S.A.H.M. vs. Working-Mother? Aren’t we one in the same.

As a teenager, I always envisioned my future to include graduating college and beginning an exciting career transforming myself into an independent working-woman, and eventually a working-mother.  Both my mother and nani (maternal grandmother) were working-women and eventually working-mothers.

The idea of being a Stay At Home Mom (S.A.H.M.) did not even occur to me.  In fact, I remember actively voicing my discourse with the idea of being one.  In my naivety, I looked down upon it; I’m not going to lie.

My nani was not only a working-mother in a time where women did not have many options; she was also a social activist, an advocate for woman’s rights and an educator.  She was living and working as an English professor, President of a women’s league and many other feats in a third-world country, the Fiji Islands, in a time when women weren’t allowed to have much of a voice.  She rose above, and passed that onto her eldest daughter, my mother – who then passed her passion and voice to me.  Although she upheld many traditional values in her marriage to my nana (maternal grandfather), she was a very prominent equal in their household.

Growing up, I wanted that for myself. I wanted to be just as powerful as my nani – I wanted to be an equal leader in my household and I didn’t feel like S.A.H.M.’s were, not at that time anyway.

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As a self-proclaimed feminist, I had grilled it into my own head that in order for me to be my husband’s partner – his equal – I also needed to work and bring home the proverbial bacon.  To some extent, even after experiencing my new-found respect for S.A.H.M.’s (more on that in a minute), I still find myself feeling the need to equally financially contribute to my household. But there was a time I thought, “Why would I ever want to be an S.A.H.M. when I am college educated and have a passion to be an equal partner in my relationship?”  Not realizing, at that time, that S.A.H.M.’s also equally contribute to their households. My thought process stemmed from the unfair expectation that I was supposed to stay at home and raise our children while my husband was able to do the paying work he enjoyed doing.  No one was going to pay me to stay home and raise our children!  It didn’t seem fair.  And the truth is it isn’t fair.

Societal expectations of a mother can make it incredibly difficult for women to decide what the best option is.  The truth is there isn’t a ‘best’ option.  What is best for you may not be best for another mother.  Vice versa.  Working-mothers should not feel guilty by society’s pressure to maintain a traditional family environment by staying at home.  On the flip side, S.A.H.M.’s should not feel less of an equal to their working counterpart or other working-women because they made the choice to stay at home with their children.  It is important for all of us to do what is best for us, individually, and collectively as a family unit. 

I remember holding my son, weeks after he was born, and crying uncontrollably at the thought of having to leave him to go back to work – even though I ironically loved my job.  I was doing what I was passionate about and I was doing something closely related to my degree.  But being an S.A.H.M. was suddenly what I wanted more than anything else.  Forget the thousands of dollars in student loans I had racked up!  Who cares?  Forget the fact that I wanted to run my own non-profit one day!  Who cares? Forget that I found so much joy in helping others through my work in social services!  Who cares?  Forget that the lives of children I was changing through my work in children’s services was incredibly impactful!  Why was the idea of returning to work, doing work I love, making me feel so unhappy? Why was I all of a sudden yearning to be the very thing I never wanted to be, an S.A.H.M.?

The answer is simple: Elijah.

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Moments after L&D, I held my son in my arms while he held onto me with all his might.

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Perfectly perfect hours after birth.

Elijah was born May of 2011.  With his birth, my life drastically and completely changed.  He has brought more joy to my life than I ever knew was possible.  Providing him with a nurturing and loving home was in a blink of an eye more important than anything else was.  And at that moment, I thought I could only achieve that by staying at home with him.  I wanted to watch him grow and I did not want to miss a step (literally).  

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“Breast milk wasted” – while on maternity leave, I’d often sit and stare – watching him sleep.

While the tears didn’t stop flowing anytime soon, the anxiety and stress of leaving my son hit an all-time high when I was sitting in my parking lot of my job on my first day back from maternity leave.  Before getting there, I cried the entire drive into work, after dropping my son to his Aji (paternal grandmother) for the day.  I cried handing him to her and so did she.  Half an hour later, I sat in the parking lot of my work and cried even more, unable to open the door to take the steps necessary to walk into the building.  Mascara running down my face.  Snot wiped onto my sleeves.  I was a mess.  I walked into the building, sad as ever, feeling defeated and heartbroken that I had to leave my son, for the first time in six months.

At that moment, all I wanted was to be an S.A.H.M.

