Becoming a stay-at-home parent wasn't easy – but it allowed me to rediscover who I am
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By Ashley Smith
When I became a mother nearly a decade ago, I didn't realise I was losing myself until I had to be still with myself. If it weren't for the coronavirus pandemic, I don't think I would have ever discovered myself again.
When coronavirus cases started rising in my area, my partner and I were already preparing for who was going to leave their job to stay home with the children (we have three, two boys who are now 9 and 8, and a 4-year-old girl).
I was working in an office that handled a lot of paperwork, billing, purchasing and orders. My partner was working in the technology department at a prep school. My job didn’t offer a remote option, and he was making more money than I was, so our decision was easy. I actually felt excited: ever since I gave birth to my daughter, I wanted to be home for her, but it just didn't work out that way.
At the end of February, I put my two weeks’ notice in. Although I was excited, I didn't know what to expect. I'd never been the stay-at-home parent type. I am a worker bee: I push to be in charge wherever I work. And no matter what anyone tells you, you can't control kids and your home the way you operate a business.
At-home learning proved difficult after the novelty of staying home wore off, and the children were always distracting each other. At times, it felt like I was just going through the motions, that I wasn't really bonding with them. I was being pulled in different directions from the time I woke up until the time we went to bed. I was always on the clock.
I tried to remember that working in an office burned me out. I'd been in a constant state of rushing on autopilot, and I completely neglected myself. I gave up all of my hobbies and started to replace them with unhealthy coping mechanisms. I would drink too much before bed, wake up late and rush the kids out the door.
I spent time making lists of things I didn't accomplish. I wasn't working out consistently and spent hours comparing myself to other people, usually on social media. This sent me into a state of depression and anxiety for many years.
Still, during the first few months of the pandemic, there were a lot of dark days being home, too. I didn't have a job description to go off; I didn't have anyone to chat with around the water cooler or take my lunch breaks with. Although I was with my family 24/7, I felt so utterly alone.
I didn't realise that maybe I was actually hiding in the chaos that was our life before the pandemic hit. I was unhappy about the constant messes the kids made and how often they argued. I wanted the house to be spotless and everyone to be happy, even though it wasn't possible. I struggled to find myself, but that was because I didn't know I was lost.
Then, at the beginning of 2021, my partner decided he needed to leave his job – he was being undervalued and had to take a pay cut. So we decided we would switch roles again. After a tremendous amount of résumé rewrites, recruiters, interviews, Zoom calls and rejections, I started to feel depressed all over again. Eventually, I ended up getting a job offer that I knew I could have loved, but my partner found a new job. This changed things for us. It really felt like it was a sign that there was a better path.
My partner assured me that he loved that I could be there for the kids during this hard time. He let me know that all he wanted from me was my happiness – and for me to remember to love myself. I laughed at the time, because I didn't really know what that meant. But because of him, I was able to take the time and dig into the deepest part of my soul and figure that out.
I dove deep into my anxieties and depression, and all signs pointed to past traumas. I started to see that I was reflective of my past, and that I wasn't being the best version of myself. I forced change to happen; I began making it a point to work out in the morning and spend some time connecting with myself on a more conscious level. I started journalling, reading more, crafting for fun and profit (I'm really in love with macramé right now), and meditating on an almost daily basis.
The kids and I have more fun together than we ever have. I take more time out of the day to slow down and listen to them and focus on guiding them gently instead of trying to control the way the house flows. I've set boundaries with myself about drinking, and I am less reactive to daily life. I sit with my feelings instead of hiding in my phone or venting about my issues, which used to make them worse in the end.
It wasn't easy to slip into this role as a stay-at-home mom. I have worked consistently since I was 15 and have always been financially independent. I was raised by a single mother who worked two or three jobs at a time, and she constantly reminded me to never rely on anyone because they will ultimately fail you in the end.
It was difficult for me to trust my partner's one income to take care of us all. The stay-at-home moms I knew had husbands who made more than enough money, and it seemed like we needed to have a much larger income for this to work. But I learned we aren't materialistic people, and I've been doing a lot of thrifting.
In the end, I had to let my guard down and fully give trust to my partner and myself and make this work for our family. My anxiety and depression are still there, but there are fewer moments of feeling miserable. I didn't realise how much of a choice I had in my own mental health and life. I wake up grateful and ready for the day every morning. I lay my head down feeling love and connection for myself and for my family.
Not every day is perfect, but it's the hard days that really help us grow. As devastating as the pandemic has been for many, it helped guide me to a healthier and more spiritual place. Being forced together made me slow down, learn new things about myself, children and partner.
It helped me see where I am truly needed right now in my life.