Money Mic: Why I Sometimes Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

Christine Ryan Jyoti
Posted

In our LV Moms’ Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money and parenthood. These views are theirs, not ours, but we look forward to opening the floor for discussion. 

In the past, we’ve featured writers with ideas on everything from how to earn cash while doing other people’s chores to why being in a lesbian relationship doesn’t make achieving work-life balance any easier.

Today, one mom tells us about her decision to be a stay-at-home mom, and how she second-guesses herself, and her decision, every day.

I always knew I wanted kids–what I hadn’t sorted out were the day-to-day realities of parenting, and how being a mother would impact my career.

I’d spent years in school earning three degrees and had grand ideas for my future. If you told me a decade ago that I’d end up becoming a stay-at-home mom, I would have enjoyed a good chuckle …

Life Before Baby

In my world, working mothers were the norm. I grew up in Canada, and my mother, who has a Ph.D. in English, kept her career alive by moving gracefully between full-time and consulting positions based on the family needs.

After graduating from high school, I spent the next seven years earning a B.A. and M.A. in political science, as well as a Bachelors of Journalism. While I ideally wanted to pursue a career in journalism, I decided instead to follow my dream of moving to New York City, where I could only get a work visa as a “technical publications writer,” which led me to a position at a Manhattan public relations firm.


After a few jobs, and a few years of living the low-paying-hard-playing twenty-something existence in NYC, I was relocated to Washington, D.C. by my then-employer, a non-profit think tank. My days as Program Director in the public affairs and communications department were filled with interesting and informed people, frequent travel and challenging subject matter, all of which I loved.

Within months of relocating, I met my future husband at a wedding. He was completing his M.B.A. at the University of Chicago, which made for a challenging dating life. Still, we flew back and forth every few weeks, and within ten months were engaged. My soon-to-be-husband found a job three blocks from my office, moved to D.C. and within a year we were married.

My So-Called ‘Ideal’ Life

Our plans for an “ideal family” consisted of two kids, a house and solid jobs–we neglected to hammer out the finer details of when and how we were going to achieve our common goals.

My husband and I married in July, and I decided over our first Christmas as a married couple that I was ready to become a mom. I was 30 and was getting jealous of my friends who were producing cute offspring. My husband, who like me had no idea how challenging parenting would be, was on board.

Within a few months of that Christmas, I was pregnant. Oddly, we had never bothered to discuss what our work lives would look like, specifically, once we had a baby. Growing up in Canada, I was programmed to believe that a year of maternity leave with a good chunk of your salary was standard–I didn’t bother to check the particulars in America.

The harsh reality—or at least harsh based on where I’d come from—was that I was facing an eight-week paid maternity leave.

My husband was supportive of my career, and I never felt an expectation to stay home with our baby. However, the financial reality was that if anyone was going to do it, it was going to be me, since my husband made more than I did. I truthfully had no idea what I would do post-maternity leave, and put off the decision for as long as possible.

Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom

I would never judge a woman who goes back to work after having a child–every family is unique. For my part, I struggled with the decision, and after taking my eight weeks of maternity leave and 12 weeks provided by the Family Medical Leave Act, I knew in my gut I had to leave my job.

My decision was a culmination of things. First, despite the fact that I was battling solitude and exhaustion, I couldn’t face the prospect of letting a stranger raise our daughter. Also, while I was satisfied with my job, it was not high paying, and after digesting the cost of quality full-time care (plus the additional expenses of working outside the home, like gas and dry cleaning), I would be coming home with less than $5,000 a year.

There’s no getting around the fact that Washington, D.C. isn’t a cheap place to raise kids.

Frankly, I also wasn’t sure how I’d be able to do all the “parent” stuff, like doctor’s appointments (our daughter has severe food allergies), school commitments and sick days, while continuing to excel professionally. My husband, with his consulting career, was not in a position to cover these details.

This was even more prominent when our son joined us 24 months after our daughter, and so I decided staying home was our best financial option.

The Questioning Never Ends

At the time, I had no plan as to how long I would stay home, and almost six years later, here I am: a veteran SAHM. That’s not to say I’m happy about it. On the contrary, every day I question whether I made the right decision.

Would I be setting a better example for our daughter if I returned to the paid work force?

Are our kids better off because of the decision I made?

Would I be a more balanced person if I had a paid job?

Will anyone ever hire me again?

Being a SAHM doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s more physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting than any job I’ve ever had. The work never ends, and it’s impossible to take a break if you don’t have cash to splurge on $15 an hour babysitters or a housekeeper.

I want my family and society to thank me for investing in my family and home, and I don’t think I get enough credit. I want to feel like my domestic achievements are something to celebrate. We don’t live near family, and our friends are busy with their own families.

