As my husband and I were driving home last night, he asked me how my day was. “It was a really good day,” I said. “After the kids woke up and we all ate breakfast, we headed to the gym (which I call the ‘play place” for the kids’ sake.) They said ‘hi’ to the fish at the entrance and played happily for an hour while I exercised. From there, we said ‘good-bye’ to the fish, headed over to Kohls to make a return, and then over to the pet store. I let the kids walk around holding hands while I pushed the stroller, and we looked at mice, cats, birds, fish and turtles. Back in the stroller, over to Target for some shopping and then when we were done we munched on popcorn and then home for a little play time and nap!”
“After nap, Jonathan and I worked on the laundry, and then they both colored while I cleaned the kitchen and started dinner. They got bored with that pretty quickly, so I got out the playdough set we never opened from Christmas, and they played with that for 45 minutes! It was an enormous mess when it was all said and done, but they had fun and I got some work done.”
By now, my husband is nodding enthusistically, smiling as I tell him little stories about Faith’s new words of the day and Jonathan’s insatiable desire to “help.” Yesterday was a very good day. The kind of day I dreamed about when I was a teenager, wondering what I was going to do with my life. The type of day I idealized when going through infertility. The type of day I hold onto when we go through our six months of winter sickness, crankiness and misery! Yesterday was exactly the opposite of Monday, which I wrote about here.
In 2003, I moved 50 miles north to Pittsburgh, leaving my job as a Program Director of a large senior center. I really enjoyed my job, and was looking forward to searching for an exciting new job after my November wedding. After our wedding and honeymoon, I moved into my now-husbands house and started changing things. Paint went up, carpets were laid down, boxes unpacked and organized. Everyday I would work from morning ’til night, creating a home for my future family. Eventually, after settling into the area, I began job hunting. I held a bachelors degree in Gerontology, had quite a bit of experience for my age and was willing to try just about any position that would allow me to work with older adults. And yet, door after door of opportunity was closed in my face. I simply could not understand why I wasn’t getting a job. Later, I would come to understand that being a homemaker was the time of preperation God gave me to be a SAHM. (On a side note, do you know how embarrassing it is to be a homemaker in this day and age? I was so thankful when I had the kids…my place at home seemed much more legitimate!)
While I was job hunting, I really wrestled with how to structure my days. I had the option to sleep in, not shower, watch morning tv, etc etc. However, I realized that the less structured my days were, the more depressed I felt. So I began treating my days at home like a regular work day (with perks!) I would get up with my husband, shower, dress in decent clothes, and start on my to-do list. Sometimes I would meet my working friends or my grandma for lunch. Tuesdays and Thursdays I volunteered at the Alzheimer’s Association. Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights were reserved for Bible study…one I led for teenage girls, the other I attended with 10 other women who quickly became my dear friends in this new city.
Fast forward, past a job I had at an assisted living facility, past 19 months of infertility and 39 weeks of a twin pregnancy. Next month my son and daughter will turn two. And I am ever so thankful to have been at home with them for the past two years. I hope to remain at home with them until they begin kindergarden, and then I will look for part-time work.
Over the past 5.5 years of marriage and mommy-hood, I have learned a few tricks that I hope to pass on to other at-home parents. It is very, very easy to feel isolated, lonely, bored, depressed and resentful while staying at home. Here are some of the things I have learned over the years, that allow me to enjoy my job as a MoM, that enable me to stay rooted in my field, fulfilled in my day and growing as a person.
* I wake up at a normal time every day. Then I shower. The only exception would be if I am going to the gym in the morning, and then I shower during nap time. There is something about the routine of getting ready that makes me feel awake, and like a productive member of society.
* I dress as nicely as I can. Often, it is in jeans and a t-shirt, but my clothes are clean, ironed and without stains or holes. I wear makeup every day, too. It is just part of who I am.
* I keep a calendar and to-do list handy at all times. Being a stay-at-home parent offers a lot of flexibilty, but it is very easy to let the hours slip through your fingers without having much to show for it. My main objective every week is to complete my tasks through the week so that our weekends are freed up for fun and family time. Granted, I can’t always accomplish everything (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, car maintenance, yard work, etc.) but I can do a lot.
* Utilize outside help. My husband is a corporate attorney. He works a lot of hours, and they are unpredictable. He often is traveling with less than 24 hours notice. His first work trip took place then the kids were 7 weeks old. I quickly had to accept the fact that I could not “rely” on my husband the way some woman can whose husbands work normal hours or who don’t travel for their job. Rather than resenting his commitment to his job (he is very committed to his family, but the job pays the bills!) I decided to train a mothers helper. Mary started with me when the kids were 5 months old. I paid her $5 an hour and she would play with the kids, empty the dishwasher, etc while I pumped, checked email, made phone calls, etc. I now have two neighbor girls (14 and 15 years old) who I can call on to watch the kids for an hour or so at a time. They have been with me for so long, and know the kids so well, that I feel comfortable leaving the house for an hour while the kids are in their care. This came in very handy last week when I needed to be at the hospital with my mother-in-law. At $6 an hour, their help is invaluable to me, even though I only use them 2-3 hours a week. Jay and I also routinely use babysitters (usually family) for date nights or occasional days off. This has provided us with a much needed balance in our roles as Mom and Dad vs. Husband and Wife.
* Stay rooted in your field. I continue to volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association. I have taught community programs, helped at the Memory Walk, co-chair the young-onset support group, and belong to two committees. I probably only spend a total of 5 hours a month volunteering, but it is enough to stay connected to my peers and current in my field. It is also very satisfying to dress up once in a while and head out to my meetings, coffee in hand!
* The last bit of advice might sound a bit odd, coming from a fellow Mom. But do not make your entire day/week revolve around your children. Children are a wonderful addition to our families, but they are a part of our families, not the center of them. I am trying very hard to teach my kids that part of being a family is doing things you may not want to do for the sake of the whole family. Going to the gym day care or church nursery may not be what the kids want to do, but eventually they learn, and the entire family is better off.
Being a stay-home-parent has provided me with ample opportunity to care for my family, my community and myself. Self-discipline and an outward focus are key to making the most of your time. I am not the kind of woman who proclaims from the rooftops that being a SAHM is the only way to go…no, I just simply cannot fathom how MoM’s with two jobs possibly get any sleep!
I enjoy my job (most days) and hope that my family, friends and community benefit from my decision to be a SAHM.
What is your trick or tip for making your day at home successful? How do you measure that success?