What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom

An as-told-to story of a mom raising four kids



The stories of “glass-ceiling breakers” that are so prevalent in 2017 are no doubt inspiring — but so, too, are the stories of those women who make a different kind of life choice, one outside the world of 9-to-5. We put a call out to our networks: “Looking for a stay-at-home-mom to discuss what it’s like. We want to know the highs, the lows, the realities, the joys.” The woman I spoke with is someone who, after 12 years of focusing her life around her kids, husband and home, wants to charge after her career. She was candid and honest about the joys and the challenges of her experience, one that is worthy of being heard and celebrated. Below, her story.

I moved to the midwest from New York about 12 years ago at the height of a 10-year-long career in PR. My husband’s job brought us here; it was between this or London. Then we found out we were having twins.

At first, right before I had the twins, I held on to my career as though my life depended on it. I worked as close to the due date as possible. Colleagues said to me, “Watch out, you don’t want to stop working, because once you do, it’s hard to jump back in.” I didn’t believe them. 12 years later and it’s been in and out [of working]. I’m fortunate that I have the opportunity to spend more time with my family, to be a mom, to fill in the gaps while my husband travels. He gives us a life where I don’t have to work. I love working, though. It had formed my whole identity.

When I had the twins, I had an identity crisis. I was lost in space. Who am I? I used to be so good at something, but now I’m doing this other thing that I have no idea how to do. My husband loves kids. He wanted a whole bunch of children. I was trying to figure out how to breastfeed two newborn twins with this new reality hitting me. I wanted to go back to what I used to know how to do, what I loved to do.

I’m lucky. I have four children now, who are very nurturing. My daughter was born ready to take care of her twin brother. She’s so naturally maternal. My third is that way, too, she’s unbelievable. She’s a rockstar, but she’s the one who gave me all the gray hair and wrinkles. The doctors called her “an eggshell baby” — she was born blue and no one knew why. We bonded over her survival. It wasn’t until my fourth child, my son, that I had that natural maternal feeling. I love all my children, I’ve bonded with all of them individually, but with him, I didn’t have to pretend [at the beginning]. It was just there. Life is funny like that. You don’t have any say in how this plays out.

After my youngest child, the one who is always by my side, was getting ready to go to kindergarten — he’s been the hardest one for me to leave — I thought, Okay, I want to get back into work again. I ended up seeing a life coach. I met this guy at a coffee shop, and I could hardly talk to him, I was so full of tears, like, “I don’t know what I have to offer, it’s been too long.” I wanted to step back into this part of myself.

My family was supportive. My children were proud. They didn’t know anything about who I was or what I did before they came about.

Meeting with a life coach was awesome because he helped me get ready and feel powerful. Part of meeting with him was literally a pep talk, simply, “You can do this.” He made me believe that I could go after what I really wanted. I started to ask, “Why not me?” It became my mantra.

I worked on getting back to my career. I ended up with a dream opportunity that fell into my lap. And yet, when I went and interviewed, they said to me, “We know you have four children. How do you think you’re going to do this job and be a mother to four children?”

I made it through the interview and left with a little bit of dignity, but felt defeated. I didn’t think it was going to happen. To get away, I took the children on a trip back east to see their grandparents. We stayed at a place with poor wifi, so I wasn’t checking email. Apparently, I got an offer for the job. When I finally got in touch, they said they didn’t hear from me right away and assumed something was wrong. Why didn’t they try to call me?

My dad said I dodged a bullet.

Life happened again after that. My husband had a health issue. My daughter, my third kid, needed a hearing aid. I was dealing with vertigo, which I’ve never had before. I felt like everything was falling through the cracks, including me. How could I have been working full-time with that going on?

That’s what’s challenging. Anytime I am involved in a project, whether paid or as a volunteer, something’s neglected. I’ll rock something, and then three kids get strep. Something always suffers while you’re kicking butt. There’s no way everyone is getting everything done at same time.

