Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Saga of the Black SAHM {stay-at-home mom}

I’m writing today to reflect on a life of being a stay-at-home mom as I am excitedly in the final days of my marriage (pending divorce). Throughout the years of my marriage, I often felt as if my role as a stay-at-home mom wasn’t good enough. My efforts to be the best mother were challenged and hampered by my constant desire to have validation in my position as a stay-at-home mom. Being a child of an emotionally neglectful parent, I never had much validation of my abilities or acknowledgement of my strengths, so I was constantly comparing myself against a standard that seemed far above my own reach. In my childhood eyes, I was never good enough, so this opinion of my self-worth did not change when I became an adult, let alone a parent. Besides how can a person without self-esteem measure their own worth when there was no one there to provide authentication and acceptance of my existence? Who was I to them? Just property, or even worse an accidental pregnancy. In a freaky twist of fate, I came to derive my self-worth and value from my ability to physically work hard. If I wasn’t working 2 jobs, I wasn’t working. This was my crazy standard of how I was supposed to make a living. I’d find the most labor intensive job and then find an equally labor intensive companion job to suit. I’d literally work myself to the point of physical exertion. Although this increased my stamina, it wreaked havoc on my body and self-esteem. I had varicose veins and carpel tunnel in my early twenties; by my thirties, I had arthritis and IBS. But at least no one could say that I wasn’t a hard worker. Or at least this is what I thought until I became a stay-at-home mom.
My decision to be a stay-at-home parent was not necessarily one based on what I believed was in the best interest of my children. I jokingly say that I was a stay-at-home mom by default. You see I’d always been a very driven individual. I had my first job a 14 working in the clean-up crew for the local summer festival. When I turned 15, I got a job at a fast food restaurant. I was never interested in playing sports or doing any other recreational activity afterschool. I was very shy and often avoided group sports and activities. So, working afterschool seemed to be the perfect fit for me. In fact, I worked throughout my entire high school experience. My cousins jokingly called me “the Jamaican” because I had ‘tchree’ jobs. College life didn’t slow down my work ambitions. As a part-time student, I had 2 or more part time jobs. In addition, I worked seasonal jobs to help pay for school. I was both a perfectionist and a workaholic. Truth be told, I really didn’t know how to stop this behavior. It kept me stressed out, anxious, and sleep deprived. I maintained 2 jobs and took college classes for most of my twenties. I prided myself in being independent, having my own apartment, a car, a savings account, and a 401K. I strived to perform as an upstanding person based on the deceptive message that I had to work hard in order to make money or be successful. Don’t get me wrong, hard work does pay off, but there is a difference between working like a dog, tiring yourself out, being emotionally, mentally, and physically spent by your efforts to work for a living and having a career or a job you absolutely love and in your zeal may tend to place as a priority in life.
To put matters in perspective, here’s an example. Recently, I watched a TV show where a journalist was interviewing this strappingly handsome bachelor who happily guy worked on his family farm. I think his family owned 500 or 5,000 acres of land, raised corn and cattle. Now, working on a farm is filled with strenuous manual work and it is usually not as financially rewarding as say, for example, a white collar desk job, yet, this guy said he would never leave his family farm in spite of the other opportunities he had been offered based on the short time he’d spent on a popular reality show. The guy went on to exclaim that he loved his job and he enjoyed waking up every day to work on the farm. Wow. I was blown away to think that farm work, for this man, was much more rewarding than the fast and easy money he could make by monopolizing on his brief reality star status. I thought to myself, this man truly defines what it means to be successful in a career. I even imagined how happier he’d be when he finally found a compatible partner to share his farm life with. Sigh.
Back to my life as a worker drone. I have always been the type of person that could do a whole lot of stuff well, but I could never figure out what occupation I really wanted to do in life…what was my purpose? I guess I figured that I’d work multiple job simultaneously forever until something finally stuck. Insert frowny face here. I am a very creative and caring person; I knew that I would thrive working with people, so when I landed a ‘good’ office job in my mid-twenties, I discovered just how passionate I was about helping others. This passion lead to me doing a whole bunch of work for other people willingly to put their work off on me. And oh, I turned out to be a really great people pleaser.
After getting married in my late twenties, I took on job as a barista at the local Starbucks. In my history of keeping two jobs, I had worked part-time at a Starbucks once before, so I knew that it was a place I really enjoyed. And, to this day, if asked, I’d tell anyone that working at and for Starbucks was the happiest I’d ever been at a job and essentially one of the best jobs I’d ever had. I loved interacting with the regular customers and my coworkers. The morale was always positive, and the drinks were free! Plus, the music was just my type: inspiring, thought provoking, and sensual. These factors made every day at work pleasantly joyful, and it fostered an atmosphere and environment that I thrived in.  Often times, due to the fast paced nature of the retail food and beverage industry the work is labor intensive with minimal monetary rewards. But the work environment and corporate ethics of Starbucks was something that I felt connected too and motivated by, so I truly felt my best in that environment.
I worked at Starbucks until the birth of my oldest child, Max. This is when the default stay-at-home mom status came into play. I figured with my gross salary being only about $1200 a month, I’d be better off staying at home with my baby as opposed to putting him in daycare at a cost of $600 per month. Moreover, I planned to go back to school fulltime and be at home with my baby during the day. So, I effectively pursued and eventually achieved this goal. During my stay-at-home mom and student status, I bravely changed majors and even earned a second degree. Reflecting on those accomplishments makes me very proud that I was able to obtain my degrees and attend to the needs of two special needs children. Though stressful at times I accomplished being a fulltime at-home mother and fulltime student. This leads me to my question: what or how is “work” defined for me? What is my definition of personal value and being my best?
As a stay-at-home mom, I found that this position of a mother that stays at home with her children is not as easily accepted in the black community. I remember one of my black classmates [whom, I often helped with schoolwork] joking and laughing as she proclaimed, “black women don’t stay at home with their kids; they work!” It amused her so much to poke fun of my ambitions to stay-at-home with my children. As a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I’ve been subjected to the “eating “bon bon” reference more times than I’d care to remember. It seems that most people who haven’t experienced a parent working inside of the home have no clue what the SAHM does. Which is why we are always defending what we do. Why? Does the mom that goes to work in an office job from 9-5 have to defend what she does all day? Probably not. Does the nanny ever get accused of slacking on the job because she sits down on the couch every now and then? Better yet, does a professional dog walker have to come up with reasons why he only ‘just walks the dog’?
Being a SAHM was one of the hardest endeavors of my life. Not only did I have to defend, justify, and validate my position to my working female family members and hordes of people who just don’t get it, but I also had to be in this role with little support from my community. As I was frequently and mockingly told, “there are no black stay-at-home moms.”
For the record, I realize that some reading this article may not actually know what a SAHM does. I will share a link at the bottom for your reference, but to sum it up, this is what I did at home. Keep in mind, duties varies from mom to mom and the schedule changes as the children grow. 

