This morning’s post was written by Andrea Parunak. Daughter of the King, full time help meet to her knight in shining armor, and mother to four exuberant blessings. She blogs at Pursuing Titus 2.
She was going crazy, and she wanted to go back to work.
And who could blame her, really? She had gone from being an independent woman, who got in the car in the morning, drove herself to her job, solved problems all day, and drove herself home by way of a few errands, to being a woman who needed to ask for help just to be able to take a shower. She had gone from interacting with people all day long, talking, smiling, sharing ideas, to a sudden, crushing solitude, with long, quiet hours ticking slowly by and nobody to talk to. She had gone from a world of deadlines and challenges, evaluations and praise, to a world where it hardly seemed to matter to much of anyone what she did or how she did it, and worst of all, she wasn’t entirely sure if she was good at what she did even though everyone seemed to think her life was easy. What had happened? She’d had a baby and quit her job to stay home.
Our modern world is one of working wives and stay at home moms. For most women, full time homemaking starts the day they arrive home from the hospital with a little bundle in pink or blue (or for the few who are crazy like me, the day the midwives finish up the birth laundry, pack up their oxygen tank, and head home). And that means something that few people ever talk about. It means that these women face two major life changes, at the very same time, at a time in their lives when they are least able physically to cope. Many people wrap all the issues up in one big black box and say, “Staying home with a baby drives me crazy. I have to go back to work.” But since I became a stay at home wife first, and a mother a few years later, I know something I rarely hear anyone else say. Staying home day after day when you aren’t used to it can drive you crazy. And adjusting to motherhood can drive you crazy. And anyone on postpartum hormones is already crazy anyway.
I believe that staying home and raising children is one of the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding jobs anyone could ever do. But unfortunately, an awful lot of women never make it past the initial stages because they are bowled over by exhaustion, loneliness, depression, and boredom, and they run screaming back to their former employers, never realizing what could have been because 1. they didn’t have a vision for it, and 2. they had no idea how HARD it was going to be to get there.
I’ve talked about having a vision before. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the other half of the problem: the adjustment, the fact that doing what is so common in our culture, going from working woman to stay at home mom, is just so plain hard.
I want to look at each of these by themselves to take a hack at demonstrating why first time stay at home moms at home have such a rough go of it sometimes.
For starters, let’s examine what happens when you become a homemaker. First off, you lose your identity. I don’t mean this in the grumpy feminist “homemakers have no identity” sort of way, but on a simpler level, since in our culture we define ourselves by our jobs, when you quit your job, in some sense you quit yourself. You are no longer Jane the math teacher, Jane the air traffic controller, Jane the concert pianist. You’re just Jane. Jane the what? Jane the “I stay home and bake cookies?” Wow. So impressive. You used to be able to hold your own at those schmoozy social events. People would say, “You must be making such a difference down at the high school. Thank God for dedicated teachers like you.” Or, “Oh my, that’s so interesting! I never met an air traffic controller before.” Or, “Wow, you must be so talented. I can barely play Chopsticks.” And now when you say, “I’m staying at home these days.” they sort of smile vaguely and look for someone else to talk to.
This is frustrating. But it’s no where near as bad as that feeling you get sometimes at 10:30 in the morning when you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing. You could, in fact, do anything, and that’s a bit unsettling for someone’s who didn’t used to have so many choices. (Don’t worry, after you make a few of them and hold your course for a year or two, you’ll never have that feeling again, especially if you decide birth control is for wussies. Heh. Heh.) But the transition from being driven by external forces, to being driven by your own passionate vision can be a hard one, and it usually involves a floundering period where you have no concrete vision, and therefore no drive. That’s when you start wondering if those insulting people at your husband’s work party may have been on to something when they got suddenly very interested in talking to someone else. Maybe you are boring. Maybe there really isn’t anything worthwhile for you to do at home. Maybe laundry is lame.
Sometimes thinking these things can get depressing, and that’s when you GO CRAZY.