I’m still riding out this whole mentality of: How do I [restart my career and] juggle this busy family? I refuse to believe it’s never going to happen. There is a bias when you have taken this road trip, this detour, the family thing. You really have to own your choice. You have to be ready to say, I’m going to go back into this with gusto. It’s not easy, I’ll just say that.

I volunteer to help people who move here from Syria and Somalia to find their way. These women have more children than I have, no partner, no financial security whatsoever, and they figure it out. They inspire me.

Motherhood makes you feel like a superhero. You look back at things in your past that seemed hard, that you were afraid to try, and think, Why didn’t I say yes to that? You want to take risks for your own self-worth and because you have these people, these children, looking up to you as role models. I want them to be up there killing it when they’re older. I watched my husband teach my daughter to ride her bike the other day, and the look of pure grit and determination on her face — I was so proud of her. I was like, That’s who I need to be right now.

Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

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  • Such a nice read, good luck!

  • What a moving story–one with which I can wholeheartedly relate. I was a stay-at-home mom to my twin boys for 18 years. It took me a couple of years, once they were in college, to realize a new career. I absolutely love it! There’s been a lot of self-talk along the way, and there still is. I completely recognize, “Why not me?” I’m a very capable woman, yet I don’t think I could have worked and raised my sons the way I wanted to. Yet I hope my sons marry/become partners with women who can do both. It’s such a difficult situation, with no easy answers. Thank you for your candor, and vulnerability. Your journey is just as valuable as where you end up–they’re proud of you for where you are now.

  • Really powerful, thank you so much. I grew up in a community where it was very normal to be a stay-at-home mom, and assumed that was going to be my life. I’m wondering more and more as I get older though, if it would be more beneficial for me to continue focusing on my career as much as I can handle after I decide to have a family. I think I’m naturally someone who gives a lot, and can see myself losing a lot of my identity for my kids. All that to say, I really loved hearing this story about a woman wrestling with the joys and hardships of both paths.

  • Toronto CS

    I can relate to a lot of this story — I’ve been a stay at home mom for 14 years. I haven’t had the same angst about going back though, mostly. I have a lot of interests and hobbies, and I just like the time to work on them — as well as just taking care of my family as best I can.

  • ESW

    Agree with your dad that you dodged a bullet. The red flag for me was, “We know you have four children. How do you think you’re going to do this job and be a mother to four children?” That is totally inappropriate for a job interview, and it is not the kind of company I would want to work for.

    • FarmerTom

      Disagree– it’s a reasonable question– wouldn’t you want to know a potential employee had thought about it if not completely figured out the answer? Sure, it’s inappropriate– but she must have mentioned the four kids, so the question immediately surfaces. The fact they offered her the job anyway suggests they had confidence she could manage.

      • Katie

        Do you think a man with four kids would be asked the same question?

        • FarmerTom

          A stay at home father applying for a job? Of course.

          • oliviafortune


          • farmertom2

            Have we met? Well, it was great to see you! Let’s do lunch sometime…

    • ThePetiteBrunette

      I agree with FarmerTom. It is totally a reasonable question. As an employer you want to know that your employee is 100% committed, not being called away for a kid who has strep, as the interviewee mentioned.

      • akd

        The word you’re looking for is “indentured servant”, not “employee.” Everyone has obligations outside of work.

        • ThePetiteBrunette

          That’s not the word at all. Of course everyone has obligations outside of work and that’s totally understandable. All the hiring manager is doing is asking the pro-active question of how do you plan to get back into it? Not, “you have four kids so we’re not going to hire you” (which they did offer her the job anyways).

          • akd

            First off, those questions are not asked if men. Second off, you said you expect someone to be “100% committed” and that’s unrealistic and just insane to expect if any employee. And third, your comment about employers not wanting employees to be “called away for a kid who has strep” is just mind boggling. MIND BOGGLING!! Hire only men without children, or expect WHO EXACTLY to take care of the sick kid!

