On September 26, 2014, I became the mother of my first son, Vassilios. In March of 2015, I resigned from my full time position where I had worked for 3 years as an Academic Director and educator at an English language school. My husband and I, after much debate, decided that daycare was too costly and, consequently, one of us would stay home for the first year. “How wonderful that you can take this time to stay home with your son,” my friends said. “Cherish these moments with him because they grow so fast,” strangers would tell me. “Being a stay-at-home mother will be the most important job you ever have,” was warmly tossed at me by mothers whose children were grown. These statements gave me heartburn.
My name is Hellen. I am 40 years old. I have a 16 month old son. I am a “stay-at-home mom,” and I hate it!
I spend 7 days a week dusting, mopping, washing windows, wiping down “things,” washing laundry, folding laundry, putting laundry away, running the dishwasher, putting up clean dishes, making breakfas/lunch/dinner/snacks, picking up toys, changing diapers, dressing and undressing a toddler, reading books aloud, singing songs, watching Disney movies, making animal noises, and saying things like, "Did someone do a big dookie?”
We read about the joys of motherhood. Articles abound regarding “fun things to do at home with your toddler.” But when was the last time you heard a mother describe her experience of being a stay-at-home mom as “horrible?” And how would most people respond to hearing that? Before I became a mother, I cannot with certainty say that I would not have been shocked and judgmental. When asked, I describe being at home with my son as “a blessing” and “rewarding”— regardless of where I am or who asks the question. Whether a family member, a friend, a stranger, or the priest of our church, I have lied to them all. Oh, the shame!
A year ago I was spending hours with my students discussing the differences between the English grammatical system and romance languages, and reviewing research papers on overcoming Culture Shock as a first year international student. I would come home from teaching and be mentally EXHAUSTED. It was exhilarating!
Today, I spent hours deciding which diaper brand would give my son more support at night, and which trash bag I preferred for his room. I was torn between lilac and vanilla scented. I bought both. I couldn’t commit.
A year ago, I effectively managed 15 instructors and the curriculum for 200 students.
Today, it was me against a toddler. And I can’t lie, I was intimidated. He decided he didn’t want his chicken nuggets and communicated this by spitting one directly at me. Then he pushed his bowl of mixed vegetables off his tray. “That was a bad choice,” I repeated over and over to him. He didn’t seem defeated or concerned. In fact, I’m fairly sure I caught him reviewing his tray to see what else he could spit at me. This was the exact moment I realized that my perception of life at home with my son had to transform into something more positive than this. And that only I had the power to make that change.
I knew the change would occur in stages. First, I had to recognize that I was unhappy. Done. Second, I had to verbalize that I was unhappy. My husband was the lucky recipient of that dialogue. He offered several nods and took the garbage out. He patted my shoulder on the way out the door as if to say, “I feel sorry for you,” but it felt more like, “I am so happy I’m not you.” Third, I had to accept that my experience of being a stay-at-home mom was valuable. And that it was filled with conflicting emotions. This would take a while. I crawled through this stage of feeling shameful, underappreciated, and afraid. At first, I felt shameful. Was I considering my own need for a sense of identity over my son’s needs? I’d sit privately in my bedroom and wonder if I was a horrible person because I wanted more than motherhood to define me. Following this, I felt underappreciated because my husband couldn’t imagine what I do all day to maintain THIS family. Finally, I felt afraid. Was this my life?
In writing about my experience, I've felt more human and less ashamed. Motherhood has not been exactly as I had imagined it would be, but I have finally accepted that my experience of motherhood is not defined by one thing. It is rocking my son to sleep. It is listening to his beautiful laugh whenever I make a “horsey” sound. It is disciplining him. It is dodging a flying chicken nugget. Sometimes it sucks. And that’s OK.
Image: Mad Men
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Hellen Hutchinson is a linguist, writer and ESL educator. She lives near the beach with her husband, 16-month-old son, 60-pound pitbull, 10-pound chihuahua, and two fish. She loves to travel and explore new cultures. Her first language is Greek. In addition, she speaks French and spent a year living in France where she trained French primary school teachers to teach English.