Unwanted: The Cruelest Joke of Choosing to Stay Home

I’m not sure who was more excited about the Summer Reading Program Pajama Party at our local library, me or my three year old. (Ok, probably me.) After all, this was the stuff of working mom fantasies, spending quality time with your child in a fun, educational environment, watching them soak up knowledge and life experience for the first time, instead of hearing about it secondhand. I was pumped, I mean pumped! about going, and had built it up in her crazily-creative little mind as the best day ever!

She wore boots with her Jessie the Cowgirl jammies (that’s my girl), perfect for photo ops for momma’s blog (because I totally wanted to write a feel-good post about the merits of being present and accounted for at moments like this). She was a bit intimidated by all of the “big kids” (who weren’t actually taller, only older), and clung to my hand while we waited our turn for the activities. I was soaking up the moments, relishing in being there, actually there while she experienced this type of event for the first time.


She left a mark…on my heart.

As we were working on decorating her teeny pillow case, the kind volunteer lady leaned down and asked my daughter, “Would you like to draw your mommy on your pillow?” By now, Anna had come out of her shell a little, and confidently replied, “Sure.” In an effort to avoid a possible tantrum over picture placement (I’m learning her trigger points) I asked, “Where should mommy be?” My heart will never completely heal from what she said next.

In a calm, clear voice, she stared straight ahead and said, “Mommy should be at work. I want a babysitter.” Perhaps this doesn’t strike you as hurtful, but it was her tone, her tone! Methodical and straight forward, not whiney or attention-seeking.

At the exact moment I wanted to experience the most, and gave up so much to share…she didn’t even want me there. 

I was crushed. And embarrassed. I tried to hide the pain (and tears) by stammering, “Babysitters are way more fun, right?” I gave up a career, a job I loved, financial security, adult conversation, and sushi (I gave up sushi!), to stay home full time with my daughters and be present and accounted for during these precious moments.

Immediately, I began questioning myself. Did I make the right decision? Is this going to ruin her? Should I go back to work? Can I enroll her in part-time care? Can I get her back into her former sitter? (Who was amazing, by the way. I really can’t blame her for missing her Nelle.)

Thankful to see a familiar face in the crowd of parents, I confided in an at-home mom mentor from my church, and her reply did wonders for my insecurities. “Oh, she just misses her friends. It will get better.” It will? It will?! This is normal? Hallelujah! I still have my doubts, but unless this continues to be an issue, I’ll just stay the course.

After all, when my daughter screamed and kicked the glass door as I walked down the sidewalk away from the sitter’s each morning (I still remember the sound of my heels click-clacking away from her), did I change my mind then?  No. I just kept doing my job. And that’s what I’ll do now.

Is it better to be wanted, and not present, or to be present, and unwanted? I guess I’ll find out.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me


55 thoughts on “Unwanted: The Cruelest Joke of Choosing to Stay Home

  1. The grass is always greener and there’s always some guilt or questioning involved. I’ve been a wohm, wahm & laid off/SAHM and they all have their perks and pains. Transitions are tough at any age but especially as young as your daughter. She has no idea why you are at home with her now she just misses playing with her friends. give it time. :)

  2. You poor thing. She doesn’t realize what she was saying. For her, it was so matter-of-fact maybe? Like usually, you are at work. I’m sure she’s enjoying you! hang in there through the transition. It’s so worth it!

    • Thank you. I love what I’m doing so much right now, that I can’t imagine going back to “work” very soon. Now, if only I could make it pay the bills…. :-)

  3. Change can be hard for both sides. It may take some time, but she just needs to learn the “new normal” and get used to it. I totally get the ego bruise you suffered, though. One of my 2.5 year old’s favorite phrases is “See Mama Again”.

    • Oh yes, my poor husband is like chopped liver around here. He’s an awesome dad, but he gets his feelings trampled on daily. But he still loves it, just like you must. :-)

  4. I may not be there yet, but this story makes me worry for my own future self… that I won’t have tough enough skin to handle these types of scenarios and will wind up a blubbering mess. How do you do it? From this gal, for what it’s worth, I admire you, your honesty and your courage. Kudos.

    • Oh honey, you’ll be fine. And besides, parenthood makes GREAT blog fodder, so you’ll never run out of things to write about. (Checked out your blog, it’s great!)

  5. Oh wow, as a mother myself, my heart broke for you! I work full-time but have plenty of SAHM friends, too. There is guilt/insecurities/doubts with both scenarios, right? Thank you for sharing this story!

