It sounds so idyllic doesn’t it? You get to spend day in and day out with your kids. Learning from them. Playing. Creating memories you wouldn’t be able to if you were working or away from them. Yes, that is one reality of being a SAHM. But the other reality is the mental burden we bear, one that seems so trivial but ends up becoming a heavy load to carry.
For example my day starts at 5 a.m. My kids end up waking each other up and initially there are tears and clinginess but eventually we settle and have breakfast around 6 a.m. My mental to-do lists start then. I need to remember what my daughter took to school the day before so I make sure I give her something different. Mentally, I try to calculate the health benefits of her lunchbox before deciding on her meal. Quantity needs to be decided upon depending on whether there is an extra curricular activity planned that day or not. So I pull up the visual calendar in my mind, to make sure I’m not forgetting her pick up time, and of course, where she needs to be that day.
I’m sure most SAHMs have similar days. You make sure her hair, clothes, shoes are appropriate for the school requirements of the day (sneakers if there’s soccer that day, sandals if its a hot day, etc.). And then come the tantrums. The white shoes are too old, or they’ve got a speck of dust on them, or they’re just not what she had in mind as part of her outfit du jour. So you argue a bit, but then decide it’s best to give in if you’re ever going to get out of the house. You hate when the entire class is there and your kid walks in awkwardly late.
Then there’s a battle on the hairstyle. The clips hurt. The hair tie isn’t nice enough. You try and hold yourself together even though you’re functioning on exactly 3 hours 35 minutes of sleep (as your Fitbit promptly reminded you this morning). But you end up yelling. And then instantly feel bad as sadness appears in little teary eyes. The burden becomes heavier, as guilt happily jumps onto it.
You then turn your focus on the little one. You need to get him out of his PJs and into decent clothing. You don’t want it to be too warm, so you make a mental note to put away his winter wear and line up the short sleeved shirts so they’re visible. There’s some crying because he’s teething so you wash the teether but then…he drops it again. And you wash it again.
Then you’re ready to go. In the car, there’s some disagreements about the music choices as you prepare your mental lists for the rest of the day. You really want to fit in the gym because it’s the one thing you do for YOURSELF. It’s also another battle you’re fighting. Trying to live up to expectations you set for yourself because you didn’t want to be ‘the mom who let herself go.’
The teacher tells you you need to do a DIY project. You make a mental note to go to the crafts store to pick up stuff. She reminds you of the class party and you remind yourself to pick up the popcorn. The older one clings to you feeling like you’re about to have a great ol’ time alone with the younger one, so you pacify her assuring her the day without her is filled with dull activities.
You wave and say hi to other moms. Making more mental notes about the birthdays coming up and the gifts you need to buy. The burden becomes heavier.
The day goes on and the lists go on. So much needs to be sorted. It all seems so mundane but someone needs to do it, right? Meal decisions, pick and drop, friends’ gift choices, doctors’ visits, birthday party planning, mall trips, Panadol timed to perfection, vitamins dispensed correctly, food not left out for too long, floor cleaned so there’s nothing the little one can swallow, the list goes on. And the load we carry increases. But it seems so trivial right? This isn’t the ‘big’ stuff. This doesn’t rake in the money. It doesn’t seem important enough to be called a ‘job.’ But isn’t it?
Isn’t this what makes being a SAHM so unbelievably hard at times. The loss of patience, the shortness of temper, the sleep deprivation, the constant stress about future job possibilities (or lack thereoff), the nagging worry about the kids’ wellbeing. It’s so invisible but so remarkably tangible. And it weighs you down. Because there is no recognition of it. There is no acceptance of it. It would be too taboo to speak of it. Like Sisyphus you trudge on, sometimes failing to understand why you’re so overwhelmed because trillions have done it before you. But that doesn’t make your experience any easier to understand. Or your cross easier to bear.
But it CAN. If we accept that the reason we struggle in this role is because is IS challenging. It is ALL CONSUMING. It’s never-ending. And by no means does that make you ungrateful. It makes you HUMAN. I feel the weight of my guilt constantly. The weight of a foregone career. The weight of matching and pre-empting the needs of my 2 kids. The weight of wanting to be not just good enough, but better than the best. Of being tired even though I WANT to do so much.
There’s also the all important but taken for granted task of raising the kids, right. You want them to be kind. Yet resilient. You want them to be friendly, yet have a clear sense of stranger danger. You want them to be smart but don’t want to push them too much. You want them to be well adjusted but don’t want to coddle them. Every word you speak needs to be carefully weighed out because you know that you’ve dedicated yourself to this task. You need to do it right. Of course you’ll slip. You’ll yell. You’ll say things you wish you could take back. But you’ll keep pushing through in the hope that the efforts you’re making will one day lead to kind-hearted, well-settled, secure individuals with a penchant for reading. (Too much?)
This ties into the fact that modern parenting has made the load a little heavier for us new parents. Now we can see what every other parent in the world is doing. And even though mostly you’re in a good place, there are those low moments where you’re like ‘Shoot, she’s doing so much for her kid and all I want to do is catch a few more minutes of sleep. Am I awful?‘ But you’re not. The burden of social media and its prevalence has added a few extra kgs of weight on the load.
BUT. What I’m trying to say in all my ranting is…
I don’t want to be a martyr. I want to be an acknowledger. I want to be honest. I want to be open about the task we’ve been blessed with. If that makes me sound ungrateful, so be it. Because I’m not. I’m trying to bring forward the notion that this ISN’T just a pass-time. And I want to acknowledge those who find it overwhelming. They’re not ‘bad parents’ they’re just parents. If they need help. So be it. If they need to whine. So be it. Their kids will be fine, just like yours. And mine.
Parenting is a pretty important job. Why not give it the respect it deserves AND acknowledge it’s challenges?
A caveat. This piece is purely limited to the challenges of being a SAHM. By no means am I commenting or discrediting the challenges of working mothers. I’m not in that place, so I can’t write about it. I’ll say what I always do: Parenting is hard, whether you’re at home, or outside. So let’s not judge but instead lift each other.