The Truth Of What It Means To Be A Stay-at-Home Mom—If You Get Divorced
When I became pregnant, I had just lost my job managing a successful fitness studio that was being financially mismanaged. I was also an actor, and while I still had to have a day-job (as most of us do), I’d been doing pretty well in theatre and television most of my life.
I started my acting career when I was about 3 years old, when I became one of the regular kids on Sesame Street.
Being raised by actors in New York City, I had access to some pretty insane opportunities. By the time I was 12, I had the kind of career most actors would kill for.
When I was 23, I had my picture in almost every newspaper and magazine across the country because of a highly controversial TV movie I starred in (we had the second lesbian kiss in TV history. In 1994 that was a BFD, even for HBO).
All this to say, I had a career, and not an insubstantial one.
But pregnant, I wasn’t exactly taking Hollywood by storm.
At the same time, my husband’s work began to pick up. After years of struggle, our finances were starting to be in a really good place. So good, in fact, that we decided that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to try to find stable work while pregnant, and that we could actually have that idyllic life where I stayed home to raise our child(ren??) while my husband supported us financially.
I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. This was everything I could have dreamed of. I imagined baking cookies, creating fancy dinners, snuggling with my baby, as he cooed up at me, frolicking in his playpen while I did all things domestic and feminine. I fancied myself a real up-and-coming Martha Stewart. June Cleaver, even!
Here’s what happened instead:
- My baby had severe colic, one of the worst cases our doctors had ever seen. He screamed for 16 hours a day for 6 months straight; that’s not an exaggeration. A very sympathetic doctor at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles looked us deep in the eyes and said, “I’ve seen very good people go very bad in cases like yours. What is your support system like?” In other words, “Who’s going to stop your baby from ending up in a dumpster?” It was that bad.
- I suffered postpartum depression and had to go on medication when my son was 2 weeks old. (Thank God, because otherwise, I may not have been able to handle the aforementioned colic.)
- There were no cookies or fancy meals because I couldn’t take my son to the store without him screaming bloody murder. There was a lot of takeout, and even more tears.
- I suffered a loneliness and isolation only a new mom knows. There is a special kind of insanity that comes over you when you try desperately (and usually unsuccessfully) to meet up with friends and their babies only to have naps completely misalign, or your baby is screaming too much for you to even consider getting into a car and you spend another day solo, exhausted, not having spoken to an adult in days.
As I fought each day just to survive and keep my head above water, the rest of me was slowly drowning.
At first my husband would come home and we’d talk about how lucky we were. His work schedule was (is) erratic, but there was no pressure for us to coordinate childcare and work schedules. He once said when he came home from work, “It’s such a relief to know that you have all of this handled. I feel like we’re really sharing the load here. I go to work and fill our coffers, and I know our son is 100% cared for by you, and you don’t have to worry about work or where the money is coming from and can just focus solely on raising and nurturing our son.”
It seemed like the perfect partnership and balance. Except it wasn’t.
Because when we divorced three-and-a-half years later, I had nothing.
After our divorce, my husband kept going to work every day. He was as financially stable as he’d been when we were married. He had a group of friends from work who supported him, and helped him through. He had daily distractions, and a purpose. His biggest concern was that I wasn’t there to cook and do laundry for him anymore. 🙄
Besides the loss of family, besides not having a wife to come home to each day, dinner cooked, and laundry done, ultimately my husband’s life didn’t change a whole hell of a lot.
Every day I woke up in a panic about what the hell I was supposed to do with my life now. How does a 38-year-old mom with a 3½ year old even begin to rebuild her life from scratch? I knew I didn’t want to continue with my acting career, even though I’d spent the last five years recurring on Grey’s Anatomy. I couldn’t drag my 3½ year old around on auditions, driving what can amount to 3 hours round-trip in rush-hour traffic to callbacks that are always on the other side of town at the worst time of day. Plus, it wasn’t exactly reliable income. Actors book about 1 out of every 100 auditions; the risk/benefit/traffic analysis didn’t add up.
Every day I felt the exhilaration of the freedom from a miserable marriage, along with the crushing terror of being alone forever (don’t you know that newly single dads are “hot,” while newly single moms are “desperate” and “used up”?).
When I’d had my son, my own personal development had taken a back seat. I’d stopped going to the 12-step meetings that had once given me a lifeline of hope and recovery. Whatever growth I’d experienced prior to motherhood, whatever confidence and strength I’d begun to unearth through all that work, began to evaporate when I became a mom.
In divorce, I’d wake up every day and try to find my lost self, only to realize that whatever “self” I’d had and lost was now permanently erased, relegated to the annals of “BC” (Before Child), and that any “self” I hoped to gain was going to be a complete reinvention, rather than a reclamation.
Turns out that process takes a hell of a lot longer than the two years I’d been allotted for spousal support.
What no one tells you when you sign on for that “partnership agreement” (or “joint venture” as one of my friends calls it), is that you end up deeply subjugating yourself. As a stay-at-home-mom, you relinquish almost everything in service of raising your children, while your husband’s path remains fairly unaltered.
And that's backed up by research. According to a recent study, women’s standard of living in divorce decreases by 27%, while men’s actually increases by 10%.
It’s not just that you’re subjugating yourself financially to your breadwinner husband. Your friendships slip away. Your hobbies. Your body. Your hormones do a crazy dance for far longer than anyone likes to tell you; and all of this lasts far longer — and is far harder to put back together — than you ever think possible.
While being a stay-at-home-mom may look or feel like you’re in a partnership and a joint venture, it’s really anything but. There’s no tangible return that remotely offsets the sizable investment a mom makes.
But no one tells you this when you make the choice to get into it. It’s only when you’re trying to get out that you realize how hamstrung you truly are.