            Work culture is so fucked up in the US. It’s toxic and sexist and unjust, and your comments reveal your autocratic beliefs about the role of the Big Boss Man in an individual and families life. It’s astonishing, frankly that you and so many others are comfortable with the employer having so much power and control over their employees. We should be fighting for more equity, and better workplaces.

          • ThePetiteBrunette

            First of all you are blowing this way out of proportion. You are not sticking to the issue here. I was not comparing women to men and I know of the culture and believe that it is unjust. That is not what I was commenting on, what I was doing was agreeing with a previous commentators statement, which was that the question IS inappropriate BUT if it came up naturally (aka if she mentioned she had four kids) that is it reasonable to ask. Why? Because they are obviously serious about hiring her on and would like to know her plan of action. It would have been more damning to just gloss over the issue and not hire her on assuming that she won’t be able to handle it all.

            So maybe before you word vomit your hate for the world listen to what people are saying and have an educated discussion instead of just blurring the issues.

            I agree that we should be fighting for more equity and better workplaces but by discussing with your employers realistically about your needs is how you get there not just by demanding things.

      • Has anyone asked YOU this question? “I understand you have a family. Your parents might die. Are you ready to skip their funerals for this job?” “If you got hit by a car, you’d just come right into work, wouldn’t you?” I think not.

    • nurdurlur

      it’s an illegal question in many states! that’s certainly an indicator to me that it’s shitty hiring practice. http://employment.findlaw.com/hiring-process/illegal-interview-questions-and-female-applicants.html

  • Anne Dyer

    Thanks Amelia, for seeking this out. We stay at home moms appreciate the read over the salad bar at Whole Foods before picking up our kids from preschool.

  • angela nash

    Its so hard to find your identity after staying at home with your kids. I was a teacher before having them so working again while their young certainly wouldn’t make sense financially. But I feel like a failure because I do nothing all day but feed them and change diapers and wait for them to nap so I can get a break.
    Last night I was trying to sign up for an introductory exercise class, And the guy asked what time would be good for me. I said in the evening, and he said oh so you work a 9 to 5. We can find something for you. And I said no, that’s when my husband gets home and I can be free. I stay at home with the kids. And he said, oh let’s be honest you work 24 seven then. And to hear him say that, I almost cried. Thank you for recognizing that it is indeed work. The best, unpaid work.

    • Alison

      That is awesome — and 100% true.

  • claire

    typically these articles create cringeworthy content for me. like, did i really think being a parent was for me? but this woman has written so wonderfully that my ovaries started quaking and i thought – wow, i can’t wait to be a parent even if it means my career will be lost, or suffer. and the last bit about your daughter – pure love.

  • katie48

    A lot of stay-at-home mom stories consist of, in some way or another, “there is no way I could have done both” coupled with very little mention of the other parent.

    • That is so true! Divorce, traditional roles play a part in that.

    • Jenelle

      I too pick up on this a lot in similar stories and think part of that problem is attributed to some of the terrible family leave policies we as a country have. I do not have children yet but I have a couple of friends who do and even those who have gone back to work still feel like they’re handling the brunt of childcare because they “know” the child so well. Meaning, because they stayed at home alone for some amount of time after the birth they felt like they understood their child’s schedule, needs and quirks better than their husbands and as a result felt like the primary caregiver. I think if dads had better parental leave policies and could stay at home for a lengthier amount of time and engage more fully in the childcare then maybe the responsibilities would feel more balanced between the two parents. I think I also notice it a lot because I come from a home of a single mother so often I think yea there is a way to do both because tons of people do it every day.

      • Kiks

        My husband & I are trying to have a baby and we’ve had numerous really intense arguments about this. He gets a full year of paid paternity leave through his job and had this idea that he was only going to take a month or so off. I said “Dude, are you f*cking kidding me??! If I had that leave available to me, there would be no question that I take ALL of it. And you’re telling me you think maybe you’d take a MONTH? THIS IS HOW IT STARTS!!!”
        (Yes, I was that hysterical and angry about the whole thing and yes, he has since come to understand why that would be bullshit and that he subconsciously clung to the traditional baby-and-mommy idea.)

