Sometimes I find myself having the same conversation with multiple people in a very short period of time. Even though these people may have no known connection to one another, I see the connection of common struggles and frustrations. When these reoccurring conversations or topics arise I feel a nudge to share. So many women seem to feel that their struggles are only their own, and don’t realize that there are many women around them with the same things weighing them down.
Recently, that common conversation has been around feelings of being a failure as a stay-at-home mom. This topic breaks my heart, because I am passionate about the important role stay-at-home moms play. Some of the women I talk to are frustrated because they don’t feel they measure up to the women they see around them, others feel that their marriages are being tested because they just can’t meet their spouse’s expectations, and still others are just too overwhelmed to even figure out what part of the whole picture has them overwhelmed and miserable.
I so wish I could swoop in, organize their homes with them, and provide them with a checklist of tasks that would make that feeling go away – the feeling that they are in a hole they will never dig their way out of. But I can’t, I don’t have a magical formula for successfully managing your home, feeling fulfilled or exceeding your spouses expectations.
What I do have is this… a set of observations from the many women I have worked with. Women that have shared their whole reality in completely vulnerable conversations, broken down in tears, and sent countless SOS text messages at moments of crisis. And what I have discovered through these observations is that being a stay-at-home mom is a complex and undefined role that leaves many women and families struggling to navigate a path that fits their priorities and family dynamics.
We no longer have men that provide and women that stay home to cook, clean and raise the children. Women (and men) chose to stay home while their spouse works to provide financial security for the family for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes the spouse that stays home has identified their vision and purpose in staying home, but many have not. Even fewer have effectively communicated this vision with their spouse. The result is that at best, only one partner in the arrangement has any sense of what reasonable expectations look like. Any time expectations are ill defined and not communicated, the result is unmet expectations, frustration and wounds that are hard to heal.
We have so many expectations of ourselves, and then our spouse has expectations of us as well. All of us are trying to be keep the house in order and be the kind of mother we desire to be. Then we look around and see all the wonderful things other moms are doing and feel like we aren’t doing nearly enough. One of our friends is an amazing cook with only the healthiest ingredients, another is super fit and always active with her kids, yet another is constantly doing amazing arts and crafts projects with her kids, and all of them seem to be having way more fun. It leaves us feeling like we are just not enough, not capable of this SAHM thing, and we want to throw in the towel and “go back to work”.
Then the thing comes that puts us all over the edge… when our husband comes home and questions what we’ve been doing all day, why the house is such a mess, or why we can’t just get a simple meal on the table consistently. This moves many women from defeated and frustrated to wounded, sad and even depressed. We pour our whole hearts into our families and homes, our entire life seems to be within those walls and yet we feel like we are failing in every possible way.
What has gone so wrong with this SAHM model? A model that is supposed to bring about good things for our family – that is why we are doing it right!?
The problem is this… our world has so many ideas and expectations of all of us, and we allow those ideas and everything we see on Facebook, Instagram, and every other form of media to cloud our vision. We begin to think that the purpose and mission of EVERY women in American should be our own, and we should be all of those things to our husband and children, all of the time. That’s IMPOSSIBLE!
The first step is defining for yourself what YOUR purpose is, and why you want to do this incredibly challenging job of being a SAHM. There are a lot of good reasons. Here is a long but not exhaustive list of the “nine lives of a housewife”, some of the many reasons women choose the role of SAHM…
1.) Do you want to provide your children with cultural and social opportunities that align with your values?
2.) Do you want to assist your children in developing academic and developmental milestones that will help them become successful and confident in their educational endeavors?
3.) Do you want to promote the health and wellness of your family, providing them with home cooked meals using the most nutrient rich foods and natural remedies possible?
4.) Do you have a child with special needs or elderly parents that require extra time or flexibility to respond in urgent situations?
5.) Does your husband have a career that requires him to travel, work odd hours, or involves you participating in social events on a regular basis?
6.) Are you working towards a personal development goal in fitness, wellness, education or a career path?
7.) Are you passionate about bringing together your neighborhood and community and often host casual or formal gatherings to foster relationships?
8.) Are you actively involved in a volunteer leadership role in your church, child’s school, or another charitable organization that requires a significant amount of time?