  6. I couldn’t stop laughing after the, “mommy should be at work,” comment. After 30 years in the Navy and spending considerable time away from my family, I’m finally retired and at home nearly everyday. My kids may rebel a little because my constant presence has changed some routines, but they certainly grateful that I’m home when it comes time for geometry homework. Your daughters will adapt, too.

  7. Awesome post!! Stay the course! I’ve been every form of WAHM, SAHM, WAOM, NWM (no one understands those last two but I get it) and kids adjust and are happy regardless. Make sure YOU are happy first. You can’t put your child’s oxygen mask on until yours is properly secured.

  8. Kids are masters at “the grass is always greener” – as a mom who works full-time, I have had, just this week, both girls tell me they “hate” my job, and one, after I traveled for work FOR THREE DAYS, say “You left. You aren’t part of the family anymore.” But when I’m home all day? They wish they were on playdates with friends. Motherhood is not for sissies

  9. I have been there. It’s really excrutiating. I remember leaving for work and Sadie clinging to the nanny in tears. Then I stopped working and she wanted to be with her friends. I just can’t base my decisions on my kids’ emotional realities in the moment. It has to come from within me. And it’s so hard.

  10. Oh no, that must have felt like a knife.
    I do completely agree with your friend who said that she misses her friends.
    I know it’s hard not to, but don’t take anything a toddler says personally! ;-)
    And yes, it really and truly does get better.

  11. Ouch. That hurts, but like everyone else has said, it’ll pass. She’s just not used to the new arrangement. Also, you can’t win, whatever decision you make as a mother. Every decision has positives and negatives. But that’s true for everything in life. There is no “winning.” We just have to try not to screw it up beyond repair. :-)

  12. My work schedule changed in such a way that we were able to take my daughter out of daycare this year. She, too, cried for her sitter and her friends. She did get used to it — so much so that now she’s swung the other way and when I leave her at home with daddy in the morning, she’s clinging to me at the door as I try to walk out. She’s always fine by the time I get to my office 10 minutes later. As soon as the new routine becomes normal, she’ll feel better. And invite some of her friends over for a playdate — she’ll love showing off her stuff to them!

    • Yes, she has some friends over from time to time, but I think she misses her provider, too. She’s going to go one day a week for the rest of the summer, which will help. How long has your daughter been at home?

  13. oh my, i got tears when reading what she said. :( like the familiar face told you, she was probably missing her friends, missing familiarity amidst a room full of unfamiliarity. still, it stings.

  14. Oh my. This is really wonderful. How you capture the push-pull of being a working mother here. Because that’s the deal, right? We are ALL working and working hard whether we are home or not. And these little people we are raising? They are just that – people. And they will get bigger and smarter and say things, and sometimes things we don’t want to hear.

    In my opinion? You handled this so well. You opened up to someone about it, you wrote about it, and you are asking the big and important – and, yes, impossible – questions.

    Truly wonderful, and relatable, stuff here.

  15. I think its probably more about losing her friend (the babysitter) then about “having” to spend time with you. She probably blames you a little too for taking her friend away.

    It will pass!

    • Yes, you’re right. In fact, since then we’ve decided to take her one day a week to her old daycare so she can play with old friends. We live seven miles from town, so this will be great for her as we don’t have kids in our neighborhood to play with. :-)

  16. Awww. The power of the little person’s words. They just have no idea how they can wound us. Like others have said, though, it is just that she probably wants what she doesn’t have. We all do really. Hugs.

  17. Oh Cat! I know exactly how you feel. I make an huge effort to be able to drop off & pick up my 8 year old daughter from school every day and at least a couple of times a month I would hear “Why do you have to pick me up every day? Why can’t I go on the latch-key bus like *insert classmates name here* does? It sounds like so much fun.” I did my best to answer with a smile & try not to be hurt; sometimes easier said than done.

    However, I know from the experience of having another child nearly 10 years older than she is that they do appreciate it – eventually. I was a single mom to my son for nearly 7 years and had no choice but to work 60-70 hours a week. I was lucky to have an employer who didn’t mind if I ate my lunch at my desk and used my “lunch hour” at 3 in the afternoon to go pick him up from school and bring him back to the office to his stash of quiet toys & art supplies that he would play with until I was finished for the day. He never really complained that I was picking him up & taking him to the office, thank goodness – I already had enough parental guilt at that point! He has however, multiple times over the years told me how grateful he is that I’ve always been there for him, even if sometimes it seemed like he wanted to be anywhere but close to me.