        • Jenelle

          Oh I completely understand your emotion behind that, especially because I also think it leads to the gender wage gap in the workplace. So often it’s argued that men are paid more or get ahead because they don’t have absences from the workplace or there isn’t a fear of turnover associated with men the same as there is with women. And like you pointed out, even if men do have a generous leave policy they don’t feel inclined to take it. So I wish not only for better family leave policies but also for men to take full advantage of them. Glad that your husband has come around 🙂

        • FarmerTom

          I took 30 years off. I know a doctor who took 17 years off, driving his parents insane. A year is nothing.

  • Kubla

    Wouldn’t it be fun to do a what to wear for stay at home moms. Right now the ideas out there are deplorable.
    As a stay at home mom I usually have 3 outfits a day
    1. Leotard and tights to workout with hoodie in morning
    2. Change into something fabulous for lunch, early afternoon and school pick up.
    3. At 4pm Change into something washable for playing and cooking dinner (play clothes a la Sound of Music!)

    • FarmerTom

      Pretty much, clothes are the answer, and whatever you want. These last few years I have taken to wearing a suit jacket if I leave the house. So for the last three years, it’s had to be cleaned more often. But that’s okay– you and I get to wear what. we. want.

  • Daria

    As an accountant (and prone to worrying about boring things), I wish there was more discussion about future financial security (i.e. When you get to retirement age) that can be affected by being a stay at home parent. Friends who have made that choice have concentrated on living on one income but not on the possibility that they could be living on very little money in their old age because they don’t have enough in pension contributions.

    • akd

      Not boring at all, and something I think about very often. I’m a 42 year old public health social worker (not much earning potential) who took ten years off to raise babies while my higher earning husband worked. I think if I retired I might get like $300 bucks a month. That is terrifying for a lot of women.

  • Ashley Alt

    I only have one son, but can completely relate to the identity crisis. I’m getting back into full-time work soon after being home with him for a year and a half, and am very excited to be “me” again, but terrified I don’t know who that is anymore. Awesome story.

  • KDuncan

    I also cringe at “motherhood” articles despite being one myself. This was a powerful read. With the deserved dignity of “the struggle” for working moms (at home/office, etc.) everywhere. Well done. Thank you.

  • Barbara La Valleur

    When I had my two daughters 13 months apart, I had moved to the UK & married an Englishman. He wanted to move to Germany to work so we did that when the girls were 3 months & 16 month. There, I had no car, spoke no German, couldn’t understand tv and couldn’t read the German newspapers. I had been Chief Photographer of a daily newspaper in the US before that. It was quite the transition. We were lucky that we could afford for me to stay home with the girls for their first 10 – 11 years. I loved it. We spent countless hours doing arts and crafts when they were young. After 10 years, I was very ready to re-join the work force. But I was in a foreign country. It wasn’t easy. I never gave up and ended up freelancing full time as a Freiwillige Fotojournalistin for seven German newspapers also writing in [my grammatically incorrect] German. After 20 years, my marriage ended. I returned to the US and got a divorce. Both of my daughters came with me; finished school/college and became accomplished, successful business woman. Now in their early 40’s, they’re both also amazingly artistic. Now, one lives in Barcelona, Spain and the other in Minnesota. I’ve re-married, very actively with my photography, having exhibits, creating photo books, doing what I love to do. I’m very happy and so are they. We all turned out.

    • FarmerTom

      Sorry about the divorce, happy about the remarriage and generally happy ever afters.

