Being a stay at home mum is an invaluable opportunity that allows us, women, to have a deep connection with the lives of our children, especially the young toddlers and infants who are with us all day. It is an opportunity I never thought I would be fortunate enough to take, and I am thankful relationship counselling experts very day that help my family and make it work. But being a stay at home mum does not come without its challenges.
If your husband works outside of the home, having the sole responsibility of the children day after day can be exhausting. Trying to entertain young children with the same routine doesn’t end up working for long. There are plenty of days we forget to feed ourselves, and some days it seems like the housework, childcare, and self-care are impossible to balance. Despite all of that, seeing your children grow each day and be successful individuals, somehow makes all the sacrifice worth it. However, what most people don’t think about is the impact that being a stay at home mum can have a marriage.
When we first discussed the possibility of me staying at home with our two kids, I was already hesitant. I had been laid off shortly after our son was born in 2010, and the tight financial situation was enough to strain our marriage then. Although my husband was in a significantly different income bracket at this point, I still struggled with the idea of what supporting two children and a home on one income would look like. Although I deflected most of my concern on our budget, no matter how many times we ran the numbers without issues, my real concern was feeling like my husband would think I wasn’t contributing enough at home.
Due to my husband’s career, he had never done a lot of the hands-on work with our kids, and while I had brief post-partum stints, I didn’t have the experience to know exactly how much work went into raising a 1 and 4-year-old largely by myself.
At first, things went great. I tried to entertain the kids with trips to the zoo and aquarium, and we worked on learning pre-school level skills like shapes, numbers, and letters. But too quickly, my husband began making comments on the lack of housework that his housewife appeared to be doing. Laundry piled up, and toys were always all over the room more often than not, and before I knew it, my husband grumbled at me one morning “This place is always disgusting.”
My heart sunk. It wasn’t like I was intentionally neglecting our home, and most basic things were being done daily. I still vacuumed, dusted, cleaned surfaces, kept our kids fed, entertained, and healthy. I got the shopping done, as well as tried to get the kids involved in small groups. But, laundry did dwindle down to twice a week, and dishes, although usually done once a day, still somehow piled up in the sink. His offhanded comment about my lack of housework skills, ate at me. I knew how much I was enjoying being at home with my kids, and I didn’t want that opportunity to be ruined because of housework, so I vowed to make some changes.
I woke up earlier, started breakfast for everyone right away, then cleaned the kitchen. I would immediately start doing laundry, vacuuming, and dusting every day. I prepared all three meals from scratch and dedicated a good chunk of my day to sorting closets, organising boxes in the garage, and trying to clean every inch of my house.
But the more I did this the more unhappy I became. I was supposed to be a stay at home mum and not a stay at the home maid. My husband began commenting about how early I had begun going to sleep, and how come the kids seemed so riled up. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was exhausted because I spent hours cleaning, and kids didn’t get to go out and play that day.
What ensued was one of the lowest points of our marriage. I quickly began to resent my husband. He got to leave home every day, interact with other adults, and come home to a place where everything had been done for him. Meanwhile, I was exhausted and feeling spread too thin. I began ignoring my husband simply because being around him was a constant reminder about my bitter feelings.
I became short-tempered with him, and my kids. I felt trapped in my home and I fell into depression. I consulted with a therapist shortly after, and she let me know that the root of my depression was the fact that I had lost all of my identity. I wasn’t going out with friends, I wasn’t engaging with my kids, and most importantly I wasn’t engaging with my husband. I had isolated myself in a place where I was working all day with no recognition.
I knew something had to change so I finally approached my husband about my feelings. I expected a heartfelt apology, followed by a sudden feeling that everything was going to get better. To my devastation, this is not what happened. My husband began to argue back that my staying home was a terrible mistake, because either I was miserable all of the time or the house was always a mess. He felt that he was putting all his effort into making a one income family successful, and I was doing nothing on my end to make things work.
I challenged my husband to do what I did for one day. The following day I left home and tasked him with having the house clean and all of the child rearing responsibilities completely, as well as having dinner warm on the table by the time I got home. If he was successful, we would agree that I was not meant to be a stay at home mum, and I would go back to the workforce.
When I walked through the door at 5:00 p.m. that day, the site that met my eyes was one of the most satisfying, vindicating, ones I could have ever hoped for. It looked like a bomb went off, and centred at the middle was a humble, more open minded man. There was crayon on the walls, piles of dirty dishes and laundry everywhere. And as he begged our one-year-old to eat something he looked at me and muttered: “I haven’t gotten to dinner yet.”
As you can imagine this was a major turning point in our marriage. Although we still struggle at times with equality of tasks, it has never again resorted to feeling like only one of us was supporting the weight of our family on one set of shoulders. The biggest influence in changing the trajectory of our marriage was an acknowledgement that we are a team, and realising that we both work very hard at what we do, despite having very different jobs.