In this article I share 10 things that have surprised me about along my journey of being a step-parent, parent and stay-at-home mom.
Just about 18 years ago, I had a baby and I took leave from my corporate job in finance. Shortly after that I made the decision to not return to a traditional corporate job.
One reason I’m sharing these 10 surprises is because I read a lot. I though I knew a little bit about parenthood and these things still caught me by surprise.
As I experienced these situations in my life other parents and helpers helped me to work through these challenges. Today, I offer my experience and help to other parents and step-parents who are working through issues like these.
My unique parent situation
I am a special snowflake and so are you. As the saying goes, we are all the same and we are all unique. Every family has a million different factors that affect how we show up as adults, as parents and step-parents.
This is me.
I am a second-wife. I have two step-kids. My parents were divorced. I consider myself pretty much a self-trained expert on blended families.
I’m white. I’m college educated. I’m able-bodied. I have a lot of privilege. That’s the reason I mention it. I try to be aware of the bias and perspective that I bring to this story.
The next thing you may want to know is that I live in the US in a major metropolitan city. This means that child care is expensive and maternity leave is short.
Why did I decide to stay home as a mom?
This is an excellent question. I’d love to tell you that I put a lot of thought into it and had a quality conversation with my husband and made a brilliant intentional decision about this.
That would be false.
I never actually planned to stay home and be a stay at home mom. At least, I don’t think I did.
I planned to take maternity leave and a little extra because I had short-term disability insurance that would cover a few more weeks.
What happened next was that I when my leave ran out the best decision for my family seemed to be that I stayed home.
This has been an excellent decision for my children.
This has been an excellent decision for my husband.
I have regularly second-guessed whether it was actually the best decision for me.
Most of the time I felt like it was just the best decision at the moment.
That’s one of the things I feel like nobody prepared me for in adulthood. I had a vision that there would be a lot more good options for decisions I needed to make.
Obvious decisions like this is the good decision and here’s the clear bad decision. For example, would you like chocolate ice cream or vanilla? That’s an easy choice even if you like both.
In my experience, adulthood and parenting is filled with a lot of kind of just “okay” options that we need to choose between. For example, would you like vanilla or cake batter frozen yogurt? That’s not the easiest choice because … I mean frozen yogurt is okay…I’ll eat it with candy on top. It’s just not as yummy as ice cream and the flavors are pretty similar.
Seriously, why exactly did I decide to stay home as a mom?
Okay you want specifics?
My initial decision to not go back to work was because my baby didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody who was not me until she was about 4 months old.
I personally could not imagine how it would work to leave my infant at home with a caregiver or take her to daycare.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those options, I just couldn’t quite see how it would have worked. I will say that today 18 years later I realize this was a flawed outlook. I can look back now and see that had I needed or wanted to do it — we would have just worked it out.
We would have adapted. There’s a lesson in there. I share this with you because if you’re in this spot the truth is that it will probably be okay. You just may not know until later.
My decision to not go back to the job I had was influenced by four factors.
First, it was a 45 minute commute each way.
Second, the hours of my job were long and inflexible.
Third, my job was a high stress position.
My logistical choice was to leave my child with childcare either inside my home or outside the home for 10+ hours a day OR stay home. I chose to stay home.
The math problem that some parents look at when deciding to go back to work is how much money will you make minus what will childcare cost plus what experiences will you miss.
Almost all people must work to provide for their families and the strain and pressure on those working moms and dads is a lot.
The fourth reason that I chose not to go back to a traditional job was that my parents both worked and I was a traditional 80’s Gen-X Latchkey kid. I will admit that I was always a bit envious of kids who had parents at home and wanted to give my children that experience.
I’m not even quite sure I am a stay-at-home mom…really
I consider myself a stay-at-home mom.
But I work.
Like do I really even qualify? Yes. I’m going with the answer of yes.
I think this is more common than a lot of people realize. Most of the moms I know have side hustles or mom-jobs.
When my kids were little I started working for myself and since then I’ve been self-employed. I explain more about this later.
Why write this article about lessons learned as a parent?
One really tough part about this — I think — is that even if somebody explains these things to you beforehand it is still very hard to see how this will affect you until you are so far in that you are committed. By the time you get the lesson you are in deep.
I personally think that this may be why so many 40-50 year old women decide to mix it up when their kids age up and make HUGE changes to their lives.
I think these are things that we can plan for.
Honestly, we can plan for just about anything.
We just need to know about it and have some resources and that’s why I’m writing this down. In the hope that somebody who is at the start of this journey will benefit from my experiences.
