You say “I do.” You start the family. The kids, the merging of bank accounts, the sharing of souls. Blissful beginnings with the world and future shining brightly ahead of you. When I started having babies I worked little part-time jobs on and off. But, for the majority of those early years, I was a stay at home mom, completely reliant on my husband to provide for my children and me. Different dynamics work better for different families, but I personally enjoyed being home with my children, hard as it was at times.
There were long days, numbingly boring day, isolating days, trying days. It took time to be comfortable with the notion that what was his was mine and vice versa, but we got there. We were young, and it wasn’t always easy, but at the end of the day, I felt like I had it all and was pretty thankful. Happy healthy children, a home of our own, and a husband I loved. It feels like I’m watching someone else’s life now as I look back and reflect on that time.
I was married for seven years. Five years in I learned that my husband was having an affair. Two unsuccessful years of trying to repair and save our marriage later we divorced. I would later learn that their ‘brief’ affair I was determined to get past actually spanned four years. Being a SAHM made an already impossible situation exponentially more complicated.
When my world imploded I found myself trapped by my life choices. The idea of leaving when I found out about the affair was terrifying in and of itself, but even in moments where I could muster up the courage, I couldn’t connect the dots logistically. I didn’t have an income of my own or a way out. I didn’t have a career to go back to, and I hadn’t really worked outside of the home in years. I knew by leaving my husband I would wildly disrupt my kids’ lives. And with a visibly growing womb and no recent work history, I wasn’t exactly a top candidate for employment. I couldn’t imagine not having that extra set of hands when the next baby came, tainted as those hands may be.
I eventually wound up going back to work and we were able to rip off the bandaid and get divorced, but it took years. I work full time now, and it has plenty of perks, but I do long for the days when I was able to just focus on my family.
I think about my time as a stay at home mom and I am so thankful for it. I also think about how hard it ultimately made things when I needed to leave. I think of women in similar situations who instead of an affair find themselves in abusive relationships (both emotionally and physically) who feel they have no feasible way out. I think about my daughters and the paths they will take when and if they become mothers. No one ever thinks it will happen to them, no one ever thinks you need an exit strategy, but what happens when you do? I can’t help but get a ping of anxiety from time to time when I talk to my SAHM friends.
I wish there was a prenup of sorts for parenthood. So women (and men) who pause everything to be home with their children and spouse have a safety net. I’ve always considered myself a feminist. To me, that simply means supporting women in whatever path they chose in life, however similar or different it may be to your own. However, I felt like a fool and a fraud when I found myself in trouble and realized that I had given all of my power over to someone outside of myself, who then betrayed me. Moving forward I often wonder what is the appropriate balance between optimism and realism when it comes to making life choices?
As mothers, we talk about the pros and cons of staying home vs working often, but somehow this issue is next to never brought up in those conversations. Just because we ignore the elephant in the room, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The biggest sacrifice you make when you stay home with your children is your independence, and not just because there is always a child hanging from your limb.