Being a Stay at Home Mom During a Pandemic

I’ve been a stay at home mom for 13 1/2 years. I wouldn’t exactly say it was a choice, because it honestly never occurred to me there was anything else I could pick to do with my life. Unlike some women, I didn’t look forward to babies or motherhood. Once married, I saw it as a fast approaching deadline that I had no option but to accept when the time came (kind of like death). I was married at age 21, reluctantly went off of birth control two years later at 23, got pregnant at 24, and had my first baby at 25. I quit my job at that point and have stayed at home ever since (and to be fair, it’s turned out that my kids are more fun than not). While I am lucky to make a financial contribution to my family through part time property management of rental properties, I don’t have any colleagues, promotions, or an office to go to with my work. Because of this I have a hard time thinking of my job there as a type of a career, regardless of any income it produces.

 My husband on the other hand, has two careers. He joined the army at age 17 and has consistently worked his way up through the ranks of the military for over two decades. As a reservist, he also holds a regular job as a senior manager at a large international company. He started working for them shortly after his mission and has likewise moved up from an entry level position through an impressive career that has him now overseeing teams in multiple states and countries. I am proud of him and his accomplishments. He is talented and works very hard and every promotion he’s received has been hard earned.  

With the coronavirus outbreak, he’s begun working from home for both his regular job and his military drills. We don’t have any sort of home office set up at our house however, so he’s been working from the corner of our master bedroom, where he’s brought home monitors and a keyboard and created a makeshift work space.

I have likewise found myself home-bound with our three kids during the same time. Homeschooling is hard, but not impossible. My kids and I keep tiptoeing through the bedroom where he is working to get to the bathroom. I’ve tried to stay quiet and not interrupt his work, but I overhear the conversations happening in my bedroom each day. Usually they start with people laughing and joking, catching up, seeing each other’s kids, and eating lunch at the same time to maintain community. An in-person lunch meeting with another boss was canceled last week, and so my husband was sent a $25 gift card for Grubhuh to order himself lunch that day anyway. (He shared with us.) 

Multiple times at the end of these home-bound days, my husband will announce that he must leave the house or he’ll go stir crazy. I usually shrug and ask where he wants to go, but it’s generally something as unexciting as driving to the gas station to fill up his car and going through a drive through for a snack, and I typically say “nah”, and just stay home with the kids.

I was listening to a podcast with a male host who reflected on his past desire to work from home. Staying in his pajamas all day and avoiding traffic hour had always sounded awesome to him, but after just the first week at home he’d already changed his mind. He missed face to face interaction, and staying within the walls of his house was monotonous and depressing. He needed a reason to get dressed each day, and he’d found himself mindlessly snacking out of boredom and loneliness. He expressed concern that this would drag on for weeks and he’d only get out of the house to go to the grocery store between now and then. He’d never before realized how important leaving his home and going to the office actually was for his mental health. 

 For me on the other hand, the quarantine hasn’t changed my life dramatically. I still wake up at home, spend the day here cleaning up, doing laundry and cooking, help with homework, break up sibling fights, and my main outings are still to the stores for errands. I’ve been doing this kind of stuff for many years and it’s the same old story, just with less time to myself because nobody leaves during the day. I’m even more relaxed in some ways, because my usual extracurricular and volunteer stuff has all been put on hold and my Netflix watching time has gone through the roof. 

I have been reflecting on both my husband’s and that podcaster’s reaction to being home all day. They both dislike it. They’re missing the interaction they get of being with other people and leaving their house every day. Am I somehow less social or more of a homebody than those guys? I don’t think so, at least not in the case of my husband. If either of us thrives more in being around other people, I think we’d both agree it’s me. Yet throughout the course of a typical quarantine day, he interacts with multiple co-workers through online meetings while I talk to only our kids and the pets while doing dishes and painting baseboards. If anybody would want out of the house and be craving social interaction, it seems like it would be me. But I’m the only one who is willing to sit at home day after day. I think I’m just accustomed to the monotony after so many years of it.

I was taught throughout my formative years that being a stay at home mom would bring me more personal happiness than anything else I could ever choose. And to be fair, I’m not miserable. I’m fine. It’s okay. I am clearly vital to the function of my household and my husband’s success in his two careers. But would I have loved a career where I left my house five days a week and got promotions, bonuses, awards and recognition? Yes. I think I would have loved all of that very much, and I think that during this quarantine I’d be going just as stir crazy as my husband is right now. I think my soul has possibly gone a little numb after all these years at home with my kids.

Looking back now, I realize that most of these messages about the joy of being a stay at home parent originated with male general authorities (albeit sometimes passed on to me through the female leaders below them). The idea that staying home day in and day out could be fulfilling and soul nourishing came from men who have probably never had to stay at home. 