Would I be happier if I lived in the same city as my parents? Undoubtedly. Does my mother think I made the right choice staying home with my kids? While she would never say it, I think it has troubled her to see me struggle with my life as a SAHM.

I try to improve my skills with parenting classes and books, but I’m spinning in circles. Being a SAHM brings out extreme emotions in me, and I wonder whether I should be in mommy therapy, put on a merlot drip or maybe just admit that I wasn’t cut out to do this.

Many days I have to refrain from begging for my old job back. On those days, my husband tells me to do what I want. If I am serious about returning to work, he supports me, but we are both aware of how our lives will change if and when that day comes. I do all the laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning and appointments. If I work outside the home, there will be a lot of responsibilities to fill.

Plus, There’s the Mommy Guilt

Despite my ranting, I understand that I’m lucky–many women would love to be in my shoes. But it’s hard to be grateful when you’re cleaning up yet another stinky diaper, dragging two screaming kids around or slugging through daily domestic drudgery. It can be challenging to think up interesting things to discuss with my husband after a day of mind-numbing activity. I frequently struggle to stomp down the negativity that bubbles to the surface when I finally have an adult to talk to.

I just don’t get paid enough for this.

According to Salary.com, a SAHM’s pay (based on all the tasks she does in the house) in 2012 is about $112,962.  That’s a nice number, and a lot more than I used to make. But when it comes time to find a paying job, I can’t list “stay-at-home mom” as my title, or that six-digit figure as my current salary. (Want to figure out your “mom salary”? Use our calculator.)

When I met my husband, I was a financially independent, confident professional–a stark contrast to what I’ve become. I haven’t earned a dime since 2006, and my professional confidence is shot. While I understand that the money my husband earns is “our” money, my name’s not on the checks, and my CV is not getting any fresher. After 15 years of earning my own paychecks, I struggle with asking my husband for money. Sadly, my sense of identity and ego have been altered dramatically. I worry I’ve lost the credibility I spent years establishing.

What’s Next?

I’m not yet sure when I’ll go back to work outside the home. My 5-year-old daughter starts kindergarten next month, and my 3-year-old son enters preschool this fall.  Instead of jumping back into the office world, I hope to start freelance writing and see if I can blend working from home while the kids are at school with all the other responsibilities of my life as a SAHM.  I love the idea of having something for myself again, and know that I’m going to be a better mother because of it.

My daughter recently asked me if I am happy being a SAHM.  Before I could speak, she answered the question for me, “Sometimes you are, and sometimes you’re not,” she said.

Observant kid, that one. Honestly, it depends on what time of day you ask me. I like to think there are more times when I’m confident I made the right decision than not.  No one can take away the truly awesome moments I’ve shared with my kids. Ultimately, it’s the choice we made, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to make it.

Christine Ryan Jyoti has 5 years as a stay-at-home mom under her belt. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her loving husband and two “spirited” kids. When she’s not feeding, entertaining, disciplining, snuggling or chasing after her offspring, she sporadically writes about her chaotic life at 24-7 Mommy.


  • dorothysky

    Christine, thanks for having the courage to be honest. I am a SAHM with a one-year-old, and I happen to own an online company that allows me to be a WAHM as well – but the scale is much more heavily balanced toward childcare. I have struggled with many of the feelings you expressed. As I read your story, I couldn’t help thinking that sometimes the difference between a good day and a bad one is just having the confidence to own your decision, not think about what the critics might say, and leave the future where it belongs – in the future. I find that confidence is often what I’m really lacking as a mom, but it’s actually the most important factor.

  • heatherh_mtd

    I’ve been home with our kids since 2009. I feel more comfortable and secure in my staying home, but I still have the ambivalence that caused me loads of anxiety at the beginning.

    I worry about finding and enjoying a job when the time is right to go back. I also miss “working me,” a woman that got stuff done and felt good about herself.

    We had to trade in the car I bought while I was working and I cried and cried because it was the last thing that was truly mine

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/C2LPZ45GAJLZYAHA6UI7UUJWVU Lily

    I think it’s awesome that you can be so honest about your situation. One key line I noted in your story was this one: “I do all the laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning and appointments”.

    I wonder if maybe this is part of why you feel so ambivalent and underappreciated at home? No one in a company does all the work. It seems like you’re being somewhat taken advantage of here, even if you don’t work outside the home. I believe that in order for you to also be able to maintain a healthy work/life balance, your husband should be taking on some of those tasks. Remember, even if you love your kids, it’s still work to take them to a doctor’s appointment. It’s still work to do the dishes (yet again). Everything you do is still work, even if you don’t get paid for it. You would have to superhuman not to feel any bitterness at being the only person doing work in the home. I would definitely feel bitter if I were the only person doing work at my company!

  • http://www.facebook.com/extrasuperawesome Kristina Coffeen Parry

    “I never felt an expectation to stay home with our baby” 
    While I completely understand the frustrations that come with being a former-professional turned SAHM, Christine strikes me as a very calculating and not very likable woman.

