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Wish We'd Known: 21 Things No One Told Us About Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

From the (giant) learning curve to the never-ending work day to the surprising spouse envy, here’s what we wish we’d known about being a stay-at-home mom

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Story Highlights
There’s a lot more to staying at home with the kids than taking them to the park, some of which isn’t so fun
You’ll feel a little lonely, a little guilty -- and a little defensive when you tell people what you do
There are great things about it too: you’ll spend less money, create your own schedule and never miss a milestone

Whether you choose to be home with your kids 100-percent or are thrust into it by accident, one thing's for sure: You have no idea what you're getting into. Here, 20 things we wish someone (anyone!) had told us before we made being a mom our full-time job.

There's a Giant Learning Curve

It doesn't matter how old your kids are when you decide to take the plunge, but there's a rather sizable learning curve to get over once you become a full-fledged stay-at-homer. (Had a flexible schedule prior? You're not immune to the curve. Don't be fooled.) It's almost as if someone wakes you up, spins you in a circle and yells GO at you every morning. It takes a while (months, even) to get your head around your new situation and to hammer out some sort of routine. You might be shocked by how much you miss the structure and relative ease of knowing what you have to do all day at the office. At work, the machinery was in place to get things done. At home, you are the machinery -- and the machinery breaks down a lot.
 

Your Workday Never Ends

As soon as your eyes open in the morning (or the middle of the night), you are at work. Boom. Your workday has begun, pre-shower, pre-pee, pre-everything. Granted, working moms wake up to the same exact thing. The difference? Moms who work out of the home get to experience that much-needed transition time from hectic-crazy-wake-up to civilized-start-of-the-day. There's the commute, that stop for coffee, the chat with the office mate -- all of it allows Mama to exhale and start fresh. Stay-at-homers, well, that transition is gone -- and you'll miss it.

You Might Be Lonely at First

The life of a stay-at-homer can be isolating -- especially when you have a new baby. So sign up for a mom's group and mix and mingle with the parents at the coffee shop, the park and tumbling class. You’ll need to leap out of your comfort zone, introduce yourself to strangers and hand out your number. It's like being single without the dinner-and-movie thing. But even one mom friend can be life-changing, so start small and the rest will fall into place.

Kids Can Be Boring

Lets face it, the activities that enthrall little kids (parking Hot Wheels for hours) may be less exciting to a full-grown person. And their super-short attention span means that there are dozens of 10-minute activities to be thought up (and cleaned up) over the course of a day. It's annoying -- and often times -- a big-time snooze-fest.

Your Horizons Will Expand

So you think you've met a lot of smart and interesting people at your 9-to-5 job, right? The thing is, you meet and befriend a lot of folks who are very much like you. Teachers have a lot of teacher friends. Lawyers have a lot of lawyer friends. That's just the way it often shakes out. But once your gig is at home, you suddenly have a lot in common with a very diverse group of people that you would have never met if you weren't trading potty training stories at the playground. Your life: Enriched and expanded.

You'll Be Defensive

Whether anyone at the cocktail party/condo meeting/playground is actually judging you is irrelevant. The moment someone utters the inevitable question, "And what do you do?," you'll likely swallow hard and say "Well, I'm an accountant/a nurse/a dancer/a sales rep/whatever, BUT right now I'm home with the kids...." You'll have this need to add a big ol BUT to your SAHMdom, and you really wish you didn't.

You'll Spend Less Money

We shell out a ton of cash to go to work: There's the gas or bus or train fare; there's the wardrobe; the coffee you grab in the morning and the lunch you run out to pick up; the takeout you order at night because you are too dang tired to cook -- and there's the childcare. Oh, the childcare! Once you start really crunching numbers, you might just be pleasantly surprised how much money you're saving by taking on the hardest job ever. (And, if we lived in an ideal world, take comfort knowing that as a SAHM you'd be making $112,962, according to Salary.com.)

You'll Miss A More Civilized Version of Yourself

It's a good bet that you never once screamed at one of your co-workers to pick up their mess. You likely never once had to pull one colleague off another and send him to a time out. And it's a sure-bet you were never called into a stall to wipe your cube-mates butt. Now, however, your house is your office and tiny, messy, slightly nutty people are your "co-workers." You will get frustrated daily. And you will lose your cool more than you'd like to admit. And in the middle of one of your "PICK UP YOUR POLLY POCKETS!" rants you'll have a flashback to your working life and think, "How is this my day?"

There Are No Sick Days

When you're a working mom, you can call in sick if you're sick. And you can go home, lay down and try to feel better until you are on mommy duty again. After all, your kids are otherwise occupied during your workday. SAHMs? Not so much. Sure you might be able to land that last-minute sitter or convince your spouse to take one for the team, but more often than not, you’ll just power through.

You'll Feel Guilty No Matter What

You felt guilty going to work, didn't you? Guess what? You'll feel guilty staying home, too. "I'm not contributing financially!" "I should be showing my kids that women can have successful careers outside the home!" "I'm home with my kids -- I should be enjoying this more!" The lesson: You can't win, so embrace the decision you've made and try your very best to remember no one is perfect.

You'll Never Be Alone

Okay, okay, there is that napping window if you've got a sleeper, but other than that, your privacy is gone. Vanished! Showering, peeing, talking on the phone--nothing is just yours when you are a stay-at-homer. Makes you long for those days when you could run out of your office in the afternoon just to take a stroll or grab a coffee. Or, heck, when you could lock the stall door. Now, you'll find yourself diving at the chance to do anything (grocery shopping, Laundromat, mechanic) by yourself once your significant other is home.

