Achieving success and providing value have always driven me. I was a varsity athlete in high school and college, and it was imperative to me to be a valued team player in order to help us win. On a personal level, I aimed for a top university and a top job at a top company in the business world and judged myself on my ability to accomplish this.
I know it sounds pretty basic to want to work in corporate America, especially in this entrepreneurial world — but those were my goals, and achieving them was how I judged myself as “being successful.” I was hired at American Express before I graduated from Cornell University in 2009, during a difficult job market, and was making six figures by 26 years old. I was excited that I had succeeded at reaching my career goals and was on a successful career track.
My academic and career achievements essentially defined my self-value and my overall identity at the time, before I had my son. In my mind, my identity was that of a flourishing businesswoman who had reached her personal goals. At that time, I judged my value based on a career that had measurable outcomes and tangible results that I could identify.
So when I decided to leave the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom, I struggled to recalibrate my identity. I felt a void without having specific accomplishments to showcase the value of my hard work. I expected to relish no longer having to write yearly goals or summarize my value for end-of-year discussions with leadership. Instead, as a SAHM, the lack of monetary rewards and specific results stirred up an identity crisis in me.
To be clear, I do not regret leaving the workforce. I have loved spending endless time with my son, watching him develop over these years from a baby to a toddler, and I cannot wait to do it again soon with another baby. I love mom-hacks and researching crafts that we can do and seeing him get excited about new playgrounds.
That being said, I didn’t realize my identity had been so tied to my former career. These days, it’s hard to separate your value and identity from your career. LinkedIn is ubiquitous and often the top result in a google search of your name, and when meeting new people, the “what do you do?” question is almost unavoidable.
I often feel like my prior monetary contributions to my family, and the value I provided in the working world, were erased when I became a SAHM. It’s frustrating and upsetting to hear comments about how my house or lifestyle is due to my husband’s success, without any consideration or acknowledgment of the decade I spent working and saving money. This may not bother other women, but for someone who judged herself primarily by her academic and career accomplishments, the shift to SAHM-life has been a significant shock to my ego.
It’s really the outside recognition and quantifiable value that I miss. In the corporate world, my level of success was very well-defined. We had to create yearly goals which were reviewed during evaluations. I’d have to write up measurable performance evaluations twice a year, thus forcing me to articulate the value I provided against the goals I had written. I could also clearly see the results of my hard work — a project would launch and we measured the results; salary and bonuses were calibrated from this.
I do feel more treasured and fulfilled as a mom, and I feel that being a stay-at-home mom is tremendously valuable for my children and our family, but I miss knowing that I achieved a goal and being able to directly see the outcome, as well as the clear value of my contributions. Even in the rare instances where I know I accomplished something related to my son’s development, I don’t have a supervisor telling me “great job” or “great idea”, and I am certainly not getting a special bonus.
The SAHM title does not carry the same prestige my job title did, and since I judged myself based on my career success for so long, it’s hard to no longer have that. I want to wear my “SAHM” badge loud and proud, as many do, but I often feel like I’m being judged.
I assume people think I sit around and do nothing all day, or that playing with a baby or toddler endlessly must be a lucky treat, or that I’m not providing any real value to the world as they toil away at their jobs. When friends or family make tiny remarks here or there, it’s hard not to feel like they think my life must be so much easier without a 9-5 job and with “nothing to do.”
There has been a lot more media attention around the responsibilities of a stay-at-home mom in recent years, especially with the pandemic, but most people don’t consider that SAHMs get no vacation days or paid sick time, have to be on cleanup duty 24/7 (and believe me, there is a LOT to clean up with little ones), rarely get to sleep in, and are often the ones managing most household operations, such as keeping the home stocked with food while also managing meal planning and prep. For me, this is on top of being the primary caregiver for a toddler who needs constant attention and help — unfortunately in my case, without any local family around offering to help.
Being the Chief Household Officer is no simple task and a more apt title than SAHM. I find it can sometimes be more tiring than sitting at a computer all day, where most people take breaks whenever they desire to catch up on the news or sip coffee while reading the latest on SheKnows.
Although becoming a stay-at-home mom has been an adjustment in terms of how I judge myself and my identity, I am proud to wear the many hats that come with this title. I am grateful I have the opportunity to do it, even if the successes are not very measurable. While I didn’t foresee this “identity loss” of my career self when I took the plunge, I’ve loved redefining myself.
With baby #2 coming along in a couple of months, I’m excited to continue my SAHM journey and embrace this identity that I love. After all, hugs and “I love you, Mommy” are pretty nice rewards too.
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