From Working Mom to Stay-at-Home: 7 Ways to Keep Your Identity

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Afternoon reading. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.
Afternoon reading on a hammock chair, one of my favorite activities that make me feel like me again…even if I get little visitors sometimes. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

I was at a party the other day (adulting!) and a woman who had recently quit her job to become a stay-at-home mom admitted she felt like she had lost a big part of her identity.

I quit my job as a software engineer to become a stay-at-home mom one year and a half ago, and let me tell you, the struggle is real.

“A programmer by day, a writer by night, and a mom somewhere in between.” That used to be my tagline. But once it became obsolete, I didn’t know how to fix it. And it wasn’t just about my job being such a big part of my identity, but the whole idea of being a working mom. That was how I fit in the world.

I even found it hard to keep writing for GeekMom after became a stay-at-home mom…I wasn’t sure if I qualified as a geek now that I wasn’t a woman in the tech industry anymore. That was my thing. My flavor of nerd. And now I was flavorless!

So, if you are a stay-at-home mom (or dad) feeling a little lost, here some advice that helped me cope…

1. Remember we all used to be something before we became stay-at-home moms.

Image credit: Netflix
Image credit: Netflix

There’s a bit in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where they joke that babies can’t be named Linda because that’s a name for 40-year-old women in HR. As if Lindas just arrived into this world as full-formed 40-year-old women in HR.

Sometimes I feel like that’s how we view stay-at-home moms too. A man decides he’s ready to spawn and then POOF! The Mom appears. The Mom is a flat, single-faceted character who has no existence prior to or outside of being The Mom. She drives a minivan, worries about how to remove grass stains from her kids’ white soccer uniforms, and has a passive-aggressive desire to destroy other moms at bake sales.

So remember: You are not The Mom. You are not a trope. Neither are other stay-at-home moms. There are lawyers, doctors, and people from all backgrounds and walks of life who chose to become stay-at-home moms. We can befriend each other and talk about things other than kids, husbands, or mother-in-laws. Go on, confuse the heck out of Hollywood by being the complex human being that you are.

2. Have an answer ready for the question “what do you do?”

When you meet new people, this question will inevitably come up. What do you do? If you’ve always been on a steady career path, you might not realize how tricky this question can actually be. You could say “I’m a stay-at-home mom” and it would be true, but perhaps it doesn’t feel natural yet. Or maybe you’re afraid people will treat you like a trope, because that’s what society does to mothers. Consider this is your chance to show people that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t about being domestic—unless being domestic brings you joy, in which case go forth and shine, you beautiful domestic goddess!

However you choose to answer this question, it pays off to think about it ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard.

3. It may not be forever.

I left the workforce. I never in my sweet life thought this would happen. I thought I’d always be career-driven, but you know what, life threw us a curve ball with a daughter who requires more time and patience than your average child. So I did the unthinkable, and surprisingly it ain’t half-bad. The best part? It doesn’t have to be permanent.

Give it a year. Two years. Five years. Whatever. You may even never want to go back, who knows!

But regardless, think about taking some night/online classes or pursuing some personal projects to keep your skills up to date should you ever choose or need to return to the workforce. I remember interviewing a mom trying to break back into the tech industry after a 10-year break as a stay-at-home mom. From the second she walked in, I was personally rooting for her to be a good fit. I wanted to be able to help a sister out. Unfortunately, she hadn’t so much as written a single line of code or revised basic material or opened a programming-related book in ten years, not even in preparation for her interview. So sadly, she didn’t have the skills needed for the job we were trying to fill. The best part is that putting in a little work to upkeep or expand your skills might help you feel like your old self again.

4. Stay-at-home parents have value.

Peggy Carter "I know my value."
image via ABC/Marvel Entertainment

“I know my worth. I know I’m good at it, I don’t know anyone to tell me I have value.” That’s what one of my friends told me about being a stay-at-home mom. It made me smile as I recalled Peggy Carter saying something similar: “I don’t need a congressional honor. I don’t need Agent Thompson’s approval or the president’s. I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”

Find your inner secret agent. Find your inner warrior. Know you have value, even you’re not given a salary, commendations, raises, promotions, bonuses, or even—most days—any respect.

5. You can become a stay-at-home mom and still be a feminist.

Credit: xkcd, CC 2.5

I found it hard to assume household and childrearing responsibilities while my husband went to work without feeling like I’d regressed to the 1950s. I felt like I had let all of womankind down by becoming another statistics of middle-aged women leaving the worforce—the tech industry especially—to have a family.

But feminism is freedom of choice. If having a parent stay at home works best for your family, choose that. Choose unapologetically.

6. Embrace your hobbies.

Being a stay-at-home mom can be all consuming. But with some effort and discipline, you can carve out time to do stuff you like, too.

It’s healthy for you not to have to play pretend for the fifth hour in a row. And I’m a strong believer that it’s healthy for kids to see their parents have passions beyond parenting. You don’t have to be their personal entertainer 24/7. So set the kids free in the backyard, grab a lawn chair, and spend an hour painting, writing, studying, coding, doing some freelance work, or reading a book (while supervising them, of course). Some days the kids will require more intervention and you won’t get anything done, but most days you might be surprised to see how much you can accomplish—including saving your sanity.

7. Get out of the house alone every week.

via GIPHY, Family Guy  via Fox.

Let me guess…if you had a dollar for every time your child said “mommy,” you’d be rich, right? At the end of the day, even a shy introvert like me can appreciate talking to another adult—someone other than my husband, even. So I work on my various projects and hobbies once a week at a coffee shop with a writer friend to keep me company while our kids are in school. One of the GeekMoms wrote about joining a women’s comic book club. Whatever you choose, do something that’s not only just for you, but something that makes you feel like you’re part of a community outside the confines of your house.

This is how I stayed sane. And now I’m curious, do you have any tricks to keep you  you?