Stay-At-Home-Mom: My 20-Something Self Might Not Love Who I’ve Become

I clearly remember the catty thoughts, the snide comments about Mrs. Maybank — all of which I ultimately agreed with at the cocksure age of 23. She was the wife of one of our managing directors at the investment bank where I worked, fresh out of college. She often dropped by with the kids — of toddler-ish age — to say hello or bring hubby lunch. They met in college. She was a Harvard grad and — GIANT GASP — a Stay At Home Mom.

Oh, the sheer horror of it: The outrage and indignance it sparked in me.

My fellow female co-workers and I would exchange knowing glances upon seeing her. We’d roll our eyes discretely and clamber onto our high horses and speak in hushed and lofty tones, channeling our “very worldly” perspective: “IMAGINE wasting your college degree and your LIFE like that…What is she thinking? How DULL her life must be…She must feel like such a FAILURE…”

My life is not exactly how I imagined it. (photo via Connie Cumming)

We planned to climb the corporate ladder and have career success

The smirks and the snark I remember clearly and the satisfaction of feeling so self-righteous. After all, we knew better than ever to find ourselves treading down that baby carriage road. We were the new generation of educated, independent women who would never become shackled by marriage, much less by kids. 

We would climb that corporate ladder to the pinnacle and, sure, we would likely get married and even have children, but none of that would encumber us, you see, because we were truly liberated and would find a way…or at least a nanny — I mean, come on.

Fast forward 20+ years, and here I am in my suburban home, typing away in my kitchen while I keep one eye on the oven (my teen’s favorite slow roast cannot be overdone, after all) and another eye on time so that I’m not late to school pick-ups. Oh and another eye on the damn dog who has been puking today from ingesting some type of human food debris that my morning vacuum failed to pick up. Possibly a drop of batter from the banana muffins I had been baking. Yes, in my apron. Yup, over sweatpants.

I am practically a scene from Leave It To Beaver some days, just with less polish and aplomb.

My 23-year-old self would have turned to stone and spontaneously combusted into a million shards had she had a peek into her future. She would have hurled herself into the present (she would have found a way), taken my 45 year old self by the face and screamed “This is NOT what I worked my [insert profanity] off in high school and college for! This is NOT what the women’s lib movement was for!! This is not what I envisioned for you — this is a disgrace to me and to modern womankind!!!”

Oof. She was a spitfire.

What have I become?

I often think about that younger version of me — was I more cynical or idealistic? Does she have a point — what have I become? If I had a daughter instead of only boys, would I feel more incentivized to be a working mom to prove a valuable lesson to her?

What I do know is that it wasn’t an overnight change of heart but rather a gradual shift in mindset, on what was right for me– not for anyone else. It wasn’t that I stared into my infant children’s angelic little eyes for the first time and just knew I was never going to be able to leave their sides. Nothing so romantic.

It took years of struggling within myself to finally come to terms with the idea that I simply did not have a passion outside the home anymore that was strong enough to justify us finding someone else to raise our kids. It was as pragmatic as that.

Moreover, I have been fortunate enough to have a spouse whose income has allowed me to stay at home with the kids. It has sometimes been a tight squeeze, and of course, we’d be better off financially if I worked, but we have managed, and for that, I am boundlessly grateful because I know it is a luxury of extreme proportions.

I have some regrets but overall I love being a stay at home mom

Do I ever question my decision? Never! Well… for the most part, never. I am, after all, a certifiable, card-carrying over-analyzer. Do I wish I had a flexible part-time side hustle that is both cerebrally evocative and personally fulfilling while simultaneously allowing me to drop everything at any point in the day and be with my kids because they need me or merely because I want to? Of course.

Nevertheless, given reality constraints that preclude such an arrangement, I love being a stay-at-home-mom. I am far from a perfect maternal figure, but I love knowing that I am being the best mom I can possibly be to my boys, that I’m able to give this job my one hundred percent.

I love that I have the time to pour over internet research on healthy foods and creative dinner ideas for the people I care about most. I love that I can volunteer at their schools freely and feel a part of their days without needing to be somewhere else.

I love that they love that I am around and there for them physically and emotionally, all the time. I love that I can give my husband a break by taking care of most home-related chores during the weeks so that our weekends are more relaxing. And that he is not only fully supportive but has told me he feels more secure knowing I am always available for our kids during the weekdays, so that he can focus on his work.

I am not the mom who can do it all

Beyond all that, I also know my inner self well enough to be quite aware that I am not like other moms I know and of whom I have always been in awe, who are able to keep their stress in check and manage it all. I am not that super-mom who would be able to juggle a job and family life without quite possibly losing my mind entirely and sacrificing relationships with those who matter most to me, or at the very least becoming a crankier, less patient, lesser mom and wife.

I have friends who are cut from this superhero cloth, but I am not. If I’m really honest with myself, however 1960’s it may come across, being a mother has evolved into my forte-a fact I would have been loath to admit 12 years ago but take some pride in today.

And yet… do I sometimes wish I were more than this, that I could, and have the drive to, do it all with grace? Sure. Nonetheless, I have over the years learned to embrace the reality of who I am and to be proud, be content, to stop overanalyzing, or at least keep it to a niggling minimum. Hence, as long as it continues to be financially sustainable, this is the path I have chosen and, for the most part, I do not look back-perhaps occasionally, wistfully, to the side…but never all the way back.

I love what I do now

I do love my job now. And I know that all too soon, I’ll be relieved of my duties as a SAHM, and it won’t be too late to get that certification, peruse that job site, and pursue work outside the home. That will be a bittersweet day, so until it comes, I know the right thing to do is to savor each moment that I have now.

I am highly conscious that I am writing from the point of view of a privileged, lucky mom who has the means to stay at home, who can afford such an option — my mother certainly did not, and I marvel every day at the mom she still managed to be. I can only write from my vantage point and hope it resonates with some. I am well aware that I have so much to be grateful for, and I pinch myself every day.

So for anyone who has ever questioned their decision to stay at home, for their family and friends who may or may not understand: It’s not always black or white. I know I have dissenters within my own personal circles, who believe I am wasting away my Ivy League degree.

My 23-year-old self would be the most vocal of them all. But such is the funny thing about life — you live, grow, learn more about yourself, and change accordingly – at times in the most surprising manners. Life is not a “one size fits all” shirt; neither is it a straight, predictable path, least of all when it comes to its most precious fruit; family and children.

More Great Reading:

Stay-At-Home Mom: This is the Reason I Have No Regrets

About Connie Cumming

Connie Cumming grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, before going to college at Columbia University in NYC, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1999. She went on to take on various roles in finance and later executive recruitment in New York, Singapore and Hong Kong, before returning to the US in 2011 with her beloved husband and 2 little boys. She currently resides in the suburbs of New Jersey with her family, including 2 not-so-little-anymore boys, and their crazy pooch.

Read more posts by Connie

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