While I felt alone, according to a survey conducted by The Working Mother Research Institute titled What Moms ChooseI wasn’t alone: 51 percent of working-mothers feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids.

Unexpectedly, my girlfriends at work came to my rescue.  I remember Isela and Kelly providing hugs and words of comfort – they were also working-mothers who made enormous sacrifices for their little ones, now in their teens.  They knew my pain.  Kelly even went above and beyond and created a photo collage of my lil’ one that I could stare at all day.  It truly warmed my heart, because in amidst my sadness of leaving my son, I hadn’t even thought of printing out photos to adorn my workspace with – I only had the photos in my phone.  As the day progressed, it got a little easier, although I was constantly looking at the clock.  Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months.  I had returned to the workforce and I was okay.

Contrary to some, women have a great and positive impact to the labor force.  In the U.S., “nearly 10.4 million firms are owned by women (50% or more), employing more than 12.9 million people, and generating $1.9 trillion in sales” (2007 Wow! Quick Facts: Women, p.50).

Yet we allow ourselves to feel like neglectful mothers because we are not with our children 24 hours a day. If you are a working-mother feeling defeated by leaving your child, know that you are not alone.  Know that a bazillion other mothers have been through the heartache of leaving their child to provide financially for them.  For many of us, the loss in income, which would result if we stayed home, would add more stress than joy to our household.  Many of us have asked ourselves “is it worth it for me to stay home with my child if it means I can’t afford to own a home any longer?”  And we are left to make some very tough decisions.  Working-mothers are often desperate to find the formula necessary to achieve some sort of work and life balance.  There will be many days where you’ll feel like you can’t do anything right – your evening routine at home is leaving you exhausted in the morning as you pound another cup of coffee unable to give 100 percent while reviewing policies and procedures.  Or maybe that’s just me.  There will be days you’ll feel like you can’t do anything right at home also – that pile of laundry has been sitting there for weeks.  How can you expected to get all of that done when you just got done working one full-time job to come home to your second full-time job.  You’ll feel like you’ve lost your freedom – God, I miss weekly happy hours and coffee breaks with my closest girlfriends.  And you definitely won’t feel like you’re doing anything right at the gym – if you can get the energy to get your ass up and there in the first place.

Truth is, you’ll be okay.  You’ll snap out of it and realize that while you’re exhaustion has forced you to provide chicken nuggets and frozen pizza for dinner instead of the wholesome home cooked meal you had hoped for, you are doing your best.

And that truly is all that you can ask for.

“I think that at some point in your life you realize you don’t have to worry if you do everything you’re supposed to do right. Or if not right, if you do it the best you can… what can worry do for you? You are already doing the best you can” – Joe Namath. 

Regardless of your decision, whether it’s to be an S.A.H.M, a working-mother or somewhere in between, we are all doing the best we can to provide for our children, our families and our households.

If you are S.A.H.M – you deserve respect.  Because contrary to society’s beliefs (and my own preconceived notions prior to becoming a mother)being an S.A.H.M is the toughest non-paying job anyone could ever have.  In fact, according to Forbe’s, S.A.H.M.’s should earn approximately $115,000 a year!  Through a survey conducted via Salary.com, Forbe’s found that a mother is truly a compilation of ten jobs in one person.  “According to the survey, the typical stay-at-home mom works almost 97 hours a week, spending 13.2 hours as a day-care teacher; 3.9 hours as household CEO; 7.6 hours as a psychologist; 14.1 hours as a chef; 15.4 as a housekeeper; 6.6 hours doing laundry; 9.5 hours as a PC-or-Mac operator; 10.7 hours as a facilities manager; 7.8 hours as a janitor and 7.8 hours driving the family Chevy.”  Great points, great article – read more of it here.  S.A.H.M.’s, while you are incredibly blessed to be home with your children, chances are you are probably equally exhausted.  When you stay at home with your child all day, tuck them in at night (often being awoken in the middle of your slumber to tend to their needs), being an S.A.H.M. becomes an exhausting job with a never-ending shift with the most demanding boss ever, a child.  It only gets harder when you stay at home with multiple children.  While your husband counts the hours until he can come home from work and spend time with you and your little one, you’re just waiting for him to come home so you can take a nap!  Forget slapping on some makeup and a cute outfit. You live in your yoga pants and ponytails.

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If you are working-mother – you deserve respect as well.  Working-mothers are often shamed by society (and sadly by other women) into believing that by choosing to return to work (or joining the labor force for the first time); they are neglecting their duties at home, and not providing the nourishment a child truly needs.