I also have this notion that as we age out of this phase we forget some of this stuff which is why we don’t pass it down always as well as we should. Maybe that’s a flawed perspective.
10 things that surprised me about parenting, adulthood and staying home with my kids.
I have felt isolated and alone.
Loneliness and depression are actually very common among stay-at-home mom’s. I tell you this because when it hit me I thought I was doing the whole mom thing incorrectly.
In the movies and on tv they make it look like the mom’s are all super happy. Unfortunately, my life is not a movie.
The loneliness took me by surprise partly because I had a full-time companion. Turns out that when kids are small they are actually terrible companions. They are cute. But it’s years before they even talk. They like to play with play-doh much more than adults and their tv shows are boring.
When the kids get bigger they have their own friends. Here’s a shocker. You may not want to be friends with your kid’s friend’s parents.
I am actually by nature kind of a loner. So I’m okay with alone time. But there have been several times as a mom where I have said, self … you need time with grown-ups. Soon.
I also think I’m pretty good at getting out and finding people to socialize with. I joined mommy and me groups and I had my community through running and triathlon.
I worked through this but it did surprise me. This is why I mention it.
I discovered that parenting is a shocking amount of work.
People do tell you this. In fact, I’ll admit that people tell new parents this over and over.
It’s hard to fully understand it until you go through it. In the moment it can be really overwhelming. There are a lot of those moments. The phrase I love is that the moments are long – the years are short.
Parenting is a long haul of a commitment.
The reason I share this with you is that a lot of parents feel the desire to try and do everything themselves. If you can try to accept help any place that you can get it.
People tell you this ALL the time with babies. It’s also true with teenagers and every other stage of parenting (in my experience).
A huge part of my self-worth came from working and creating.
This is not true for everybody. Maybe it’s not true for most moms. Many people love to stay home and take care of the house and decorate and plan parties.
For me this has been true. Without a job without a focus I felt a little adrift.
This is why as my children have grown I find myself creating jobs and projects for myself.
This blog is an example. The podcast another example.
There’s nothing wrong with this but I bring it up because I feel like there is a stigma that women are expected to feel awesome and great for being exclusively stay at home moms and that’s not always true.
My husband literally said this to me at one point. “Isn’t being a mom enough?” he asked me.
I said, “no.”
If this is you — you aren’t alone there are lots of us mom’s out there who love to work and create.
I have felt undervalued and unappreciated and taken for granted over and over again.
This is like the song on repeat of moms because it’s so often true. It’s a point that still needs repeating.
I’m a mom and that is gender coding so the more neutral way to phrase this is that.
People who are caretakers are often under-appreciated. It’s not just true for people who raise families this also happens in other compassionate roles. There’s a thing called compassion fatigue that impacts nurses and other professional caregivers including teachers. I’m talking about parents here though.
Small kids need you and they pay you in hugs. That is sometimes but not always enough.
Bigger kids also need you and they can be trained to say thank you but at least for me it has not always been “fulfilling” or “rewarding” .
I cannot tell you how many times over the last 18 years I’ve wondered why I went to college if my primary function was going to be driving kids and sitting on the sidelines through extra curricular activities.
This is sometimes referred to as the invisible workload.
The upside to this is that it forced me to really focus on my internal self-worth.
It was either that or an antidepressant. For many people it’s working on your self-worth and an antidepressant.
That’s something we should talk about more too. It’s a topic for another day.
I discovered that people stopped taking me seriously as an adult.
This was an amazing and very unpleasant shift for me. I was an accomplished professional woman and as soon as I had a carseat in my car (or a baby on my hip) I felt like people began to treat me like I was “less-than.”
If you have never experienced this then that is wonderful … for you. I experienced this a lot. This includes teachers at my kids’ schools, doctors, bankers and a variety of other adults. I never stood for it.
Wanna see the New Yorker in me come raging out … go ahead…talk to me like I’m an 8-year old.
I have changed my kids schools, stood up to teachers, confronted local politicians, fired doctors and home contractors and a whole variety of other things because the person on the other side tried to devalue me, overcharge me or condescend to me simply because I was a woman with a child.
I share this with you as a cautionary tale to be aware that people make a lot of assumptions about moms. Sometimes those assumptions are unkind.
I was jealous of my husband’s freedom.
This one was tough for me to work through. It’s one of those life situations where I feel like I was comparing myself to a fictionalized version of parenting that at least for me never really existed.
One day my husband texted me a note that said, “going to happy hour be home an hour late.”
I sobbed. I broke down in my kitchen and cried from absolute jealousy and anguish.
I wasn’t mad at my husband.
