Rules for the Accidental Stay-at-Home Mom

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Some girls grow up dreaming about being a stay-at-home mom. They relished the idea of snuggling their babies all day, baking delicious chocolate chip cookies, and volunteering at school holiday parties.

Not me.

While I will take baby snuggles whenever I can get them, I honestly always imagined myself in the classroom as the teacher instead of the parent volunteer. And baking just isn’t my thing… the two dozen burned Valentine cookies that ended up in my trash can are testament enough of that.

So when I became a stay-at-home mom, it was…well, a learning experience. Everything I had always believed about myself and my career path suddenly shifted. I was terribly insecure about myself as a mom (I mean, who isn’t?), and unsure of how to navigate a life I had never imagined for myself. It took some time and, while I still struggle here and there, these 4 rules have helped me navigate SAHM mom territory:

1.) Stop Explaining Yourself

Five years into my SAHM mom life, I still have a hard time with this. Maybe it’s because I grew up with two working parents. Maybe it’s because I get antsy about falling into an ill-fitting stereotype. Either way, I find myself explaining our family’s choices more than I care to admit.

On one hand, I know it’s nobody’s business. On the other, well, I’m an insatiably curious and ambitious person with a passion for teaching and making a difference in the lives of others and even though I am intensely grateful for the opportunity to stay home with my kids, I am just as intensely dissatisfied with “wasting” years changing diapers, doing laundry, cleaning up puke, and waiting out temper tantrums because, frankly, I’m jealous of my husband’s career successes and his ability to have adult conversations while I’m stuck trying to decipher what gibberish word my youngest is screaming about while dinner is burning and the oldest is busy reminding me about the swimming class that started two hours ago.

Whew… Did I just black out?

Listen, explanations that lend themselves to horribly constructed run-on sentences just aren’t beneficial for anyone. It might feel good in the moment but you know what’s even better? Feeling at peace with your family decisions even when you aren’t totally content with your professional achievements. Frustration is inevitable but give yourself a break. You are your own harshest critic.

2.) Make a Long-Term Plan

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When you stumble into this lifestyle, it’s easy to fall into a wheel of negativity. There is the pain that comes with isolation, the guilt of feeling discontented, and confusion in the struggle to maintain an identity. Dealing with such heavy emotions is no easy task, especially when our cultural messaging makes confronting them almost taboo. After all, what could possibly be better than staying home with your babies? Well, depending on your personality, a lot of things — and that’s perfectly fine.

Whatever the reasons behind your SAHM status, if the situation feels less-than-ideal, do yourself a favor and make a long-term plan. Is returning to work possible once your kids are in school? How many years will that take? Check out ways in which you can further your education in the meantime so that you’re prepared when the time comes. Keep an eye out for work-from-home opportunities. And, most of all, communicate with your partner so that you are both on the same page.

Taking these steps will help you maintain a sense of accomplishment outside childrearing, while also serving as a reminder that this is only temporary.

3.) Allow Yourself to Tune Out

Buh-Bye, mom shamers! Ignore their judgmental stares and snuggle into a good book or—gasp!—laze away on Facebook while your kiddos entertain themselves on the playground. It goes without saying that you’ll keep an eye on them but, let’s be real, kids are pretty adept at playtime. They really really don’t need your help. And because your job literally never ends, it’s important to allow yourself a mental break here and there. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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I mean, look up at least once in a while…

4.) Don’t Let Your Interests Die

I know, I know. Easier said than done, right? Especially if you have a difficult baby or are in the throes of toddlerhood (somebody save me…). Maybe the only pastimes you can recall include watching Dora the Explorer on repeat and emptying diaper pails but, believe it or not, you existed for many years prior to becoming a mother. Get back to that girl. Self-care is crucial for all moms, and that includes being selfish enough with your time to pursue the hobbies you once loved.

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Get out in nature (check out the Osprey if your kiddo is still tiny!), read a good book during nap time instead of worrying about the dishes, or sign up for a fun dance class. Hell, start a blog so you can indulge in topics outside of Dr. Seuss and Paw Patrol. But find something you enjoy doing and learn how to put yourself first every once in a while. After all, part of being a SAHM is modeling the kind of behavior you want your kids to emulate, right? Take the opportunity to show them that self-care is not selfish. It is a lesson that will have far-reaching impact.