Bull shit.

In fact, according to a study from the Academy of Social Sciences in the U.K., a child’s literacy, math skills and behavior is not affected whether or not their mother works or stays home during the first years of their lives.  Times have changed, and by choosing to be a working-mother, like the S.A.H.M. you wear many hats.  You are also the household chef (rushing home from work to prepare a home cooked meal – or shit – microwave that frozen pizza that’s been sitting around for weeks).  You are also the family chauffeur (toting lil’ Johnny to and from soccer practice) and his first teacher (making sure he finishes his homework, understands what it is he just learned and is ready for that science test), among many other things.  Being in the presence of my two-year old is enough for me to know that my child will be just as happy, nourished and challenged as a child of a S.A.H.M.  And so will your child, whether you stay at home with him, or not.  

The cold heart truth is, whether you’re a S.A.H.M., a working-mother, or somewhere in between, you can read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (or the counterpart “What to Expect the First Year”) until your eyes bleed.  OR you can save yourself the time and just except that you will NEVER fully know what to expect when it comes to the rollercoaster ride we call parenting.

For me, as much as I would love to stay at home with my son, even two years later, I know it isn’t economically feasible for my household and our collective desires, needs, goals and objectives.  I had to sit down and really envision our life as a family, which reaffirmed for me that staying at home would require sacrifices I didn’t want to make.  I could make them, but I choose not to.  Simultaneously, getting back into the flow of work, after returning from maternity leave, I remembered why I wanted to work in the first place.  Sure, money is always a motivator, but I am also doing work that is impacting the lives of families, children and communities.  I’m not just working toward a paycheck; I’m doing something I am profoundly passionate about and something that is making a difference in so many lives.  I also had to realize and then make it my mantra that my child would be just as successful, happy and nourished if I returned to work compared to if I stayed at home with him. Remembering and living that made it that much easier to make my decision to return to work.

I now know that in order for me to be truly happy,

I need to find and maintain balance in my life.

Such as it may be, is the definition of a quintessential Libra.

Which I truly am.

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Perhaps you also need to find and maintain balance.  The Daily Muse’s Alix Hughes discusses tips on how you can find balance in your life through “Real Work-Life Balance: Lessons from the Trenches” .  Although her tips are geared toward finding balance as a working-mother, I personally find that these tips can pertain to balancing life as an S.A.H.M. also. Hughes’ tips are ITALICIZED below followed by MY comments and thoughts.

“Real Work-Life Balance: Lessons from the Trenches”

Lesson 1: Make a Plan

Planning a life with multiple, sometimes competing, commitments requires structure, and the most game-changing advice I’ve gotten is this: If you’re truly going to act on your priorities, you need to dedicate time to them (Julie Morgenstern has a great model to follow).

For me, this means being incredibly organized and scheduled.  My cell phone and work outlook calendars are ridiculously organized and even color-coded.  Yup, I’m a nerd.  I map out not only my priorities, but those of our household.  I make lists of tasks that must get done immediately, while setting reminders and alerts to keep me in check.  I keep track of essentially everything related to running this ship.  I also schedule time to work out (usually at 5am while everyone else is still sleeping),  as well as scheduling meal-prepping time (usually 60-90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon), and play-time (and so on and so forth). While it’s always nice to throw your schedule out the window and live spontaneously, for me, I find harmony in a routine.  That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my spontaneity, because having that is key – and ultimately having spontaneity amongst a regimented schedule is the ultimate form of achieving balance. For me, anyway. 

Lesson 2: Be Prepared to Change Your Plan

Once I developed my plan, I proudly posted it on the wall in the kitchen for my family to see. I quickly learned, however, not everyone appreciated this approach—and not everyone fit nicely into my grid.  My favorite example of learning to flex my plan came when my kids got serious about sports. Nightly family dinners had been a priority to keep us connected, and I had them nicely scheduled into my “plan.” Then my daughters got into softball, joined multiple teams, and we were lucky if we were eating dinner together one night a week.  After the initial denial and blame dissipated (“Whose side was my family on? Didn’t they see I had a plan?”), I relaxed my plan—and sports actually turned out to be a great connecting force for our family and a growing experience for our girls. That one night a week became really special. We also still found a way to spend a lot of time together, not at the dinner table, but on the road, traveling to games and making new friends. Did the new approach fit neatly into my original plan? No. But did it achieve my priority? Absolutely.

