One of the Toughest Aspects of Being a Stay-At-Home Parent

When I was in school I always focused on being the top student in my class. When we learned our multiplication tables I recited the numbers faster than any of the other students. When the teacher held spelling bees I was always the last one left standing and when I began receiving real grades, (A, B, C’s rather than S’s and O’s),  I always aimed for straight A’s.

As an employee I strived for top ratings every review period. While my coworkers seemed to be content to read the newspaper or shop online I searched for problems to solve and then found resolutions to fix them. I often fixed problems my own management team didn’t realize existed. I received the top ratings in all but two of my reviews over a 12 year period and even received the top most rating, (one that only 5% of employees achieve), one time.

My bosses knew I was smart and hardworking. As the years progressed I was put in charge of more challenging and complex projects. At age 24 I led a six person project that included software developers who were more than twice my age. I was proud of that achievement and the work we performed.

While my coworkers were placed onto maintenance projects I was constantly moved onto projects that required new development. I was asked to learn new software packages and to experiment with technologies that were completely new to our company. I loved the challenge of writing code and solving problems.

I always knew that I was the type of girl who liked intellectual challenges, but I never realized how deeply that desire coursed through my veins. To put it bluntly I want to feel smart and it seems I strive for good grades and outstanding reviews as a way to validate my intelligence. Other than the lack of adult companionship I believe it is this feeling that I miss more than any other.

As a stay-at-home mom I don’t perform any day to day actions that make me feel particularly intelligent. While I am challenged to be more empathetic, compassionate and patient I certainly don’t end the day feeling that my intelligence has been tested.

There is also a long term aspect to parenting. I do what I think is best for my son today, but I might not find out if it was the best parenting action for another 20 or 30 years. In software, you write code, run your program and watch it work or fail. While it may take days or weeks to complete the task it certainly doesn’t take years to witness your success or failures.

I do not regret my decision to stay home with my son, but I do believe I need to find a new outlook on my former beliefs. I need to forget about straight A’s and top reviews and realize that I don’t need anyone else to validate my intelligence. Perhaps it is an identity crisis of sorts. After spending my whole life striving for external validation it’s difficult to find myself in a situation where no one is going to pat my back and provide me with parenting kudos.

6 thoughts on “One of the Toughest Aspects of Being a Stay-At-Home Parent”

  1. I’m pretty much like you when it comes to grades, ranks, and reviews, so I think that’s why I couldn’t be a full time SAHM to my 2 girls. I stay home with them 2 days a week (and weekends, of course) but I think I would go a little crazy if I didn’t have my job to go to. I like getting out of the house and having people tell me that I’m doing a good job. I’m just grateful that I have such a flexible job that allows me to do this.

    I also struggle a bit with comparing my kids, especially my 2 year old, to other kids. She’s pretty bright for her age, but I don’t want her to feel pressured to always be the smartest or feel superior to other kids who aren’t as fast to learn as she is.

    • I’ve never written about it on this blog, but I have a small fear of comparing children. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been hesitant to have a second child. My parents never compared us, but my grandmother often did. It always made me feel bad.

      I do think a part time job would be a good compromise between external validation and staying home with my son. Good for you, for finding a solution that works!

  2. The book “Mojo Mom” has a good discussion about the dangers of approaching parenthood like a job, and cautions against using the phrase “the most important job.” Because motherhood isn’t a job, it’s a relationship. Relationships don’t deliver the same rewards as a career: measurable achievement, results, and advancement, and a sense of identity… “You can start living through your children as your ‘product,’ as their achievements become the justification and proof of your hard work…. it is not fair to our spouses or children to expect them to fulfill us and form the basis of our identity.”

    It’s a good book; I’ve given it to many friends.

    I have twins, so I am constantly faced with the issue of comparisons. They are fraternal twins, and unlike my brothers, who are identical twins, their abilities, interests, and personalities are quite different. I’ve wondered how much their abilities reflect on my own methods and felt guilty at times, especially as they get older. At the same time, as they get older, I’m more able to see how they are very different, and I get (YAY!) external validation from teachers and instructors that they are good kids and we are good parents.

    Things that have helped me: freelance work, relying on a weekly babysitter, preschool (see: external validation, but also free time), and taking time for my own interests — in front of them — and knowing (now that they are older) that my daughters like these insights into mommy’s personality. “Mommy’s talent is speaking French! Mommy loves to read about Jane Austen! Mommy wishes she had had chocolate milk in school because she doesn’t like plain milk.” It’s sweet and gratifying. So I’d encourage you to talk to your son, even though he is young, about who you are, your likes and dislikes, and your doubts.

    • I can’t tell you how much your words mean to me. I didn’t realize that I was equating my role as a stay-at-home mom with a job rather than a relationship. It is an extremely valid and important point and it completely changed my perspective on being with my son. You are correct that our children cannot fulfill us or be the basis of our identity. I spent an hour or so reflecting quietly on my life and then ordered Mojo Mom. I can’t wait to read it.

      Also – I completely agree with your point about having time, hobbies and interests outside of raising my son. I certainly want him to know what it is that mommy loves outside of him.

  3. Yes, staying home with kids is hard, I can relate to your situation because my wife does that. At the same time, it’s a new beginning and brings about new possibilities. You can set your schedule, plan out new things to learn, have achievements and much more. My wife learns foreign languages, crafts and has a flower garden, and it seems like she is not looking back. Naturally I do my best to help her out by nourishing her occupations and doing what she asks me to. Ellen K above nailed it as well!

    You are right: no one needs to validate your intelligence for you to feel happy. There are happiness “techniques” and happiness “habits” that anyone can adopt and have a rich life.

    • Thanks for the comment Dennis. I am definitely working on carving out time to explore my own dreams, desires and hobbies. Thanks for letting me know that your wife was able to do that for herself. I think I need other female role models to remind me to take time for myself.


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