As a mom with unending childcare and household responsibilities, zero compensation, and no recognition awards or promotions, hearing some men complain about their home-bound work situation after such a short period of time (when it’s been my situation for the majority of my adulthood) is weird. They still have their careers and co-workers and lunches, just over Zoom instead of in person. From here on out, I don’t want to hear another sacrament meeting talk from a non-stay at home parent telling young women in the congregation that the happiest they can ever be in their life is to get married, have babies, and stay home with them – especially if during this quarantine they’ve been using “stir crazy” to describe their mood. Being at home all day is hard, and I’m glad the rest of the world is gaining understanding of what it’s like for stay at home parents, and everything we sacrifice to make the lives of our families run so smoothly. We are indispensable to our families, the economy, and the world – and we have been (and always will be) essential workers. So everybody stuck at home this past month (whatever your gender), go thank a stay at home parent when this all ends. We’re the unpaid support staff behind the scenes that make the entire world function and economies run – and you know, it can be a little isolating sometimes…kind of like a quarantine. 

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12 Responses

  1. says:

    I love this post so much. 🙂

  2. Anna says:

    This is so true. Even after he has been retired for 5 years, my husband still cannot spend a day without some excuse to go somewhere. And shelter in place has him going stir crazy, constantly violating the stay at home order, because he just has to run to the grocery store or the hardware store. Me, I learned from year as a stay at home mom with no car, that if I didn’t have something, I did without. Just yesterday, I was cooking and didn’t have something. Before I could say, “I will just use this other instead!” He was out the door running to the grocery store. Back in the day, when I wanted a second car, he just couldn’t understand why I wanted to be able to go places when he was at work. I should remind him.

  3. Misty Jackman says:

    “I think my soul has possibly gone a little numb after all these years at home with my kids.”

    No possibly about it for me.

    Word to the wise: don’t read The Feminine Mystique in quarantine.

  4. Chiaroscuro says:

    I hear you. Listened to a podcast recently that brought up the psychological damage social isolation can cause, and I just thought – that’s exactly what i experienced regularly as a stay home mom. i feel numb like you describe. still cleaning and cooking and also trying to get the school stuff taken care of, while never being able to go to the library or playground or meet up with other moms. but its okay, because i’ve done all this before. years in the ‘survival’ mode. years with no recognition and no daily contact with other adults. it doesn’t make me REALLY okay, but i can call it okay because i’m used to it.

  5. Mary says:

    I’m so grateful you wrote this, because every time I hear someone complain or read a complaint on the internet about sheltering in place being so confining, I want to tell them they now understand how a SAHP feels. When I stopped working to raise our children, I went through exactly the same feelings of isolation and these were on top of being a new mother.

  6. Katie says:

    Amen and amen. Especially the part about non stay at home parents should never be able to preAch that being a stay at home parent will be so wonderful, etc etc.

  7. Kimberly Taylor says:

    The quarantine is actually easier than the four years we lived without a car. Our small apartment was in a typical north American community so other than parks, there was nothing else nearby. It was horribly isolating, but no one cared. No one decorated our door or checked in on me. No one texted or called or dropped off cookies. Why? Because that’s what young Mormon women do. It’s not seen as a sacrifice but as a blessing.

    Which is a LIE. Those four years destroyed my sense of self, my confidence, my hope. At the end I was a shell. This all made me clung hard to church because it was my only social outlet, my only source of validation.

    I eventually had a full blown nervous breakdown when promised joy and blessings have way to consuming depression and poverty.

    I’ve been climbing out ever since.

  8. R says:

    This is so validating. My soul has been numb and in survival mode for so long.

  9. Em says:

    I read this awhile ago on my phone and wanted to comment but forgot. I just want to say a giant YES. Next GA who tries it will get a loud sassy “so you loved quarantine did you” from me.

    And yeah, my life has hardly changed. I always had to try to work around the nooks and crannies of motherhood. I have even less support now than I did before the quarantine, but I still am mostly doing exactly the same things I did before, just with still less interaction with friends and a bit less entertainment for the kids (parks). I’ve struggled with this like everyone, but I haven’t struggled anywhere near as much as other people do because I’ve been spiralling down this drain for years

  10. Risa says:

    I have only been a stay-at-home-parent for 1 year in the (almost) 19 years of motherhood. It nearly broke me mentally. I suffered a very deep depression. I felt like everyone had a life outside the house but me. I know there are some parents who love it, but I’m not one of them. I need a routine and to leave the house every day. It has been very difficult working from home and managing 3 of my children’s education, while we’re all traumatized by a pandemic, and in our neck of the words, an earthquake. I believe this crisis is showing the extent of unpaid labor, or poorly paid labor.

    • Megan says:

      When I first transitioned to full SAHM-hood, I was SHOCKED at the growing pains I had. “Wasn’t this what I always wanted? What I was mad about missing out on? Judging my husband for not being able to provide enough for me to stay home?” Ugh and ew at that last statement, but I totally did judge my husband. It’s really hard being home all day, day-after-day, with only children to interact with. and only monotous never-ending tasks that need to get done. It’s not not important, but let’s acknowledge that we’re not wrong for not being ecstatic about it. We can be real about the boring awful parts, and real about the fun soul-filling parts.

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