Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Some real talk about stay-at-home motherhood

I’m so blessed. 

The days are long, and the years are short. 

They grow so fast; I need to cherish every moment. 

We hear these beautiful sentiments, and we hold them close as we change diapers, drive to playdates, and cook dinner after dinner while trying to pacify a baby and calm a tantruming toddler. We may feel stressed or overwhelmed sometimes (maybe even most of the time), but that’s all part of the sacrifice of motherhood, isn’t it? We just need to beg God for help, suffer through it endlessly, and drink another glass of wine or coffee (or both?). It’s excruciatingly difficult on some days, but our kids are worth it. Our gift of motherhood is worth it. So, we push on, day after day, with no breaks. 

In Disney's 2021 movie Encanto, Luisa (a character gifted with super-strength) reflects on the burdens she carries in the song "Surface Pressure." As we go about our seemingly never-ending days, we may adopt Luisa's words as our own, chanting to ourselves: "I'm the strong one, I'm not nervous."

Perhaps we feel a twinge of envy when we hear about another mom of young kids going to get her nails done (alone!) or reading piles of books (for her own enjoyment!), but we try to push those feelings down and remember that “comparison is the thief of joy.” We shouldn’t spend our time comparing our life to those of other women, so if we are swallowed in the challenges of motherhood week after week and month after month, with minimal help, that must be God’s desire for us at this time. Right?

With Luisa, we sing: "And I glow ’cause I know what my worth is."

We find our worth and even identify in what we do for our kids. If we aren't constantly giving as much as possible while putting ourselves last, we may think that we're not loving them enough. Even if the pile of tasks and burdens stresses us out to no end, we need to perpetuate this sacrificial lifestyle; that's what we're supposed to do as mothers, isn't it?

We bottle up our discontent, and over time, that can build...and we may eventually explode. Everything that we've been shouldering for days, weeks, months, years--it all comes pouring out as we realize that it's too much to handle. After our outburst (which might be towards our kids, towards our spouse, or alone in our bedroom) we take a deep breath, try to regain our composure, and decide to try again. I just have to be stronger, we tell ourselves--and we fall back into the exact same lifestyle and habits. We may strain under the burdens and expectations of motherhood, but we think that this is "just part of life."

What if we rethink this narrative? 

In a powerful moment in the months following the birth of my third child, I felt the all-too-familiar sweep of overwhelm begin. However, instead of falling into the "normal" pattern of coping before falling back into my usual routines again, I decided that this time, I would try something new.  

I grabbed a large piece of paper and began writing out every single thing that I do, need to do, and want to do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Nothing was too small to put on the list; everything from "refill kids' water bottles" to "make grocery list" to "plan field trips" was on there. Within a few minutes, the entire paper was filled. 

I looked over my list and realized that I had barely been spending any time on activities for my own relaxation and rejuvenation. Even some of the "weekly" tasks for the house had been falling to the wayside. Why? Well, when we really look at what is expected of stay-at-home, homeschooling moms, it often involves multiple full-time jobs: full-time cook, full-time housecleaner, full-time nanny, full-time chauffeur, full-time teacher, and full-time librarian. So, it's no wonder that I somehow wasn't "getting it all done." There's no wonder why so many moms I've spoken with feel overwhelmed and stressed on a regular basis. The expectations that we bear from other people, from society in general, from books, from articles, and from our own preconceived ideas pile up to become a towering mountain. 

Again, I wonder: what if we rethink this narrative?

In Encanto, Luisa reflects:

"But wait, if I could shake

The crushing weight of expectations

Would that free some room up for joy?

Or relaxation? Or simple pleasure?"

After I wrote out my life on that large piece of paper, I let it sit for a bit so I could let my thoughts rest. Then, my husband and I sat and talked. He began helping me strategize, to look for ways that we could lessen the load together and see what tasks were most important. Soon after, I had a coaching session with a therapist who helped me make other concrete ways to take care of my own needs in the midst of a very full life with very young kids. I also realized that I didn't have to listen to the overwhelming narrative anymore. Even if it seemed like many stay-at-home, homeschooling moms in my community or online were seeing this lifestyle as "normal," I decided that I didn't need to make the same choices. 

In the past several months, since making some changes and shifting my perspective, I have experienced a tremendous amount of peace and calm. This whole journey of motherhood has been a huge learning experience, particularly in the past couple years. I've really been learning that we are not robots who can operate at maximum power indefinitely. We are mothers who certainly put our desires aside to feed and comfort our children, but we are also wives...and we are individual women. It's OK to have needs and to take care of ourselves. 

