Becoming a stay at home mom was never my plan. Husband and I briefly discussed it after our first child was born and just as quickly dismissed the idea. Staying at home was not for me. I grew up in a household where my grandmother and my mother worked full time their whole life and that was the norm. But life had other plans.
I worked hard to earn my degree and career and I wasn’t ready to give that up when we started a family. Parenting is the most amazing rollercoaster experience and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. But I also get a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment from being good at my job, checking off goals and collaborating on projects with people taller than 3 feet tall.
Becoming a stay at home mom
The plan, when we arrived in Silicon Valley, was that as soon as we’re settled and find a place to live and a daycare for Lulu I would start looking for work. Luckily my degree and experience meant that I could qualify for a work visa. Shortly after I updated my resume and started looking for daycare we found out that I was pregnant with our second child so my plans to go back to work were put on hold.
Becoming a stay at home mom was a lot of hard work. It’s overwhelming and trying at times. It’s also wonderful and amazing. Lulu and I got to explore a lot of the Bay Area together while Husband was at work. We met new friends and discovered new activities. I realized how much I enjoy doing kids’ arts and crafts projects. When Lulu was in daycare, I figured she’s getting it out of her system there and I didn’t want to deal with the mess at home. Once she was home with me, I realized what I had been missing. Now my instagram is full of the art we make together.
I also love that when my kids make obscure references, I know exactly where they picked it up from. Booboo will stand on a chair and yell “Horsey tick!” and Husband will look at me in confusion while I casually explain “she’s showing you trick riding on a horse like she sees in Spirit”.
Still in many ways being a full time homemaker (cringe) is not my cup of tea. I really enjoy my children and I wouldn’t give up my time with them for anything. But it can also feel like a thankless, never-ending job with nothing to show for your hard work at the end of the day. So much work goes into keeping the home staying roughly the same, and it’s really a losing battle. Often I feel like a tired mom cliche out of some sitcom.
I also don’t enjoy doing housework – who does? But I realized how much more housework I had to do when there were two (and then three) of us at home all day every day. When husband and I used to go to work and Lulu was in daycare, the house didn’t get a chance to get so messed up. If it was clean in the morning, it stayed clean when we got home. I also used to enjoy meal planning when I pretty much only had to worry about cooking and cleaning up dinner. But now I find myself trying to figure out up to 5 meals every single day – even if I’m not cooking, you have to put something on their plates. And since kids are messy eaters, I also have to clean up to 5 meals every single day. I feel like half my time as a mom is spent preparing and cleaning up meals. “Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” was a joke that Husband and I made often when we first came to California… but it really doesn’t feel like a joke at times.
Finding myself again
Everything feels challenging when you move far away. From the big things, like finding a place to live, to the little things like finding a new favourite grocery store. Like these 5 everyday surprising challenges.
One of the biggest challenges I faced when becoming an expat SAHM was the loneliness and identity crisis I was experiencing. It hit me hard. I felt like I was giving up and losing myself in the endless loop of meal prep, cleanup and playdates. I was also having a hard time forming lasting friendships. I was lonely and depressed and missed my support system back home. When you’re suddenly home alone with a toddler, you don’t really know where to go to meet people. And the people you do meet are still strangers. Loneliness is actually a common issue for new moms that contributes to PPD. I found myself facing a similar situation after the move, even though I wasn’t a new mom anymore. Those first few months were very difficult.
It took a while to start feeling like myself again. I knew that quitting my job and moving my life across the continent would be a sacrifice to my career and to my relationships. But I didn’t anticipate how much it would mess with my mind and my sense of self.
The Freedom to Work
There’s this prevalent idea that if a mom has a financial option to become a stay at home mom, that this is what she will choose. Like all moms who work outside the home are only doing it because their family can’t afford to be a single-income household. When we were planning our move to the US, so many people seemed genuinely happy for me that I wouldn’t go back to work – as if I’ve been waiting for this chance all along.
But what I noticed since moving to the US is the flip side. There are many moms that end up staying at home because they cannot afford to be a two-income family. Having both parents work outside the home is expensive, especially when you lack an extended family support system. Daycare alone costs as much as university tuition. You also spend more on car, gas, food. Not to mention that you have to condense all your housework into the weekend (or pay someone to do it for you). If one of the family’s income is going entirely towards paying for all the things that a stay-at-home-mom does, it is often not worth it for the mom to go back to work. Especially in a country that has practically no maternity leave. If the choice is stay at home and recover from birth and take care of your newborn and your home, or go back to work while still healing and breastfeeding and pay a stranger to take care of your 6-week-old newborn, with no additional income to show for it, is it any wonder many families choose the first option? That doesn’t necessarily mean that SAHM is these moms’ ideal career choice.
I know I might come across as ungrateful. There sure are many mothers out there who wish they could afford to quit their jobs and stay home and take care of their kids without going broke. I am sure there are fathers out there who wish they could afford to stay home and take care of their kids instead of shouldering the family’s financial burden. We are lucky that Husband works at a job he loves and makes enough money that I don’t have to rush to find work. I know people probably think I’m living the dream. I feel guilty every time I tell someone that I am not loving the SAHM life and I look forward to going back to work someday. But that is my truth and the importance of feminism and equality is that if my husband doesn’t have to feel guilty for preferring to go to work rather than become a stay at home dad, I shouldn’t feel guilty about it either.
As an expat, I also meet many moms and spouses who are not allowed to work because as the “trailing spouse” they do not qualify for a work visa. When you’re a working and independent professional, suddenly becoming a dependent who cannot even apply for a credit card can be a mind fuck all in itself.
Finding the Balance
So yes, becoming a stay at home mom was never my plan. But I’m glad that I did. It was definitely the right decision for us. In Canada I had a full year of maternity leave with Lulu and I was not willing to give that up with my second baby so when I found out I was pregnant I made the decision to put my job search on hold. That hold lasted longer than expected and in the blink of an eye, 3 years have gone by.
I am grateful for the time I had with my girls. I do struggle at times with wanting to make sure that I teach my daughters the right lessons about feminism and equality in a place that often makes it difficult for moms to get back into the workforce after becoming an expat SAHM.
Of course we are also lucky to live in a country where families can make these choices for themselves. But I am conscious of the messages that these circumstance send to my children about the roles they see for mothers. Like any mom, I want my kids to know that they can do anything!
We are still in Silicon Valley and now that Lulu is heading to kindergarten and Booboo is doing well in daycare, I am once more ramping up for starting my own new adventure as a working-outside-the-home-mom. Thank the universe I had the foresight to update my resume back then. I even have my first interview coming up! Wish me luck as we all embark on this new chapter!
Curious to read more about the adventures of Canadian expats in Silicon Valley? Check out this blog about The Real Tech Wives that I was interviewed for!