The Ugly Psychology of Stay at Homes.


Now, I’ve seen my fair share of “fist shaking” articles and whatnot regarding housewifery, stay-at-home moms and the like.  I’ve seen some well-thought out ones, and I’ve seen some ones that really aren’t much more than bitching.

I don’t want this to be one of those.  I don’t want it to be some kind of intended “anthem” of housepeople, either.  (People, because there is a growing number of house-husbands and stay-at-home dads, which I find awesome and refreshing.  And I know that they feel our pain.)

I want to try to describe a bit of the day to day that SAHM/Ds deal with.  I don’t want to come off like I’m pounding my fist on the table, and I don’t want this to come across as a giant complaint.  Because it’s not.  It’s the life we chose.  Or the life that chose us.  Though, as much as we choose our paths in life, that doesn’t mean that that path is easy.

I personally love the life of a mother.  As hard, challenging, new and scary as it is, I love it.  Even on the worst days, I deep down still love it.  Even if in the moment I question it, question myself, my choices.

I would say, that in a similar way, a person who made a certain choice in career or long term job, they have their reasons for continuing even if things get difficult from time to time.  Some may really like their job/career, some may not, they may like aspects of it.  But every job out there has it’s challenges, it’s difficulties, it’s stress.

And I don’t think many people will argue with the idea that parenthood is stressful.  Even being in a relationship with someone, whether married or not, has it’s own stresses.  Life has stress.  There are often so many factors working against the happy, easy times.

But, for those that are home with a child, or multiple children tend to take on quite a bit.  Yes, we choose it.  But sometimes we need a little help from time to time.  We need some understanding.  We know that you with jobs and careers have your own set of stresses.

One of the things that many of you tend to want is down time after work.  We get that.  Trust me, we get that.  We also want time to unwind from what we do.  We do not often get it.  But we do often dutifully try to give you your time to wind down.  Whether it be an hour, or however much time you need.  But sometimes…when it seriously eats into the evenings to the point where you’ve had little interaction between getting home and bedtime, that’s just a little less than fair.  Depending on the overall dynamics of the relationship, the person who stays home with the child/ren, also does the cooking for dinner, cleaning up from dinner, feeding the child/ren, making sure the child/ren is then clean and ready to go to bed, so on and so forth.

Now, looking back through the rest of the day, often those days start as early, sometimes earlier, and in a few cases later than the person working.  (I’m lucky on most days to get to sleep in a bit.  I’m sucking it in now while I can.  I know it won’t last.)

For those that have a child, or children…these days can be everywhere from blissfully easy when the kids are doing good, or hellaciously horrible.  Throw in crappy sleep on a regular basis, and the physical, emotional, and psychological demands of children and babies…and it can be pretty ridiculous.  Toss in the responsibility of constantly having to maintain some semblance of teaching that child/those children different things, reinforcing those teachings, keeping them clean, fed, clothed, entertained, healthy, taxi them wherever they need to go, make sure there’s clean laundry for everyone in the house, attempting to maintain ANY kind of personal style and primping so that we don’t look like complete hags when we leave the house.  Making sure we don’t always look like complete hags for our SOs, actually feeling attractive?  Pfft.  Trust me, without some outside help, we mostly feel like we look like crap.

Now, let’s expound a little on the “looks” department.  This is a bit more pertinent to the women, since women tend to be more expected to look good, guys have a wee bit easier at times.  Not always, I know, but often have it easier.  After popping out a kid…there’s a lot of psychological crap we go through.  The pregnancy itself was (especially if it’s the first) a huge hit to our personal image.  Not everyone is blessed with a perfect body before hand, that bounces back immaculately.  So there’s some serious body-image issues that we deal with through all this.  The “miracle” of life (yes, I do agree with the sentiment that life is a miracle) is honestly not enough to keep us from feeling like crap once the glow wears off.  Trying to learn this new life (or adding more to what kids you’ve had) is a hurdle.  And we often feel like we’re silently pressured to constantly have a smile on our face, think we look beautiful, and manage to put ourselves out perfectly coiffed and dressed every day while herding supposedly perfect little wee ones around with grace and poise.  Rationally, we know that’s not really the expectation, but it sure as hell can feel like it.

As for actually feeling attractive, hellllloooooooo we kind of need outside input.  We can’t magically just feel it on our own.  To feel it, we need to know that we still are attractive to our partners.  Even if we’re not immaculately coiffed and painted up.  Even if we’re a mess, tired, kinda cranky and feeling like poo (and sometimes covered in it).  And I know that we don’t always have to be dressed to the nines for y’all to get a little tingle.  Y’all just need to let us know.  And not JUST when you want to have sex.  Yes, I know that sex is often your means of basic intimacy.  But if we don’t feel like you feel like we’re still attractive to you in times other than “hey, let’s have a quickie before I go to bed”…then we aren’t going to want to have that quickie before bed.  It’s not a one way street with the intimacy issue.  Yes, we should initiate things sometimes.  But if we feel like crap all the time…how likely are we going to initiate?  We sometimes need to hear that we’re still “all that and a bag of chips” when we look and feel like shit, without the reciprocation requirement is sex.  (Yeah, yeah, another Venus/Mars thing.  Don’t hate me, sometimes ideas like that have some actual merit.)  You have to remember that to get, you must give.

