A Letter to Stay-at-Home Moms

Dear Stay-at-Home Mom,

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, whether it was in the lifetime of your mom or your grandma, but somewhere along the way, women stopped being “homemakers” and they started being “stay-at-home moms.”

You see, homemakers had a job. They made houses homes. They made bread, cakes, and casseroles. They made floors clean, windows shine, and silver sparkle. They made beds, made groceries appear in pantries, and made laundry piles disappear. They looked after their kids, and their parents, and anyone else that needed looking after, too.

When I was born in the late 80s, my mom (who was a single parent at that time) had to go back to work when I was months—no, weeks—old. Her mom, one of the original “homemakers,” helped take care of me during those long hours when she was at work. Sure, the reason for her going back to work was primarily financial. But even at that time, there was growing pressure on women to be more than “just” homemakers. To get back to work, to keep their homes clean and tidy on their own time, and to be productive members of society again as soon as possible.

The current situation with the lack of paid parental leave in the U.S. represents this same ethos, but on steroids. Unfortunately, in line with this shift has been another, more pervasive shift in the way we see mothers who stay at home with their children.

Even though I hate to describe myself this way, I am a stay-at-home mom. I have been since my son was born, and there hasn’t been a day (or night) when I haven’t felt slightly overwhelmed by the absolute weight of being his main caretaker. What I’ve also felt the weight of, though, is the judgments and expectations of others who want to know why I’m not more than “just a mom” who stays at home with her kid, and when I’ll start being “more than that.”

Mama, if you’re reading this and seeing your own story here, you aren’t alone.

When you’re starting the day after seeing every single hour of the night, and wondering just how much coffee you’ll need to get through until nap time (or bedtime). 

When you’re too busy to take a shower, or it’s just too much hassle to try and quickly rinse off because your toddler will empty every available bathroom cabinet onto the floor. When you know you won’t be able to dry your hair, so you stick it up in a top knot and get on with it.

When your kids are always clean and pristinely turned out, but you’ve worn leggings and a sweatshirt for longer than you can remember. When their clothes are new, but you don’t remember the last time you got a new outfit, or what size you even are. Your pre-baby closet sits largely untouched as you wash-wear-repeat the same few outfits each week.

When you spend all day cleaning high chairs, plastic plates, and sippy cups—and the floor— but the dishwasher still needs unloading. Your kid’s laundry is done and put away, but yours will never get folded before you drag it out of the dryer to put it on at 5:00 a.m.

Stay-at-Home Mom, I see you putting your needs at the bottom of your list. Your appointments get cancelled, rescheduled, and cancelled again because your little one is sick. You used to love getting a pedicure and keeping your brows immaculately tinted and shaped, but now the idea of an hour away from the house for self-care seems absolutely frivolous and silly.

I see you reading the same storybook for the 30th time today, still using funny voices, still making it fresh and exciting for your little one. I see you tidying toys after bedtime and getting ready for the next morning, long before this day has even ended.

You look around the kitchen and see that the counters need to be wiped. There are little handprints smeared across the bottom third of your refrigerator. There’s a box in your pantry full of Tupperware lids, empty containers, boxed mac and cheese, straws, and anything else that is more exciting to your child than a toy—you grab it any time you need five minutes. Not for yourself, but to fold the clothes, to wipe the stove, to make the lunch.

I see you, Mama, brought low by the fact that you haven’t lost the baby weight yet, but unsure how to make changes because every day feels like Groundhog Day. Your meals are whatever your toddler won’t eat right now, because they are in that awkward phase where last week’s favorites will either go on the floor or onto your plate. That little squishy belly shelf you hate so much sure comes in handy, though, when you’re carrying your Velcro child around the house to collect laundry, diapers, toys…

Stay-at-Home Mom, don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have a job. That you don’t work. Because you do, and you never clock out. It is a grueling, 24/7 schedule, with no breaks. It’s a job where your boss—you—makes you feel guilty for taking a break or sleeping on the job at nap time. The only job where there are approximately 17,000 working hours between waking in the morning and the end of the day, when you crawl into bed at night. There are no sick days. The rewards are both endless and totally absent.

Being a stay-at-home mom is lonely because those long hours are spent with someone who doesn’t give you any feedback on “how you’re doing” and rarely appreciates your efforts. So I see you, going to Mom and Baby classes both to socialize your child and to try not to forget how to converse with other adults. I see you on the days when the only other adult you speak to during the daylight hours is the cashier at Target or the person behind the counter at Starbucks. You worry that your brain power is slowly diminishing through tiredness, repetition, and lack of use; but it isn’t. The voice you hear in your head is your well-meaning friend or relative who quietly asks when you’ll send them to daycare because it’s bad for their immune system to stay home with you. Spoiler alert: generations of kids went from being looked after at home to school, and they turned out okay.

I want to remind you that you are still the same fun, interesting, and inquisitive person you were before you became a stay-at-home mom. Everything you ever were before, you are still. You have just pivoted into a new role, a role that won’t last forever, and even if it does —it’s your prerogative to stay home and support your family in the school years and beyond. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are only worth something if you take on a role that is different from the one that currently occupies your days.

The days of being called a “homemaker” may be gone, but you are still doing that role, and it is the most important one for the people in your world. Everything you do to make your house a home makes your child or children feel safe, loved, and secure. When you feel unseen and unappreciated; when the things you did achieve today seem to be dwarfed by all the things you didn’t manage to do, you are still making a difference.

Stay-at-Home Mom, I see you. I am you. And we’re in this together.

Love,

Natalie

 

Natalie is a proud Brit, but moved to Texas at the end of 2017 to be with her husband, a native San Antonian. Their son was born in late October 2020, so her entire experience of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum has been under the cloud of Covid-19. She spent the frivolous years of her early 20s pursuing a PhD in Renaissance history, living in Venice, Italy, and teaching students. She pivoted into editing when she moved to the US, but currently has her academic pursuits on hold while she focuses on her son. Despite being in San Antonio for a few years now, she still considers herself a newbie. She loves to find out more about the history and culture of the city, explore new places, and find local businesses to support. A fastidious researcher and lover of lists, she’s always excited to share her finds and experiences with others. Favorite Restaurant: Dough Favorite Landmark: World’s Largest Cowboy Boots Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Riverwalk Christmas Lights