Won’t stay-at-home mom: How I came full circle

I found a really shallow reason to go back to the workplace in my fourth year of stay-at-home mommyhood.  I wanted to dress up and go to work. I wanted to change footwear, earrings, wear hair-product, lipstick, nail-polish, perfume, cotton sarees and silver jewellery.

Fact is, I was tired of mommy dates. And pushing swings. And being told that I cannot take a nap when I thought I had earned it.  I was tired of the husband always whining that he had the most stressful job in the whole world.

On most days, I can see the humour in motherhood. I also think children are deep and there’s a lot to learn just by listening to them. I found myself laughing and crying in equal measure as I spent hour after hour with my son, just the two of us, and the ‘casulls’ we constructed, the mess we reveled in. I made plenty of “I quit my awesome job because I really wanted to be a stay-at-home-mother” mommy friends. I believed them. I began to say the same thing.  I believed it. It felt good. There is the power of the collective. Blogger mommies. Twitter mommies. Working-from-home mommies. School gate mommies. Facebook mommies. Desperately-social-networking mommies. It was important.

But here’s a simple truth: no one leaves a job that is perfect, that truly makes them happy. The same holds for SAHMhood

Just like no one gives up on a relationship when the sex is really good.

Here’s another confession: When I first quit my good-on-paper job to pursue motherhood four years ago, I had reached the point where I was sapped by the job, by its sameness, by its autopilotness, its rinse-repeatness. Motherhood at that time was like a sizzling affair; it was a start-up; I felt like an entrepreneur, I liked the fact that I could do it by trial and error, that there were no style-guides or briefs, that my baby was a brand I could totally make my own, that it didn’t come with excess baggage, that I had no boss! Plus Re was curly-haired, dimple-chinned and drop-dead-gorgeous.

When I was asked “When are you going back to work?”, it made me mad. I wrote angsty blogposts. I got hate-mail and love-mail in equal measure. I smiled and waved.

I had what many women dream of having. Unlimited credit. The husband said it was my reward for doing what I was doing. He was lavish with praise, gratitude, money; he fixed me the best drinks after particularly dreary mommy days, he massaged my calves, he always fed the cats, threw the garbage and made me tea. I flung and he picked up after me.  Sometimes there was a voucher for a dress, sometimes I had a cash-bonus thrown in, sometimes a ticket to Goa; he did his best to keep me incentivised. I had three years in which I could sit around, paint my nails, outsource babyness, buy clothes, go to spas and do pretty much anything for self indulgence, as long as HE was off baby duty.

I wasted it; I outsourced nothing. I took my job seriously.  I treated SAHM-hood like I would a new job. I was always trying to think out of the box, do things differently, wake up every morning and plan meals and things for the day, find ways of making every minute I spent with the boy fun and inspiring. I planned outings, library visits, beach dates, cookie dates, activities, park dates, pot-lucks with much gusto. When things got really intense between Re and me, I started the saga of play-dates and mommy dates. It was the beginning of the end. I met mommy after mommy, each time hoping that she would be THE ONE.

And one day, I got bored. Really bored. And tired. Really tired. I had decided though that the day I felt it was a drudgery, I would stop and try to get back to the work space. I didn’t want Re to be at the receiving end of this energy.

The problem with women like me who are awesome with domesticity is that you can begin to think it’s a career. I am great with food, baking, décor, lighting, furniture, clothes, PTA meetings, play-dates, money, you name it. I know places, I drive, I can create adventure out of nothing and I have lost count of the number of brunches I have hosted. Three  years later, I hated being a SAHM for the same reasons that I loved it in the first place. That it sucked me out. That it consumed me. That I was so emotionally invested in it that I thought it was me.

I am shallow enough to think motherhood is about logistics, after a point. I was done with plan Bs and Cs. Sometimes I wished I had half a dozen kids, so I could have said “fuck-you” to no-shows.The straw that broke the camel’s back was being dumped by a mommy on a play-date I had planned for our boys. A mommy I didn’t really give a rat’s ass about.

Meanwhile every Sandberg , Slaughter, Mayer and Bhagat were holding forth on women in the workplace, constantly making a case for or against SAHMs. It was like there was a conspiracy to shake women out of their complacency and get them back into the race. Mommies on twitter were constantly up in arms or really gushy about their words, depending on which side of the fence they sat on. Twitter was full of mommy angst, very cleverly camouflaged to fit a 140 character breeziness. Mommies instagrammed photos, they wrote micropoetry, they posted link after link (I still don’t how whether they actually read all that content). The ones who spoke about the motions and the mundane were termed whine-bags and dismissed. If you had to be cool on twitter, you had to rise above mommyness.  You had to be with-it.

