Finally Asking For Help - Yes, Even (Especially?) SAHMs Need It
Their jaws practically dropped to the floor. “You mean, you're telling me that you haven't been out of the house without your baby for this long by yourself... ever?!”
I had just admitted to a group of moms that this was the first time I had been on my own for this long since giving birth to my son. My baby was already over a year old, and I’d be gone for just over four hours. It was a realization I had just moments before admitting it out loud, and I hadn’t thought through how strange it really was. “Yeah, I guess so!”
I had not intentionally avoided being alone; in fact, I relished my alone time during naps. I usually showered and did some yoga or caught up on emails. I had slowly learned to leave chores for during my son’s wake time, as I discovered how to do laundry, cook, and clean while entertaining him. My husband was often traveling for work, and this meant my evenings were also filled with alone time after our little one went to bed.
Genuinely, I loved my time with our baby and have loved it for the last 13 months. I found him fascinating, joyful, and captivating. I treasured our time together, and I knew how special and rare it was for a mom to get so much time to focus on her little one. After becoming pregnant for the second time, I suddenly felt that our time together was even more precious; these might be the last few months that I ever get so much time with just him.
Even though I adored my special time with our son, I often became overwhelmed with house chores and my inability to get everything done that I wanted to. My growing belly made my back ache, and simple chores and bath time required rest afterwards. I often called my husband at work in the evenings, frustrated with myself and needing a word of encouragement or support.
There was no pressure on me to get “everything” done; yet, I still felt discouraged that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to. Looking back, I realize that it didn’t matter how much got done or didn’t – I just needed to also have time to do something for myself. I thought that by getting “everything” done, I would be able to finally do something for myself… but there is always more to do!
As our pregnancy continued, we found out we needed extra tests and appointments. We also decided that we would move back to the United States in the upcoming fall. I had a lot of conflicting feelings about the move, and a lot of anxiety about my growing baby.
As my anxiety grew, I joined a support group offered for free through Message, a group of English-speaking moms and volunteers I had joined upon arrival to Paris. During the session, the counselor asked me what I like to do to refuel. After thinking for a moment, I discussed my love of writing and wished that I could get away for a few hours a couple times a week to write.
The counselor encouraged me to talk to my husband about ways to incorporate this into our lives. I sent my husband a quick text to explain my idea, and he quickly agreed to care for Ryan and our home while I left for a few hours that upcoming Sunday.
I left the house for our favorite bakery – it was just a minute’s walk from our apartment and where we went daily to buy baguettes. I ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice and set up my laptop. It already felt luxurious to be caring only for myself – I loved being responsible for our baby, but it was an unexpectedly freeing feeling to be all alone.
That hour and a half freed up more mental space and reduced my stress more than I ever could have imagined. I came back more refreshed than after a long nap. It was an incredible feeling; my husband noticed that I seemed lighter and happier even throughout the week.
I joined the support group again the following weekend and explained how my mental load had reduced and my outlook on life had improved just after one short writing session. The counselor was ecstatic… and perplexed. She asked me, smiling, “Rachel, why did you wait until now to do this for yourself?” I pondered for a moment. “I guess I hadn't really considered it an option," I mused. “I always thought that I should be able to do what I need or want to do while my son naps. Or, I suppose, that my life was just different now and wouldn't allow me to do those things.”
My husband also worked incredibly hard at his job, and it felt selfish of me to ask for my own time when he was finally home and could rest. I realized only later that this time for myself would spill dividends into our relationship in positive ways – a happier mom certainly makes for a happier home.
The counselor congratulated me on making time for myself and asked if I planned to continue. There was a brunch for parents the following day; I told her I had originally planned to take my son so my husband could get some time to rest and be alone, but that I now planned to go by myself. This is where I achieved the shocked looks from other moms after I told friends and acquaintances about being away from my son for the first time in such a length of time. Their surprise at my confession helped me realize that maybe, just maybe it wasn't normal that I had gone so long without taking time for myself.
The brunch was lovely, and I came home again feeling refreshed and lighter. Simply riding the metro by myself felt like a strange, luxurious experience.
Later that week, I talked on the phone with another mom. We met to discuss a potential volunteer role for myself, though I had admitted that I wasn't sure how I would fit it in. The mom expressed the same shock I was starting to expect after I admitted that I was the full-time caregiver for our child, my husband was often traveling for work, and I was also six months pregnant.
“…Just so you know, what you’re doing is really, really hard,” she said.
