Before I became a mother, I had a very fuzzy picture in my head of what a stay-at-home mom looked like. My own mother worked when I was growing up, so I’d never really encountered the stay-at-home mom types; most of my friends’ moms worked full time too, and those that didn’t always seemed busy, so I was pretty sure they didn’t actually stay home. To me, they were like snow leopards or the Aurora Borealis: I knew they existed, but without actual proof of what they looked like in real life, I was forced to fabricate a crudely rendered picture in my own head.
I babysat a lot throughout my early 20s, and one family in particular helped construct my frame of reference for who, exactly, these unfamiliar stay-at-home mom creatures were. This family lived in a modern, sprawling Cape inside a gated community, with a manicured lawn, two kids appropriately spaced three years apart, and a golden retriever (I know . . . a little too cliché, right?). The husband worked for a large international corporation and went on frequent business trips; the wife stayed home while the youngest attended the daycare center where I worked. More often than not, she accompanied her husband on his corporate jetsetting, which was how I came to be involved.
I’d watch the kids while they scooted off to Santa Fe or Martha’s Vineyard for several days, the wife modeling cocktail dress and strappy heel combinations for me as she packed her suitcase. On the granite countertop, she’d leave meticulous instructions penned neatly on monogrammed stationery, detailing the types of organic snacks the kids should have packed in their lunch boxes, how to disarm the security system, directions for navigating their larger-than-life SUV from the two-car garage, through their sleepy cul-de-sac, to the elementary school down the street.
She always invited my husband to stay at the house with me when they were gone for whole weekends (even with her permission, I still felt like the teenage babysitter sneaking her boyfriend in through the back door), and we’d sleep on their 400 thread count sheets and use their expensive toiletries with designer names that certainly didn’t hail from from the drugstore shelves where I purchased my $7 bottles of Neutrogena face wash.
“If you need anything at all, just call Jane from next door,” she’d tell me. Jane had two kids of her own and stayed home too; in fact, I quickly learned that most of the neighborhood moms did. One was a personal trainer on the side, her basement transformed into a haven of yoga mats and pink rubber-capped dumbbells. Another mom sold Mary Kay. A third peddled Silpada jewelry, though, from the looks of her mini-mansion, she didn’t need to sell anything at all.
So, when I inevitably forgot an organically-stocked lunchbox on the counter, got poop on the carpet after I neglected to put a changing pad down on the floor and locked all three of us out of the house, necessitating a call to Jane (“she has a spare key, don’t worry!”) I was sure I’d never be cut out for the stay at home mom life. I simply didn’t fit.
I was only a few years away from having kids of my own, but that world seemed impossibly unreachable, entirely too put-together for someone who could barely get a meal on the table for two people before 8 PM, never mind an entire family seven days a week. I’d never fit into their Zen, yoga pants-wearing tribe; I was much more likely to be the harried mom plunking three screaming kids down at daycare while dashing for the nearest exit.
And then, years later, I became a stay at home mom. And when I did, I discovered an unfathomable truth. That picture I had in my head? It wasn’t even close to accurate. Sure, there are probably neighborhoods full of stay at home moms who buy expensive designer face cream, use personal trainers, and sleep on high thread count sheets, but I don’t know any of those moms.
The moms I know have messy kitchens and six loads of dirty laundry waiting on their bedroom floors. They feed their kids pre-packaged snacks they can throw into the backseat of a moving car that they hope will keep running until the next paycheck hits the bank account. The moms I know haven’t had an excuse to wear a cocktail dress since 1998 and a weekend getaway is a family trip to Costco. They lock themselves out of the house and forget lunch boxes on the counter and get poop on the carpet; their lives are messy and complicated and chaotic. Just like my life. And probably like that other mom’s life whose world seemed so perfect in the picture I fabricated in my head.
Every mother’s life looks different, but I’d probably be hard-pressed now to find one that looks perfect, even in those gated community mini-mansions with the golden retrievers frolicking around the landscaped yard. If you look hard enough, even the seemingly flawless pictures have their imperfections: it’s the best way to distinguish the cheap forgery from the genuine article.
Guest post written by Melissa Mowry. Melissa Mowry is a stay at home mom to 1 year old Chase with baby boy #2 currently cooking. She is the main voice behind One Mother to Another, which she started in July 2014 as a way to connect with other moms who felt just as lonely as she did some days. She is married to her high school sweetheart, Adam, and they live in their home state of Rhode Island. Melissa's work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, BonBon Break, Mamapedia and Mom Babble, among others.
Photo By Ashley Glass.