It was so great growing up with a stay-at-home mother. I always knew I could count on her to be waiting for my siblings and me when we got home from school. I feel as though it gave us a very stable childhood, and it was one of the many choices that my mother made that I felt strongly about emulating when I grew up.
Whenever I dated anyone seriously, I always made it clear that despite the fact that I was working toward a degree in computer science, once I started having children, I was going to put my career on hold until my children were at least in high school. There were one or two men I went out with who believed very strongly in having a wife work and contribute to the family income. When that became clear, we stopped dating, as I had no intention of compromising on this area.
When I was dating my husband, Shimie, I brought up this issue to him. He also had a stay-at-home mom and agreed it was the right approach. We found many other areas of compatibility, and so we eventually got engaged.
After around 10 years of marriage, Shimie brought up the idea of buying a home rather than renting. Neither of us has parents who can contribute significantly to a home purchase, and we both knew that it was up to us to make it happen. At that point I had stopped working because I already had three children. We were managing nicely on Shimie’s salary and also managed to save toward a down payment. But I did not believe that we could afford to buy a house yet. I knew it would be a real stretch. Tuitions would keep going up and things in a house would break, so I felt it would be really risky to buy a house, having no one to lean on for help.
Shimie felt that every month that we were paying rent we were throwing money away and that although it would be tight, we just had to take a leap of faith and jump in. There would probably never be a perfect time, as the costs of homes just keep going up and up. We were never going to be rich and never going to have rich parents, so why not just do it! I wasn’t convinced that it was a good idea, but finally I agreed and we bought a home.
It took less than six months for Shimie to realize that we weren’t making it. Things constantly broke, our expenses kept increasing, and it was becoming impossible to stay on top of our bills. And then the dreaded moment came when Shimie told me that I had to go back to work. Despite still believing that it was best for me to stay home with our children, he felt we didn’t have a choice and that our children already had a solid foundation. He felt absolutely terrible about reneging on his original agreement, but he told me that if we didn’t make some changes very soon, our home would eventually go into foreclosure.
The rational part of my brain knows that Shimie is right. At this point, staying home with our children would be a luxury that we just can’t afford. But I feel very angry. Angry at Shimie for convincing me to move into a house when I knew we weren’t ready (though I must admit I do love having a house and living in the suburbs, and our children are doing so well here, thank G-d), angry at myself for not keeping to my lifelong dream of being a stay-at-home mom until my children were in high school, and maybe even angry that Shimie, despite being a very hard worker, can’t manage to support our family on his own.
I know I don’t have a choice in the matter, and I’ve already put out feelers for a new job. But I also know that I need a serious attitude adjustment. I walk around feeling wounded, no fun for anyone to be around. I can’t seem to get past these feelings that seem so justified. I need to move on but I simply don’t know how.
Angry and Justified
Dear Angry and Justified,
Like other responsible, forward-thinking individuals, you created a blueprint for your life. At a young age, you figured out what a good life for you would look like. I’m sure some of your peers were flying by the seat of their pants, letting life happen and going with the flow. But not you. You knew exactly what your blueprint required of you to make it all come together, and you did your best to be all in.
Kudos to you. Your conviction is admirable and deserves to be respected. When life matches our blueprints, it’s very easy to feel happy. But when it doesn’t, people tend to suffer—a lot. As you’ve recently figured out, your blueprint and your life are not in alignment at the moment and something’s got to give. The easy and all-too-obvious answer is to change your blueprint. Life happened in a way that requires some adjustment, and in order to reframe some of your former beliefs in regard to raising your children, you need to come up with a list of reasons why, presently, going back to work can feel right and rewarding in all sorts of ways.
You mentioned that you love living in the suburbs. That leads me to believe that you formerly lived somewhere in the city, renting an apartment that may have been crowded and lacking the space, beauty, and nature that the suburbs offer. Your children are therefore probably benefiting from different perks that they did not have before. That’s something to think about. What other aspects of your lives have improved since buying a house? I’m guessing you can come up with quite a few.
You mentioned that being a stay-at-home mom was just one of the qualities that you wanted to emulate from your mother, and that there were many more. Since, for the time being, you can’t carry on the “stay-at-home tradition,” think about other ways in which you feel your mother did a great job parenting you and your siblings and make sure to stay on top of those behaviors. I’m sure that there was so much more to your mother’s success than the fact that she was home for you.
Finally, this is a lesson in letting go. We all need to learn how to let go, when necessary, of our former dreams, hopes, assumptions, and convictions, and to do so with grace and humility. Though it sounds as though Shimie did twist your arm somewhat to invest in a house, I’m guessing the day might come when you will be thrilled that he did so. Certainly, his intentions were honorable and good. Sometimes, when we want something so badly, we convince ourselves that our plan is solid in order to make it happen. Maybe that’s exactly what Shimie had to do if you were ever to become proud owners of a house. I’m sure there are some people reading this column who may think that being a stay-at-home mom is more important than ever owning a house. And maybe that’s what you truly believe. But here you are. Rest assured that you’ve probably already instilled in your children many wonderful qualities and there is no reason why you can’t continue to find many powerful ways in which to be an impactful mother without necessarily staying home all day.
It’s time for a new blueprint. It will be similar to the original one, but with a few tweaks here and there to make it doable. Our blueprints are not engraved in stone; they are written in our minds, ready to be revised when necessary.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295. Read more of Esther Mann’s articles at 5TJT.com.