Unbecoming A Stay At Home Mom: Around the Bonfire

by Gigi Ross on March 13, 2013

Last week, our bonfire topic was becoming a stay at home mom. This week, Lea Ann of Mommy’s Wish List talks about UNbecoming a stay at home mom as she heads back into the workforce. These two posts so clearly outline for all of us how no side of the motherhood fence is really easy. I think you’ll love Lea Ann’s perspective.

moms returning to work

Three weeks ago, I was paroled.

Just as Meg from Phase Three of Life was gearing up to become a stay-at-home mom, I was released from my grueling 8-year sentence. After an eternity of stay-at-home motherhood, I got a job.

Unbecoming a stay-at-home mother feels like drawing Monopoly’s Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card and landing on Free Parking, all at the same time.

I realize that is a very unbecoming and unpopular thing to say as a mother. Motherhood is regarded as the highest calling. The hardest yet most rewarding job a person will ever have. Mothers are saints. Heroes. Role Models. But they are also the most underpaid, undervalued, and under-appreciated employees on the planet.

“Mommy, I want some chocolate milk.”

“Well, I want to live in the South of France.”

“I’m thirsty mommy. I am not kidding.”

“I’m not your servant. And I am not kidding either.”

“Ok, fine. Please mommy?”

Like every stay-at-home mother, I have endured the natural isolation that comes from being the personal assistant of tiny high-maintenance, low-vocabulary people with 24/7 demands. But, in addition to surviving the overly hyped daily joys of motherhood, I’ve also lived with being kept out of my chosen profession for the past eight years.

I’m an advertising Creative Director. Or at least I was, until I aged out of a system that undervalues experience and insight. And females. Mothers in particular. Surprisingly, even though women make over 80% of household purchase decisions, only 3% of creative directors worldwide are women. One would think that a female creative director would be especially valuable to brands.

Especially one with her own built-in toddler focus group.

If you look at this point in both of my boys’ lives, their maturity, cognitive abilities, and general desirable human traits are almost identical at this age. They are almost 7 and 16 now. But the first years of both of their lives were vastly different.

My oldest son had a happily employed mother up until he was 7-years-old. When I was a working mother, I thought motherhood was the greatest thing every invented. Maybe that was because I only did it a couple hours a day. Or maybe it was because he was a piece of cake.

As a stay-at-home mother with my youngest child, it was jail. Jail in hell. No chance of parole. Not even a blessed hour in solitary confinement. And although this second child has finally metamorphosed from being a wild baboon into quite a nice little boy, I never want to do that again. Ever.

I could say the reason my youngest is doing so well is because I made him my life. The stay-at-home mom in me would love that answer because it would validate my sacrifice, and demonstrate positive ROI.

I could say my oldest turned out so great because he grew up with a happy, personally fulfilled parent. And the working mom in me would breathe a proud sigh of relief. Children thrive, rebound, adapt. And, they reflect their role models.

Would my youngest’s life have been easier, and better, if I had been a working mom for him too? He would have grown up in daycare, with a happy mother in the evenings and weekends. I have this never-ending rhetorical discussion with my husband.

“Maybe he wouldn’t have been such a snarling beast the first few years of his life if he’d been in daycare.”

“Maybe I caused him to be a snarling beast because I was so unhappy as a stay-at-home mother.”

“Maybe he’d still be a snarling beast if I hadn’t been here day and night to correct his behavior.”

I’m starting my fourth week as a Digital Strategist at Standing Dog Interactive in Dallas. When the CEO met me, (after 136 job interviews) he called me an enigma and created a new position for me in his agency on the spot. He told me to set my work schedule around my children’s school schedule. And to work from home every Wednesday.

More than unbecoming a stay-at-home mother and returning to myself, I feel like I am becoming something completely new. Something akin to living in the best of both worlds, where I am happy and fulfilled, both by my career and by motherhood.

Do moms have to give themselves away to get good kids in return?

Lea Ann Stundins is a branding and digital strategist, creative director, expert shopper, and blogger at Mommy’s Wish List. You’ll find her not only telling people how not to pay for things, but cursing at Photoshop in her glamorous dining room office. Lea Ann is on twitter @mommyswishlist and you’ll find her blog’s Facebook page at facebook.com/mommyswishlist


Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson March 13, 2013 at 4:50 am

Leigh Ann:

You are the main character in this novel I am trying to push out. I am her, too. I hated staying-at-home full-time, and I returned to teaching when my son was 7. I felt just as you did — like I had been given a get-out-of jail-free card. And I use the same metaphor. People look at me like I’m a monster when I say things like that. My truth. Bottom line? There are a lot of us who were not cut out to be full-timers. I wish we had better childcare options in the U.S. I was among the fortunate in that I could afford babysitters to get out once in a while. I know many people who are literally trapped at home. And people wonder why some women snap.