    As mothers, we’re theoretically their “safe place” where they can be happy, sad, angry, scared, confused, clueless or a combination of all the above and not feel judged or scared to just “be” whatever they are at the moment. The downside to that is in being that “safe place” we often double as an unintentional emotional punching bag. The upside, is we get to be there for everything (or as much as our schedules & crazy lives allow us to be). And in their moments of crazy emotions are a million opportunities for us to help teach them how to deal with whatever life throws their way and guide them into strong, functional, happy adults.

    No one ever said this mothering gig was easy (and if they did – they are a straight up liar!) but it is so very, very, very worth it! They will appreciate it all eventually… in the meantime, dig into that well of patience AND the drawer with the corkscrew… it’s all better with a glass, or two or three on some days, of wine!

    • Shannon, I can’t imagine what you must have juggled as a single parent working those kind of hours. And your comment was spot on. I’m blessed to have a friend like you!

  18. She’s too young to comprehend what you gave up and why. She is just being selfish, which is natural for a toddler. They are learning that they are a seperate person from Mom and sometimes that is hard for both child and Mommy. Just keep doing what you do because you do it great Cat. **Hugs**

  19. As you know, I recently made the transition in the other direction. My guilt is flowing in that direction now, too. But I’m especially glad you posted this when you did, because this morning I left a crying, screaming mess of an almost-3-year-old in her daddy’s arms in the driveway who just did not want me to leave. I was shifting from reverse to 1st gear in the street and I could still hear her wailing in the garage. I feel like a monster. Why does it seem like we can’t win? Is this just the mom’s lot?

    Although it looks like I just made this all about me, what I’m clumsily trying to say is that change is tough on everyone. And it’s tougher when you’re little. They don’t have a filter, they don’t know how to cushion the blow of “I miss some things about the way things were.” If she has memories of this trip to the library with you, it won’t be the same one you have, I promise. She’ll carry the sense of you being with her in ways she can’t articulate.

    • Erin- Thank you so much for your words, and my heart aches for you momma, as I know your transition is tough, too. We’re all doing the best we can. So glad we met that day!

  20. Oh Cat! Your babies want you there with them. Like your friend said, she probably misses her friends a little and this is a new routine for her as well. So it will take time. But don’t give up. Kids say the darndest things. Sometimes they even mean it at the time. But you have to know, in your heart, that being present for them now is something that they will appreciate and eventually, treasure.

    When Joseph had some testing at school about a year after I decided to stay home, the school nurse told me something that I will cling to on days in which my presence in Joe’s life seems unwanted. The nurse said, “I think that you should know that Joseph really appreciates you being home with him. He told me that you went fishing this summer and you recently taught them to ride their bikes and that when you worked, you couldn’t do those things and he loves having you home.” I was blown away. BLOWN. AWAY. Joe isn’t my kid who expresses feelings well. So while I was plugging away doing all the summer fun activities we had planned (and just hanging out with them), he really did love my being there! But he didn’t tell me himself. That’s kids.

    I’ve had the same exact hurt feelings that you are experiencing now. My kids have lamented not going out to eat all the time and not being able to automatically get everything they want. And I’ve thought, “BUT I SACRIFICED EVERYTHING FOR YOU!” I’ve struggled with not having a title behind my name and a list of exciting job adventures to share with other adults. I don’t lunch daily anymore! But each of my kids has now expressed to me personally how much it means to them that I’m here with them.

    Elizabeth fills my ears with her secret wishes and makes confessions to me, knowing that she’s safe with me. Joseph remembers all the summers we didn’t get to spend together and relishes every fun moment. They both say now that my being home for them is the best thing ever. They like to help cook meals. They realize the difference between “need” and “want” and the store and have saved up their own money to get some of those big “wants”. They are growing and maturing into awesome people and I get to be here to see it and participate in it.

    So don’t give up, friend. It will be better.

    • Andrea! We truly are kindred spirits and I’m so glad we’ve bonded over this shared life decision. It’s encouraging to see “down the road” and hear from another mom whose children are better able to appreciate the gravity of the sacrifice you’ve made.

  21. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for my son’s entire life, and he sometimes says, “I want Daddy to stay home and Mommy to go to work.” Heartbreaking! But then I turn it around and realize that sometimes I would like a little change of pace, too, so I can’t really blame him. And I’ve learned that 3-year-olds often just blurt out whatever they’re thinking. She might just have been missing her sitter and her friends at that moment. Stay strong, mama!

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