The Guilt of a Stay-at-Home (Expectant) Mom

Mom_guiltYou’ve heard it before: working moms feel guilty they’re not spending enough time with their kids. But did you know that stay at home moms share that guilt? And what about stay at home EXPECTANT moms? Yeah. The guilt of a stay at home mom is pervasive.

I finished a contract position, went on holiday, and came back pregnant. Parental leave in Canada can last for up to a year. By the time I was showing, I knew that no would-be employer would be willing to hire me only to have to find a replacement for me six months later.

And you know what? I was okay with that.

I was alright with taking some time to figure things out, do a little training on my own at home, some freelance work, and get ready to welcome this little person into our lives.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

That’s when guilt strikes.

It’s like being a woman is a black and white thing. You’re a mother or you’re not. You’re working or you’re not. You’re staying at home with the kids or you’re not.

No matter what decision we make, we’re judged for it. We’re judged by society, by other women, and, most devastatingly, by ourselves.

“I should be at work. I should be contributing. I should be saving money. I should be a productive member of society. I shouldn’t leach off my Chico…”

“I have a master’s degree. I should be using it.”

Those are the kinds of thoughts that enter my head some days. The days when my to-do list seems too long. Somehow I manage to spend hours doing something else entirely, and I ask myself how on earth I managed to get anything done while I was working.

Then I remember the money my parents paid for my university education, and the money I invested in my master’s degree. Has that all been wasted? Why did I take an MA if it wasn’t to use it in a profession? What am I doing with my mind, my talents, and my time?

So what am I doing? Am I just lazy?

No. I’m not lying around all day eating bonbons (though, I have to confess, I have been baking a bit more since being unemployed…).

SAHMHow to get out of the funk

When I’m on the verge of tears because I’m feeling like a total waste of space, it’s time to sit down and think about what I AM doing, rather than what I’m NOT doing.

I am: Learning new skills like knitting and sewing.

I am: Reading incredible books in three different languages.

I am: Keeping up-to-date on current events, news in my industry, and listening, watching and reading news analysis from various media sources.

I am: Making an effort to keep writing, no matter how sporadically, and keep that creative muscle in shape.

It may not sound like much, and if I’m honest I’m still judging myself pretty harshly for being so seemingly idle (and for still hiring a cleaning lady).

You gotta let go of the guilt.

If I don’t let go of it now, it will eat me up when this baby arrives. Because if I feel unproductive now, just wait until all I have time to do is change diapers, feed, and devote all my attention to a tiny little person. You can bet we’ll be caught without any milk in the fridge on a regular basis when that happens.

This image isn't entirely relevant, but I loved it.

This image isn’t entirely relevant, but I loved it.

No matter what decision you make when it comes to raising your children (or, in my case, making your children), the important thing is to make it freely and with understanding. Read about other women’s experiences and ask yourself how you would feel in their situations.

Understand what you’re getting into, and then take steps to make sure that you continue to push yourself in ways, no matter how small, that will keep your body and your mind open and in shape.

And when people raise their eyebrows after you’ve answered the “What do you do?” question? Well, what can I say? Haters gonna hate. Own it. And tell yourself that in some, small way, they’re probably jealous of you.

Give yourself an intellectual challenge.

The pitfall about staying at home is the lethargy and inactivity you can slip into (unless, of course, you are an exceptionally motivated person). Keep yourself engaged. Keep writing, keep reading, keep listening and searching. Go out and meet people, or learn something new.

Whatever it is, do it to ward off the guilt. Because our children, especially our daughters, need to grow up free from the unreasonable expectations of perfection that society puts on us that cause this guilt.

And most of all because all any of us can really do is our best.

On the Montreal Metro

STM_LogoIt was the week after Labor Day and the hottest day of the summer. The heat and humidity felt like one of those warm towels they hand out on airplanes. But instead of rapidly cooling off like those towels do, it just stayed hot, sitting heavily on her shoulders and making her hair stick to her back.

The sun beat into the third floor apartment, the cheap linen Ikea curtains doing nothing to lessen its intensity. The open doors at the front and back of the house helped create a cross-breeze of sticky air that slid by slowly, like mud. The little soul in her belly kicked furiously, unhappy with her extended period of inactivity.

“Okay, okay. I’ll move,” she groaned. But where?

Even the dog looked deflated. Her brown, round eyes sluggishly gazed up at her as she stood up, her actions barely registering curiosity.

“Want to go for a walk?” The dog hesitated. Nature was calling, but the thought of going outside was unappealing even to her.

***

The walk helped refresh them both, but the thought of sitting in front of her computer all afternoon in the heat of that apartment made her balk. That’s when his text message arrived.

“Hello… I left my office drawer key on the dresser in the bedroom. Can you do me a big favor?”

Saved! Delighted by the thought of the air conditioned lobby of his office building, she found the key, tried to make herself presentable (in vain) and left the house. The heat seemed to radiate up from the pavement as she walked to the metro station. The non-air conditioned oppression of the underground made her doubt the wisdom of her excursion, without a water bottle to boot.

She left the metro downtown and took the underground passage to his office building. The swinging doors opened into the food court and she was all at once in the refreshing embrace of the cool, air conditioned environment. Bliss.

A bottle of water and cold tea later, sitting in the lobby, waiting for him to come collect his key, her natural good humor had almost returned. Her book of short stories keeping her company, she sat on the cool faux leather couch, looking out the floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the poor saps trudging along under the beating sun. Ah… Life was good again. It really took so little.