9.) Do you desire to be an “old-school” SAHM that takes care of meals, laundry, errands, schedules, and all of the other little tasks that life requires so evenings and weekends can be spent enjoying life as a family?
I can’t find anything wrong with any of the reasons I listed above. They are all admirable pursuits, and in fact our world needs people that are passionate about every single one of these things. I’m guessing you know where I am going with this… the problem is that no single woman can possibly be all of these things! But, have you ever considered that no one woman can really be more than one of these things? Sure, you can be one of these things and dabble in another, but no one can really BE more than one of these women as a SAHM.
YOU have to decide why you are called to stay home and pour your heart and soul into your family all the time. Is it because you want to create opportunities for your kids, maybe you want to serve your community, maybe you have a special needs child or parent that depends on you, or maybe you just want to simplify your family’s life to create more time for “family time”.
The next questions is this… Why does YOUR SPOUSE want you to stay home or why does he support your decision to stay home? Do you know? Have you ever really talked about it?
Here is where a massive divide occurs in many marriages that breaks my heart on a regular basis. It is a breakdown in communication and defined expectations.
If you are staying home because you desire to pour into your kids in their early years before they head off to school and the big world without you, you DO NOT have time to be the mom that keeps the house in order, laundry clean and healthy meals on the table all of the time. If you take your children to “Mommy and Me” music classes, engage in play and activities that helps them develop fine motor and early language skills and create social interactions that will prepare them for the social challenges of beginning school… you will be busy ALL DAY LONG! You will have a busy calendar! Mix that with the basic everyday tasks we have to do, (like feed our kids lunch, return permission slips, drive the carpool, change diapers, maybe take a shower on occasion…) and time for cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, and meal planning/shopping/cooking does not exist!
However, what if your husband always wanted a stay-at-home wife because he wants “the simple life”. What if he envisions a family where you eat dinner together, have time for long walks in the evening, a glass of wine after the kids are in bed… Or what if he envisions children that are way ahead of their peers academically and developmentally, with a head start on life when they enter the world, and you just want “the simple life”. What if you both want the simple life, but regular uncontrollable situations arise with an elderly parent or special needs child that constantly derails your efforts?
Again, no woman can fully do more than ONE of the things in that long list of all the good reasons we choose to stay at home. We can’t grow incredibly gifted and cultured children all day and magically have a home that is ordered, clean and always smells of home cooked meals by evening. We just don’t have enough hours in the day. Add to that equation a special needs child, elderly parents, service opportunities, personal growth… and we really fall short of “the simple life”.
Yet, I would argue that our society is being damaged by the declining existence of the SAHM. So what do we do? How do we preserve this way of life?
Define YOUR purpose. Not your friends purpose or your mom’s purpose, YOUR purpose. Define for yourself why YOU want to stay at home. Which of the “nine lives of a housewife” are your calling? Then, TALK to your husband. Ask him why HE supports this arrangement. If your ideas don’t match up, or he thinks you can live two or three of the “nine lives of a housewife”, talk through the realities of that.
If you both value your children engaging in educational and cultural activities, then something at home has to give. If he supports your calling to serve or your pursuit of personal goals, then your ability to manage the home and pour into your kids will be affected. There is no right answer here! You are only seeking to define your family dynamic and set reasonable expectations.
If you are going to pour into the kids all day, talk about how he can support you in managing, cleaning and ordering the home when he is there. Do you need him to give you a break from the kids so you can take care of the house, laundry, and errands. Does taking care of the kids completely stress him out and he would rather come home and do dishes and laundry. Or maybe you can afford to hire help with the house while you engage in growing your children or serving your community.
Or maybe you want to pour into your kids, and your husband isn’t on board with that being your purpose. That is HARD, a tough conversation that requires compromise and the adjustment of expectations. Sometimes this feels like an impossible balance that leaves our marriages in jeopardy.
My prayer is that every marriage is comprised of two people that love and support one another and are willing to compromise their own ideas and expectations for the good of the other. However, I know that is not always our reality. But, I do know this… not having that conversation, not defining what our roles look like, not having expressed and understood expectations… that always sets us up for disappointment, frustration, arguments and heartache.