telling myself that as L. gets older I'll be better at managing my time and she can help me with certain chores. I'll be more on top of things. I won't feel so alone. Maybe we'll dance and sing and clean like Snow White (or like this).

I doubt it. Really, I don't think I'll ever enjoy cleaning. I enjoy the result. I like when it makes me feel like I've accomplished something but, more often than not, it makes me feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.

I know it's me more than anything else. Like I said, I'm my own worst critic. It's my own desire to appear like the perfect mother that fuels the fire so to speak. It's my desire be fulfill and dispel stereotypes simultaneously. I know deep down my friends don't care what my house looks like. I try not to surround myself by people who would judge me based on my housekeeping ability. I know I don't have to be changing the world to be doing something worthwhile. I know these things.

But that doesn't change the way it feels sometimes.

The picture above is my case in point. The leaf cutter ants started eating my garden yesterday. Yes, the garden we just planted. Yes, just like the ones you see on National Geographic.

No matter how hard I work, sometimes it all falls apart.

Shared with Seasonal Celebration Sunday and Natural Parenting Group.


  1. I stayed home with my kids too and left my identity at my old job. Before long, I found a new identity and then I slowly became me. An amazing transformation really.


  2. I thought I'd pop over and see if you had a "This Moment" photo and read this instead. My heart goes out to you. I'm afraid when women joined the work force, it demoralized the most important role we have - "Oh (ahem) you stay at home?" Accompanied by "that" look.

    I grew up with my mom at home. Even though I was raised to go to college, get a job, etc. all I ever wanted to be was a mom. I am one, but I wasn't able to be a stay at home mom. So I work and was/am so jealous of women who do get to stay at home - the grass is always greener, you know.

    So here's the deal. You will find your place. Give it time. Everyone gets there at their own pace. Know that what you are doing "at home" matters more than what I get paid to do at the office. And know that you are not alone. Chin up! We all have these moments. Hope things are looking up and you have a wonderful weekend....sorry for the long comment :)

  3. Thank you ladies! I'm trying to find patience with my transformation and remind myself that the real reasons I stay home are more important than the laundry. I know I want to be home so I have to find a way to enjoy it more...and I really do enjoy it. Thank you for the encouragement!

  4. I'm older than you, now 46 I look back and am delighted that I chose to stay at home with my three daughters.
    However, I do know exactly what you mean regarding house cleaning. With 3 under 5 I found it a real struggle and it got on top of me too. I was defining how well I was doing as a parent by the state of my house. I felt uncomfortable living in the mess and felt was out of control ( and it wasn't that bad- I just like order and my home was a state of disorder). I wrote about this issue in January- Hope these articles are helpful, the links for both part 1 and 2 are here below.
    Warmly, Rebecca x



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