  • FarmerTom

    Some women are not meant to be stay at homers, and this woman seems to be one. I don’t care what women actually choose to do– chase a career or stay at home and raise a kid or a brood– but feminism is about the freedom to make that choice– either way.
    I chose to stay home– I’ve been the one to raise the four kids, and now I spend 3/5 of the work week raising grandchildren. My career? When we’ve been abroad and could afford help I worked– it was great, kickass jobs chock full of autonomy– because I insisted on it as a term of employment. My real career I’m about ready to start, when the younger grandchild starts school. At 60, I figure I have 10-15 years to accomplish my career goals, plenty of time if I focus.
    But to get back to this piece– life is choices– we chose to enable my wife to have an outstanding career, we chose that I would bethe one at home, it made sense, no one chafed. Juggling three older kids to get the youngest to her office for feedings was sometimes exciting (all four children were breastfed only) but remember– it’s choices. That’s what we chose.
    I am not too sympathetic to women who stay home by choice but who would rather by toiling at a desk that the washing machine and kitchen range. For her, New York was a choice, not reading her email was a (foolish) choice, not working and paying someone to stay home with the kids was a choice. We can, none of us, do everything, be everywhere at the same time.
    I would caution anyone, though, against relying too much on finding identity in a career that is not fully under one’s own career, because if it’s taken away, then what does one have left? I’ve seen people whose careers vanished in technological change and were left adrift. For decades I have identified in career terms as a writer, though I have written precious little. It never depended on my being employed as a writer though. For me, being a writer was pretty much like my religion, my ethnic heritage– it’s what I am, not always what I do. Is a teacher who isn’t working as a teacher still a teacher? I would imagine so.

    • Sari

      You don’t have to be sympathetic. It’s OK for a woman to make a choice and then feel some ambivalence about it. We’re human. Stop being so condescending.

    • Malia

      Listen to Sari. I choose to be a stay-at-home mom though would rather be “toiling at a desk.” And I’ve missed an important job interview email for reasons not dissimilar to those of the author. I understand my decisions and their implications. I don’t want your sympathy.

      And please don’t lecture about maintaining identity and avoiding crisis. I suggest you google “motherhood+identity+crisis”.

      • FarmerTom

        You and Sari seem to miss the fact that I am not offering sympathy, quite the opposite. I am suggesting that life is making choices, and that pretty much anyone here (with access to a computer and electricity and all that goes along with that) has choices. My point was the author made hers and she doesn’t get to complain about the global decision. Complain about being tired? Sure. Any parent has tiring days. But complaining about the life choice? No.
        Per your suggestion, I Googled. 350K pieces, 106K substituting fatherhood, and two and a quarter million substituting parenting. Eight and a half million for plain identity+crisis.
        More than 100,000,000,000 have been born– all to women, which made them mothers. Being a mother is not new. But consider the definition, just for a moment: “a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of
        identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected
        aims or role in society.” We are all many things, we wear many hats. Children, playmates, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, grandchildren. Boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands, wives, employees, employers, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, and tons more. Mom isn’t even a single identity, unless you think a mother has an identical relationship with each of her children. Does becoming a mother somehow become an identity robbing phenomenon, something that changes a person so greatly than no one recognizes her? Her friends, family, co-workers? Where is Emily? Where did she go? Who are YOU? Life is not only making choices, it’s change, the whole thing is endless change, every day, until it’s over. But If you take a blue car and paint it yellow, it’s the same car. It’s not an elephant. If you want to tell me that some women who have only a tenuous sense of their own identity prior to becoming mothers become somewhat lost in the translation to motherhood, I’m prepared to believe that. But of all the women I’ve known who have opted for motherhood, and they range from farmers to executives but mostly are professors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, and people who stare at computers all day in a variety of occupations, including those who opted to modify their career path, I can think of none who have had what Google is telling me constitutes an identity crisis. (Oddly, I know, or knew, one man who ultimately couldn’t deal, and bailed on his family.),
        Sumus quod sumas, and it was ever thus. Changing your clothes, or stepping behind a baby stroller, or trying to relearn 6th grade mathematics does not change that. Your job is not who you are, it’s not what you are, save for a very few, and if a person chooses to change his or her job and if they are that person who is only the job, then sure, they’ve changed. But it all goes back to the premise that it is a matter of choice. Feminism is about the right to choose but not to complain that one has to make a choice, that one cannot be in more places than one at any one time.

