Thursday, January 23, 2014

So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

I haven't blogged in about 100 years but I think this next post deserves more than a paragraph.

So my precious cousin texted me the other day and asked what it's like being a stay at home mom because she doesn't know many!  I never really thought about it because I know lots of them (because I'm one of them) but I realized that many people may be curious as to what it's like to stay at home and raise your children full time.  So here goes nothing.

Let's start off with a whopper of a disclaimer: It's different for everyone.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  There are as many variables to your experience as a stay at home parent as there are stains on my carpet.  Plenty.  It involves your temperament, your spouse's level of support, your number of children, the ages of your children, the size of your house, how much money your spouse makes, how many friends you have that stay at home close by, your neighborhood, etc., etc., etc.  There are just so many things to consider that it's an almost impossible question to answer.  But what I can do is tell you MY experience.

I started to stay at home when I found out we were experiencing my second child, so almost four years ago.  Without a shadow of a doubt, that first year was the hardest.  But isn't your first year of any new job usually the hardest?  This is no different.  It takes time to get used to staying at home and finding a rhythm.  And then that rhythm will be thrown off kilter a million times after you've found it, but I digress.  I look back on that first year and I could rattle off a ton of mistakes I made, but it really doesn't matter what they were because if I told you, you would just make different mistakes ;-)  There were many a day I found myself googling a local university's schedule of classes or part time work because I was worn out and frustrated and wanted an escape.  It was extremely hard transitioning from consistent adult conversation at work to the constant jabbering of an albeit adorable toddler.  Then there was the whole "difficult" ("spirited", "challenging", "drive you to drink") newborn phase to get used to full time.  My second child is the funniest kid on the planet.  But he wasn't a very funny baby.  O my dear….no.  This was definitely the phase (having a toddler and a difficult baby) that I struggled through the most…at least, so far (please Jesus, don't send me another difficult baby).  There's just no way around it, it was hard.

But I will tell you what kept me from accepting a lucrative position at the local Dairy Queen- I am 100% committed to the idea of a stay at home parent.  And that, my friend, is what I think is the singular most important quality in a stay at home parent.  I have always and probably will always believe that staying at home is the best thing for my kids and so, come hell or high water (or another difficult baby….please Jesus, no), I'm going to do it.  But see, this is my thing.  Some people are die hards about breastfeeding (pass me the bottle), some people are diehards about organic food (pass me the fries), but I am a diehard stay-at-home mom.  You see what I mean?  I know this is not everyone's thing and that's okay, but it's my thing.  I will do anything I need to do to make this a reality for my family.  And I honestly believe that conviction has brought me through the difficult phases and days of stay at home parenting.  Now, hear me out, I'm not saying every stay at home parent has to be a diehard about it but I do know several parents who weren't really convicted about it being the best thing for their kids and they didn't last very long.  Because it IS hard.   No, it's not brain surgery, but your job probably isn't brain surgery either.  But it has it's share of difficult moments and difficult personalities (heh heh) and it's all-day, everyday baby.

Here's another disclaimer: A lot of what I talk about in regards to what I love and what is hard about being a stay at home parent will be experienced by working parents as well.  I just experience it more often- the good and the bad- and possibly more intensely given the amount of time I'm around my children and they are blessed to be around me (haaaaaaaaaa).

I absolutely love what I do.  That's the crux of it.  I have my bad days, my difficult phases, my cranky child here and there, and loads upon loads of housework….but I absolutely love it.  There is not a day that goes by that I daydream about being at a job.  And that's just being honest.  See, here's the thing, though, I was never much into a career.  I was not your ambitious student who had dreams of shattering the glass ceiling.  Um….no.  And I won't sell myself short, either.  I'm smart and I dare say I probably could have become anything I really wanted to, but I always wanted to be a full-time wife and mom. True story.  Which I think is part of being called to a vocation…'s always deep within your heart.  I became a teacher, which I loved in the early years, until I got married and had kids.  We were not in a realistic financial situation for me to quit early on and so with my first child I worked full time for a year and then part time the second year.  And I had no peace.  It was a sweet gig, too.  The daycare was located at the school, excellent adult/child ratio, awesome setup… but I knew it wasn't what I wanted.  I started to resent all things work-related- staff meetings kept me from seeing my daughter, I didn't care as much about teaching because I was constantly thinking about how my daughter was doing- was she happy?  was she crying? is she okay?  was she sick this morning and I was too much in a rush to really pay attention?  Stuff like that, it just drove me nuts.  Finally, I was able to quit working when my husband got another job.  Sweet relief.  I was finally able to devote myself 100% to my husband and family.  I am also the type that if I do something, I want to do it the best I can.  Being split apart by housework, husband, children, work, schedules, etc. was making me quite anxious and, again, never at peace.  So here, my friends, is a run down of what I love and what is most challenging about being a stay at home parent:


I love that when my child is sick I don't have to worry about work- they are my work.  That was such a stressor for me when I worked- not to mention my daughter was constantly sick in daycare which was a whole other stressor.  Ugh.  My kids don't get sick as much now that they are not in daycare which makes our quality of life sooooooo much better.  They feel better, I'm not as stressed, my husband's not as stressed because I'm not as stressed (haha), we don't pay a gazillion dollars to the doctor every other week, etc.