Doesn’t have to be much, but at least try to make your partner smile and feel good about themselves before you expect to get any lovin’.  If you want things to “get back” to the way they used to be, forget it.  Things change.  Get over it.  BUT!  You can work on being a more involved partner in finding ways to make things easier all around in order to be able to maintain a better level of intimacy between the two of you.  And not just a sexual intimacy.

Ok, mini rant over.  That segues me from sexual intimacy to basic intimacy and closeness between partners.

Intimacy isn’t just about sex.  (Though…the sex is a good thing.)  Being married, and having kids is a partnership deal.  Regardless of who brings in the “dough”, and who holds down the homefort…it’s not one sided on each of those things.  We are expected to be understanding of the “balance”.  You work, we don’t.  We take care of the home.  Awesome!  We get it.  We agreed to it.  But sometimes we need some help.  A good level of intimacy can come from being understanding of each other’s stresses.  Being a little selfless to give a hand without attitude or complaint to the other person when you see that they need some help.  Even if you would rather have a little down time yourself.  We very regularly give you that down time as often as humanly possible.

If you want down time together, then you’re going to have to WORK TOGETHER to get it.  Not just expect one or the other to either handle everything, or take over everything.  When you work together, you get things done quicker, more efficiently, effectively and have a BOND that builds between the two of you.  That working together continues to show each other that you care about each other as much as you care about yourself.  The bond between the two matters as much as time for the individual.

Yes, we like the little romantic gestures, the date nights, things like that.  Those are awesome in their own right.  But to be perfectly honest, you what works even better?!  A helping hand.  Without attitude, without feeling like we’re putting you out.  Being more involved and acting like coming home to your family IS your escape from the world, and not just another burden.  (Yeah, regardless of what side we’re on, being the $$ earner or the SAH, sometimes it does feel like a burden, let us be honest.  It’s ok to feel that way sometimes because we all get overwhelmed.  But it’s not the feeling that matters, it’s the action that occurs because of the feeling that matters.)  Getting a helping hand with a smile and a nudge and perhaps a saucy wink does a hell of a lot more to our mood and drive for intimacy than a sigh and a groan and a delayed push off the couch.

People tend to forget that being playful and creating a more positive atmosphere with each other as much as possible goes incredibly far with maintaining a bond and intimacy between partners, even when dealing with stress from work and stress at home.

When things start building up, it’s better to stop and take a breather.  For everyone.  Everyone capable of doing it, need to stop and think about whether their behavior is hurting, or helping the situation.  That’s a hard one to put into practice.  Emotionally charged situations tend to stay emotionally charged, because the emotional tends to outweigh the rational mind.

Something I thought of while laying in bed unable to shut my brain off was this:

S.I.T. – Stop, Inhale, Think.  (Heck, if you want to physically sit down for this, even better.)

Stop.  Stop what you’re doing, stop what you’re possibly going to say.

Inhale.  Because when you’re inhaling, you aren’t speaking.  (Yeah, I know, you can talk while inhaling, I’ve tried it and it’s funny sounding.)

Think.  Use that moment to start thinking with your rational mind, rather than reacting with your emotional mind.

I’ve been doing a version of this for many years as I was attempting to change a lot of behaviors that I had acquired that I didn’t much like in my early 20’s.  I met my now husband in the early stages of my self-re-evaluation.  His quiet support helped me.  (Thanks, love!)

This is something I’m attempting to re-learn and re-apply to my life as a new mother.  I’d had it down pat for the most part as a wife.  (Yeah, not perfect, I had my moments.  But far less “moments” than before I knew him.)  Having a kid really messes with you (as a woman) both physically, emotionally, and mentally.  I mentioned this earlier.  Even if you’ve had a kid or two already, adding another isn’t just “Oh hey, I have another kid, this is going to be easy, I’ve done it before.”  What I’ve learned from the outside between friends and family over the years is that an added body isn’t like adding another book to the collection.  It has it’s own challenges, ones that I get to look forward to, since we plan on having at least one more kid, if not more.

It’s added responsibility, it’s added worry, it’s added strain, it’s added lack of sleep, it’s added drain on the money situation, it’s added “Oh god, I’ve only got two arms…I need at least 8!”.  But it’s also added bundles of love, laughs, giggles, learning, seeing something you’ve created, watching a miracle.  It’s amazing, but scary at the same time.  Not the same scary as the first kid scary.  But it has it’s own crazy.  I’ve come to extremely admire and shake my head in awe the sheer willpower I’ve seen in friends and family when they are dealing with multiple kids.  I’ve seen the good times, I’ve seen a few of the bad.