Ok, now pretend you have a new baby. Yes. I’ll bet you never even thought about stuff like how stupid long term sleep deprivation can make you feel. (Can you say, aphasia?) Or about how it feels to be touched more hours per day than not. Or about how you can’t just go anywhere and do anything any time you want and how that feels after the novelty has worn off (and before you settle in to a totally different perspective on life). Or about how now you will have to choose between learning to do all your housework one handed or listening to your baby cry. And while we’re on that topic, how about that crushing agony of hearing your baby cry? Before, crying babies were just kind of annoying, but all of a sudden your heart is ripped out of your chest and someone is pounding on it with a sledge hammer. My baby, my tiny, helpless, infinitely precious, totally dependent on me (and I’m such a failure because I don’t know what to do) baby is crying. And how about the fact that all those dumb parenting books make it sound so easy and promise you such great results if you’ll just follow such and so brilliant method (sound like a sales scheme to you? ever wonder how those guys got their books onto Boarders’ shelves? now let’s all say, business men, not mothers), but here you are, trying as hard as any first timer ever did to apply the proper, proven techniques, but the book didn’t say anything about babies who act like yours does. And how can you be such an awful mother, when even animals manage to do this mothering thing with such apparent success? This is even before we bring up breastfeeding. How can something so natural be so hard sometimes? Maybe you just aren’t the mothering type. Maybe what you need is more “me time.” Maybe daycare is actually good for children.
Sometimes thinking these things can get depressing, and that’s when you GO CRAZY.
And last of all, postpartum hormones. If you’ve never experienced them, think about PMS. PMS is to postpartum what a little sniffle is to pneumonia. It’s like having aliens invade your brain and start experimenting with your internal thought processes. You can almost hear them discussing amongst themselves. “Her hair is unkempt. Maybe that should make her suicidal. Let’s try it.” “Ooo. Now let’s see if being low on orange juice can make her cry like her dog just died.” Don’t try to make any decisions when you are in the clutches of postpartum hormones, not any decisions. This is not the time to decide to sell your couch, or move to Ecuador, and definitely not the time to decide to go back to work. Because right now, you aren’t just going crazy. You are crazy. You are not responsible for any of your actions. Aliens, remember? Give yourself at least forty days before you even consider any of your thoughts to be valid. And probably four months before you take anything seriously.
Alright now, before the “as yet not stay at home moms” among you run out and book a hysterectomy, let me repeat what I said earlier, I believe that staying home and raising children is one of the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding jobs anyone could ever do. But it’s hard. Really hard. Especially at first when you don’t have a clue what you’re doing and had no idea how hard it would be. Sometimes those of us in the Mommy Cheerleader Club who spend lots of time telling everyone how they should really ditch the work world and do something truly great with their lives like staying home forget to mention that it isn’t instantly easy and rewarding. Actually, it’s never easy. And the rewarding part doesn’t always start right away.
Going back to work can seem like the way to escape the fatal craziness and get back to your old life, like the Israelites wanting to go back to Egypt when the desert turned out not to have stuff like food and water. But going back to Egypt isn’t the answer. The answer is making it through the desert and getting to Canaan so you can hang out under your own vine and fig tree (and when I say “hang out,” I mean “work your rear end off, but really enjoy it, and feel like you’re doing something that actually matters”).
So, why am I telling you all this? So you’ll cut yourself some slack. So you won’t be surprised. So you’ll realize that everyone struggles, and it’s not just you, that you aren’t a bad mother, or a failure. So you won’t think it’s hopeless, doomed to never improve, and run right back to your old job gasping for breath and leave your baby drinking formula with the other infants in a day care center. And I’m saying this to the veterans, too, just as a reminder, so you don’t recoil in horror the next time someone tells you about someone who was going crazy and wanted to go back to work.
Join me on Thursdays when I share one of the At The Well – Pursuing Titus 2 devotionals that has made an impact on my daily walk with the Lord as a mother and wife.