As a mom who- with my husband and before our marriage- made the decision that I would stay home and raise whatever kids came along instead of working outside the home, this day marked a huge milestone for me. I no longer would have the full-time duty of caring for small children. That part of my life was over. With it, all of the preschool mama drama (seriously, class parties are the WORST), the shoveling-snow-during-a-blizzard method of housecleaning (except, of course, for school breaks), the I-can't-go-to-the-bathroom-myself stage (though I have never shied away from locking doors). I was in a new stage. A stage of freedom. This was both scary and exciting.
As I approached this stage, with all of the trepidation of a mom who has spent 9 years on the frontlines of parenting small kids, I had a lot of well-intentioned people come up with all sorts of fantastic questions about my future.
"What are you going to DO with all of that free time??"
"Well, I guess you can go get a job now!"
"Are you going to go to work, now that you have no kids at home?"
I love how these moms, and it seems like my working mom friends in general, seem to think that I have just been biding my time until the kids leave the house for school so that I can START MY LIFE. It amazes me how quickly they forget the stress of finding childcare on school breaks (and we have a lot- one week every two months, plus the summer, plus furlough days), of leaving work because of sick kids, of trying to make the decision between sending an ill child to school or making excuses to a boss, of balancing school programs and parties with office hours and meetings, of working all day and then coming home to a different kind of work. For some reason I was CRAZY for not wanting to trade in my life as I know it for all that glamour. (NOTE: I'm not going to engage in a working mom/SAHM battle. We all make sacrifices for our family.)
I'll never forget the incredulity with which they listened to my response. I suppose my intention to be at home, caring for my house, being available to my children, and sacrificing a paycheck for my family instead of the other way around... well, it just looked like laziness. But oh, how quickly did it turn around! Suddenly I was an OPPORTUNITY.
SAHMs are often viewed by others as entities who "do nothing all day". As such, we should be more than happy to fill our waking and empty hours either watching other people's kids or running other people's errands. We SAHMs often find ourselves in a position where we find it hard to say no. I know that I have tried to come up with excuses so that I could gracefully bow out of childcare duties so that other people could work or run errands or go get massages. Sadly, "I just don't want to" doesn't feel like a valid excuse when you are at home during the day, with or without children.
Something snapped in me back in August. It was the first time in nine years when I wouldn't have at least one child at home during the day. NINE YEARS. Even though my youngest went to preschool for three hours four days a week, I still never really had a break to get much done. Over the last year, I had somehow managed to completely overwhelm myself with volunteering at school, being a room mom, helping my friends, maintaining relationships, and doing all of the mom/wife duties that I was actually SUPPOSED to be doing- all because I had the "time" to do it, not "working" and all. I reached the end of last summer panting for breath and looking forward to an end of commitments outside of my family. When the end of summer approached, I grew fearful. Not again.
I'll be damned if I do that to myself again.
So, for the first time in nine years, I embarked on what I have affectionately dubbed "The Year of No". I stopped (most) of the volunteering at school. I stopped babysitting for friends. I got rid of commitments that stressed me out, and finally took some time for myself. I won't lie- for the first month, I did nothing besides watch The Gilmore Girls from beginning to end (since I haven't watched tv during the day for nine years- well, besides Caillou and Yo Gabba Gabba). I walked my dog and took her to the dog park. I met friends for coffee or lunch and just caught up on adult conversation. I got back to couponing, and grocery shopping became fun again because I wasn't stressed about making the most of my three-hour window of childlessness. I cleaned my house. (Sometimes.) I said "no" to the things I didn't want to do, or didn't need to do, and I focused on relieving stress and getting to know myself again. I have enjoyed my life, and have considered the time I spent doing these things as being productive and fulfilling.
And I didn't (don't) feel the least bit guilty.
I have sacrificed a lot to be a SAHM. It has been worth it, most of the time. I have never regretted my decision to be present for my kids in all ways, and I have no desire to go "get a job" because society dictates that I should now that my kids are in school. They don't need me less just because they are gone for the day. Perhaps, at the end of the day, it does look like laziness drove my decision to reward myself with a Year of No. That's okay. I have no problem appearing lazy. I have no excuses to make to people outside of my family, no need for the opinions of others. I did what I needed to do for my own well-being and the well-being of my family. What I did get out of this year, though, is peace. When I volunteer at school, it's because I want to- not because of some feeling that I NEED to do it since I'm available at the drop of a hat. On the (very) rare occasion that I babysit anyone's kid, I do so because I WANT to help my friend, not because I feel like I can't say no. What surprised me, though, is how busy I am anyways- I am rarely at home, and I rarely have a minute to sit down and actually do nothing. Any SAHM can testify that this is often the experience- that we still never have time to do anything (or nothing, rather). We are still busy with life, even though popular opinion thinks the opposite. I don't think that working moms and SAHMs will ever come to a place where they can truly view what the other does without a measure of censure. Just recently, after several weeks of funerals and Girl Scout cookie deliveries and meeting with other moms to talk about school stuff, I had one blissful morning where I didn't have to BE anywhere- so I decided to get some sleep. A working mom friend texted me and said something along the lines of, "Get up! The rest of the world has to get up and work!" It doesn't matter how much I do, how busy I am, or how little time I have that is not eaten up with the minutiae of life... any break I take for myself is viewed as "laziness" simply because I don't "work" for money. There's no sense in trying to convince the masses, or living my life feeling like I need to excuse my behavior or decisions. There's no sense in feeling guilty. I can be available for my family and sleep in sometimes. I may not be able to buy everything I want, but I can be present for every stupid school celebration they have and meet grown-up friends for coffee. And I am perfectly okay with that. I have spent the last 9 years engaging in that kind of guilt and the last 8 months letting go of it- so that I can receive a text like that and just smile and go back to sleep.
All that said, I really feel like God gifted me with this Year of No. During this time He has given me rest, helped me to restore relationships, given me peace about who I am and where I am as a person, and changed my heart about a number of things- the biggest of which is homeschooling. Next year will begin a new chapter in the life of my family, but one that I am prepared for and excited about. I'm so glad that I had a year to myself- and a year of saying "no" to things that aren't important, as well as learning to let go of some of my defensiveness about my decisions before the court of popular opinion- before we begin. It has been a time of growth and change- and freedom in ways I never even expected.
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