It’s crucial for any working-mother and S.A.H.M. to be flexible to change.  Your plan of attack (whether that’s cooking up a feast before your husband gets home while simultaneously folding 5 loads of laundry OR finding the strength to cook a wholesome meal after working at your paying full-time job all day) may need to change due to the unexpected events that will undoubtedly occur as they always do with every parent.

Lesson 3: Look for Examples Rather Than Role Models

I ended up being the only one of five friends who went back to work after we had our first babies.  And at first, I thought there might be something wrong with me.  How was I going to be both a mother and a professional?  After a few frustrating attempts at following the advice of others, I finally decided to start trusting my instinct—and I’m quite frankly embarrassed at how long it took me to get there.  As I’ve come to my own solutions and watched others come to theirs, I realize that every person has unique circumstances that lead to different outcomes.  And that’s okay.

Truth.  Don’t compare yourself to other parents, mothers, friends, colleagues, etc.  You must choose the kind of role model you want to be for your child and then set out to achieve that.  If you want to live a more traditional lifestyle, lay out a plan to make that happen.  If you want to live a less traditional lifestyle like Hughe’s lay out a plan to make that happen.  When your heart is the right place and your primary concern is the well-being of your child being an S.A.H.M. or a working-mother isn’t going to negate the fact that you are a great role model for your child.

Lesson 4: Simplify and Focus

One of my most favorite managers told me once, “Simplify and focus.” At the time, I thought she just didn’t appreciate “big thinkers” like myself. I eventually realized she was trying to help me get to a level of work that was attainable—and I’ve since applied that advice to every level of my life. While he doesn’t call it by the same name, David Allen has a similar idea, which has helped me move to actually taking action. He simply calls it “getting things done.” The approach is to focus not on the enormity of your vision for your life, career, or even that next project, but instead to focus on figuring out the next action to take. For example, instead of telling myself “I have to lose X pounds,” I clarified that my priority was “be in good shape.” Then, I recognized that “lose X pounds” isn’t really actionable. But scheduling time to go to the gym with a friend? That’s an action. So I schedule that time, and move on. And after that? Figure out the next action, say, going for a run with my daughter. Tackle priorities one action at a time, and the results will come.

Simplicity and focus have been key aspects in finding balance in my life.  I had to sit down and really think about what it was that I wanted out of life.  And then I had to lay out a plan to create actions.  Scheduling workouts, for example, as mentioned in my comments in Lesson 1: Make a Plan, helped me achieve an action and ultimately helped me lose 35 pounds and attain a goal of being a healthier, happier version of myself.  Ultimately, simplicity and focus have made me a happier woman, wife, mother and person.

Lesson 5: Know That You’re Not Alone

Finally, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned came from a mistake I made: not sharing my struggles along the way.  Because friends and colleagues regularly told to me they didn’t know how I managed the whole work-family equation, I felt I had to keep up appearances as if I were managing it well, even when I was really struggling.  A few months ago, I got myself in a situation where I double-booked myself between a work and personal commitment. A colleague came by and I was so frustrated at the time that I found myself sharing my struggles her—and, to my surprise, she started sharing with me. Even though we had totally different situations, we were both trying to “figure it all out,” and knowing that has helped me lighten the load, laugh more often than not, and strengthens my resolve.  You don’t have to have it all figured out to share—just share!

Sharing my thoughts on Love, Life & Lemonade has helped me find balance in my life.  Connecting with other like-minded individuals (mothers and not) has helped me find comfort in my many exhausting, stress-filled days. Finding supporting, loving and nurturing friends to lean on through the ebb’s and flow’s of life has helped me achieve balance.

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In concluding her helpful tips, Hughe’s states, “‘Having it all’—I’m not even sure what that means.  In reality, I don’t want “it all;” I just want what I want. I don’t think there’s any one lesson or answer—here or anywhere—that’s going to be a silver bullet.  But for me, putting all these lessons together is where some magic has happened.  Is my life perfect?  Of course not! But I continue to grow during this process.  And just as significantly, I’m building a positive and real role model for my daughters.  By doing that, I’m contributing to the world in an even better way than I first envisioned during those days of staying home and watching Sesame Street and eating SpaghettiOs.”

I could not agree more. 

Because the truth is, whether you are a working-mother, an S.A.H.M. or somewhere in between

We are one in the same.

And we should love, nuture, and support each other through the amazing journey of motherhood.

supportive mothers