The Stay-at-Home Mothering Roller Coaster

by Marie Tan

Photo Credit : Marie Tan


Impending motherhood felt like a clear sign that it was time for a break from being focused on myself and my career. Like the right punctuation in the run-on sentence that is Life.


Furthermore, I had managed to squirrel away a substantial amount of savings pre-motherhood as most childfree people are able to. So the decision to become a full-time Stay-at-Home Mother (SAHM in popular language) really seemed like a no-brainer. At least, for the duration of my child’s early childhood, before he would start formal schooling.


But in the last two and a half years, there have been multiple occasions where I’ve wondered what the heck I was thinking when I made that decision. Was it the pregnancy hormones back then that gave me a false sense of confidence?


Oh! The number of times I have doubted my capacity to perform this SAHM role. It sounds so deceptively natural, and simple - Stay At Home Mother. But in reality, it is not so at all!


At least, not in my case.


photo credit : Marie Tan


I have felt envious of other moms who had jobs to return to when their maternity leave ended (this, even though I knew full well that I had friends who envied my decision to be a SAHM).


Even panicked whenever I dared to count the number of months I have been ‘inactive’ in terms of my previous career. And I’ve definitely felt like a fraud when I ‘jovially’ proclaim that “I’m on a self funded maternity leave, indefinitely!” when asked what I am doing with myself these days.


There was also that omnipresent feeling that I should be ‘enjoying’ this privilege way more than I was. Well-meaning people would comment: “Wah! You’re so lucky, you get to be with your child all the time and watch him grow up and not miss any of his milestones!


In my head, the knee-jerk response would be “Yes, and I’m also the housekeeper, household secretary, cook, milk factory, and have NO TIME TO MYSELF AT ALL! Not even to poop!”. Truth.

There were days, no, weeks, where I harboured so much resentment towards my child’s father, my supposed ‘co-parent’, as he headed off to work, only to come home at the end of the day, oblivious to the challenges I had faced throughout the day as our child’s main caregiver.


The pure exhaustion from being on ‘mother’ mode the whole day and the whole night – it leaves little space for any personal growth or recharging.


And then, that horrible feeling of guilt, like I was failing my child and myself, when I eventually sent my child to a childminder for five hours, three days a week, when he turned 15 months old.

Heaven knows, I needed that time and space to myself to breathe! Nonetheless, it felt like I was cheating. Like I no longer had the right to call myself a SAHM.


photo credit : Marie Tan


The irony of this situation was that the time I spent apart from my child ended up with me scrolling through photos and videos of him. I never did get the rest I thought I needed. And with those short periods of child-free time, it was never enough to accomplish all the household chores and administrative work that needed to be done AND rest.


Nonetheless, I found that I was a better mother and spouse from the time off that I got. And that, perhaps, is the most important thing.


But as always, Life will always have the last laugh. Just last month, my child’s childminder submitted her resignation – she was transitioning to a different career for personal reasons.


Now, with the prospect of our child starting school looming in the not-so-distant future; once again, it seems like a no-brainer to say OK, let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with being a full-time SAHM again.


Yet if I am to be brutally honest, after just ten days of becoming my child’s main and quasi-full time caregiver again (credit where it is due, his dad plays a role too!) I once again started questioning the wisdom of my decision-making. I even started researching for a new childminder! I started putting out feelers to return to work!


Then this past weekend, thanks to family support, I was able to take a whole day off to myself and go hiking in the mountains. There, I was completely free from being someone’s mother, or wife - all I had to do was concentrate on my breathing and focus on putting one foot in front of the other, to not to fall off narrow cliff paths.


That rare parenthesis in time helped me clear my mind and steel myself with new resolve. The realisation hit that this is my last ‘chance’ to truly exclusively savour and celebrate my child’s continuing growth. And he has grown so fast, in a blink of an eye from a newborn, to an infant, then toddler - and now an opinionated, running, jumping, dancing, verbal little person asking “Why, mama???” all the time.


I can truly say that he is one of my favourite people to hang out with. It sounds trite, but I really do see the world differently when I see it through his eyes. Leaves me humbled and struck with wonder whenever that happens.


So as it stands, it’s going to be my little guy and I for the foreseeable future. And we will make this work. I am never going to be a super mama of instagram fantasies, but I sure am going to be the best mama that I can be to my child; good days and bad days, and everything in between.

I remind myself that work will still be there, waiting for me, when I’m done with this gig. And that this unpaid job, being a full time parent, a stay at home mother, challenges and all - is indeed a gift especially when it is taken by choice.


Being a SAHM is definitely not for everyone – and it is by no means the holy grail of motherhood; it is just one of the many iterations of how one can be a woman and parent and partner, in this day and age.


Those of us who get to choose how we do motherhood (whatever that may be for you) are the lucky ones. I am extremely lucky to have gotten to make the decisions that I have.