    Her testimony here makes me sad, mostly because I have seen such a trend with 30-something moms to have this sort of selfish attitude. I live in a major city and go to the suburbs to find mommy friends who ACTUALLY enjoy raising their children and all that comes with that.

  • KAMV

    I have been a SAHM for 10 years now (eek, scary as I put that in writing).  I left work when my daughter was entering Kindergarten.  Too much travel for me made it nearly impossible, especially since our babysitter was retiring and moving away.  I have felt those same feelings as CR many times over.  The good days, when you are picking up my HS daughter and having all of her friends to my house before practice and getting to know all of them.  And the bad days…   But I look at it like any job.  Some good days, some bad days. But mostly I love my SAHM “job”.  But I agree with CR.  I worry about going back.  I once was a very productive part of society.  Will I ever be again?  The workforce doesn’t make it easy.

  • Gea2006

    I’d recommend Christine read the book:  Undecided:  How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career and Life that Right for You : http://www.amazon.com/Undecided-Endless-Perfect-Career-Life-Thats/dp/1580053416 . Her experience (and emotional rollercoaster are so typical of women her (and my) generation.  We were told we could “have it all” and are slowly coming to terms with the shocking reality that people face tradeoffs.  I’m on the other side of the SAHM hump now, and am ultimately very happy that I took the time to enjoy my time with them — but it required a conscious decision to feel that way and know that it was right for me.  It seems like Christine is not there yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she would have been equally unhappy (and unsettled) had she returned to work.  Becoming a mom is always a whirlwind experience, and I’m sure that Christine’s emotional turbulence is at least in part due to that. 

  • Kristen

    Hang in there, I was in your position, with a husband who preferred that I returned to work.  We have family near by who were willing to provide childcare – a very dedicated grandmother.  However, even though my children are now 12 and 14 I still question if going back to work was the right answer. 

  • Accmanderson

    Fortunately for me, I knew I couldn’t be at home during the under 5 years – diapers, naps,etc. Health reasons brought me to a halt when my 2nd child began kindergarden; the oldest, first grade. I found volunteer work and the gym suited me well with all my other activities during their schools hours. They are now in college, I have a career I love and believe it or not…I do it from home. I would have loved it when they were younger. If you are interested in more info Christine, post me back and we’ll find another way to be in contact.  CDBA 

  • krystabelle

    While I appreciate the honesty in the article, I can’t help but be sad.  I have been a SAHM for 14 years and have NEVER once questioned my decision.  It could be that before my husband and I decided to have a child, we already talked about me being a SAHM. So when the time came, there was no question.  I am so absolutely thankful that my sweet wonderful husband works incredibly hard so I CAN stay at home.  I have loved being a part of my daughter’s life. I love that I can w/o asking anyone for time off, have lunch with her at school, go on field trips, hold her head when she is vomiting from a migraine, and so many other things.  And yes, I did enjoy changing nasty diapers, why? because I was able to.  I am incredibly blessed that I get to serve my sweet family daily by dusting, doing laundry, and cooking.  I find that when I’m not thinking of myself and thinking of how I can serve others, I tend to be a happier person.  We are a society that is too bent on “me time” and less focused on others.  Well, that’s just my two cents…

    • Cheryl

      Thank you!!!!  My thoughts exactly!!  I’m sorry but I’ve had it with the SAHM “poor me” attitude.  I’m a SAHM and since I was able to quit my job and stay home, I’ve never been happier in my life.  Big deal, a dirty diaper!  Yes life can get pretty crazy at home but I also get to sit and read articles online and check mail and get my coffee whenever I want.  Working mothers can’t do that.  I wish people would stop complaining so much and see it as a blessing.

  • Kimborlina

    I applaud your honesty! It’s refreshing. There is no right answer and many of us struggle with this choice. I wish you all the best and may you find a second career to supplement being a SAHM.

  • Millercl22

    I’m the opposite of Christine. In my world SAHM are the norm. My mom stayed home until the youngest of the 4 kids was in elementary school.

    I’m a SAHM with 3 kids. I worked full time as a teacher until the day I had my 1st. I always wanted to be a SAHM, but I learned, through being a teacher, that a teacher’s sphere of influence is limited. Meaning, what goes on in a kid’s life when they’re not in school (ie what happens when they’re home) is something I couldn’t change. I sincerely wanted to help all my students especially those who were struggling; struggling in school, struggling with peers, with emotional problems, with poverty, with family you same it. I couldn’t do much for them outside of school to help them, and that limitation was sometimes maddening.

