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How I Try to Maintain My Identity as a SAHM

Photograph by Twenty20

As a type-A overachiever, I’ve struggled with the lack of “accolades” as a SAHM. I have two masters degrees and I spend my days burning shit in the kitchen and stepping on plastic toys. It’s endless. It’s thankless. At times, I feel like a huge failure at life. My bestie, who’s single and has an awesome career, pointed out that I have a successful two-decade relationship with my husband.

“That,” I said, “is luck.” The universe gifted us with mutual respect and attraction. That’s it. Yes, we disagree. Yes, I had to move to New Jersey and give up ever owning a cat to be with him. But otherwise, loving that man is effortless.

I was raised in a traditional Southern household where men provided and women nurtured. To this day, members of my extended family think my greatest accomplishment was landing a doctor for a husband—even if he is a Yankee.

I don’t see my marriage as an achievement because its success depends on someone else. I can be the best wife in the world, but if my husband were a shitty husband, our marriage would fail. Just because we’ve rolled along in wedded bliss for decades doesn’t mean it will always be this easy. That’s the sad truth. If the mutual respect and attraction ever fades, we’re in for a rough ride. Until then, I’ll count my blessings and call our marriage what it is: a lucky gift.

I lasted a year at home before I started freelancing to pay a cleaning service.

Instead, I’ve defined a sense of self apart from our relationship. I know I’ve helped my husband become successful, but his achievements are not mine. I built my career, had my own 401K and provided my husband and kids with healthcare. I was a person defined outside of my roles as a wife and mother. Until I wasn’t.

Being a SAHM was never an aspiration of mine, but it’s best for our family. If I’m being honest, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. Plus, I kind of suck at it. My mom sang while she vacuumed. She genuinely loved being a SAHM. I lasted a year at home before I started freelancing to pay a cleaning service. Whenever I clean, I feel like rage-singing “Wrecking Ball” until the piles of toys disappear. I love being with my kids and I’m incredibly thankful to have this time with them. Still, I sometimes bristle that the “measure” of my success has become the family I nurture.

But here’s where my relationship with my kids differs from my relationship with my husband: They did not choose me. My relationship with them is not effortless nor should it be. I have a responsibility to correct their mistakes, to help them grow as individuals and to teach them how to be independent. That’s work. And when it happens, when I teach them to dress themselves or they self-correct their behavior using a tool I taught them, I feel like someone handed me a bright gold star. But I never forget that their accomplishments and failures are their own. Instead, I work to maintain my identity outside of my family—even if those achievements might be a bit smaller for now—and remain grateful for the lucky relationship that started it all.

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