How to Handle the Stress of Being a Stay-at-Home Parent
I got drunk once in high school, made an idiot of myself, and haven't touched alcohol sine. But I'm sick of all the questions and eye rolling at parties whenever I politely ask for sparkling water. What do I say next time?
Dear teetotaling Tanya,
Either say, "The last time I had a couple of beers, I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." Or simply smile enigmatically and say nothing. If people question your decision not to drink, it may be because they're uncomfortable with their own drinking, or they may be worried that you're the one judging them, or perhaps they're just desperately afraid of running low on seltzer.
When my stepson was little, he used to wave to people on the street. Most waved back, but when they didn't, he'd just shrug his little shoulders and say, "Well, if they don't wanna be nice, that's their ploblem!" The kid had a point. If they mock your club soda, that's their ploblem.
Q. Dear Lisa,
My parents broke up when I was 10, and my mom is happily remarried. For nearly a year, my 53-year-old dad has been dating Stacey, who's 26—less than two years older than I am. Now he wants the three of us to have lunch. Bleccchhh!
— Carla, Rhode Island
Carla, my friend,
I'll take "bleccchhh" to mean something along the lines of "I'd rather scrape out my own bone marrow with a grapefruit spoon." As I see it, you can say, "Dad, I want you to be happy, but surely you can understand that my father dating someone I could've been on the cheerleading squad with makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I'm dealing with it, but I need a little more time." Or you can say, "If it's genuinely important to you, we can meet, but if she tries to buy me an American Girl doll or wants me to call her Aunt Stacey, I will bitch-slap this chick back to seventh grade." Or, icky as it seems, you can keep an open mind and be your delightful self for the duration of a lunch. If the relationship turns out to be Rupert Murdoch–Jerry Hall serious, you don't want to alienate either of them. If it burns itself out, you don't want to be part of the reason. Take the high road, Carla.
Q. Dear Lisa,
I'm a stay-at-home mom with an 11-month-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. I love them dearly, but being with them around the clock is extremely stressful. My husband says that without my old salary, we can't afford a babysitter. He tells me he'd kill to be home with the kids, which makes me feel even guiltier. Help!
— Mia, New York
Mama Mia (you thought I could let that go?),
First, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, your husband is an idiot. Show me somebody who relishes being home with a baby and a toddler all day, every day, for years, and I'll show you somebody who's never been home with a baby and a toddler all day, every day, for years. Let me assure you that you're working as hard as your beloved, but you're doing it without the lunch hour. Kids are tedious and sticky. They throw up at the drop of a hat, they don't hesitate to pelt you with Cheerios, and don't even get me started on what they're capable of doing to a perfectly clean diaper. I'm betting the people your husband hangs with 40 hours a week tend to keep their bodily fluids and breakfast cereal to themselves.
Find a few other mothers and invite them over for the carbohydrate du jour. Reach out to people who've been where you are—maybe a neighbor with grown kids or perhaps someone who served time as a prisoner of war. These people can empathize and offer some grown-up conversation between Peppa Pig sing-alongs. But if you don't have what it takes to build a community for yourself, because you feel overwhelmed by unrelenting despair or anxiety, then the very best thing you can do for yourself and your family is see a shrink—it definitely helped me.
Lisa Kogan is O's writer at large and the author of Someone Will Be with You Shortly: Notes from a Perfectly Imperfect Life. To ask Lisa a question, email email@example.com.
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