I’ve learned that wrangling adults (often adults that aren’t much better than child-like at times, don’t get me wrong) in my personal experience while stressful, isn’t as challenging at times as wrangling kids.  They both have their challenges.  But at least (generally) adults have the ability to comprehend what needs to be done.  Kids sometimes don’t.  Kids get overwhelmed easier than most adults.  Their comprehension skills fart out far quicker and more effectively than an adults.  I’ve only got one kid and dang, it can be hard.  I hope I become as capable as some of the people I know.

When working with adults, if you’re the one in charge, you can delegate things to those people and (hopefully) not have to worry about whether or not it’s getting done.  (Not always the case, but bear with me.)  When working with kids (and babies?  Forget it…they just sit there.  I KID! I KID!) you’re dealing with having to constantly repeat yourself, deal with meltdowns and distractions, and a growing set of comprehension skills that aren’t honed yet.  It seems to be pretty twitch-worthy at times.  You don’t get nearly as much help (for years) as one might think.  So it’s one person for the most part, handling the household.

Here’s a list of things that are often on my mind, even before I had my baby:
  1. What rooms of the house need to get cleaned/straightened up?
  2. Is the laundry done?/Who needs what clothing for what?
  3. Are the dishes done?/Does the dishwasher need to be unloaded/reloaded?
  4. Is there mail in the mailbox? Have I gone through the mail yet?
  5. Are there bills that need to get set aside to be paid?  Have I set aside receipts to balance the books?
  6. Is there enough dishsoap/detergent/laundry soap/personal hygiene products/cleaning products?
  7. Do I need to go grocery shopping?  Are there enough staples?  Are there basic fresh products?
  8. Have I swept the floor/vacuumed/dusted/polished?
  9. Need to scrub the tub and showers/toilets/wash the floors.
  10. Need to sweep and mop the kitchen and dining room floors.
  11. Need to keep working on the house’s storage issues to make cleaning/keeping neat easier.
  12. Does the garbage need to be taken out?
  13. Does the recycling bin need to be emptied?
  14. Is there anything in the fridge that needs to get tossed?
  15. What can we clean out/get rid of to make space?
  16. When to take a shower, before cleaning or after?
  17. Making sure I look cute when I leave the house because I actually believe I reflect upon my husband.
  18. Trying to feel cute so that I am in a better mood for my husband.
  19. Re-vamping the closets for both of us on a decent budget.
  20. Couponing to save money as much as possible/wherever possible.  (Which is a lot more work than some people think.)
  21. Planning grocery trips around sales and coupons.
  22. Organization of things in the house to best serve the day-to-day ease of use.
  23. Hair/make-up/smelling nice.
  24. Eating a relatively healthy diet to maintain.
  25. Working out to try to maintain or lose some fluff.
  26. Trying to get healthier/deal with back issues.
  27. Feeling like shit when there is too much pain to get everything done and not having the house look the way you want for when your partner gets home.  Because we do it to make your lives easier.  It’s not an easy task.
Here’s what’s been added since I had a baby:
  1. Added laundry.
  2. Constantly having to keep up with what fits and what doesn’t with rapid baby-growth.
  3. Making sure there are season/weather appropriate things for the baby.
  4. Toys for the baby.
  5. Diaper changes.
  6. Crying for no reason.
  7. Feeding the baby.  (Breastfeeding is a one-person thing, formula feeding can be done by almost anyone.)
  8. Cleaning the baby.
  9. When the hell am I going to be able to shower?
  10. When the hell am I going to be able to attempt to look cute?
  11. Am I ever going to feel cute again?
  12. I wonder how I’m going to fit working out in?
  13. Trying to maintain some kind of schedule for the baby to have some normalcy and to promote healthy growth and learning.
  14. Trying to maintain the above, while also doing ALL the housework.
  15. Trying to maintain the above, while also trying to do ALL the housework, while also trying to maintain self-image.
  16. Raging hormones from giving birth (for us mom’s, not to disclude the stay at home dads).
  17. Massive emotional swings, feeling like a failure, being in a ton of physical pain.
  18. Not always having the kind of support we need while attempting to be the core of our own emotional support.
  19. Making sure the kids are safe.
  20. Making sure we’re doing the right things for the baby/kids.
  21. Dealing with being sick and still having to take care of the baby/kids.
  22. Dealing with sick baby/kids (sometimes while we are sick).
  23. Feeling like if the house isn’t perfect and we’re freshly washed and done up with the baby happy and playing when our other gets home, that we’ve somehow failed.
  24. Dealing with screaming babies/kids while out getting errands that need to get done, done and the stares and glares of idiot people in public.
  25. Trying to be the good, happy, capable individual despite feeling like none of those things.
  26. And for those that have health issues: Dealing with all of that…AND health issues or injury.  And still being in a good mood.  Yeah…no.