During the weekdays, I’d wake up and get dressed between 7 or 8am, straighten the bathroom and bedroom, prepare breakfast, wake up the children, bathe, groom, and dress children, eat breakfast, go to planned children’s activities [mom and me, story time, toddler tumble or exercise, prepare lunch, clean kitchen and shared rooms. These activities would take me into around 1 or 2pm; then I’d plan and prepare dinner or run errands such as bill pay, scheduling appointments, going to the grocery store, putting grocery away, organizing closets/pantry/storage space, do shopping for gifts or personal items, dealing with pets’ needs, or do light yard work. After dinner was cooked, I’d prepare and feed the children a separate meal of their personal and particular taste [yes, they are extremely picky eaters], clean the kitchen (once again), and sit down for about 45 to watch a DVR’d show. This would be about 3 or 3:30. Around 4 or so, I’d pick up toys in the boys’ rooms and straighten up the living room. Sometimes I’d put on a load of laundry or sort the clothes to be washed the following day. My day would not necessarily end when my spouse came home at 5:30. Because my children were so attached to me, I’d spend most of my evening entertaining them. Mind you, they are both ADHD, so this would be very exhausting having to accommodate the limited interests of children with short attention spans. When my children where in school, my SAHM duties changed a little; I was able to focus more of my attention on my own school work while they or at least one of them was in school. Oh yeah, did I mention that I was a college student for 7 years of my SAHM mom tenure. My evening classes usually started a 6pm Mon., Wed., Fri., and I did most of my school work at night while my children slept. It was tough. I decided to do online schooling for my master’s degree. In hindsight, I wish I’d went to a brick and mortar school to get my masters because trying to do what seemed like a million papers and forum assignments for online classes with 2 demanding kids in close vicinity of my study space was very difficult. It requires a lot of self-discipline and good organizational skills. But, I got through it all by the grace of God and weekly Tuesday margarita nights with the other SAHMs [smile]. Also, keep in mind I was married to an ADHD Aspie that didn’t really provide much help with the household chores [something to do with his poor executive functioning skills] and never planned activities for the children, rarely shopped for or prepared meals, did not clean up the house or schedule its maintenance, nor initiate yard work without prompting from me. I felt that he believed all he had to do was contribute a “paycheck”; even though I worked part-time for the local university for 3 years and supplemented his income with my student refund check for years. To reiterate, I worked inside the home as a SAHM, was a full time college student, as well as worked part time outside of the home, and I still had to defend my SAHM status to the masses. Do you know the effect this has on the self-esteem and morale of an insecure SAHM? Well, for me it was not good. Toward the end of my stint as a SAHM [and, incidentally, my marriage] I began to think of myself as ‘unemployed’, a victim of unfair circumstances, a charity case, a disenfranchised worker, a loser. This leads me back to why I conclude that it is a tragedy the black SAHM is not validated for her role as a SAHM amongst her African American peers and community. SAHMs are workers!