You'll Be Blown Away Daily

Being with small people day in and day out is boring and exhausting -- and truly inspiring and heart-warming. You get a front row seat to your kids reaching cognitive and physical milestones. You get to witness every baby step on the way to something huge. There are not very many of those seats available. You're truly lucky to have scored one.

You'll Envy Your Spouse

Look at him. He's all freshly shaved and suited up and heading out for a day of money-earning, adult-conversing and solo-peeing. Oh, oh, oh -- and then there's the call at 5pm. Some of us are grabbing a quick drink after work. I'll be a bit late. Not too late! Promise. Damn you! Most days you don't miss the 9-to-5. But most aren't all. You can still be happy to stay at home and be jealous at the same time. It's allowed. It's complicated, but totally allowed.

It'll Be a Different Kind of Rewarding

Here's a heads up: At the end of each day, you will likely not be overcome with the warm and fuzzies and think "my kids are beautiful and I love them so much." Instead, you'll probably find a deep satisfaction thinking, "I can't believe I just fed, changed, napped, transported, played with, put up with [insert number] crazy kids all day. We all survived and even managed to go on an outing!" Your days will be rewarding in their challenge.

People Assume You Do Nothing All Day

"So, what do you do all day?" People will seriously ask you this. Even well-intentioned nice people. (Heck, you may even wonder this when you note that nothing actually got crossed off your to-do list -- again.) You could possibly rattle off each and every task, adventure and event of your daily existence to this inquisitor in question. But do you really want to waste an hour of your time doing that? Not really. Instead, try "I'm raising my children." Period.

You'll Get Out the Door Faster

Remember all that time spent in the bathroom brushing and blow-drying? And then the face! The moisturizer, foundation, powder and blush, all the eye stuff and lipstick? That took a lot of time. Once heading-to-the-office is out of the equation, you'd be surprised how quickly that routine gets knocked down to brush hair and cover up eye circles (lipstick if you're feeling fancy). And, shockingly, it's not depressing. It's freeing. Because you still look pretty good and you got out of the house in 10-minutes flat.

You're Allowed to Ask For Help

It's okay for working moms to hire a babysitter and it's not a crime to get a cleaning person once in a while, if you can afford it. Stay-at-home moms, well, there's that guilt and judgment again. But guess what: You are a SAHM not a miracle worker or a martyr. If you need a sitter, hire one. If you can't manage to keep the castle clean (ha!), get help.

Your Significant Other May Do Less

Maybe, just maybe, yours won't, but don't hold your breath. It's not intentional. It's this sort of slow creep of doing less. You see, the two of you used to scramble together each and every morning. You were a team who needed to put your game faces on for work and get the little ones changed, fed and ready for the sitter/daycare/school/whatever -- together. It was go-go-go. But once mama is not running to work anymore, everything slows down on the spouse side of things. You may find that your significant other (who you love!) may be enjoying that second cup of coffee now and (gasp!) reading the paper, while you're still running trying to get food in mouths, clothes on butts and small people moving. And, of course, now that you work at home, you shoulder the vast majority of the in-home duties (cooking, cleaning, laundry) you once kinda, sorta shared.

You'll Need Something Else

It's easy to get swallowed by your role as mom when you're a stay-at-homer. Your focus narrows. Your job and your real life have melded into one, making it increasingly difficult to find yourself in there. All this means is that you need to fight a little harder to be more than Mom. Remember those things called "hobbies?" Reignite them! You may only have ten minutes a day to indulge, but it's important to remember that you have an identity outside of your children.

You'll Need To Dial Back Your Expectations

Big-deal outings, intricate art projects, enriching activities galore -- oh, the fantasies you had about what you and your kids would be doing once you were home! You'll quickly (if you're lucky) realize that you and your children don't need exceptional experiences every day. You'll learn that your best days are often simple days with less stress. The park? Again? Sounds wonderful.

Your Work Perks Are Pretty Awesome

Between the tedium, the tantrums and the toilet training there's a lot of fun. Fun you can't really have at the office. Oh, your kids want to go to the beach? On a Tuesday afternoon? Okay! You want to have picnic lunch in the park? Cool. You wanna have a playdate with someone who has a pretty amazing mom I can chat with for an hour? If you insist. Snuggle with a book? Again? Yes! One of the best perks: Every day is a fresh start. At the office, if you messed up a presentation, well, you'd be hearing about it (and feeling it) for quite a while. But lucky for you, you are surrounded by small people who forgive your daily f-ups. Grudges? Not here.

Mom of two Holly Pevzner is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter and Google +.

5 Other Viewpoints

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Read what other people have said about this topic – we’ve gathered the smartest perspectives from the web in one spot.

Stay home with my kids is the best decision I ever made.

Michele Zip was an urban working mom of twins with a nanny. Then she quit her job. "It's been a year now and I feel exactly how a few moms told me I'd feel," she writes. It's a full-time job with overtime, but it's the most important job in the world, and all the "firsts" you get to see, all the boo-boos you  kiss, and all those snuggles make it worth it. “You may regret working and being away from your kids, but you'll never regret staying home with your kids. So true. I don't regret it."

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I regret being a stay-at-home mom.

Writer and mom of three Lisa Endlich Heffernan stayed home with her kids because she wanted to be with them. But now that they're nearly grown, she has misgivings about her decision. Although being a SAHM was a luxury, "staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse,” she writes. Among her reasons: Her kids don't think she did anything; she found herself in a more traditional marriage and she lowered her sights and lost her confidence.

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Be a mom or have a career? You don’t need to choose.

Women do not need to choose between being a parent and having a career, argues Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her book – and movement – Lean In. Women need to bring their “whole selves” to the job: Working hard is important and so is finding a way to leave the office in time for dinner with your kids. 

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