Work Life Balance

I’m A Stay-At-Home Mom With Help Around The House

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I have a dirty secret I’m ashamed to admit to most people. When I do admit it, it comes with a rehearsed monologue of excuses and apologies and an explanation so long that bystanders unfamiliar with the English language surely assume that I am explaining the physics behind particle/wave duality as opposed to simply finding a nice way to tell people that I am a stay-at-home-mom with help around the house.

I didn’t plan for this to happen (the help, I mean). But when my husband and I first started discussing the possibility of having a second baby, he wouldn’t even consider it until I promised that we would get someone to help out full-time for the first three months after the baby’s birth. Reason being that I’m terrible at delegating (is there a nice way to say control freak?); we don’t have any family help; I don’t want to put my toddler in daycare and my husband travels constantly for work. So I agreed, dreading the idea of having anyone in my house but knowing that this was the only way that my husband would be able to return to work immediately after the birth without feeling like he was leaving me to drown in a pool of my own stubbornness and exhaustion.

At the beginning of the three months I told myself that the situation was temporary. That as soon as my daughter was taking longer-than-20-minute naps or was okay playing on her own for a few minutes at a time, I would have tons of free time to do things (like make breakfast). That as soon as she started sleeping through the night, I would have enough energy to clean and do laundry from 8 to 11 p.m., thus eliminating the need for outside help.

Well, it’s been five months and the baby still doesn’t sleep through the night (or half the night) and still doesn’t like to be put down. Her napping has gotten better, but it’s not reliable enough to plan around. My two-year-old still likes attention and my husband and I still enjoy clean underwear and bedding. So we still have help (she’s not quite full-time, but she does work 30 hours a week – that was her minimum and we really wanted her).

She cleans my house. She does my laundry and puts it away and she holds my crying five-month-old if I am busy holding my crying two-year-old. She stays home with whatever child is asleep while I take the awake one to gymnastics, swimming lessons, mom and baby yoga, music class, the library or Baby Sensory. She holds my daughter if she wakes up while I’m showering (I suspect that I would have a lot of conditioner in my hair most of the time if there were no one else around) and gets my son dressed when I’m busy giving my daughter a bath so that we can actually leave the house.

But let’s get one thing clear: she does not look after my kids and as such I refuse to use the “N” word when I refer to her. In fact, my husband told some colleagues that we had a nanny when my daughter was first born and I got so upset that I told him that I could never, ever look at those particular colleagues in the eye as long as l lived and that he better not EVER plan any social engagements with them that I would be expected to attend (I was equal parts hormonal and defensive – the hormones have since settled).

Even the other day, when another mom innocently asked if I have a nanny when she learned of my husband’s very full travel schedule, I told her that I do not, but that I do have a helper. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that this other mom is hoping for my sake that my “helper” is a therapist.

I don’t know why I am so ashamed, but I am. When people innocently ask, “Where’s the baby?” I answer, “Asleep,” hoping that they will just assume that I’ve left her to fend for herself in her crib while I’ve taken my son swimming. I guess I don’t want people to think that I am off having my nails done while someone else looks after my kids (although one look at my hands would probably clear that up pretty quickly). Or that I am lazy or spoiled (though I do have enough self-awareness to know that the fact that I don’t clean or do laundry does in fact make me a little spoiled).

But here’s the thing – having help around the house makes me a better mother (if a messier person). I am able to devote myself completely to my kids, which is why I put my lawyer job on hold to stay at home with them in the first place. I get to take the kids to activities on their own, I am not (very) resentful when my husband is out of town as much as he’s at home some months. I am not frazzled and exhausted (unless you count the sleep deprivation) and I truly love being at home with my kids.

I don’t judge people who send their older kids to daycare so that they can devote more time to their babies or who have family help, or husbands who come home from work at 5:00 every day (or who have those mythical cooking husbands), so I don’t know why I’m so worried that everyone is judging me. Maybe it’s because I’m judging myself – part of me will always feel like I should be doing it all by myself, because there are many people who do.

In all honesty, I’m not sure that I will ever get over the shame or the guilt, but I have learned to appreciate my clean kitchen floor.

(Photo: Creatas)