If you judge by the comments of many of my acquaintances, I have the personality of a pea. If you’re a stay at home parent, you know what I mean. People constantly remark, “I don’t know how you do it. I would go stir crazy if I had to stay home with my kids.” The inference, of course, is that I am some sort of mutant sub-species that requires far less intellectual stimulation than normal, and can survive for days on end with the praise from Barney—“I love you, you love me”.
It’s time to challenge this notion that staying home with your kids is akin to a prison sentence with an awfully whiny jailer. Certainly it can be tremendously difficult, draining and exhausting, especially since you usually walk around with banana mash on your jeans and spit up on your sweatshirt. But that’s not the whole story.
Many parents choose to work for a host of different reasons, and only you know what is right for your family. I know that for many, much as you may long to, staying home isn’t financially feasible. But if it’s possible in your situation to be home even part-time, I’d like to put in a plug in for it, and to tell you that it doesn’t need to be as difficult as it sounds. Our culture tries to make it sound impossible because we don’t want to support the notion that women can be happy at home. But it is true, if we can just get back to first principles.
To begin with, I think we go about stay at home parenting all wrong. We start by buying tons of equipment (ExerSaucers, swing sets, trampolines) to ensure that we never have to leave the house. But what happens if we’re home alone all the time? Our kids may go stir crazy and whine, cry and vomit. Then we cry. Probably we whine, too. And if we’re pregnant, we definitely vomit. So let’s take a step back and approach this stay at home thing differently. We commonly think it has to meet all our needs, because parenting is so great. We cocoon ourselves in our homes, thinking bliss will greet us, and when it doesn’t and we’re ready to drop that hair dryer into that bathtub, we wonder what’s wrong with us.
Staying at home with your kids is wonderful, but it will not meet all your needs. You don’t need to feel guilty about it. Yet if you acknowledge what your needs are, and plan for them, you can meet your needs while you stay at home.
The first thing we need is adult conversation (that Barney thing only works for so long). Take your kids to a playgroup, or organize one yourself. Join the local YMCA or another fitness club that offers baby-sitting. Check into Early Learning Centres in your area. Our grandmothers stayed home, but they didn’t do it alone because they had this special thing called “neighbours” who were also at home. Chances are you don’t. You still need some interaction, though, so make sure you go and do something everyday!
How about intellectual stimulation? You definitely don’t need a job for this! Start a new hobby, like gardening or quilting. Take your kids to the library, and visit the adult department while you’re there. Learn to trace your family tree, invest, or save money. Even if you only have time to read while sitting in the bathtub after the kids are in bed, you’re giving yourself something new to think about. (Just don’t drop the book. I’ve paid the library big bucks for this transgression).
Finally, what about a sense of accomplishment? At work we get praise for finishing something. At home we get whines and piles of laundry that never get folded. If you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something, volunteer. Meet your neighbours and see if you can lend a hand to some older people or other struggling parents. Invite people over for coffee. They won’t mind the mess nearly as much as you think they will! And the more connection you have with your community, the more you’ll realize the difference you can make in people’s lives. Unfortunately, the greatest sense of accomplishment won’t come for years, when you see the profound difference you’ve made in your children’s lives just by being there. You’ll have to wait for the proof, but it is coming!
I do not have the personality of a pea. I’d say it’s more like a bunch of grapes (the seedless kind), with many different things in my life that are all interconnected. It is such a privilege to stay at home and watch my children grow. They are my reward. But I could not survive without acknowledging that though I love being a mommy best, I am more than that. Plan for success when you stay at home. Don’t settle for exhaustion. Your life will be richer for it.