from the blog.

The Grass is Always Greener: Dealing with Anxiety as a Stay-at-Home-Mom

Social media can be a bit of a minefield, especially since I struggle with anxiety, depression, sensitivity, and an overactive imagination. Some responses can easily be read by me through a different lens than they were originally intended when I am drowning in anxiety.

I posted a picture of my girls at the park, on a weekday, and one of the responses was, “…so jealous.” What was the person jealous of? At face value, I was doing something they wanted to be doing—being outside, enjoying the sunshine with my children, while that person is working outside the home, away from their child, five days a week. Rationally, my brain—even initially—completely understood.

My emotional reaction, however, was ugly, fueled by my anxiety and resentment at what, many days, I don’t have. At first, a comment that seems so benign and fragile hits like a rock to the heart. The almost painful energy radiates from the solar plexus down to the stomach, and up to my brain, almost blackening the thought process that started out so clearly. The following anxiety-fueled thoughts aren’t rational. Of course they aren’t. Anxiety can take a simple comment and blow up my response to it to the size of a fire-breathing dragon in as little as just a few seconds. Here is what the dragon said:

  • “The picture of my children playing isn’t about you!” (Many times though it feels like society sets primary caregivers up to be in competition with each other, regardless of their choices and working decisions.)
  • “Are you also jealous of the three hours of screaming, shoving, hitting, and hair-pulling they did this morning while I was losing my mind?” (There is so much that I don’t share about our days on social media and there is a reason for it. I don’t want people to see all of the negative things that go on during our day—the tantrums as they start to navigate their world as autonomous little human beings, the judgments I would open myself up to about feeding habits or how my children behave.)
  • “What about the guilt I feel about not using my doctorate? The one that cost me well over $100,000? The fact that I don’t have my own money? That I have worked for 25 years of my life and now I am not getting paid for what I feel is more work than I have ever done? There are no guaranteed lunch breaks. There is no time to gather my thoughts as I circle between the girls, redirecting them to the best of my ability before it deteriorates to shouts of, ‘NO! STOP THAT!'”
  • “How envious are you that I struggle with my identity and who I am every day while my vocal form of communication is repeatedly saying ‘ball,’ ‘dada,’ and ‘book,’ and my only form of communication with other adults is via the internet?”

Once the rage is extinguished, I look back on these thoughts and wonder who I am.

And yet, when I come down off the anxiety, I am not complaining. This was my choice. My decision. I wanted to stay home with my girls. We had such a journey to have them and my husband has worked hard in his career, one that requires us to move around and makes getting licensed in each new location a challenge for me. We have the opportunity for me to stay home with the girls. I didn’t want half my salary going to daycare and the majority of my time to work and commuting, if it wasn’t required. This was the price I could pay, though, for finding my husband later on in our lives, having children when we were older, and being more established in our careers. Our families are thousands of miles away and my family, in particular, is not able to afford the time and/or money to come visit us.  If we could rely on family more, maybe I would have pursued my career again in our new location.

I know this person had no idea of what the stormy response churning around in my head would be and meant absolutely no ill will, nor would it occur to them I would take it like that. How could they? I don’t talk about these things on social media because the response and reality are that, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Well-meaning, older parents chime in that “they are only young once, you are so lucky to be home with them, and appreciate this time while you have it.” While completely true, and the perspective is appreciated, it also simultaneously devalues what I am feeling. Rationally, I already know that I need to appreciate and be thankful for what I have, but there remains this yearning for what I don’t have, what I could have. Perhaps humans are set up this way to always be striving, always aiming for something more, in order to survive. Even though the physical elements and environment are not as treacherous as our prehistoric days, our brain still requires this drive to want more, to do more, to prevent complacency—something that would get us killed in times past.

The decisions that any primary caregiver needs to make always seem to be about sacrifice. These are the choices I personally have to choose from:

  • Sacrifice of who I am, or time given up with my children.
  • Sacrifice of adult interaction and external validation, or missing out on yet another “first.”
  • Sacrifice time where children are socializing with others and building trust outside of just their parents, or dealing with exposing my children to multiple colds and illnesses in daycare.
  • Sacrifice losing the potential to advance in the career I had prior to children, or personally helping my children advance in their skills.
  • Sacrifice having my body be “touched out” at the end of the day, or missing the closeness and touch of my children throughout the day.
  • Sacrifice my sanity after listening to a child throw a 30-minute tantrum, or a paycheck that my family could rely upon.
  • Sacrifice a paycheck, or hand over most of that paycheck to daycare.
  • Sacrifice people assuming I don’t have a brain because I stay at home with my children, or all the mental acuity that is dedicated to working outside the home.

I am a product of my society, upbringing, and surroundings. Society says I need to be the best mother I should possibly be while striving to get ahead in my career. I watched my mom work 70 hours a week while oftentimes being a single mother of three. I saw how tired she was and I lived in a childhood delusion that if she could have stayed home with us, brownies would be made weekly and my life would have been better. As a parent now, I see that she did the best she could with the circumstances she had. I know the sacrifices she made for me and my siblings. I hope to learn to accept and enjoy the decisions that I have made because they weren’t made for me, and I know that isn’t the case for everyone. I hope to no longer read into innocent internet comments and to focus a bit more on figuratively cultivating the grass where I currently reside.

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1 Comment

  1. Great post! I believe there is always a sacrifice, always a compromise even in the best case scenarios, and we only get the best case scenarios when we’re very lucky. Sometimes the compromises feel fair, sometimes they don’t. I like your point that it is a survival skill to oppose complacency. It helps put things in context. Parental anxiety is also a survival skill (though not always rational!) The paid work of not dilemma us never easy. My mom stayed at home and never seriously considered anything else when we were young: that was her value system. I considered staying home (with one child) but ultimately decided to go back to work. The logistics have been manageable so far. I struggle with feeling that I’m not akways bringing my A game to work, or that I’m becoming a boring person. My husband is in grad school and while he resents that it takes time from family, j wonder if people are judging me for not doing more professions development. But I can live with the current reality. And the fact is you are going to do what you need to do to survive. Women who are more high powered than me have pointed out how futile it is to judge yourself for not doing if perfectly.

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