POV: My Transition to Stay-at-Home Mom is Not What I Expected

Six months into being a stay-at-home mom, I was with my three-year-old at a park one morning.

As he zoomed off to play, I settled down onto a blanket with a book. It was mid-week, an absolutely gorgeous spring day. Not that long ago, I used to silently mourn the loss of days like these, while hurriedly walking from my car into my workplace for another long shift.

I felt such overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity and freedom to be there. No time off request, no PTO trade-in preceding it.

Yet, another feeling skulked there. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Like I was cutting class in the middle of the week. Like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be…

This wasn’t new to me. I had felt it often in the last few months — as I watched our town’s “rush hours” from our front porch instead of being part of them. When I got to linger over my coffee in the morning, instead of hastily pouring it into my to-go cup as I rushed out the door. When our day lay open in front of us, with no one else’s input as to how it would unfold.

The closest I came to describing it at the time was guilt. Looking back now, it was probably more complex than that.

Stay-at-Home Mom: Where It Started

I was an active part of the workforce for upwards of 17 years.

My first “big kid” job was as a cashier at sixteen. My twenties wound me through a handful of occupations before I earned my degree and became a licensed veterinary technician in 2012. That became my profession for the next nine years.

By and large, I enjoyed my work. I liked my employer and fellow employees. The constantly changing work environment and the many tasks of animal nursing care suited me. I had also grown to appreciate the unique way it allowed me to serve people.

Our first son came along in 2019. I stayed on working full-time for a year and a half after he was born.

We started off utilizing a lovely daycare for him, but later transitioned to compensated care by my in-laws, when the costs became unsustainable. Not long after, I decided to decrease my work from five days a week to three, to mitigate my time away from our son.

This worked well over the next year, until the news came that my father-in-law would be needing surgery with a potentially extensive recovery time. Having a busy toddler underfoot was understandably not conducive for my in-laws any longer; we needed to find another option.

Finding a long-term daycare opening in such a short time frame seemed insurmountable. Not to mention, we were left weighing monetary and non-monetary costs of daycare against what we envisioned for our son and family life.

So, my husband and I made a decisive — albeit abrupt — decision for me to leave my job entirely.

In the course of two short weeks, I closed the chapter on my chosen profession and life in the workforce, and dove headfirst into being a full-time stay-at-home-mom.

In all honesty, I figured this day would come eventually. We were hoping to continue growing our family and I had been mentally preparing to leave my job in the next couple of years, were we blessed with another child.

And while I enjoyed my job, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t daydreamed about a life at home and the freedom that could allow us. Thus, I assumed the transition would be relatively seamless.

Not What I Expected

Boy, did I miss that mark.

I was not prepared for the feelings that would come.

Aimlessness. Purposelessness. A lost sense of self.

My days were initially spent packing my to-do list full. After all, I now had all the time in the world to “catch up!”

I had no excuse not to anymore, I reasoned. I got down on myself when I couldn’t keep on top of things. Though now pregnant with our second child, I only had one kid.

Why was this so hard?

Eventually, when the to-do list items became glaringly repetitive (clean this, tidy that, rinse and repeat), I descended into a state of floundering. One day would be filled with drive, motivation, goal setting… the next with asking, “What does it really matter if any of this gets done?”

I had people all around me encouraging me; my husband was (and still is) my biggest cheerleader. They would tell me what a gift it was to be able to stay home, especially in those fleeting early years.

They would affirm for me that motherhood and maintaining a home was necessary and deeply important work. That it was purposeful. That it mattered.

The interesting thing is, I believed what they were saying to be true. I had utmost and ever-growing respect for stay-at-home parents. But I still didn’t believe it to be true for me.

I felt like because I wasn’t out there earning a wage, contributing to society via a 9 to 5, or growing my recently opened Etsy shop and “doing it all,” that I was inconsequential, failing in some obscure way.

Yet I knew what a privilege it was to be in my position, for our household to even be able to survive on one income. I felt no right to complain, to feel unsettled or frustrated.

How It’s Going

I sit here now over a year and half in, with two little ones beside me. I still don’t have it all figured out (do we ever?).

Some days I still wrestle with the whole purpose question. But it has gotten better. I have become more confident in this new space and myself within it.

This has been a journey for sure.

I came into the SAHM life with a laundry list of preconceived notions and a rat’s nest of confusion. I had to find my way through a mental hurricane of societal expectations, cultural norms, and personal wants, needs, and feelings.

There has been a lot of asking and ruminating on big questions. Giving myself space to feel and not have answers. Unpacking belief systems and creating new ones. Shedding old thought patterns. Allowing for new daily rhythms.

I needed the time and space to shed the many layers that my work had lent my identity over the years. Not just shed them, but to be at peace with the act.

Those things will always be a part of me, of course. But I realized that who I was at my core had never really changed. Paring back down to that was the key to finally start stretching my legs into this new realm and chapter of my life. In finding a way to make it my own, I found I was finally able to start thriving within it.

Still, at the end of the day, “Is this best for myself and for my family?” is a question I leave perpetually up for interpretation.

I keep a habit of doing an honest check-in with myself at least weekly. And I reserve the right to propose a change of course if I sense a slope of deterioration in any sector.

Mentally, physically, and emotionally, being a stay-at-home mom is one of the hardest jobs I have ever undertaken. Even so, I have unearthed something here that feeds my soul more completely than any paid position ever has.

For now, the questions and uncertainty have palpably quieted.

I am right where I want to be.

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Caitlin Olson
Caitlin grew up in a large family just outside of Fargo. After moving around in her college and Army National Guard years, she settled in Barnesville with her husband, Dan, in 2015. They have two young sons, Oliver and Finn, and two dogs – a Beagle named Frankie and a crazy Lab mix rescue named Haddie. Caitlin was the owner of a small blog and Etsy shop for a couple of years and a licensed veterinary technician for nearly 10 years. She recently set aside all to focus on being a full-time stay-at-home mom. She is hoping to homeschool in the coming years. Caitlin loves the outdoors and is passionate about the benefits of connecting and reconnecting children and adults to nature in a technology-saturated world. Since their infancies, she and her husband have strived to include their boys in all their outdoor pursuits, cultivating a lot of good life lessons through the triumphs and failures this has allowed them. They particularly enjoy hiking/backpacking, tent camping, fishing, gardening, and exploring the nooks and crannies of Minnesota, along with unearthing the diversity in their own (itty bitty) backyard. Caitlin also enjoys reading, woodworking and crafting, learning “homestead-y” skills, birdwatching, traveling, and writing. She’s on a journey of learning to source more locally through makers, farms, and other businesses and loves exploring these resources in the area. Her (unofficial) love language is coffee.


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