I love that I get to play a big part in their early education- so much so that I've even flirted (read it, flirted, definitely haven't married the idea) with the idea of homeschooling because I honestly love teaching them (I was a teacher for ten years before I quit work so it's in my blood).  I get giddy over teaching them and there is no satisfaction greater for me than seeing my own kids learn.  Love, love, love it.  And we do it all day every day- not formal schooling- but fun learning.  I teach my kids to cook, I teach them how to clean, when we press the elevator buttons in Target I work on number recognition with my three year old, I read books every day with my five year old while the little ones nap, I fixed a wagon with my three year old this morning, etc. They love learning from me and I love teaching them.  And here's the best part- I can teach them whatever I want.  If I wanted to teach them sign language, I would get a book and teach them.  If I wanted to teach them a new language, I would get an age appropriate book and teach them.  If I want to teach them about animals, you get the idea.  The world is an open book for all of us and it has re-awakened a love of learning in me, too.  And just to reiterate, working parents do this as well, I just have more time to do it and possibly more opportunities.

I love that my kids see my face the most out of anyone in the world when they're young.  This might sound narcissistic but it's not.  Why? Because I honestly believe, along with their dad, that's the face they want to see more than anyone else in the world.  They see my good and bad, I get frustrated and then I apologize, they experience life first and most intensely through me.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  I love watching them grow.  They're so predictable and so unpredictable all at the same time.  I love to read child psychology books and see it play out in their lives each day.  And I have time to actually read child psychology books because I don't have to do reading/research for work.  Yay!  When I was working full time, I really felt like I was missing a whole chunk of their lives- and actually, I was missing most of their awake time every day.  That made me really, really sad.  It just did.  Just being honest here.  I just didn't have peace with the fact that I birthed this beautiful gift from God and, in all honesty, they saw someone else's face the most almost every day.  That just didn't sit right with me and made me sad.  Doesn't make some people sad, but it made me sad and that's what counts.

I love that I am able to make choices that are best for my child and not what fits into my work schedule.  Okay, I could see how working parents may take offense to this but I really do think this is pro in regards to staying at home.  I've just seen a lot of parents that make certain choices because it's easier to fit into their work schedule instead of really being able to ask what's best for the child.  For example, I started my second child in preschool a little before he turned three (I usually start at three) because he cried every day that he wanted to go to school like his sister.  Here's the thing: If he didn't like it, I could pull him without a major change in schedule.  I'm home anyway, not a big deal.  I love the flexibility staying at home offers- I can make most of the decisions be child-led instead of possibly pushing them into something too early because I need them taken care of while I work.  Again, in my life this turns out to be less stress on me and my kids and that is one of my priorities in raising little ones- as little stress as possible because I think stress brings out a lot of negative behaviors, sickness, etc.  Don't get me wrong, my kids are learning how to deal with frustration and anger and the rest of it but we purposely do not live a rushed life.  It's why we're not involved in a lot of extra-curriculars, high maintenance schools, tons of play dates, etc.  My children thrive on down-time, playing in the backyard, taking walks, you name it.  I love that.


Another disclaimer: I'm almost four years in, so most of these were struggles in the past.  Right now I don't have any major, consistent struggles.  I have bad days, of course, but not really any constant struggles related to staying at home.  So most of these are from the past.

One of my main struggles early on was not knowing how the heck to be a stay at home mom.  Haaaaa. That's just the plain ole' truth.  I didn't really know WHAT TO DO all day.  Remember, I was pregnant and had a two year old.  There was a lot of boredom and not knowing how much I should play with her and how much I should clean and feeling guilty when doing either that I should have been doing the other.  I know, such big decisions.  Haaa.  But really, it was hard transitioning from an extremely hectic pace to what felt like almost too much free time.  Of course, looking back, I keep asking myself what the heck the problem was.  Really? Too much time?  Cry me a river.  But in full disclosure it was a bit of an issue.  And it's just one of those things you go through as a SAHP.  It takes a while to really learn your role as wife, mother, homemaker, cook, etc. and develop an idea of time management.  It'll come, you just have to be patient with yourself and ask your spouse to be patient when he comes home to a dirty house but a two year old that played for hours with her mom! Haha.

