I have a confession to make: I’m not great at being a stay-at-home mom.
It was never part of my plans but neither was marrying a soldier. And because that has meant moving seven times in nine years, you can imagine how quickly my professional plans fell apart.
So here I am – an accidental stay-at-home mom.
Instead of editing essays, I wrangle tiny rascals. Instead of attending IEP meetings, I chaffeur kids between activities. Instead of planning lessons, I plan my day around naps.
While I recognize how lucky I am to be afforded this opportunity, I’m also frustrated that our military lifestyle has made it less of a choice and more of a necessity. But as the years go on, I’m more comfortable navigating that valley between gratitude and disgruntlement. Doing so requires following a few simple rules:
1. NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR ‘YOU’ TIME
All moms need alone time, of course. But if being a stay-at-home mom isn’t your dream job, it makes sense that you might be extra drained—both physically and emotionally. Sometimes recovering isn’t as simple as getting extra rest. Stay up late bingeing a favorite television show, set firm ‘quiet times’ after toddler naps have begun to fade, take a long way home after a solo grocery store trip. But whatever you do, DO NOT apologize for taking that time.
It is absolutely necessary for your health and your success as a parent, no matter if you are a working parent or a stay-at-home parent.
2. LEARN TO SAY ‘NO’
One of my biggest struggles as an accidental stay-at-home mom is feeling like my lack of an income somehow makes my time less valuable and therefore, I owe my time to anyone who asks. Why shouldn’t I volunteer every Thursday for library time? Why not make some extra cookies for the community bake sale? Why not jump in and take charge of the school’s Box Tops account?
I’ll tell you why.
Because I am a stay-at-home mom—not a baker, or librarian, or clerk. Helping out is wonderful when possible, of course. But it’s important to remember that your first responsibility is to your family, not the community at large. And if that means letting the baby crawl over you all morning or simply watching a movie with your toddler, that is absolutely valid.
Learn to say ‘no,’ and don’t look back.
3. STOP EXPLAINING YOURSELF
Once you learn the fine art of saying ‘no,’ the next step is to avoid elaborating unless necessary. This is a great example of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ because I really struggle with this one!
Several months ago I found myself in an uncomfortable ‘voluntold’ situation around one of my daughter’s extracurricular activities. With a baby in one arm and a kindergartner swinging around the other, I simply didn’t feel that I could do what was being asked. Instead of offering a polite but firm ‘no,’ I found myself providing multiple rationales for my position; when those weren’t validated, my frustration only spiraled.
The thing is, when you are an accidental stay-at-home mom, you tend to look for self-worth in accomplishing tasks outside of just parenting. That tendency can lend itself to over-explaining and unnecessarily apologizing. Learning to avoid that pitfall goes a long way in affirming your personal value.
Nobody is owed your time, and they certainly aren’t owed an explanation.
4. FIND AN OUTLET
I know, I know – this advice can be so tiresome. Oftentimes, it just isn’t possible to make time for a hobby or pursue a personal passion. But when staying home isn’t entirely fulfilling, finding something special that makes you feel happy or accomplished or just you instead of Mom can be a lifesaver.
Maybe it means taking classes toward a degree. Maybe it’s setting a specific night once a month to see a movie by yourself. While my husband was deployed, I took tumbling classes (which I highly recommend). These days, I contribute to Military Moms Blog! I may not be writing the novel I’ve always dreamt of, but claiming small pockets of time to do what I love is so fulfilling.
5. DON’T PRETEND
I don’t like to cook, and I have no interest in learning.
Playing with my kids is exhausting… make-believe with a kid who has an imaginary screenplay inside her head I am expected to magically decipher is, unsurprisingly, not very fun.
Small talk makes me uncomfortable.
Your kid’s bowel movements really don’t interest me.
No, I don’t want to commit to a rotating-home playgroup. Just the thought of such a commitment wears me out.
There was a time when acknowledging such things would’ve made me feel like an outcast. Ok, compared to my Mama friends who love the SAHM life, I still kind of do—but at least I don’t feel bad about it anymore.
Once I stopped pretending to adore things I don’t, I felt more comfortable as an accidental stay-at-home mom. Becoming a parent doesn’t negate your personality so make sure to stay true to you!
So maybe becoming a stay-at-home mom was never in my plans.
But if military life has taught me anything it’s that plans can always change. I think I have, too-even if a part of me will always feel a little out of place in this role.