Deciding to become a stay-at-home parent can literally turn whole lives around. Yet as they say, ‘Something’s gotta give!’ and parents have to make these kinds of decisions.
People often say that stay-at-home parents are so lucky to be able to spend time with their kids. However, there are many unspoken challenges and sacrifices aside from mothers just giving up their career. We found a few stay-at-home parents who shared their least discussed struggles.
Someone’s Gotta Give
For Sherry Tjandra who has been an overachiever her whole life, leaving her career as an executive marketing manager was not a calling that came overnight. But there had been a tipping point that made her decide to take a step back.
Stressed from having to juggle between being the top-gun in her company and a highly functioning mom and a wife, the challenges became too much to bear.
Her biggest challenge was the rat-race against time, where 24 hours was not enough. “I should say that my relationship struggled the most when I was trying to be all 3 at once.
On top of that the kids often fell sick, there was a time where they were sick for months from dysentery and repeated typhoid. It got so overwhelming, we (the marriage) nearly lost it. In the end, I decided that I need this – the kids and husband come first!”
For Pete Teo, the story was not quite the same. After losing his mother, who was always the one caring for his children, he decided to be a stay-at-home parent.
“Alice is a higher earner and although it is rare for a father to stay back with the kids, by the end of the day, RM6,000 will see us through the month, compared to me earning RM3,500.”
It was a lot for him to digest initially, but having had a bad experience employing a domestic helper, he knew he wasn’t going to risk his children over his ego.
The Struggle with Image & Expiring Talent
From being a pharmacist to a stay-at-home mom, Mandy loved every single moment caring for her kids and family.
But she remembers the personal struggles. “It has been 8 years. I guess the toughest was during my earlier years. There is a struggle about image, especially when we go out and people often ask what I do for an occupation.
“This was quite a challenge to get used to but I am blessed with a supportive husband, close-knit family and friends who do not pass judgments.
“But now, however, my challenge is different. I often feel concerned that my talent is expiring as a license pharmacist, I am no longer hireable. All that, from time to time, will creep up and haunt you once in a while to make you feel insecure. Other than that I completely love being a stay-at-home mum.”
The Social Struggle
Pete, however, was not so lucky. He felt like the whole society raised an eyebrow when he told them he was a stay-at-home dad.
“For a Malaysian, if you tell people you are a stay-at-home dad, they will immediately think you are lazy or a loser of a man who can’t find a job.”
The relationship with his wife remained great. Yet the social stigma was often the factor that got him down – sometimes so much so that it consumed every ounce of positivity in him.
“My wife is okay with this, but the rest of the world sees it differently. The hardest times was during a family or company gathering. It really affected me when people (intentionally or unintentionally) passed remarks on who was wearing the pants.”
Being a stay-at-home parent is often second-guessed, especially if you’re the father. Societal expectations, particularly from Asian cultures, can be tough. But Pete is determined not to lose out.
The Financial Struggle
Up until the moment he was retrenched, Andrew Kit never thought he would be the one staying home with the kids. He found himself venturing into the homemade food business to earn some income. “It was depressing at first. The financial struggle is the greatest challenge, not being able to be the breadwinner and provide enough kind of consumes you.”
Panda (not her real name) fell into depression for a period of time. “I was literally a stay-at-home mom! Baby was still small (not schooling) and I refused to go or meet anyone.”
The combination of a financial and long-distance relationship-communication struggle took a toll on her. Despite her normal functioning appearance, she had to go through series of counselling and had medication to help her cope and brave through the time.
“The stretch became tougher – having to settle as a single-income household, I felt helpless with no close family to help out. There was no so-called self-owned money to spend. I felt powerless, plus my husband was working away from us. It was a dark and lonely place to be, although it looked like I had it all figured out.”
To Be Seen
There are often great and wondrous praises for a stay-at-home-parent, but many still actually fail to see how underappreciated they are.
Many stay-at-home parents may not have the courage to share this openly, but to them, they just want family and friends to be supportive of their decisions and understand their struggles, big or small.
They may rise above the challenges they go through, day in and day out, and sometimes without a word or complaint. Sometimes a sincere ‘How are you?’ can make all the difference in the world. Sometimes, they just want to be seen.