I want him to have a good life.
I wanted him to have fun with his work friends.
I have my husband’s support to do what I want. There is literally nothing except the invisible bondage of “responsibility” that prevents me from doing things like happy hours.
Still – If I wanted to go to happy hour I usually had to plan ahead and arrange child care and pre-do all the things my kids needed. Not a hassle but not spontaneous.
I desperately missed the freedom to just do things that I wanted whenever they came up. I also desperately missed the community of peers that would just invite me to happy hour.
I never truly figured a way around this. I have done a better job of getting out to do scheduled socializing.
The good news is that this does return to your life when your kids are older. If you are counting down the days in my experience this shift occurs right about the time your kids start to drive themselves where they want and need to go.
I did not want to be a part of the school volunteer “stuff”
I have been involved with volunteer service organizations since I was 14 and yet I it turns out that I did not personally enjoy school / mom-volunteer groups.
Maybe you cannot wait to be a school volunteer. That’s great – tons of parents love it and many schools are set up where it is a truly necessary thing for a school to function well.
I went to PTA meetings and volunteered just long enough to realize that I HATED IT.
One of my bestest mom friends was president of the PTA and once when she asked me to help I said … okay but I cannot go to any meetings.
I was a room mom for my son for I think 3 years because he has a food allergy and as soon as he was old enough to navigate that I backed off.
This is not a super popular opinion among parents who love to volunteer at schools. Still it was true for me.
Here’s my secret. There are lots of us who hate doing this stuff. One of my friends refers to the PTA as the school mom mafia.
I only mention this to empower somebody who might be reading this that if you don’t enjoy it or can’t participate you are not alone.
I have sometimes felt like time and opportunity were passing me by
This is a sneaky little thought that worms its way into my brain every so often and I have to work through it again.
Even though I made this decision to stay home with my kids. Even though I’m proud of all that I’ve done there have been times over the last 18 years when I saw what others were accomplishing and felt like I gave up a lot of things by choosing not to stay at a traditional job.
What might set this off is things like job promotions announcements or new job announcements or I have a few friends who are authors and their book announcements are exciting to see but trigger a little envy.
What’s interesting about this is that it’s a totally false thing. I know that. I have no way to know what might have happened had I gone right back to work after my daughter was born. I may have been fired the next day.
I mention this … and this might begin to sound a little like a record on repeat … so that if you feel this as a parent or stay-at-home person, you are not alone.
What my kids or step-kids do or don’t do is NOT a reflection of my worth or value as a parent
I was a step-mom before I was a mom. This lesson is one of the first benefits I truly see from being a step-mom first.
As my step-kids grew into young adults I watched as my husband and his ex-wife wrestled with the internal vision of what they thought their kids would do and become and what their kids actually decided to do.
Then I had my own kids. I think it’s a natural experience as a parent that when your kid is born you look down at the little perfect blob of baby and wish them to have a totally magnificent life. You imagine their life events and being the parent for all those great things.
I think at the start I probably thought that if I did everything right as a parent then my kids and step-kids would / should turn out as well or better than me.
If I got them to school. If I got them into the “right school” or the “best school”
If I fed them good meals.
I do still hope that turns out to be true. I want my kids to have a great life.
When your kids hit milestones other adults will congratulate you. Hey, congrats on your step-kid graduating from high school. Okay – thanks I guess… I mean I was not really a big part of this process but … okay YAY.
It goes the other way, too.
When (not if but when) one of your kids walks against the grain you may feel the pressure that people think it’s your fault as the parent.
I have seen this happen to parents whose children have developmental delays, personality disorders and when their kids just make weird or honestly terrible life decisions.
Here’s the lesson. What my kids and my step-kids do or don’t do is up to them.
Just like what I did or didn’t do was up to me and not my parents.
And this starts earlier than you might expect. You might think you’re ready for your teen to do some “stuff” [this is an illusion … you won’t be ready]. But in pre-school I can predict that your kid will either be bitten or be the biter. I’ve been on both sides — neither is great.
I think as parents we stand by our kids and step-kids. We try to guide them. We try to offer them opportunities. They make the choices. They won’t always make the choices we would want them to. This is the way life works — in my experience.
This is simultaneously a relief to me and at the same time sometimes it makes me question whether any of this whole parenting gig is worth all the work.
I can’t quite tell you exactly how this will show up in your parenting / adulting experience but it probably will. Expectations are important.
Parenting is what exactly?
People will sometimes say that parenting is the greatest job in the world. Here’s what I think is weird about that. It’s not a job. It’s a responsibility. It’s a commitment. It’s a natural thing that we do as humans. It’s a choice. It’s what we do.
