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Being a Stay-at-Home Mom Is So Much Harder Than I Thought It'd Be

Photograph by Risa Kerslake

When I left my full-time job to stay at home with my daughter, I thought I would have plenty of time on my hands. She was just a newborn and she slept all the time. I thought I would be able to pick up the living room between cat naps with her, sit at the table for meals and, you know, wear makeup now and then.

The reality was just what you are thinking: Bitch, please.

OK, so eventually as the months passed and she slept in longer stretches, I realized one day that I was actually emerging from the cave that is Brand-New Mom and feeling somewhat human again.

Now I’ll be able to keep up with the housework and make dinners, I told myself. But then my daughter was doing some of her own growing and emerging herself, and started screeching, wailing and generally being unhappy 75 percent of the day. I would spend my days trying to keep the house picked up, keep the baby alive and have dinner on the table by 5:30 every night.

Most days, I managed to only get one of these done and therefore the other two suffered. Chopping ingredients for my favorite chili would inevitably result in the baby hollering at me that I was supposed to be keeping her alive. How dare I have the gall to cook for the family instead?

As she entered toddlerhood, I wondered why I wasn’t able to get my act together. After all, I wasn’t nursing around the clock (though don’t get me started on the joys of nursing a teething toddler), I wasn’t (very) sleep-deprived and she could actually (sort of) play by herself. Why wasn’t this getting easier?

Let me tell you why: Because of the guilt.

Because washing the breakfast dishes so the kitchen could be clean until lunch, scrubbing the toilets and throwing in loads of laundry meant she was on her own. And I’m the last person to say I think kids need constant adult attention. Quite the opposite. But managing a household with a toddler who wants to undo everything is a lot of work. Making three meals a day and cleaning up afterwards is a lot of work. Trying to fit in writing and getting my freelance deadlines met is, well, a lot of work. And with no childcare during the day, I’ve felt some guilt at how often she’s left to her own devices.

To all you stay-at-home moms who feel like you are falling behind: I promise you are doing much better than you think you are.

Then there were the really bad days. The ones where she tested my patience and required so much of my time and energy that my husband would come home at the end of the day to see the house in ruins. A wife holding back tears on the couch. The kitchen light off because we were ordering pizza that night. A baby who looked at him angelically and reached her tiny hands out to him, practically perfect in every way.

I thought I was failing. I had a work-from-home job where I set my own hours. There were women who worked 40-plus hours a week outside the home and seemed far busier than I, and here I was, barely holding myself together. It didn’t help that postpartum anxiety had snuck in during those early days, beating me senseless, sucking my energy and leaving me feeling helpless.

But even on those days when I couldn’t manage to do anything but survive, my daughter would walk up to me in the evening, fresh from a bath smelling like lavender, and say, “Mama?” And she would hug me, maybe even giving me a lick on the cheek—because toddlers are weird—and suddenly it wouldn’t matter that we ate a frozen pizza for the third night in a row or the dishes from breakfast didn’t get done.

To all you stay-at-home moms who feel like you are falling behind: I promise you are doing much better than you think you are.

Some days you will kick ass. You will check everything off your to-do list and the floors won’t have floating dog hairballs and crumbs, and you will have something mouth-watering in the oven with a kid who is actually keeping their clothes on. You’re going to feel like a damn warrior. But even on those days where all you did was tend to an overly emotional child and maybe even cry yourself, I hope you know that you’re still enough. You’re not failing—far from it.

In fact, it was probably the most important thing you did all day.

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