One of the other issues that took time was the whole play date saga.  Geez Louise…drama for your mama.  Here's the thing: When you first start out, and you don't know a lot of stay at home parents yet, sometimes you can get bored to tears and want to schedule a billion playdates with people you don't even know and you don't even care.  You're just dying for adult interaction.  Just go through it, people, it's part of the process.  You may get a reputation as a play-date "playa"- just do it.  Haaaaaa.  No seriously, this is a personality thing, too.  If you're an extrovert you may overdo scheduling playdates and wear you and your poor children out.  Plus, it can sometimes be stressful going to other people's houses to play if you don't know them very well (especially if you're potty training a child and they poo on your new friend's floor- NOT that this happened to me or anything- no way, Jose.  Never. I swear it wasn't me.)  Helpful hint: schedule all playdates at the park/Chick-fil-A/neutral site until you feel comfortable enough with the person to poo on their floor.  For real.  And if you're an extrovert, you might start seriously regressing from lack of necessary adult interaction and start talking to yourself, thus opening wide the doors to mental illness in your children.  You heard it here first, people.

Um, let's see, what else?  Ahhh yes….finances.  Okay, here's the down low- everyone has a certain financial level they're comfortable at and that's important to note for you and your spouse before you go down to one income.  Now, if you're spouse brings in some serious dough this might not be an issue for you (good for you!) but for most this is probably an issue.  I recommend trying to live off of one income before you quit just to make sure you're not going to get yourself into a pretty deep hole.  A financially stressed marriage will lead to a very stressful stay at home experience.  And that's not good for anyone.  Now, here's the kicker: A lot of people (read it, A LOT) say they don't have the money to stay at home when, in all brutal honesty, they just don't want to stop living a certain lifestyle.  They don't want to downsize their house, trade out their car for one a little less fancy, stop buying name brand clothes, etc. And that's okay, my friends, but just be honest.  It helps me out that I have absolutely no desire to be fancy or rich.  A lot of money makes me nervous- I'm dead serious.  I read that whole passage about Lazarus and the Rich Man in the bible and I swear to you- I get a complex.  I even feel like we don't give enough away right now and we ain't livin' the high life, y'all.  That's a whole other post.  We live a very comfortable life but I shop at second hand stores, try to eat meatless once or twice a week, have never gotten professional photographs of my children done, get my hair cut once or-if I'm lucky- twice a year, etc.  You get the idea.  I'm not stressed about money but I have to be smart about it.  Sometimes I do this better than others :-)  Figure out how much you want to stay at home and if you're willing to make the sacrifices for it.  Some people honestly can't swing it and others could if they made it more of a priority.  It's all about what is most important to you.

The only other main issue would probably be your spouse.  I lucked out (actually we talked about this a lot before we got married- marriage prep- highly recommend it!!) and married someone who 100% supported me staying at home.  That was our plan from the get-go.  We always saw eye-to-eye on this and that IS HUGE.  If your spouse isn't fully behind it…uggggghhhhh….you may have a serious problem.  Because, my friend, you need a lot of support.  In the early years, Cory would come home and- during some particularly difficult phases- I would need a "breather"(read it- take the kids or I'm driving to Mexico and you won't be able to find me.  Stuff like that.)  It's not technically hard stuff a stay at home parent does- but it's unbelievably draining.  Making sure tiny lunatics don't swallow a penny, fixing food and helping the little ones not choke, cleaning up the consistent spills, being dedicated to discipline, loving each of them intensely, giving special time to each of them, being patient when your little one wants to help you cook and it takes them forty five minutes to stir the rice in, etc.  You know?  No, again, it's not brain surgery- but it does take heroic patience and a heck of a lot of love.  And here's a gigantic kicker:  it doesn't take much to be a bad stay at home parent, that is quite easy.  But to be a great one- it takes what feels like your entire heart and soul.  And that's what I try to do.  I want to be great  for them.  I want them to look back at this time as one of the greatest times of both their lives and my life.  Yeah, I could do this totally half-ass (pardon the language) but I would live with a whole lot of regret.  If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right.  And doing it right takes more energy, more attention, more devotion than anything I've ever done.  And they are worth every last drop of effort.


There's no way I could address everything I love and every challenge about being a stay at home parent, but I do hope I've given you a small glimpse.  If you have ANY QUESTIONS, just fire them my way.  I will do my best to be as honest as possible.  Again, a working mom is better than a bad stay at home mom any day of the week.  But if you give your all to staying at home and love it, I can think of very little more beautiful than that.  These years fly and I intend to not miss beat.


Amanda said...

Stumbled across this post via a friend on facebook. Love everything about it. I am two (almost three) years in to being a stay-at-home-mama and as much as I have my days of struggle I couldn't or wouldn't want to imagine being anywhere else. I could relate to every bit of what you said. Great post and loved the memes :)

Post a Comment