When You Think You Have No Right to Struggle

I know all of my posts have been about motherhood lately…apologies to my readers who aren’t super interested in mama drama and all things temper tantrums, sleep schedules, and flu shots.

 But for real, everyone get your flu shot. And don’t kiss other people’s babies-- or that guy you met at the bar last weekend. Make good choices!

So, yes, today is another mom post, but FORGIVE ME if I have a hard time thinking about much else when my body is literally harboring another human being, and most of my waking moments are dedicated to keeping a tiny drunk monster alive and happy. (Not literally drunk. But yes literally a [cute] monster.)

I do believe, however, that anyone reading this will be able to relate and hopefully benefit from the take-away. Here we go.

At least 9 times a day, I think I’m a horrible mom and wife who is selfish, lazy, and emotionally unstable. And another 9 times a day, I think I’m a goddess who takes her toddler on the coolest adventures, cleans the whole house every other day, and makes the best enchiladas in Alaska. (There aren’t many enchiladas out here, but just trust me THEY GOOD.)

I’m sure most moms go back and forth on their self-assuredness, depending on our hormone levels and how insane our kids behave each day. But for me, a lot of my insecurities stem from feeling like I have no excuse to ever “lose it.”

Back when I was working full time and my husband was deployed for months at a time, I could rationally see why there were moments that the house was a mess or I had the patience of an angry wasp. Sometimes I’d still feel like a failure because I did have an amazing nanny that helped with Anders, a dream job with flexible office hours, and plenty of wonderful friends and family. That said, I knew that working full time with only part time help and a part time husband wasn’t entirely “easy.”

Now, I am a stay-at-home-mom whose husband works normal hours, and we have 15 hours of daycare a week. Meaning that I went from being absolutely in the negative when it came to personal time, to now 15 hours in the green…at least until our daughter is born.

Despite the fact that I can confidently say that being a SAHM is way more exhausting than working full time (for me, at least), I think SAHMs still get this rap of having the dream life. Hang with your kid(s) all day, clean the house as you go, spend the afternoons cooking delicious dinners…ahhhh. How relaxing.

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Have you ever tried keeping a toddler (or multiple kids) at home all day? They will cry and yell and cling to your leg until you find something new, creative, and exhausting to do with them. Trust me. My old life of sitting in an office chair and attending meetings sounds like a freakin’ walk in the park most days as I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to unload the dishwasher without my son stabbing himself in the eyeball or read the same book for the 10th time over without wanting to stab myself in the eyeball. Yes, I had to do these things as a working mom, too, but it feels never-ending when it’s all you do.

So, my solution is to leave the house. I take Anders to the park or the lake or the library, or literally anywhere where he’s stimulated enough to stop being so needy. Of course I take him on adventures so that he can have a good time, but I mostly take him because no matter how tired I am, it’s way easier to haul him somewhere interesting than to deal with him chucking his toys at our dog or screaming for me to pick him up because he’s bored. Since I don’t want to rely on a screen, the trick to being a stay-at-home-mom is to NOT stay at home. (Which begs the question…when am I supposed to clean the house? Or shower? Stay tuned.)

Anyway, so imagine this perception of being a SAHM who has all day every day to keep home life in order and spend time with her precious little angel (LOLOLOLOL), and now imagine the pressure and scrutiny that comes with being a SAHM who also has help. Like…isn’t it your JOB to not have help? Why does your 20-month-old need daycare…isn’t that what you’re supposed to be doing? So you’re saying you’re not only not working, but you’re using your husband’s money to now pay someone ELSE to watch the kids? And you STILL feel overwhelmed at times, and have the audacity to vent or breakdown?

These are often the accusatory questions I ask myself…and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who think the same thing of me but are polite enough not to say it out loud. Which I appreciate. Keep it locked, for real.

Then I remind myself that Aaron and I decided to put Anders in part-time school for a few reasons:

First, to give him a stimulating environment to learn and socialize. Now that he’s walking and sort-of talking, we really value the idea of him learning to interact well with peers and to take direction early on from a teacher. We personally feel that it’s important for his independence and development. (Raise your babies how you want to, people. We don’t project our values for him onto you, I promise.)

Second, to give me a chance to breathe. My mom was convinced that she developed her fatal bladder cancer due to stress—there was no other reason her body should have failed her. I inherited the gene from her that seems to magnify stress. It’s something I’ve worked incredibly hard to manage over the years, but is definitely not something that will ever fully disappear. My husband has told me that my health will always be the priority, so he feels strongly that we take it into account with how we spend our money and time. Thus, in this chapter of our lives, paying for part-time childcare is a distinct way to lessen my strain while accomplishing things like cleaning the house, laundry, making appointments, etc.

Third, to give me time to focus on my passions and goals. Despite being a SAHM, I still have so many things I want to accomplish, and it’s important to both Aaron and me that I maintain my sense of “self.” For instance, I’m writing this blog post while Anders is as at school. Once I have our daughter during this time, obviously it’ll be a bit harder to carve out time for my passions, but 15 hours with one child instead of both is certainly still a gift. 

YES, we are so privileged and grateful that we are able to afford part-time care without a second income. For the record, we do have to make sacrifices in order for this to be possible, so we’re not just rolling in the dough or anything…there’s a reason I can’t remember the last time we went out to eat. (Other than that taking a toddler to a restaurant is borderline self-abuse.) But I recognize that there are tons of women who are insanely stressed and can’t put their health first, or can’t pursue their own goals.

And this acknowledgement is why I feel so freaking guilty and embarrassed when, despite my beautiful life, I still have weak moments. I ask myself those accusatory questions mentioned above when I snap at my husband, lose patience with my son, or completely tune out everyone and stare at my phone. Or when I complain about pregnancy discomfort and cry about being tired. I hate myself for doing those things, because I have no right.

Something I’m trying to embrace is that whether I’m a working mom with a deployed husband, or a SAHM with extra help—I am human. We are human. We all struggle. Billionaires struggle and the impoverished struggle. Marrieds struggle and singles struggle. Parents struggle and non-parents struggle. It’s just that all of those struggles look different…and sometimes they look the same. We all have the “right” to feel how life makes us feel. What we are responsible for is continuing to strive for less destructive reactions to those feelings. 

Yes, I should be grateful. Yes, we should all look for reasons to be grateful. But that doesn’t mean you’re a nightmare of a person if you struggle. Have grace and patience with yourself, and continue working on managing the manifestations of your struggles. That is literally ALL you can do. I’m working on those things with a lot of prayer and practice, and hope that by sharing this, you can too.

Shannon Leyko