When most people hear that I am a stay-at-home mom, they always say how lucky I am and how much free time I must have. This assumption is so wrong and they clearly don’t have three kids or any kids at all. If they did, then surely they must have nannies, housekeepers and an endless support system in place. I have been a SAHM for nine years, a working mom before that, and this is my story. I was an idealistic Psychology graduate who thought that I would be a professional career person, get married someday, eventually have kids and keep on doing what I loved. I got married and had my first child three years later. For financial reasons, I had to return to work but was not too concerned as I left my three month old son in the care of my mom. Despite this, I called her numerous times during the day to enquire about his well-being. Needless to say, my mom (who raised five children and three grandchildren) told me not so gently and with a few expletives that she knew what she was doing.
My little world was perfect until my mom suddenly passed away when he was eighteen months old. I was devastated and felt as if someone had ripped the ground out from beneath my feet. I had to find a daycare for my son, which was very hard because who can love and take care of your precious baby as well as you or the next best person, a grandmother. I went to several places, either the numbers were too big, or the environment freaked me out, or it was just too expensive. Eventually, I found a place close to my dad as he would sometimes pick my son up early to spend time with him. Since his health was not good, it was not often.
The first three weeks he would cry and stand by the window like a little monkey watching us leave before seven in the morning. When we picked him up by six he was still there, waiting and watching. It broke my heart to leave him but I had no choice and so my journey of guilt shopping began. Whenever I felt awful about leaving him or just missed him, I would buy clothing or toys. It made me feel better for a little while; soon the monster would return edging me into another shopping spree. As a result, my debt escalated drastically during this time.
Just when life took on a semblance of normality, I decided to have another baby, but this time my concerns were a little different. When you go from one to two kids there is a multitude of things to consider. This time we opted for a nanny who lived with us, and my son who was three at the time, still went to daycare. Shortly after returning to work, I was retrenched for a second time in five years. Surely this was the universe’s way of telling me to stay at home with my kids. Lucky for me, my husband got a promotion and a decent salary adjustment which enabled me to stay at home. However there had to be various adjustments to ensure its success. I had to close my accounts which were sky-high by then, as I was guilt shopping for two kids. You know how cute and irresistible girls clothing and accessories are, so it was bad. The nanny was also no longer included in the budget and we had to let her go.
So my journey as a stay-at-home mom began. It got off to a rocky start as my daughter was a high-needs baby, its real I swear. After changing paediatricians four times, we found one who could explain why she slept for fifteen minutes at a time and was awake for four hours. According to him, she required more stimulation than sleep and as long as she was growing and healthy, she’d be fine. In addition she had reflux which produced projectile vomiting. My journey was smelly and exhausting for the first year, but it was something to see her first word, solid food experience, crawl, stand and walk. This was an experience I did not have with my son and I will always be sad about what I had missed with him.
When my daughter was two and half, she started preschool and she walked away without a goodbye or a backward glance. My heart was broken once again, but I decided to enjoy my freedom by going to the movies or anything else I could never do before. I realised I had time to start my own business which unfortunately did not work out. I just ended up spending money and making none. I tried another work from home option which was a lie – you did not make thousands as promised. I was very disillusioned at this point, when an old colleague contacted me to do some work for one of her clients. I bought a new fax machine and got going; it lasted two months and it was marvellous to have an income again. I did what any sane woman would do – I bought shoes – lots of them with my first month’s salary. If I knew that the job was going to end the next month, I would have been more cautious and maybe bought only one pair. It could have happened, you never know.
Since my second experience was so challenging, I was quite sure I was done with kids. Almost four years later a life-changing event occurred. Whilst visiting an old-age home, it dawned on me that I was being selfish and that if my son married a woman his sister did not get along with or vice versa, then they would have no relationship. If my husband and I passed on, my family would disintegrate. I called my husband and told him we would be having a third child. He was speechless as we both decided we were a family of four. Besides, I had given away or sold all baby items and so literally, had to start over.
In August 2007, our third bundle arrived at a whopping 4.5kgs and was as cute as a button. All the ladies fell in love with him the instant they saw him. He still has that effect on women. I think he gets it from his grandfather, my dad, who had also by this time passed on. My dad was truly an amazing person, loved by all and even kids who were not related wanted him to be their Pa. He always opened his heart and arms to any child who needed it, but that’s a different story all on its own – the treasure of grandparents. My mother-in-law was no longer with us and this made me truly grateful to be at home, but sad that my youngest son would be missing out on such an important aspect of grandmotherly love. My support system was shrinking, and so were my chances of returning to work.
It was only after my third child was born did I realise how much I missed being in the company of adults, talking about things that were not child related. I also missed having time for myself, to read, shop or just ‘veg out’. There are no sick days when you are a SAHM, you get up and do what you need to do and if you are lucky, you get to nap in between carpool, making meals, homework and playing with a baby. I think that having three kids had taken its toll; and I began to obsess about getting my life back on track. Not doing something for money or to pass time, but something that would fulfil me and enrich my life and make use of my two university degrees.
I became frustrated and angry and started to take it out on my kids. At one point, my daughter told me, “Mommy, you’re not happy with this job and need a new one.” A light went on and I decided to make a concerted effort to be more content and appreciate the gift of being with my kids. Thereafter, the hectic nature of raising three kids (with no nanny) was too much for me. My last child was not speaking by age two, so I took him for an assessment to an audiologist who referred him to a speech therapist. She diagnosed him with Verbal Dyspraxia which caused the messages from brain to mouth to get scrambled. He chose not to speak when the words came out wrong; I was too busy with my anger issues to notice. We attended speech therapy sessions for six months, and took a break for December holidays. When he returned in January, there was a drastic improvement and she gave him his ‘talking’ papers. This distracted me for a while but did not lessen my unhappiness at home. It was also spilling over and affecting my relationship with my husband and our monthly date nights were born after a midnight three page e-mail to him. He stopped listening when I spoke, but could focus on my words when he read them. This is also another story to be told at a later time.
My kids sensed my resentment and started acting out with each other and at school. After seeing the school counsellor I knew that my days at home would come to an end soon. It was not healthy for anyone anymore. It was not easy for me to admit that, but I had to look at the bigger picture. Damaging my kids was a wakeup call and I had to do some soul searching and plan how I was going change our lives for the better.
This is where I am, poised at the start of something new, from intellectual graduate to inconsequential mom, who just fulfilled needs, and hopefully to a woman with a professional career that allows mom time too. There is no perfect solution, each person has to determine when and what is most important. After 15 years of marriage and three kids, I have learnt that you can have a career at any point in your life, but you can’t always be a mom (biological clock issues). I wouldn’t trade the past decade for anything, it has made me who I am and for that I will be eternally grateful.
For now, this is where my story ends and I hope that I shed some light on the complex issues in my life, in the hope that you can empathise and perhaps learn from it, but most importantly enjoy it. This is the end of one chapter in my life and hopefully the beginning of an exciting and adventurous new one.
By Shenaaz Moos, Counsellor and Parenting Education facilitator at The Parent Centre