        • Malia

          You seem to mean well. But you still missed the point(s). Here are two phrases for you to take to heart here, though: 1) stay in your lane 2) mansplaining. Also, sometimes we complain because it makes us feel better, not because we want any ideas about how to make things better. And because you could use some help with google skills and I’m feeling generous:

          • FarmerTom

            I do mean well
            The internet is not merely public, but more public than anything has ever been in all of history, so I am not sure there is ever an expectation of lane privacy. Rules? Sure, some. But the fora I take part in where lane staying is a thing are both private. No, all private, there are three, so not both.
            Mansplaining is a real thing, but I deny guilt in the present instance.
            And yes, I concede the complaining to feel better thing, and on cluelessness in that regard (which had I been focused up would have led me to have made no remarks at all) I admit guilt, and should have recognized it. My wife doesn’t do it, but I know plenty of women who do. When we complain, men want an answer, dammit. This is one of those divisions between the sexes that seem to have nothing to do with biology.
            My google skills are great-, but I appreciate the article, though I don’t think it’s particularly germane.
            And with that, I’ll go away. Wishing you and all other mothers venturing here all the best.

          • Nicole Smith

            @disqus_PQHwUtBdkn:disqus Instead of actually reading about this person’s experience, it feels like you have made every comment about you and what worked for your family. Your writing is the epitome of mansplaining and honestly, very difficult to follow and often nonsensical. Please allow me to explain something to you. Being a stay at home parent is not always a choice in the clearest sense of the word. Sometimes, staying at home with children is the choice that a person makes as a sacrifice because their family needs them to pause their own goals to support the over-arching goals of the family. This sacrifice is most often made by women and in this thread we are discussing how difficult it can be.

            In addition – your response to the mother who requested a “what to wear as a stay at home mom” article was “Whatever you want.” You do realize this is primarily a style blog, right?

          • FarmerTom

            Speaking of actually reading, it would appear you didn’t read my most recent post. Go back, try again. All the way through.

  • I love my children, but I don’t look at them as my job history. They’re their own people, not products I developed. I don’t expect to be rewarded for having children, but I am very tired of being penalized.

    The hardest hit of being the stay at home parent is looking at my social security report. I worked my ass off for twenty years here, and I have nothing to show for it. There’s no retirement pay for moms. No pensions. Nothing. I made contributing members of society, I gave the world two decent and kind men, and I might as well have sat on my ass and eaten bon bons for a couple of decades.

    During a job interview, the matter of what I’ve been doing regarding work/children will come up, (and it might be illegal but that hasn’t stopped anyone yet) and most of the time I will be regarded like an idiot for staying home or an ungrateful wretch for wanting a job. I could not afford to go to work for wages that were lower than child care costs (they don’t tell you that one ahead of time) and my employment status does not affect your fertility issues. And yet I’m judged on that, not what experience or talents I may have.

    I was lucky and my kids were healthy and fun, I am glad that I could be their mom and that we have made it work. But I caution anyone considering being the stay at home parent: your children are not your resume. Don’t try to make them into it. Competitive parenting is moronic at best, and if you look to anyone else to fulfill you, you should consult a therapist first. They will be the people they are supposed to be, not your pets. Being home is not ‘better’ than working outside the home. It’s just a different job. And any ‘lifestyle’ blogger that says different doesn’t have teenagers yet.

    Now THAT’S when you need child care.

  • Katie

    Thanks for this perspective. I was a middle school teacher before having kids, and I also really loved my work and felt that I was good at it. Living in a place with very high childcare costs and no local, extended family, it made more financial sense for me to stay home when we started having kids. Now we have a 6, 4, and 1 year old, and I (of course) love them very much and have appreciated staying home with them. But I think I also would have appreciated being able to continue my career. Life is made of choices in the face of circumstances. I think I made the best choice I could with the circumstances we were dealt, but I’d be lying if I said sometimes I wished I had made a different choice.