If you asked me for tips to 'survive' staying home with the kids, I would say I don't have anything new and practical to add to what's been already said. But the 'tip' that I do have, has to do more with helping the mind and heart survive the transition. And it's all about being aware of your own needs and being able to tell hubs about them, before they blow up in a bad way. I learnt that the hard way and here's how I learnt it, in a form of an apology letter, to my long-suffering husband.
I know this happened many years ago, but it is something that till today and I am still utterly mortified that I had said to you and I have never stopped being sorry about. It's one of those things that I wish I could take back.
The twins were just 18 months at that time and after working through most of their first year, I felt too guilty and torn to work any more. And you made it happen. You helped me work out our finances so that I could stop work and be with them. I was ecstatic and I didn't think anything else would matter.
And I hung out with the twins all day. I was happy to do that. I was at my most creative. I would make stuff with them and play with them. But then, that's all I did most of the time and at the end of the day, I had done nothing much else. On a good day, I might have read the paper. On a bad day, I would be in the same clothes I was in when I kissed you goodbye in the morning.
Slowly, I realised that it niggled at me on many levels. I had 2 college degrees. I had been offered a PhD scholarship. At work, I had been on my way to positions that would have given me a private office rather than a cubicle. On top of that, I loved my colleagues and we spent on time having working lunches and teas. It was where I felt that I belonged. But I had given up all that. The most productive thing I would do in a day would be to make play dough with my kids and embark on finger painting projects. I also realised that I had nothing much to say to you when you got home from work. All I could talk about was what I did with the children because for most part of the day, that's all I did. In a flailing attempt to make conversation with you, I would ask you to tell me about your day. Your replies were always vague because you said there was nothing much to tell me. And then crickets...
I had always cherished that connection that we had. That our relationship had grown from chats that lasted the whole night. I couldn't fathom how we had gone from that to not having 2 things to say to each other at the end of the day. It weighed down on me and that slowly bloomed into full-scaled panic. I am not sure if you remember the night I am talking about but I do, like it was yesterday.
You were at your computer. I was saying something to you and you gave me a dismissive response which was pretty much an echo of the last two words of my sentence and something in me snapped.
Out of no where, I flung something across the room and announced somewhat angrily "NOW I KNOW WHY SOME PEOPLE HAVE AFFAIRS!" It was a surreal moment. It was a strange out of body experience where I heard and watched myself say that and went "You really need a filter between your brain and your mouth". I regretted it the minute I said it.
The hurt look in your eyes grew into wild anger; where you took the car and floored the car right out of the house without looking back. My fear was that you would get into an accident and it would have been because of what I had said.
I spent the better part of the 2 hours you were out pacing the room going "What have I done? What have I done?". I remember being so thankful that you came home even if you refused to come into our bedroom that night.
We went to talk to someone after that because I was appalled at myself for hurting you like that and I think you found it hard to forgive me for saying that. I think it took us months for us to fix and realise that staying at home was much more complicated than just making sure our bank balances could afford it.
I had needed you to know how inadequate and inconsequential I felt because I was home all day and I had no way of communicating with you on any intellectual level. I had felt my brains, literally dribbling out of my ears as I watched a puppet panda teach our toddler children Chinese for the 10th time in a day. I had felt taken for granted, that I would be home all the time and everything in the house would be in good running order; my natural state has always been one where I am out actively doing something. Staying home felt counter intuitive to that. I missed being out at work. I missed being able to hang out with my colleagues and friends. I miss having spare change to buy something nice for myself if I wanted to.
By the end of the day, it would always feel like I had made a huge mistake by choosing to stay home. I had forgotten the guilt and it had been replaced by something even more hideous; panic and doubt. I needed to know that I had made the right decision by doing that and I needed to know, not from the kids but other adults, especially you, that they were thriving because I was home. I needed to know from you, that my time had been well-spent because I was beginning to not be able to justify it to myself. I needed to also feel that I was still equal to you. In short, I needed to be affirmed for what I was doing. Because when I reached out to you and I couldn't find you, I lashed out.
It doesn't explain away what I said but I guess after all these years, what I went through those early days of leaving my career has crystallized. The fact that my social circle shrunk down to just you, my ability to do things to pamper myself (like get my nails done and heading out to get a massage) hamstrung by sticky toddlers and my world becoming so small that I had nothing to say to you were things that I hadn't counted on and was unable to deal with. It scared me more than not having an income did.
If I could do those days again, I would have talked to you first, long and hard about how much insecurity I felt at leaving my job and how for the first few months; singing nursery rhymes all day and eating kiddy food wasn't enough to feed my soul. I would tell you that my life up till that point had not prepared me for the dive I was going to take, socially, professionally and as your partner. I would also not assume, at all, that you had a clue that any of this was churning round in my head and actually come right out and say it. Using the perfect 20/20 hindsight, I would have been more honest with you, about all these conflicting emotions in my head. But then again, only if you promise not to discourage me and only make it easier. I know, I am being demanding here. But it's my 20/20 and I can pretty much make it up as I go along!
But after 5 years of being home somewhat, thank you for slowly realising that even though I wanted to this, I badly needed outlets to just be myself and my own person. Thank you for creating the opportunities for that to happen. Things are by no means perfect and I still feel taken for granted occasionally, especially on days when I spend all my time in the car driving one kid or other around and I don't hear from you the whole time.
But for the times that you do remember and for the times that you take time to help me, I am grateful that you have heard me and I love you for always trying to place my needs first. And for that crown jewel of a hissy fit and the subsequent ones that have followed, I am eternally sorry and please forgive me.
With all my love,
This post is part of a blog train hosted by Gingerbreadmum where 31 stay-at-home mums share their survival tips. We hope that you'll find our tips useful and remember that you're not alone!
The next mum to blog is Ling Siew is mom to two adorable boys, Nathan (4.5 years old) and Noah (3 years old). She blogs at 'The View from Mama's Desk' and she quit her full time job 2 years ago and is enjoying every moment as a SAHM. As much as she misses the corporate world, she can't imagine missing out on her boys' growing up years. She is thankful that she took the plunge to quit, and has no plans to return to full-time work in the near future.