Dr. Michelle Golland: In working with couples or individuals in my private practice, I have found that nearly everyone wants to talk about one issue: that of "dreams." Not the kind we have when we are sleeping (although we may cover that as well), but the dreams we have for our life, our career, our future selves. Often, dreams can be difficult to keep in focus for a stay-at-home parent.
Some stay-at-home parents begin to feel resentful of their partner who is working out of the house. To them, it seems their partner gets to live their dreams, while they feel trapped in their role as primary caretaker of the children. Especially if they don't really want to stay at home, they may also become depressed as well.
The problem that can occur is when our only "identity" becomes that of Mom or Dad of Joey or Katie. This is not only a problem for you as a parent, but believe me, it will be a problem for your children. Just as our children change and mature in their roles and identities, we as stay-at-home parents need to allow our roles and identities to evolve. If your primary source of identity comes from your children, your children will start to feel responsible for your happiness and fulfillment, and it will add a layer of pressure and resentment that will come back to haunt you as they become adults.
If you chose to stay at home with your children because that is the kind of parent you want to be, you will need to make peace with that decision. Staying in touch with your own dreams in the meantime can be done in many ways, and it is what will lead to finding contentment and fulfillment in your role as a parent. Does that mean that sometimes our dreams change, or have to be allowed to take a backseat to parenthood? Yes -- but it doesn't have to mean that we feel resentful of our partner or our children.
It is also important to put your time at home in perspective and remember that once the kids start kindergarten and elementary school, this is the opening for old dreams to be pursued or new dreams to be explored. You will find yourself with more time and energy as the kids become more independent. Maybe you want to work part-time while the kids are at school, or maybe you want to do more volunteering for causes that are important to you. This will expand your sense of identity, and will also allow for more adult contact and connection, which can increase happiness and contentment.
However, I also know many people who either have to work or are choosing to work in careers because it is fulfilling and being a stay-at-home parent is not rewarding for them. I always say the kids of a working mother or father who is happy and fulfilled (yet who of course struggles at times with worry and guilt) are much better off in the future than the kids who stay at home with an angry, depressed, and resentful parent who honestly has unfulfilled dreams and takes this negativity out on his or her family.
Remember that the key to family life and couplehood is flexibility and understanding. If you are deeply unhappy and unfulfilled being a stay-at-home parent, then you need to sit down with your partner and discuss how you are feeling and what you really need in order to feel more complete. Sometimes by asking ourselves, "What is it that I am feeling and what do I need to feel more of instead?" we can even unlock some new dreams and become creative in the ways we get our needs met, which may or may not mean we continue to stay at home full time.
It is also key that the stay-at-home parent feels supported by their partner to pursue other activities that will help expand their identity beyond just Katie's Mom or Katie's Dad. One of the most important roles a couple has is first, to want to know and understand each other's soulful dreams, and second, to truly support and assist each other in achieving these deep desires.
|Dr. Golland is a USC graduate and a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY#16974). She works with adults, teens and is an expert in the field of marriage and relationships. Dr. Golland has given her expert advice on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox news. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and wonderfully exhausting two children.|