Oh yeah.  Pretty much all of that goes through my head on a daily basis.

No matter how great of a routine a person has before kids….that sometimes goes right out the window, and you just can’t do the same things every single day and have it all work out the way you want it to.

Routines are a wonderful thing.  But life happens.  You can’t always maintain a routine.  You do the best you can with what gets thrown at you.  There is a constant level of adjusting that has to be done.  Learning to work around some things, work through others, and sometimes just giving up on getting everything done, and attempting to be ok with what did get done.

It’s easy for someone to say “It’s no big deal!”  And to some extent it isn’t.  It’ll get done eventually.  It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t get done.  (I’m lucky that I don’t get nagged.  I’m my own worst nag about things.)  But when things are expected….we try very hard to maintain those expectations, despite everything else we have to deal with.

Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone else see that something needs to get done and just do it.  Take the few minutes out of their time to just do it.  It’s those little things that really make us feel loved and appreciated and supported.  If it really isn’t going to kill you to turn over the laundry, do it.  If you need clothes for work, toss in a load.  If something needs to get put away, do it.  If you don’t have a clingy baby or child distracting you, do it.  “It only takes a minute or two!”  Yeah, guess what?  We hear that all the time.  Hows about if we turn it around?  If you’re not busy and you’re moving from room to room, do something before leaving the one room to go to the other room.  If you’re not pressed for time, do it.  Help out.  You don’t have to do everything.  You don’t have to take over.  But a little something here and there, without being asked, or told, or nagged, and without comment, complaint, or sigh…we will love you so much for it.

I have to admit, I’m pretty damned lucky.  But I will admit that on my worst days, I feel like spitting venom.  But I don’t.  Because when I stop to think about it (and I suck at speaking up, so I end up just sitting there thinking), I personally am very lucky and I do appreciate my husband because he does understand that I need help sometimes.  I’m getting to a point where things are getting easier because the baby is a bit more independent, she feeds easier and quicker than she used to so I’m not stuck on the couch nursing her for most of my day.  Though, we are going through the first portion of the “separation anxiety” issues.  Which has made getting things done harder.  And throw in a re-aggravated back injury with tons of pain and an inability to move well?  Yeah, that hurts the ability to get things done.

I personally get extremely frustrated with myself if I can’t do something.  I’m learning to be better about that.  I sometimes push myself too hard (especially with the injury) and and up shooting myself in the foot, because then I really can’t do the things I need to.  Let alone the things I want to.  So things get even more backed up.  And I’m horrific at asking for help.  I’m learning to do that more.  Thankfully my husband knows this and is often intuitive enough to just help.  Though, I think we both need to work on being a bit more verbal at times.

We’re also learning that if we don’t watch our attitudes and moods, that it just snowballs.  (It’s mostly me, since he’s generally the zen master.)  I admit it.  I’m way more emotionally charged than he is.  Always have been.  We’ve always tried to live by the “Don’t go to bed angry.” motto.  Even since very early on in our relationship before getting married.  We try to laugh together as much as possible.  And we’ve even been pegged the “disgustingly cute” couple for years.  But hey.  Those kinds of things actually keep relationships close.

Adjusting to a new aspect to our lives, we’ve lost a lot of the little things that had us so close.  We’re working on that.  It’s the little things, like hugs in the kitchen while one is cooking/doing dishes.  Playful exchanges verbally or physically as we pass each other in the house getting things done.  Smiling at each other as much as possible.  Little kisses here and there.  Being silly, laughing, joking, helping each other out.  Being each other’s distractions from the crap of the day.  Being each other’s escape.  But it takes conscious effort on both our parts to remember these things and to actually do these things.  But when we do, things are so much better.  Stress falls away easier because we’re doing things together.  We’re working together.  We’re helping each other.  We’re working as a team.  As much as the day to day responsibilities of house and home and child and work are necessary, it’s COMPLETELY NECESSARY to make the partnership, connection, bond a RESPONSIBILITY.  A daily responsibility.  Not just when things start sucking.  Things suck less when it’s made a priority every single day.  Make it a part of the routine of the day.

Work on those things, do the maintenance, and you will both get so much more out of each other, your lives, and the bond together.

(Now, to keep my own damned words in mind on my bad days.)

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Mary

Wife, student, new first time mother. Crafter and creator. Animal enthusiast. I had a miscarriage in March 2011. But we tried again. March, 2012 was the birth of my first child. Off and on I have been dabbling with small business, trying to get it off the ground since, every so often changing direction.

One thought on “The Ugly Psychology of Stay at Homes.”

  1. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something too few people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I came across this in my search for something concerning this.

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