Get your own milk, indeed.

Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 6:29 am

Yay! I’m so glad I’m not the only one. We’re not monsters, we just deserve better.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice March 13, 2013 at 5:22 am

I love this.

I am still stuck as a SAHM–after nine years out of the workforce it seems I’ve been deemed irrelevant by any ‘real’ employers. So I write away my days, as I am fortunate to have a spouse who supports my dream.

But most of the SAHMs I know (who are absolutely thrilled to be mothers and only mothers) cannot understand this need to be something more. To have a life outside children. How some women have different needs than others.

When I talk to women who never left the workforce after becoming a mother, they can’t imagine not having that independence and fulfillment. While sometimes balancing may be tricky, the duality made them whole. And happy.

Glad you found your happy. Best of luck to you!

Michelle March 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm

“But most of the SAHMs I know (who are absolutely thrilled to be mothers and only mothers) cannot understand this need to be something more. To have a life outside children. How some women have different needs than others.”

Maybe they are something more. This is akin to saying your entire identity and self worth is wrapped in what you do. Just like a career didn’t solely define who I was while working, nor do my children because I stay home with them now. You can find independence and fulfillment everywhere, but it is up to you to do the work.

You can be married to your job and have zero family life just as easily as you can be consumed with your children. It is an absolute choice, and an absurd one at that, to not have balance in either of those scenarios. Why is it that we make assumptions that working mothers have that balance, but that SAHM do not?

Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm

You’re right Michelle. Everyone should get to define “balance” the way they want to. I just know that I am more balanced, and happy, having a job where I can contribute my expertise. I know lots of SAHMs who feel balanced by their definition. It is certainly different for every parent.

Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 6:34 am

Kerry Ann, I TOTALLY get you. Stuck is no fun. What you didn’t see in this post was the several angry paragraphs I took out, going off on the tangent of feeling irrelevant, like my life was over at 47. OVER. Because, just like you, no one would take me seriously because I was old, and a woman, and a mother.

I too was very lucky to have a husband who supported me, both financially and emotionally, and kept telling me “They’re all wrong, and you’re awesome. And someone will figure that out and hire you.” You, Kerry Ann, are not irrelevant.

Real Posh Mom | Jennifer March 13, 2013 at 6:49 am

Lea Ann, I am sooo happy for you. If there is any lesson that you have taught your kids, it is perseverance. You never gave up…and you pursued your dream. The kids don’t know and really could care less what you do while they are at school. And, you are spot on when you say that a supportive husband is what makes it happen. Who cares what others think when the people close to you cheer you on!

Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Thank you Jennifer! I do drill that “perseverance” speech into their tiny heads on a daily basis. I never thought of myself as a living example. You made my day.

Olga March 13, 2013 at 8:01 am

Lea Ann, this is such a brave article. It takes us so much effort to acknowledge that we don’t enjoy some aspects of motherhood because we feel like we are admitting to not loving our kids enough. Which is not true.

To your question, I think it depends. It depends on the relationship between the mother and the child and it depends on the mother’s attitude. I do think that if the mother is not happy being a full-time stay-at-home mom she should go to work and be happy. I think her kids will appreciate a happier mom in the evenings than an unhappy mom all day long.

Mostly, I think it’s important for us to stop feeling like what we do in our professional life will take us away from our kids and that’s why we shouldn’t do it. We should remember the following: we were here first.


Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I love that Olga! “We were here first.” My new mantra.

Lara March 13, 2013 at 8:02 am

Le Ann,
Thank you for your honesty and insight. Well-said. Congrats on your new job! Your children are blessed to have such an amazing mother!!!
Cheers, Lara

Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Hey Lara, thanks for the compliment. Tell my kids I’m amazing next time I build the LEGO StarWars AT-AT for them, and I am again underappreciated for my eight hours of slave labor. 😀

Chris Carter March 13, 2013 at 8:26 am

WOW. Dare you say those bold words out loud? I thank you for your honesty and your true gift in telling the story of many moms out there… I am so glad you found yourself again- the part you let go of during those captive days at home- and that is awesome someone noticed your talent and launched your career again!! On to the next season of your life!!

Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Thank you for the encouraging words Chris. I can’t tell you how great it felt to go into a CEO’s office, and after a two-hour interview get called an “enigma” and have a job created for you on the spot, with an offer letter by the end of the day. After years of feeling invisible getting this job means a lot to me.

Darcy March 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’m only 2.5 years into my sentence. Overall I like being home but I’m scared about what I might face when it is over. I will likely need to pursue a new career path IF my digital career doesn’t take off.

Lea Ann March 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm

It is scary, Darcy, to jump out off the career path and not know if you can ever find your way back to it. At many points in the last two years, I honestly thought that part of my life was completely over. Then, all of a sudden in 2013 being an old lady marketer with social media skillz (from years of blogging at home) became the desirable person to be. What you’re doing at home now could lead to your next career!

Elaine A. March 14, 2013 at 7:44 am

I’m am so glad to hear that your new employer is willing to work with your schedule. It would be A LOT easier if more businesses were willing to do that, I think. They are going to have to adapt if they want more smart women working for them.

And kudos to you for telling it like it really is, it’s certainly no walk in the park. Although I do like going to the park because I do get some peace there while the kids play… 😉

I’ve been a SAHM for almost six years and I’m not even sure what going back to work would like for me. But I hope to find out someday.

Lea Ann March 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I do have the dream employer, and he’s the one that suggested the flexible/work-at-home-on-Wednesday schedule. I was fully prepared to do the 8-5 thing. I know full well how lucky I am and am very grateful. And I agree, it would be a lot easier for business to attract back the smart, capable people who have left the industry for family reasons if more employers were like Standing Dog.

I too hope you find out some day that there is a place back in the world of work for you. On your terms.

Natalie C. March 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

I am so with you! I have a similar challenge, yet different. My youngest is 20 months, and I desperately want to work, but I am starting a new career where I can be my own boss. I’m doing what so many mothers are doing- I’m learning the world of photography. And I truly, madly, deeply want to have my own hours, my own office space, and my own studio. Somehow asking my husband to devote his entire salary to building me a studio doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. But I do daydream of the day when my youngest starts preschool and I can have 3 days/week to myself to get my business off the ground. Well written post- and I’m so glad to see this side of motherhood explored. It’s about time.

Lea Ann March 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Natalie, the best asset I’ve had for the past eight years at home was my supportive husband who kept telling me I was ahead of the curve, I was valuable, and smart. And he totally supported my freelance and blogging efforts. I feel very lucky and couldn’t have gotten back to this point without him.

You will get to that point when your youngest is in school for a significant part of the time, and then your daydream can start becoming a reality!

Meg {Phase Three of Life} March 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Aw, eff. Now I’m even more nervous! 😉 I am torn between wondering whether working from home will give me that balance I crave or whether it will spread me even thinner. Probably will depend on the day. I guess the only way to know is to try it out. My husband keeps reminding me that if my WAH experiment is a total disaster, I can always go back to full-time work. But it’s not always that easy to jump right back in, is it?

Congrats on the new job! I’m glad your boss could see how awesome you are.

Lea Ann @ Standing Dog April 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Thanks Meg! Look I figured out how to comment from my new “office” persona. HA! I felt spread thin working at home. I feel like working in an office is easy peasy compared to working at home. But I think that experience is different for everyone, so yes, give it a try. I think balance comes individually from recognizes what makes YOU feel balanced, important, sane, appreciated. And it’s going to be different for everyone.

Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli) March 31, 2013 at 8:03 pm

This really made me think.
Our original plan was for me to be a SAHM for our son, but my husband’s company didn’t grow as fast as we’d hoped, and I had to continue as the primary breadwinner. I cried, I knashed my teeth, I begged to quit, but it wasn’t realistic. I’m very lucky to be working for a company that allows me to work from home full time, and we have a babysitter who takes care of my son during the day. It is hella hard to turn over my son to someone else every day, but you make some great points. I hope that I’m giving him some life lessons about me and about women and what they can do. They can stay home and work, be a SAHM, or work in an office, and they rock.
Thank you.

Lea Ann @ Standing Dog April 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Kristin, you are so right about the role model you are being for your kid! You are showing him that you are capable of problem-solving in any situation. Our kids will grow up without any societally defined gender roles or gender bias because they’ve seen us do what we do in equal measure (and sometimes more) that our male counterparts.

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