Parent. Step-parent. Mom. Dad.
It’s an identity that some of us take on for a huge portion of our lives.
Some people feel like parenting is a calling and some philosophies offer that it’s the ultimate duty and responsibility of being a woman. I have lots of thoughts about that but I’ll save them for another day.
Some people will be parents and others will not. Some people will be step-parents and others will not and these roles in my opinion are not tied to our value or worth as people. Not everybody agrees with me … and that’s okay.
I never quite feel like I know exactly what I’m doing – or if I’m doing it correctly. I think that’s true for most adults parents (and many so-called experts)
I’m going to admit that I missed this as a step-parent BUT it was my experience as a step-parent that allowed me to see this as a parent.
In the movies about kids when there is a problem there is a magical helper who is calm, smart, engaging, good looking, knowledgeable and helpful. They see the problem and they “fix-it.” Unfortunately, life is not like the movies. In my experience in a lot of situations when you and your family find yourself with a struggle the people who should help are sadly under-qualified, bad at their jobs and sometimes mean.
When I was a kid I had this idea that the adults around me knew how the world worked. When I needed an answer I asked an adult and they seemed to have all the answers.
As an adult now I know that there are many times where I don’t have any answers. Sometimes I don’t even understand the question. I see the adults around me answer questions and pretend that they know things when they don’t.
This has been a stunning adult discovery for me.
I remember sitting in a seminar where a person was giving a presentation on something that I wanted to learn. I realized about 10 minutes in oh – this person has no idea what they are talking about. None. I was flabbergasted.
Here’s a more mom-related story about this.
My step-daughter in elementary school was at one point struggling in school academically. I was a step-parent and that means I was not directly involved in this. I also remember that year being a big struggle. I remember that my step-daughter was suggested that she should undergo testing for learning issues and that her parents pretty much followed whatever suggestions the school gave. Her parents (my husband and his ex) are involved and committed parents.
The next year that kid switched campuses and it was like a light switched and she flourished. Looking back she probably just didn’t vibe with that teacher or method (which happens … a lot). And her two best friends had moved away and she struggled to make new friends in the small group until she switched campuses. Looking back that seems like something we wish anybody at the school had noticed … but they didn’t. Unfortunately that experience was rough for this kid and our whole big blended family.
When my youngest kid started school (same school) the kindergarten teacher suggested that she needed speech therapy. They wanted to send her for an in-school evaluation. Because I had been through the earlier experience with my step-daughter my internal alarm bells went off and I said, No.
The school pushed back hard and I pushed back harder. I did have my child evaluated by a speech specialist who took one look at my daughter and listened to her speak and said, she doesn’t need therapy she’s missing her front 4 teeth. Which made me smile because it was obvious (and adorable). The school gave me a ton of pressure including all this paperwork that I had to sign to decline this imaginary stuff they said we “needed.”
Her kindergarten teacher pulled even me aside at a school event and told me that I might be damaging my daughter for life by declining this therapy. This woman had NO children of her own but she was willing to tell me how to make my parenting decisions. Btw — we switched schools.
I have a lot of these stories as a parent. And before I was a parent my expectation was that I would have none.
My point is — it’s okay to question when people give us their advice on how to parent. Sometimes you will agree. Sometimes you won’t. Sometimes helpers will help and sometimes they will get it wrong. It’s okay to go our own way. When you go your own way it’s tough to feel strong in your position.
Why share this now?
What’s key about this last point is that I’m not immune to the pressure of listening to others.
I have had a version of this article in my head for probably 5 years. I never hit publish because I was fearful of being judged. I probably will be judged. That’s okay.
A few years ago my kids elementary school had a typo on the marquis out in front of the building. The word “SCHOOL” was misspelled. It was misspelled right under the announcement that it was an award-winning school. I though it was hilarious. Obviously, it was an accident. I took a picture of it and posted it on social media. I very quickly got several calls to take that photo down. I was told “how dare you” and “I can’t believe you did this!” Which was hilarious because the people who called me were upset only or mostly that I had posted the picture not that there had been a typo. I wonder if I can find that photo. It was so funny.
In my experience many times when I have spoken up and said things that went against the grain that’s when I found others that felt similarly. That support has been very important to me in my journey as an adult.
If even one of these little lessons that I’ve learned has helped you feel like you are less alone as a parent, a step-parent or a stay-at-home parent then it’s worth me putting it out in the world.
Also right now I am working as a coach working with adults who have stress and drama in their lives. If these points resonate with you then you can find out how to work with me here.