    As a teacher I was limited, but as a mother I wasn’t. I was determined to be a force for good in the lives of my children. I knew that the greatest thing I could do in this world was being a good mom. So I say to Christine, from my experience, you are doing the greatest most influential work the world has to offer. Don’t regret it for a second! And, if I may insert some religious our spiritual context here, God gave you your children. The fact that he gave them to you shows how much he trusts you. He also blessed you to be able to stay home with them. Be happy for the blessings you have. It’s hard to see the blessings and acknowledge them sometimes.

    If bringing some work into your home makes yuu feel happy, then do it. I used to teach piano from home. I can’t right now. My kids are too little and get in the way during lessons. I also do a lot of other things to that are meant to make me happy: I cross stitch, an active in my women’s group at church, read, and work with companies that allow me to test products for free, etc.

    I don’t judge you for continually second guessing your choice to stay home. Life as a SAHM stinks sometimes (both literally and figuratively). You are giving voice to something we SAHMs feel sometimes: it’s hard, it sucks sometimes, there are many days you wish you could get away for a break.

  • Engchik

    this was wonderfully written!

  • Murthy

    My wife is exactly  on the same opinion as you ..we are seeing ourselves when we are going through this article.

  • Ladyesther40

    I was never a professional career woman but from one SAHM to another I give you a virtual hug! I understand how you feel. I’m in a circle of people who don’t seem to get it. They think I’m wierd. That I should be happy and content. I am working on this! But without dreams and goals we all shrivel up and die. SAHM need more credit and we need to give that to ourselves too! I say commit to a choice but know life is not going to remain the same. There will be a day when you feel comfortable goig back to work and for the right reasons. Not to prove anything to anyone but because you want to. I should write a book about this. It’s so in me!

    • Alexisburgess

      I totally identify with this piece (hence googling for it to see if anyone else felt the same as me!) I never quite understand why the people who don’t agree, manage to find these posts, and then tell everyone how they disagree and disapprove, not very helpful IMHO…I’ve been a SAHM since 2007 and its been the hardest, longest and most testing time of my life – with little family nearby or support, no friends and a husband who never gets home before the kids are in bed. I’d prefer it if we had less material possessions, and he was around more t help me raise our two little ones (5&3, just like the author). There was no discussion of me being a SAHM, I felt obliged to do it as DH mum was the best SAHM in history. My own mother on the other hand, was a serious career woman, a Doctor, so you can imagine my ambivalence about taking on a role for which I’d had no training, experience of or role models to look up to. Having said all of this, I think if you can get a decent circle of mummy friends to share the burden with (& have some fun with) then it makes life a whole lot easier…I’m only just now discovering the value of making friends. Also (I’ve heard) the preschool years are THE most demanding years, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re finding it hard. One thing I’ve had to work hard on, is taking the time they’re both at school/preschool and instead of spending it cleaning, I study for a qualification in something I’m interested in, and I plan on joining a gym. I’m going to relegate cleaning as a family task on the weekends. I also find volunteering a real boon. As you get appreciated for once, and it can lead to further opportunities for when you’re ready to

  • dida

    refreshing article. I am in similar boat. I have two science degrees and now studying an MBA. My child is 3 and as much as i would like to have more kids I am petrified of the fact of having to push the pram for another 3!!  I want to have it ALL. I am totally conflicted – almost manic unsure what to do. I hate being dependent on my husband it drives me nuts that I am not bringing an income – even tough he is perfectly happy with me being at home. One day I am grateful the next I am sad…and so it goes… Then i realized it is all about the choices. You see more choices you have the more likely you are not to work. I am pretty sure if the finances were tight I would have just gone to work full stop.  Therefore, In conclusion I believe that it is all about the opportunities and choices we are presented with. If someone, comes by tomorrow and offers you a Director role of your dreams I am 99% sure you would take it!  But since no one is offering me an awesome job I am dreaming rather than taking action and making a plan on how to get out of this life…. 

  • Tayal10

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Expressed my thoughts exactly and helped me know I’m not the only one. It’s definitely a matter of wiring!

  • Sahmofthree

    Thank u for being so honest. My grandmothers were both working moms and I always thought I would be the same but then the reality set it. I am a SAHM and I have had feelings like u do. I did work wen my daughter was smaller and had doubts about being away from her also so I realize that I’m going to have worries either way whether I worked outside the home or not. What convinced to stay home was walking in on my grandmother at the hospital and she was in deep thought. Wen she noticed me she said all I have done in my life was worked my life to death. She was regretting not being more with her kids. As women we have to stop beating ourselves up for our decisions. We have to stop thinking of the what ifs and put ourselves in the present and enjoy what we have in front of us. Those that are able to have a job and those that r able to stay at home in each situation we are blessed just in different ways but blessed nevertheless. It’s still not easy either not matter what road taken.

  • http://www.facebook.com/katie.malone.50 Katie Malone

    I found a great company that focuses on green living and being able earn an income staying home with your kids. Take a look at http://mm.momsprovide.com.