"Must be nice to stay at home." Do you know how many times stay at home parents hear that? As a stay-at-home mom, let me tell you, I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Sometimes it’s being said from someone who genuinely means it. Usually it’s the older generations who say it from the heart because they stayed home with their kids as well. Sometimes it’s being said from a working parent, who’s checking their phone every five seconds for a very important email, while barely paying attention to the conversation being had. Then sometimes, it’s coming from the person who doesn’t have kids, who doesn’t understand how exhausting being a stay at home parent is.
As cliché as this might sound, I didn’t choose the life of being a stay at home mom, it chose me. Our youngest has an immune system that just couldn’t handle being in daycare. In a span of four months, the amount of time I actually worked outside of the home, our youngest had hands, foot and mouth disease that lasted two weeks, strep, pneumonia for two months straight, the flu, RSV, multiple ear infections, many spells of throwing up and various other illnesses. At the end of that four month span, the very last day that I worked and our kids attended daycare, our youngest ended up with a staph infection from a public changing table because her immune system couldn’t fight it.
Between doctor visits, ER visits and having to stay at home with our sick kid, it became obvious that I couldn’t keep working and our precious daughter deserved a better childhood outside of antibiotics and steroids. We did not come across this decision lightly. We weighed everything from finances and my sanity to the social and educational impacts of not being in a daycare. We slept on it, we prayed a lot and struggled with the decision, but ultimately I feel like we made the best one. That isn’t to say that being a stay home parent is easy.
One of the biggest issues we face as me being a stay at home mom is surviving on one income. There never seems to be enough money. In the four months of me staying at home, we have blown through our savings just to make it. Some weeks we have only enough money to pay groceries and diapers, other weeks we get to pay a bill before it’s due. I have learned how to grocery shop for two weeks worth at a time just by buying what the store has on sale. Our oldest, now three years old, has pretty much mastered potty training and in turn we have almost gotten rid of one diaper expense. I limit where we go throughout the week by limiting ourselves to one tank of gas. We also like cheap or free activities that are nearby.
While there are many more issues involved with having a single income, another issue is that I have to be the referee of two girls constantly. Some days aren’t as bad as others. Sometimes they figure out how to share and play while other days it is seriously like stepping into a ring trying to figure out which one is going to throw the first punch. Most days, our three year old throws the first punch and that often puts our one and a half year old out of commission the rest of the day. A lot of times I find myself in the corner, secretly rooting for the younger one. That probably sounds mean, but if you’re ever in the same situation, you’re going to find yourself rooting for the underdog from time to time too.
Not all days are spent being the referee. Some days it’s learning to play Jenga like a boss. There are certain things I’ve learned to let slide and certain things that simply cannot be. I’ve learned to pick my battles. Raising kids is much like the wooden block game of Jenga. Removing one block could bring the tower tumbling down, it could buy a couple of more moves, or sometimes the game goes smoothly and you win. I have spent an embarrassing amount of hours trying to convince our oldest that it is not acceptable to wear rain boots, sweat pants and a princess dress in 80-degree weather. She won that game. She ended up wearing that horrid outfit in public. My husband, embarrassed when I told him she wore it in public, said that she is that kid and I am that mom. The fact that she wore it in public didn't embarrass me. What embarrassed me is how much time I spent trying to convince her not to. If you ever see a kid in public wearing their princess dress or Halloween costume, try not to be judgmental towards the parents and definitely never say anything negative to them. Until you find yourself on the bathroom floor crying with your kid, begging her to put something on other than the princess dress, you may never understand that parenting Jenga to the fullest.
Despite all the bad issues, there are a lot positives that help balance being a stay-at-home parent. One positive that instantly comes to mind is that I never missed a single first with our youngest. I witnessed all of it. Her first word, her first time eating food, first time rolling over, literally all of her firsts. It is a continuous blessing to be able to see her transform from a tiny seven pound baby to a petite 30-pound almost 2-year-old. While I did not get to witness all of our oldest’s first, I am seeing a lot of them now. The first time she counted to twenty all the way through, her ABC’s all the way and one of her most recent firsts, correctly naming all the shapes, even the pentagon. There are a ton more firsts that have yet to come and I plan on trying to catch them all.
Another positive is that I have joined a mom group that helps keep me sane. Through this group I have made very wonderful friends, some of which I could not do this without. Their children have become some of our girls’ best friends, and I can seriously see them doing everything together in a few years. We have set up play dates throughout the week, met other moms and have serious conversations about how challenging this stay at home parent gig really is. It has become a support system of family, not even friends at this point. Sometimes we make plans, but because the life of a toddler is such a struggle, those plans don’t always work out. Together, we all face the life of being a stay at home parent and overcome many obstacles.
There are days I don’t get to finish my coffee before I have to pull out my referee shirt and determine how to handle the situation. There are other days that are spent crying in the floor because our kids are really just a hot mess of emotions that cannot explain how they feel or what they’re thinking. But then, on some rare days, all of the planets align and we end the day with our Jenga tower still intact. Those are the best days. They are far and few between, but they make all of our struggles worth it. The next time you see a stay at home parent, think of something different to say other than, “oh, it must be nice.” Offer them words of encouragement or simply say they’re pretty. We appreciate it, we really do.