She then described cultural differences she had observed in moms across different continents and countries. From Colombia herself, she explained that her mom friends back home always had help with their children, regardless of their status as a stay at home mom (SAHM) or working mom. They would often get babysitters, nannies or someone to watch their children for a few hours a day.
In contrast, American moms seemed to do nearly the opposite. They insisted on doing everything themselves; all the housework, cooking, cleaning, and childcare was all on them. Furthermore, these moms seemed to believe that they should be able to do it *all*. Most of them were overwhelmed or stressed. It sounded close to home!
She recommended a few babysitters and told me that my volunteer role could include a small stipend to help pay for babysitting. It was enough to help me believe that I could take on the role – I thought I would both enjoy it and be good at it, and it would offer a creative outlet.
That night I thought about what she had said about cultural differences. I thought about the amount of mental load and stress that had been lifted off my shoulders since just leaving the house once for a few hours for the last two weekends. I thought about the counselor asking me why I had waited so long, and I thought about the shocked look on the faces at brunch. I thought about a dear friend of mine who was offended during my visit to the US – she didn’t understand why I wasn’t more available, and I was hurt by her lack of empathy as I found my way through motherhood.
I decided to download a babysitter app, which another mom had recommended, and posted a job for two hours the following Tuesday. After sifting through applications, I found a woman who spoke many languages (including English, for me, and French, for my son). She lived literally across the street and had lots of availability. Most importantly, she seemed to understand my desire to find someone who would be attentive, kind, and trustworthy with our son, would speak French to him, and would do more than just watch him play in our living room.
She came over a few days beforehand to meet us. I was so excited, I couldn’t contain my chatter; my husband had to nudge me to get me to keep quiet long enough to hear about our new babysitter. She was a good fit, and our son seemed to like her – he began bringing her books to read him, and she asked good questions about his preferences and schedule. She was also willing to take him to playgrounds and classes – something that was getting more and more difficult for me to manage with my growing belly.
By the end of the day, I was already in a noticeably happy mood – I knew I had someone I could count on for help when I needed it. Though I had other friends who lived in Paris and would be willing to baby sit, many of them had their own children or full-time jobs and couldn’t drop everything in a pinch.
I was comforted that we would have someone who could help in an emergency (…like if labor began earlier than we anticipated) or if something last minute came up. We had also recently realized that our son couldn’t attend all of our prenatal appointments, and it was important that my husband and I could both attend those together.
I stayed home during the first hour of the babysitting session, completing computer work in another room. I heard our son chattering away at the babysitter, and her cooing back to him and reading him books in French. I left for 45 minutes to do an errand, and called my mom on the way. “Mom! I’ve never left our baby with anyone but a family member before! This is so weird.”
Once home, I booked her for two more days that week, 2-3 hours at a time. My husband and I even went on a date that Saturday (our third in a year) and reconnected.
I suddenly had so much energy, it was as if I was jolted with caffeine every hour of the day. I completed more writing than I had in a long time that week, and I accepted the volunteer position that I really wanted. I whistled while I prepped meals, and I laughed as my son chased the vacuum cleaner. I was more satisfied with my relationships and less grumbly about my problems. I felt a huge mental burden lift off my shoulders. What an incredible feeling. I couldn’t believe I had been missing this for so long.
The counselor was ecstatic for me during our next session. “Rachel, I have to say, I’m so proud of you! You’ve done so much just the few weeks we’ve talked!”. She was right – it had only been three weeks since starting therapy, and I had moved quickly from an overwhelmed woman who cried during the first session to being more relaxed and content. “I was always told I was coachable! …I guess I just needed someone to tell me what to do.”
I had to credit my husband for being so supportive, (emotionally, mentally, and financially) at encouraging me to get help. I wasn’t just grateful for the babysitter, but for the time I set aside to attend group therapy. And, he had always encouraged me to take care of myself – I just didn’t know how to do it.
Over the next few weeks, friends told me I seemed to have “a new lease on life”. I noticed that I was more grateful for my husband and less critical. I was able to give more attention to my friends and my family members. I learned that I could both prioritize my baby and myself – it just took a bit of planning.
I still have a lot to learn about motherhood, being a SAHM, and parenting side by side my partner as we learn how to raise a family together. In fact, I still have a lot to learn about taking care of myself. However, this eureka-moment was such a blessing to my wellbeing that I’m content with this lesson for now.
If you're a SAHM, or any mom, for that matter, I encourage you to learn from my experience. Take a moment to think about what refuels you. Then, think about what support you have (or what support you can create) to make that a part of your life.
I hope you find as much peace, happiness, and clarity as I have just by giving myself a few extra hours a week!