But it still didn’t bother me. I was as happy as can be, I reasoned. I had a book deal, a blog, a column, I wrote for various newspapers and magazines, and I ran a well-oiled home. What more could I possibly do? On the face of it, I had it all. But it wasn’t enough. It was all too deep. I needed the shallow, the frivolous to feel real. And no, working in PJs is not as much fun as it’s made out to be.

I realised one thing: It’s okay to call your job a drag, but it was not okay to call motherhood a drag. And then I read something which truly explained the intensity of what I was feeling, and it’s the best thing I have read about the work-life balance. In the language of economics, the marginal utility of time with your kids—the happiness you get from the last hour you spend with them—declines as you spend more hours.

It motivated me enough to send out my resume, line up meetings, and announce that I was ‘ready’. In less than a month, I had a job.

I am liking it. I like swiping my card and hanging out with my team in the canteen. I like the quality time over the quantity time with my son. I like that I have outsourced the dreary bits. And I am no longer afraid to call them dreary. I like me more. I know there should be deeper reasons for going back to the workplace, but for now, this will do.

There have been good days and bad days. I have been late for pickups, I have snapped at the husband on the phone, I have run out of meetings like Cinderella, I have got on the wrong train and got so immersed in my book that I didn’t notice, I have started dreaming about work.

But it’s not bothering me. For now, I want to wake up every morning and GO TO WORK. For now I can pretend to be Rapunzel who has been rescued by the Prince from the tower.

P.S: Here’s a tip: If you do decide to be a SAHM, pretend you know nothing about food. Or pest-control. Or rent-agreements.  Or what does a driver cost. You’ll do just fine. And don’t go anywhere near the oven.


36 thoughts on “Won’t stay-at-home mom: How I came full circle

  1. Welcome to the dark side! I have a simple mantra – do what makes you happy. If mom is happy with whatever choices she makes , the kid’s happier with the positive energy he gets by mom’s happy choices.

  2. I like the way you listen to your heart and express your feelings so honestly. Our priorities keep on changing with time and you need to be happy to make others happy.

  3. Thank you for sharing this.. I’m still a SAHM and you’re right, it’s NOT easy and I actually soooo miss dressing up and going to office to work.. Period! And I miss having a ‘workplace’ wardrobe and colleagues and a canteen to sit and have grub in, that I haven’t made myself.. Probably the main reasons I want to go back to work for. Your posts always make me smile, coz they resonate so deeply with what so many of us our going through. And the spunk with which you put it all into words makes it all the more awesome.

  4. Congratulations!!! Have fun at the new job.

    Just a curiosity question of a fellow mommy… How is Re dealing with your starting work and his changed lifestyle?

  5. I admire your honesty, and that is what makes a great mom and wife, I think. I notice, too, that SAHMs just DUMP the kid on the poor exhausted dad for as long as he is around, as if they are doing him a big favour by being with the kid all day, and that cannot be fun. Enjoy your job, and your family!

  6. Felt like I was reading something written by me!
    Most of us mothers can’t come to terms with the fact that there is nothing more important than ourselves, and it is ok (rather necessary) to make ourselves priority first. I have been asking my close friends out for treks/trips without their kids and they are all vehemently against it. They say they want to, but they’ll feel guilty doing it.
    I am sure you know this already, but your decision is absolutely right – since it makes you happy, it will make Re and your partner happy as well. And that’s all that matters!!

  7. I am a work-from-home mother and yes I have outsourced the mommyhood bits a little. So, mine is like any full-time job. But I can so relate to your post because I have it all and I still feel this is not it. Because like you said, I miss dressing up for work, I miss the workplace wardrobe, I miss rushing out of house and waiting for a transport, I miss wearing lipstick and mixing and matching outfits and footwear, I miss guffawing with colleagues. Basically, the work-from-home bit hurts a little because I can’t do any of this! Lovely post!

  8. This was an awesome piece – I read it knowing that I have a deadline within next 3 hours – simply because I could relate to it so very much….but then, now that I’m back to work and kids spend time waiting for me and miss that ‘spunk’, that ‘enthu’ I used to put in with them, work was no longer that fun till some time back…outsourcing is good but then I should see that there has been no compromises in the effort and the quality that should be invested on the kids of this age, which i was doing. But the ‘outsourcing’ thing didn’t turn out that well….so, here I’m with the new balancing formula: half-day work from office and rest half from home….life seems sorted…for sometime atleast :)….I’m back home within an hour of when my elder one is back from school 🙂 I think what gives you pleasure and how much you can ignore – is more of an individualistic trait….but your piece reminds me of how I used to feel when I was a complete ‘work from home’ mom…..great effort, worth reading!

