Work Life Balance

Being A Stay-At-Home Mom Made Me Miserable

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It wasn’t long ago that I guiltily admitted to a small group of mothers that I had at one time, in combination with postpartum depression, resented my now nine-month old son. Their response was reassuring:  I am normal. Maybe a tad too honest, but normal.

According to the dictionary, a resentment is defined as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” I think of resentments as “misplaced anger.” Gail Nagel LISW-CP, DPNAP, a therapist practicing in Greenville, South Carolina, says “all anger has as its basis, fear. I would say that the resentment represents some fear on the part of the person.”

My resentment towards my son reared its ugly head during the early months of his life. Before Hampton was born, I worked from home, and I thought I would be able to keep my full-time job and take care of my son at the same time. (I was obviously delusional.) I ruled out daycare because I wanted to do it all, plus the thought made me feel guilty—my husband and I couldn’t imagine sending him to daycare when he was so small. After all, why wouldn’t I want to stay home with my child? Being a stay-at-home mother is supposed to be a luxury, right? Eventually I quit my job (something had to give), became a stay-at-home mom and was miserable.

For new mothers, resentments can be directly related to our ego. Nagel says, “When we undergo a significant change in our lives, be it positive or negative, we grieve the loss.  Some people express this grief as anger.  Not unlike the widow who finds herself furious with her spouse….who did everything for her…..and now she finds she doesn’t know how to do various things. In the case of the new mother, she could grieve the loss of feeling she knew what to do and now is thrown into a venue where she is novice.”

Anyone familiar with 12-step programs knows that resentments are an essential element of a person’s recovery. They are considered poisonous, and making an amends usually starts with identifying resentment. They are almost always at the root of self-loathing, self-pity and inexplicable anger that is often (mis)directed at the people we love.

I love my son fiercely, as only a mother can, but I can associate his early months with a period of deep unhappiness. My resentment’s symptoms may sound familiar to other mothers—easily angered, impatient, insensitive, frustrated, depressed, lonely and overwhelmed by an odd, inexplicable feeling of loss. Maybe it was that I missed the independence and flexibility we all had prior to having children or even that I mourned the loss of routine in my life, something I have always found comforting.

According to an article by Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., on Psychology Today, “Resentments, unlike what we’ve been taught, just tell us something about what we really want. If, for example, I resent having to be the only sibling in a large family to take care of my elderly parents, that resentment is telling me a truth. It is telling me that this is too much to ask of me. It is telling me that perhaps I’ve been afraid to ever ask anyone else for help…It might be telling me that I have a habit of taking on these difficult tasks and not asking for help because this makes me feel like a good person…In other words, it could be telling me that I’ve built this life for myself that I don’t really like.”

Unlike some women, I don’t hide my resentments well. I tend to make everyone else miserable, too, and it can make me unsuccessful as a mother and wife. Nagel says, “Holding resentments can result in exacerbating autoimmune illness, it can create anxiety, it can cause isolation, and of course, angry outbursts that further alienate the self.” This certainly applied in my case. I felt incredibly lonely and easily angered over things that were beyond my control.

I let myself wallow in self-pity and depression for almost five months before I finally admitted that I wasn’t meant (at this point in my life) to be a stay-at-home mom. I confessed to my husband that my sanity was at stake. The only way I thought I could save myself was to go back to work and enroll Hampton in daycare. A little separation from my child was essential. I also wanted to contribute financially to our family, to feel as if I was on more equal ground with my husband.

So why did it take so long for me to figure a way out of my self-inflicted misery? I am a (frustratingly) slow learner. I spend a lot of time trying the same thing again and again expecting different results (i.e. insanity). I had to recognize that my biggest fear is not being able to do it all. The more I try to do it all, the more I fail. After Hampton was born, I unknowingly set myself up for failure. I had to choose between my child and my job. I felt as though my husband and son expected things from me that I wasn’t able (or willing) to give—I didn’t want to be the housekeeper, grocery shopper, errand gal, laundress, chef, and wife and mother. Mothers who are able to fill all of these positions, I commend you! It was, and still is, the hardest job I will ever have.

It seems to me that changing my circumstances has certainly lessened, if not eliminated, my resentment. However, it might not be that simple or that superficial. To get rid of a resentment Nagel says, “I would start by helping (a patient) to see what the true fear is beneath the resentment and also that it isn’t actually reflected in the child.  In fact, the resentment may surface because of the presence of the child, and therefore allow for resolution.”

Even with going back to work, the pressure to “do it all” is ever-present. Every day is a struggle to stay grounded. I remind myself constantly that I do not have to be everything to everyone. I still struggle with how to spend my days—scheduling the laundry, cleaning, cooking, errands, work, play, etc. I am certain I will always struggle with how to spend my days and, eventually, I hope to accept it.

Author’s note: There shouldn’t be any question as to whether or not I love my son. He is the biggest, brightest joy in my life. My mother always says that the best thing she ever did was have my brother and me. I used to think that was such an odd thing to say. Now I get it. I totally get it. Hampton is my greatest accomplishment.

(photo: listsoplenty.com)