In my desperate search for comradery, I came across an organization of African American stay-at-home moms. Finding this group of like-minded women was a life saver for me. We instantly connected and bonded over our shared history of being snubbed as the lazy housewife among our respective family members and community. Many of my black SAHM friends had husbands that supported them whole heartily; some of the moms where in a similar situation to mine where it was more financially beneficial to have the mother stay home with the children in lieu of paying for daycare. A few of the moms where in-between jobs or taking extended maternity leaves. These moms would often complain about the harsh criticism they faced from mothers that worked outside the homes. Like mine, their female family members were especially harsh urging the mothers to “just get a job.” Some of the spouses of the SAHMs were also unsupportive of the SAHM’s role, often questioning them, “what did you do all day?, or when are you going to get a ‘real’ job?”
The SAHMs group became my therapy. Moms would share their feelings: problems with their children or husbands, guilt over not contributing money to the household, or lament about how they’d overspend, or reveal their earnest feelings of being overwhelmed by it all; a few even disclosed how they avoided having sex with their husbands because they were too tired, lonely, emotionally disconnected, or just bored. No topic was forbidden. I was very open with my SAHM’s group about my challenges having a husband with Asperger’s as well as having children with special needs. On a side note, having children with mental health issues or cognitive disabilities is taboo in the black community. Besides having to deal with the lack of support from my community for my role as a SAHM, I had to deal with the lack of acceptance that my child had a bona fide disability. My relatives dismissed my youngest son, Marty’s, issues and proceeded to condemn me for my failure to discipline and “whoop” him. So, now in their minds not only did I not want to work, I had inconsistent parenting skill? Kick me some more while I’m down please.
Despite the overall shame I felt from being a SAHM, I looked forward to the weekly meetings with my SAHM friends and relished in our children’s frequent playdates. When our children became school aged, we moms still found a way to get together and share the frustrations, challenges, joys, and the little seemingly insignificant day-to-day successes of life as a SAHM. Us SAHMs validated each other’s contributions to the family home and wished each other well. We celebrated one another’s accomplishments and encouraged growth in our own personal development. All while being criticized, belittled, and misunderstood by those outside of our kind.
It took years for me to realize that throughout my years as a SAHM, I was actually working! Working really hard. My job consisted of rearing my children using meaningful time tested parenting skills, preparing them socially and emotionally to interact with their peers and the world, helping them solve problems, and modeling determination and goal setting. Managing a household was also one of my job responsibilities. And, like most tasks I set out to do, I did it to the best of my ability.
How do I now translate those skills of being a SAHM for over ten years to qualify me for a career or job in my respective field of study? As I re-enter the workforce after ten years, will my resume be interpreted by a potential employer as that of an individual that worked hard raising her kids and running the household or will others share the viewpoint of many in my community and see me as a lazy housewife that didn’t want to work?
For years I carried around the guilt of not financially providing for my children and the wavering regret of my decision to stay at home with them while they were small children. I treated the income my spouse earned as if it were a handout and somehow I should be ashamed to spend it [footnote – as a SAHM, the government makes you and your spouse file jointly instead of allowing the wife to be a dependent. So even the Feds see us SAHM as employed, lol]. The fear of others perceiving me as ‘lazy’ or not wanting to work caused me to be insecure in my role as a parent. The validation I craved as a child and now as a mother would not be given to me by my immediate family members. This was a hard truth, but once I accepted this fact, I was able to find authentication in my own love of self and appreciation for how unique God made me. My SAHM friends helped me see how important it was for me to put a “stamp of approval” on myself. Looking for other people to endorse my heartfelt intentions, beliefs, and decisions would eventually lead me toward a lifetime of disappointment. It was time for me to trust myself, love myself, and believe that I was a good parent and a worthy person. Freeing myself from emotional self-hate gave me the courage I needed to transition in life from the SAHM to a divorced working mother. In the future, whether I am able to work inside the family home or outside of the home, my self-value will never ever again be determined by my ability to prove to others that I am a hard worker. As I shed my insecurities and grow in self-esteem, I will not have my self-worth defined by anyone other than myself. Therefore, I take responsibility for happiness in my career and my role as a parent and future partner. My calling or my purpose in life is to be true to my authentic self and to be the best mother that I can be to the special children that God blessed me with.

No comments:

Post a Comment