I’m the youngest daughter of three to a stay-at-home-mom. Youngest is a relative term, as my eldest sister is only 30 months older than I am. Now, as the mother of two daughters aged 17 months apart, I cannot imagine how my mother managed. I often find myself thinking, “This is so hard with a 3-year-old and a two-year-old. And my mother would have also had a one-year-old. And she would have been 28 right now, not 38. At 28 I still struggled to care for my cats.”
But, my mother did manage. She managed to raise us, to keep the home, to homemake all our Halloween costumes, to create Christmas magic unparalleled, and even to care for our rotating menagerie of cats, dogs – who had puppies – lizards, and even – seriously – a duck.
Before I became a mother, I had expectations that most of the care would fall on me. I set up my life as such, planning a career I believed I could manage in combination with motherhood. I spent my twenties keeping house, working part-time, and supporting my husband’s career, knowing it would support me in return. By the time I got pregnant, I was running a boutique yoga studio where I envisioned my daughter would simply tag along for my work days.
I had totally figured out how I would fit kids into my life. Then I had kids.
Many people asked me if I knew I wanted to be a “stay at home mom.” I did. I also had absolutely no idea what I was signing up for. I thought being a stay at home mom may mean trips to the park and afternoon picnics. I thought it may mean wiping boogers and prepping lunches. I didn’t know it would mean absolutely no time or space to be an independent human being. I didn’t know it would mean no sleep, no showers, and – as a special fuck you – no contact with other adults at all for all of 2020.
I’d been a nanny before. I’d washed clothes and sorted them into drawers. I didn’t know someone was behind the scenes, researching sustainable brands, purchasing clothing on a ceaseless schedule, sorting it by child and season, donating away old clothes or boxing them up for the attic. I didn’t know someone was keeping track of just how many pairs of socks were left intact and which ones fit into which shoes. I didn’t know someone was also making sure there was enough (eco-friendly, allergen-absent) laundry detergent available. I didn’t know there was an invisible woman gathering up all the detritus of the week: a jacket left in the garden, socks discarded by the breakfast table, extra undies in the wagon, sweatshirts in the backseats of the cars.
I saw all the work of the visible moms in my life before I became a mom. I didn’t know there was an invisible mom behind that mom until I became her.
And that mom is tired. And she needs help.
At first, I thought the best solution was to throw up my arms and give it a good, toddler-size tantrum every once in awhile. “Why is this so fucking hard?!? Why is no one helping me?!?” Admittedly, I may have given it a good, toddler-size tantrum this very morning.
But people cannot help an invisible mom with invisible work. I have to make it visible. I have to say, “This is what I’m working so hard on, and this is where I need help.”
The second part is actually getting the help. What I have found is that there is no shortage of ways my partner, in-laws, parents, teachers, nannies, and even my children themselves are willing to help once I say I need it.
When I shared this with my husband, he told me about his own invisibility cloak. He knew he’d be our family’s main provider. He didn’t know he’d need 657 pages of documentation for a mortgage, he’d be responsible for FSAs and HSAs, 529s, IRAs and 401ks, life insurance and credit cards and home equity lines and car loans. He didn’t know just what was lurking under the surface. So, I resolved to listen and learn. And he’s doing the same for me. We are sharing our burdens.
What part of your burden is invisible? Who can you share it with? When you share, you never know what creative solutions may come your way.