I’m so excited for this week’s focus on childcare. The options can be mind-boggling and are accompanied by lots of hard choices, so I am really glad we’re showcasing the many different kinds of arrangements even just amongst our contributors.
I pretty much always knew I’d be a stay-at-home-mom. My husband, M, and I discussed it long before we got pregnant. It was something we both wanted, and something we prepared for pretty much as soon as we got married. For background, it’s important to know that there is/was a major wage discrepancy between the two of us. I worked in secondary and post-secondary education, so not a big paycheck there. M works in technology, so he fares significantly better.
Anyways, we started prepping for our one-income family right away. When we got married and got our joint bank accounts settled, we switched my salary to direct-deposit straight into savings (and maxed out my retirement contributions). This made for a gentle adjustment, since “my” money was always readily transferable in the savings account, but we got used to seeing a particular amount of money in checking. While neither of us is an avid budgeter, we have always seemed to manage to live within our means, so this worked out great. And had the added benefit of padding our savings account pretty painlessly. By the time I left my job, we were already used to paying all of our bills from one paycheck.
I’ve been home full-time with my kids since they were born, so 20 months and counting. The major up-sides to being their sole childcare provider are, of course, that I get to be there for all of the firsts and all of the fun stuff. I also have complete control (or, well, as much control as one can have…) over their environment, schedule, activities, and the like. I decide what’s happening, I make it happen. No worrying about communicating my wishes to a third party, no worrying about conflicting philosophies, etc. And you know what? Maybe I’m setting myself up for a visit from What Not to Wear, but I rather like the casual life. I only own one pair of pants that aren’t denim. There are no uncomfortable shoes in my world. I can spend rainy days in my pajamas.
There are negatives, to be sure. The very hardest part is this: THERE IS NO VACATION OR SICK TIME. It’s a 24/7/365 job. There are no holidays, no days off. It can be incredibly hard to carve out time for yourself, because your whole day revolves around the kids and their needs. You don’t really get to leave and forget about it until the next morning. Weekends don’t have nearly the same appeal as they did in my child-free working days, as my kids are entirely too young to understand the joys of sleeping in. In their world, one day is pretty much the same as the next.
The key to survival as a SAHM, I have found, is to NOT stay at home. Get out, get out! Playdates, classes, storytimes and the like are key to our sanity. Spending all day cooped up in our living room, or especially more than two days in a row, is a recipe for disaster. Social isolation was my biggest fear when I left the world of paid employment, and, it has thankfully not really come to pass. But that’s because I made a very concerted effort to combat it by taking lots of classes with the kids and spending time with other moms.
And if there’s one thing I really need to improve upon? I need to convince myself that a babysitter is a necessity, not an undeserved luxury. We moms can be martyrs for the cause. If I’m a full-time mom, then I should be a full-time mom! But when it comes right down to it, we still need breaks. Whether a childcare swap with some friends, finding a neighborhood high school student, or paying through the nose for a professional nanny who has mornings free… Got to find a few hours to myself. I haven’t had that for the last year, and with two draining toddlers, I’m really starting to feel the effects of never being off-duty.
As draining as this gig can be, I have no intention of changing our arrangement anytime soon (except for the aforementioned babysitter). I want to be the one participating full-time in this part of my kids’ life. I want to spend this time with them, I want to watch it happen and teach them the things I want to teach them. Do I miss my old job? You bet. Do I miss it enough to spend an hour commuting each way, having to rush to get the kids ready in the morning, and only barely catching them before bedtime each night, only to give my entire salary to someone else? All that, so that I can spend my afternoon with college students instead of taking my kids to the playground? No. No, I do not.
Anyways, that’s what has worked out in my house. Other SAHMs out there, what are your tricks to maintaining sanity? What has been your single biggest challenge?