  9. Hi

    Love the honesty. There are so many dreary bits to the awesomeness that SAHM looks like. Aftr four years u either go back to work or make a new baby like I did 🙂

    Btw cotton sarees n silver earrings so kool

  10. Hi Lalita, been reading your blogs for some time now and I simply love ALL the articles! This one touched a raw nerve of a guilty working mom who joined work after 6 months of maternity leave. Last 2 and half years have definitly not been easy and the thought of SAHM has cropped in my mind quite a no. of times! I guess there is no simple conclusion to debate of stay at home mom vs working mom but 1 should always do what makes one happy and thus your child happier(easy said than done:)) You have experienced both sides – SAHM and now working mom:) make the most of it and I am sure you will rock at making work-home balance. Wishing you all the best!

  11. Awesome Lalita! So well written! Can relate sooooo much to this! n i agree too much of anything is bad…even SATHM…hehe….like it’s getting to me nw! And u can’t do justice to work or your child sitting at home….feeling guilty for both! This is why daddies are more tolerant and calm with the kids!

  12. Either side, we always try to justify ourselves. I’ve been a SAHM for the past 4 years after being pretty ambitious with a bagful of dreams..probably in another lifetime. And yes, it gets frustrating. I think what eased the frustration for me at some point was seeing another mom, just being such a great mom with so much ease and simplicity, it was inspiring. I think I love these moments, of seeing my kids grow, at a point of time when we all (the kids and me) still love each other and have each other; when they’re so fascinaing (and no this doesn’t mean we aren’t at each others throats occassionally, or that I would do anything to be unmarried and un-mother again!) When they’re older, become their own people and leave for their own ways, I’m certain I’ll miss these days the most, and they’ll probably be the ones I’ll live by. This is not a justification, infact, I think I hate that the most…the justifications. Rather, it’s just being ok, open and happy about where you are, wherever that is 🙂

  13. This is a good read, thanks for sharing. Personally I had what one would call a glamorous marketing job which I more or less dumped to be home with my toddler. Does being home bother me? On some days, yes. But my fancy job was like any other…a package deal of wonderful coworkers with not so wonderful mercurial managers that also bothered me from time to time. Moral of the story, grass is semi-green on either side. How did I choose to be home? Simple. I was honest enough to admit to myself that the thought of a stranger raising my kid really really got to me. Didnt matter if it was a nanny or a granny. It wasnt me deciding what my childs day looked like and I hated it. Hated it more than the monotony of being home. So I stayed home. Its been over a year and I havent looked back 🙂

      • I should have added I had a nanny till my baby was about 15 months. While we are being honest I should also add that during those months I spent less time focusing on powerpoint and more time fretting over what my nanny was up to and even worsing secretly hating the bond my baby was forming with her. 15 months did it for me and I decided to take over. My toddler is now 28 months and I am doing much better than i expected and he is doing much better than I expected :), now time will tell if there is an “itch” around the corner or I can get this show going longer as I intend to.

  14. I suppose it really is a matter of what makes ME happy. And just like everything else that changes with different times and stages in our life. There was a time when nothing would do for me but to stay at home, at another it was the right time — in my head and at home — to go back to work. Whatever works …for that moment:-) Well written.

  15. Very well written. I always knew I could not handle the dreary bits, so I didn’t even bother to try. I feel that the quality time I spend with my kids is much better than the quantity time I would otherwise use up nagging and screaming at them! Now we’re all happy – win-win!

  16. Firstly, I’d like to say, absolutely wondeful blogpost. I loved it. Now, I come to a more serious question. Why have kids? I know I might be labelled as insensitive for asking this question but seriously, I want to know. What motivates people to have kids? (apart from having cute things around to play with)

  17. I am a mother who went back to work the day her maternity leave got over – thirty five years later I have a daughter-in-law who is eternally grateful to me for a husband who is balanced, ‘in touch with his feminine side’, appreciates the role of a multifaceted woman and chips in with the diaper changes, tummy rubs, bath time, feeds in the middle of the night etc. The essence lies in maintaining the balance and the truth lies in the fact that you CAN have it all – you just have to figure out how to do it!!! Love my boys (who are young men now) but adore my job and career – it defines me and who I am and wouldn’t change that for anything in the world!!

  18. Lovely post…i really enjoyed reading the candid post of yours…But yes i totally agree that a happy mom can only raise happy kids…So whatever works for you and yeah it differs from time to time..The key is to identify that..

  19. Beautifully written! And so very true 🙂 I did the same thing about 5 years back…that is, went back to work…presumably for the same shallow reasons and also to avoid the autopilotness of mommyhood! Do what keeps you engaged and happy…and keep writing!

  20. Loved your blog! I am not even married nor do I have children but if I ever did I would identify with you! And a lot of my married friends can. I also liked the way you explained why you quit your job and it was not so much about the baby. Which is where I seem to be now.

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