If any of us are struggling, perhaps this is the year when we can have an open and honest talk with God, with ourselves, and with our spouse. Maybe it's time for big changes, or perhaps all we need is a slight shift in perspective. Whatever the case, let's be unafraid to ask questions and do what's right for ourselves, our marriages, and our families. 

(Note: I do not in any way wish to disregard the sacrifices or burdens faced by moms with office jobs. I know that they face a tremendous number of challenges, and I honestly have the utmost respect for them. However, I do not have experiential knowledge of that life, so I don't feel qualified to speak on it. I decided I would simply focus on stay-at-home motherhood in this post, since that is what I know.)


  1. I would love to hear of some of the changes you made! If you’re comfortable with sharing any, of course. I’ve been in the process of doing the same thing and trying to get a daily/weekly/monthly flow with everything spread out and built-in time for rest and recharging.

  2. Same as Michelle-- would love to hear your specifics of what changes you made! I know we all have different situations even as SAHMs but I like hearing the practical and reflecting on which would apply for me. :) I have noticed this winter we have been so much less busy and so much more peaceful-- and i seem to have rest time every day to read/pray/recharge...however, I know newborn season is coming!!! ahh!! Plus even though our days are enjoyable and peaceful, I definitely do NOT have the clutter under control and that is a goal for me because it affects my peace a lot. :/

    1. That's so great that you have been able to get some good rest and recharge time this winter! As much as I love seeing people and doing activities, I have been finding that a slower pace to our life right now is really important for us. And I hear you on the clutter! With that, I really focus on two areas: our living room (where we spend a lot of time throughout the day) and the kitchen (also where I spend a lot of time in the day). As much as I'd love my kids' room to be tidy all the time, I don't really go in there much, and most of the time I can block out the clutter in the office/homeschool room (every time my husband cleans it our kids almost immediately make a big mess in there!). A while back, we decluttered a bunch in our bedroom, so thankfully that is pretty much always clutter-free, and we actually just did a toy purge to help keep our living room situation under control...our house is under 1200 square feet, with no basement and very little storage, so we pretty much have to do routine decluttering so that things don't get out of hand. (and things still do get out of hand sometimes, and my husband is very good about orchestrating clean-up when he gets home (while I finish dinner) It's definitely something we can get better at, but I do think within the past few months we've started to make some progress as a family, which is encouraging for me!

      As for the other stuff, off the top of my head, one of the big things that helped me was when I went through my list with my husband, he made a big excel worksheet and together we were able to nail down one specific problem area to work on-at that time, it was mornings/breakfast. So, we were able to zero in on ways to simplify the process-clearing out a low cupboard and filling it with dishes and foods that the kids could get themselves (or at the very least, they'd be able to mostly assemble before asking us to pour milk for them). It was a simple thing, but it did help. And another area that was hugely helpful for me was making our daily routine include daily "worktime"/"recharge" time for me while the kids played in the morning. Even if it's only 30-45 minutes, having that regular time every single morning after the whirlwind of breakfast and "couch time" has been so good for helping me to recharge. And since it's now a normal part of our life, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to continue that once newborn season comes (though I'll probably spend a lot of that time napping or nursing-but at least doing it locked in my bedroom will hopefully give me some peace and quiet!) I know there were other specific things that have helped too, but I'll probably have to just write up a separate blog post eventually to cover them.

    2. Loved reading this, AnneMarie! I really want to implement "recharge" time more regularly in the home, it makes such a difference!!

  3. I love that idea of making a list of all that you need and want to do and then finding out ways to make it happen. I love making lists and this has given me some good food for thought. It truly can be so hard to find that balance in motherhood - but as you wrote, it's ok to have needs and take care of ourselves. Really enjoyed this post!!

    1. Elisabeth, I am so glad that you enjoyed this! I hope you and your husband are able to find a way to help you achieve a good balance and "recharge" time so you can get good rest and take care of yourself--both during the newborn days and beyond!

  4. This is such an important thing to talk about. I totally push through, day after day, needing those opportunities to recharge, but rarely getting them. I think I need to sit down, as you did, and really take some time to identify concrete ways to get some time freed up to recharge.

    1. I hope you are able to have an insightful time of reflection, Shannon! I have found that making time to recharge is absolutely huge for me. About a month ago, there was a day when I let myself get consumed with pushing through (and didn't eat enough on top of that), and by the day's end, I was NOT a fun person to be around...that kind of thing hadn't happened to me in a very long time, and it was a good reminder to me that I need to be vigilant about this for the good of myself and my family; it's so easy to get swept up with the craziness of the day and forget what I've learned!