*Guestblogger Jess is a quick-witted, stay-at-home mother-writer-friend who periodically discusses the various lenses of her life on She’sWrite. Here’s her story:
I sometimes listen to advice as though it was common sense. “Yes, of course I’ll ask for help if I need it.” “Yes, of course I’ll have moments of doubt as a mother.” Then, when not so removed, I find myself seeing that advice in a new light. “Oh, this is what they were talking about. Yes, this is much harder than I thought it would be.”
So it took me about six weeks longer than it should have to realize that I needed help. I kept thinking, “I’m a stay at home mom, for Christ sake. I have no other obligations. This is my job. I should be able to do it.” However, my patience had all but disappeared. I was getting upset at my 3 year old for things like, oh, waking up in the morning. I was yelling more often and much louder than I will ever truly admit. I was snappish: “Be quiet. Sigh. Hurry up. Sigh. Not this, that. Not that, this.”
And every night, I felt weighed down with horrible guilt that I was a lousy mother. I would think of my little boy lying in his bed, think of all the pressure I put on him, and I would cry.
I knew in my head that I was having trouble for awhile. But I was ashamed. I felt guilty. (What is it with us women?) I was embarrassed.
Then, I started to have a temper with my 3-month-old. I got upset when she was fussy, when she wouldn’t stop crying. Yes, this is normal. But my temper would shoot from zero to sixty in half a second, a problem I never had with my first child. And, more important, my anger was directed at her. I didn’t just get angry, I got angry at her. I raised my voice _to an infant.
Finally, finally, I realized, “Screw my pride. Screw my sense of responsibility. It’s not about me.” I needed to dial down my stress or I was going to turn Henry and Clara into skittish worrywarts. I’d heard of that parental concern about “ruining” your children. For the first time, I worried.
Things seem much bigger when they are locked inside your own head. Then you say it out loud, or write it, and it gets smaller and more manageable. So, after talking with my husband, I began to feel better. I realized certain things that lessened my sense of failure: these last six months were the first time since I had Henry that I had no outside activity _ no part-time job, as I’d had when Henry was born. No school, having finished my teacher certification last May. No workout classes or regular nights out. Furthermore, my pregnancy had been high-risk for several months. My husband was traveling more than ever. My toddler had stopped napping when Clara was 2 weeks old. And I did deliver a child 12 weeks earlier, for heaven’s sake.
We decided my husband would try to go to work a bit later in the morning (he had been leaving at 5:30 a.m.) so I could sleep longer. He would also take the night feedings on weekends. And we decided to hire a regular sitter. This was the hardest thing for me to accept _ seriously, a stay at home mom with a nanny?
My friend, who is a mother of two, recently went from working outside the home one day a week to three. At that point, her husband, who had been getting home from work at 7 or 8 p.m., offered to leave work early one or two days a week. She gladly accepted but added, “I needed you to come home early when I was home five days a week, too.”
Conventional wisdom states that it’s working mothers who need more help. Obviously that’s true for things like day care. But we stay-at-home moms need help, too. How often have you heard, “Raising children is the hardest job there is”? We all say that, but I think we, myself included, still have a ways to go before we fully accept the notion of stay-at-home moms, who make no money, spending money to bring in help. A stigma continues to surrounds us _ bon bons; lack of drive or ambition; or worse, lack of intellect.
We are also a nation obsessed with hard work. There is no end to which we will admire those who work until they drop. “She stayed at work until 1 a.m. to finish that brief? What a go-getter!” Meanwhile, our European cousins, who lunch for two hours a day and take month-long vacations and year-long maternity leaves, are laughing at us for what we have not yet learned about living.
What I have learned is this: The more I yelled, the more Henry yelled. The more I frowned, the more he frowned. I learned I need to take care of myself to take care of my children, that asking for help is not failure. That even when it comes to your children, there can be too much of a good thing.
So, 8 to 10 hours a week, I will have some time to myself to write. It is a luxury. It is also a necessity.