***

After an hour’s delay, he had collected his key and their short chat had further brightened her mood. She didn’t resent the wait. In fact, once her errand was run, she missed the excuse to sit in the air conditioning. Feeling she had outstayed her welcome, judging by the look the security guard was giving her, she reluctantly closed her book and made her way back down to the metro.

Like the air conditioning had seemed to eagerly welcome her upon her arrival, the heat and humidity seemed doubly enthusiastic about her return upon her departure. It hit her with a force that surprised her.

Her mood remained buoyant, though, as she took the tunnel to the metro and passed a pair of buskers playing Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca on clarinet and bassoon. She smiled as she dropped a loonie into a hat in front of the musicians, and the smile lingered as she headed down the hallway, the music trailing after her.

On the platform, her courage faltered somewhat. A train delay meant that quite a crowd of early Friday afternoon commuters was accumulating. She glanced up from her book and noted looks of frustration and determination to get on the very next train. Luckily, she was well positioned to get on.

***

STM_Priority_SeatingWhen the train finally pulled up, it was already packed. The doors opened, and if anyone had wanted to get off, they were out of luck. The crowd eagerly lunged forward, pushing her onto the train faster than those inside could rearrange themselves for the onslaught. She glanced around for a priority seat, only to find that there were none near the doors she had chosen and there was no chance of moving down the car.

She made an effort to move across the train to the opposite wall, since she wasn’t getting off right away. As she moved she felt a sharp elbow to the gut, right where her little bundle of joy had been calmly dozing, lulled by her movement. She gave a sharp yelp, and the woman who had elbowed her turned on her with a look of anger that quickly transformed to horror and shame when she saw her pregnant belly.

Finally at the opposite wall, she hesitated to ask a seated commuter to give up a spot. She didn’t have that far to go, and she felt self-conscious about asking someone to get up. She stood right next to a seated teenager, the tight crowd causing her belly to knock against the teen’s shoulder. The teen looked up, looking her right in the eye, looked at her belly, and looked back down at her iPhone, not moving.

The young businessman seated opposite looked at her too, and when their eyes met, he quickly glanced back down at his phone, hoping she hadn’t seen him looking. An elderly woman with a cane sitting next to him looked at her with pity, but her own condition prevented her from offering her seat.

So she stood, her pregnant tummy hitting the teen as the train rocked, and cursing the lack of air conditioning in the Montreal metro system.

***

Priority-seating-STMShe tried to read her book to distract herself from the discomfort, but the rising heat and the crowd pressed around her made it hard.

Her earlier good mood nearly failed her entirely and she froze stiff when she felt at first one, then several large beads of sweat trickle down the back of her legs. The sensation made her skin crawl.

The horrible dripping feeling made her look up from her book, directly into the eyes of a woman standing opposite her, behind the seated young businessman. Something in her glance must have spoken to the woman because she immediately tapped the young businessman on the shoulder.

Indicating towards her, she said, “Could you please give this pregnant woman your seat? It really is far too warm for her to be standing.”

In his confusion the businessman made a move to stand up, and offered her his seat, someone flustered. By then, though, the train was pulling into her station and she refused his offer. The look of embarrassment and guilt on his face almost made her pity him, though she knew he had seen her when she first got on.

The woman behind him said, “It’s just too hot to let a pregnant woman stay standing up. I don’t care that you’re not sitting in a priority seat. You should have let her sit earlier.”

She looked at the woman and a smile started to spread across her lips. The two women looked at each other, in a moment of mutual understanding and empathy. Then, the train stopped, the doors opened, and she had to muscle her way off and on to the platform. She looked back through the train window and made eye contact with the woman.

She mouthed, “Thank you.” The woman nodded a lopsided grin at her as the train pulled away.

***

Walking back out into the sunshine and heat, with sweat sticking her dress to her back and running down her legs, she couldn’t help but smile.

Learning a New Skill: Keeping the Brain in Shape

In a post early this year, I wrote about how useless New Year’s resolutions are and how I wanted to forgo traditional resolutions and replace them with goals. I talked about either learning German or taking a creative writing class.

Having been foiled by scheduling conflicts for the creative writing class, and having ruled out the German class, I find myself turning to other options.

Enter, my grandmother Frances’ 1966 Necchi sewing machine:

Necchi_sewing_machine

Talk about vintage, baby!

My mom mentioned this spring that she wanted me to take the machine and put it to good use. As it was, it was sitting in our house in Massachusetts, rusting.

A senior citizen learns quilting in order to keep sharp. Source: NPR.

A senior citizen learns quilting in order to keep sharp. Source: NPR.

Earlier this year, I read an NPR article discussing how research shows that learning a new skill helps to keep your brain sharp. The more challenging the skill, the better. So I decided that sewing would be a good skill to pick up!

My girlfriends from the Montreal Stitch n’ Bitch were delighted when I mentioned this to them, and they plotted together to give me a kit for my birthday that would draw me into the sewing world.

See that book on the table by the machine? That was one of my gifts. The other was some fabric and a little sewing kit, as well as a “gift certificate” for one sewing class to learn to make a baby’s bib.

A long, rainy Sunday afternoon later, this was the result:

Okay, so it's not quite straight, but it's a start...

Okay, so it’s not quite straight, but it’s a start…

Thanks to Taloline, PerrinPimPim and OuakiDou for the lesson!

All this has combined to lead me to contact the Zig Zag sewing school here in the Plateau to enquire about sewing classes this fall. Today, my enrollment was confirmed and starting on the 15th of October, I’ll be taking a beginner’s sewing class!

My goal is to start quilting, as I just love the designs I’ve seen, especially from my sister-in-law’s twin sister on Instagram (here’s a link, though she might be private). We’ll see where this goes!