The Existential Crisis of the Wait-at-Home Mom

The first generation of Philly women who “opted out” in order to stay home with their kids is now ready for what’s next. Trouble is, opting back in can be pretty scary when you aren’t even sure who you are anymore

THEIR KIDS ARE in school. Their husbands are at work. It’s 10 o’clock on a Friday morning, and these women have nothing they need to do.

[sidebar]Sure, they could be playing tennis. Or organizing the silent auction for the Lower Merion High fund-raiser. Or calling their friends to meet them in a few hours for lunch at Du Jour in Haverford. They aren’t, though.

They’re doing yoga.

But this isn’t their mamas’ yoga. This is serious, sweating, handstanding yoga. This is guy-playing-the-drums-and-­chanting yoga. And the nine women — most in their late 40s — practicing at Jai Yoga on Montgomery Avenue in Narberth aren’t resting in child’s pose. No, they’re bending and twisting and inhaling deep into their abdomens, trying to quiet their troubled minds as they face the front of the dimly lit, caramel-colored studio where two red, glowing Buddhas hang on the wall, staring back at them.

It’s no surprise that they’re thin and coiffed and pedicured, or that they’re sporting ginormous diamond rings, and outfits by the high-end line Beyond Yoga (with its odd but appropriate slogan “I Am Beyond”) that they probably purchased in the boutique downstairs, along with their VitaminWater. Many of them are, after all, stay-at-home-moms on the Main Line, and have been for the past 10 years. Or 15 years. Or 20 years.

They haven’t always been stay-at-home moms, though. They used to be career women, with big degrees and big-paying jobs, 120 percent committed and on their way up. But when kids came along, they decided to give it all up to stay home and raise their families, 120 percent committed to that. Now the kids are pretty much raised, and these women are the only members of their families who are really at home anymore. They’ve become, instead, wait-at-home moms — waiting for the kids to come back from school or soccer practice or their friends’ houses, waiting to cook dinner, waiting to help with college applications, waiting to remind them it’s time to go to bed. Waiting, in essence, to be useful.

They knew this moment was coming — they just didn’t expect it to be such a blow. In fact, a lot of them were looking forward to it, to all the time they’d have to themselves. And they did everything they could think of — planned vacations, joined boards, took watercolor classes, baked for every bake sale they could find. But it wasn’t enough. They weren’t feeling fulfilled. They weren’t feeling like they were contributing. They were starting to feel bored, yes. But they were also starting to feel something they never anticipated back when they decided to stay home with their kids — they were feeling meaningless.

Which is why they’re here, doing yoga on a Friday morning in a room that’s far too warm and has a sign outside it reading, “Quiet voices please, spiritual awakenings in process.” This is why, after class, one student asks if she can jot down the passage the instructor read today from the best-selling book The Secret (and, incidentally, this is probably why The Secret is a best-seller): “Decide what you want to be, do, and have, think the thoughts of it, emit the frequency, and your vision will become your life.”