When you’re an accidental stay-at-home mom, digesting the guilt of yearning for a career while trying to enjoy the fleeting precious moments of childhood, life can feel unsettled. The journey isn’t an easy one but it can certainly be made easier. What are your thoughts? Is there anything you would add to this list?

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The Insidious Nature of ‘Nice’

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Growing up, I was your quintessential ‘nice girl.’ Teachers liked me. My parents trusted me. The mere thought of detention was enough to give me a panic attack. I smiled at people in the halls, served in student council, and mediated disputes between friends. My idea of trouble was sneaking a single wine spritzer from the garage on New Year’s Eve senior year and promptly blaming it on my sister. You get the idea…

For a long time, I derived a lot of my self-worth from that descriptor: ‘nice girl.’ And it wasn’t until I had a daughter of my own that I began to understand how truly sad that is.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that I have since thrown decency and decorum out the window—far from it. What it does mean is that I have come to realize how much value I ascribe to others’ opinions of me, and the many ways in which it has held me back from my true self.

When you’re a ‘nice girl,’ you don’t want to rock the boat; you hate confrontation; you are a born people pleaser. So it’s been hard taking those first tentative steps toward finding my voice and summoning the courage to make it public. But I have reached a point where it no longer feels optional. My kids need to know what it means to stand for something and I intend to be their teacher.

So I write.

I write about anything and everything that moves me. I write to be a voice for those unable or not yet ready to use their own. But I always write sincerely, with the intent of furthering an idea, a cause, or fractured dialogue. And, yes, sometimes—in fact, oftentimes—that includes writing about politics.

Trust me, I fully understand that a large percentage of the population has an aversion to it. Our elected officials, on the whole, make it pretty easy. And it’s hard to escape the pervasive belief that political opinions ought not to be shared. But I think there’s a danger in keeping silent about policies that change the fabric of our country; and I think we do a disservice to our children by modeling apathy and actively ignoring intellectual conversation. It’s okay to disagree. Our kids need to understand that.

And yet, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately. As it becomes ever more clear that our country is heading into turbulent times, as the average citizen feels more of a pull to weigh in on matters of state, there are those waiting in the wings to casually dismiss such commentary with empty platitudes.

Be nice, they plead.

Can’t we all just get along? 

I love everybody. Just agree to disagree.

If something doesn’t affect you, leave it alone.

Nice people of the world: I see you. I know your hearts are in the right place. But the world is not always as nice as you are. Bad things happen. Cultural turbulence and political unrest don’t bow down to adorable pictures of kittens and puppies. I mean, we all love them and thanks for reminding us of the good in the world, but don’t dismiss the voices you hear—from either side. Your reminders to be kind and compassionate are helpful and needed, but assuming passivity is the path to those ends is a dangerous mistake.

Listen, playing the referee and toeing the line is exhausting. I know; I did it for years. Just understand that it’s okay to allow yourself to be drawn into serious topics because they speak to your values and your vision for the future. You can be both polite and passionate. Your opinions matter. Your words matter. You matter.

So stop being ashamed that you are a fully functioning human with valid opinions. Don’t preface that lone partisan post with any variation of, “I promise, this is the only thing I’ll say about politics.” Just don’t. Stop. It is not your responsibility to make everyone happy.

And you know what? You’re still a good person, even when you shed the ‘nice girl’ image. I promise.

But, in the future, try not to worry so much about it. There’s something insidious about that word: ‘nice.’ It’s not always enough to be agreeable and pleasant. In fact, it’s not always appropriate to be those things.

‘Nice’ implies deference. It demands the quiet acceptance of completely unacceptable things. ‘Nice’ requires your silence so as not to ruffle feathers, to honor hazy rules of decorum. ‘Nice’ says, “honor congeniality above all else, principles and passions be damned.”

‘Nice,’ it turns out, is not very nice at all.

What you can be? Empathetic, respectful, informed, brave, and even outspoken—every day, without apology. Because when ‘nice’ demands your silence or shames you from civic-mindedness, it’s no longer a flattering descriptor.

These days, I’m not sure others would still describe me as a ‘nice girl.’ But these days, I grab my own damn wine spritzers whenever I want. Things change. You can, too.

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