A Working Woman's Guide to Staying Home
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, pp. 41-42
I'm a hospital pharmacist and I wrote this piece while on maternity leave with my second son when I was really enjoying myself.
I found maternity leave with my first son a much less pleasant experience than with my second. I took too literally the expression "staying home" with my child and didn't go out very much. I suffered a bad bout of postpartum depression. A friend rescued me by taking us out nearly every day for the remaining time before I returned to work. I finally began to learn what a joy having children can be. I enjoyed doing fun things and going to interesting places that I would never have bothered to discover if I didn't have children. Adults without children seldom discover the joys of bouncy castles, soft play areas, and paddling pools.
Our Oxford La Leche League Group recently held a meeting on the topic of returning to work, which quickly turned into a discussion of how to enjoy staying home. Being a working mother has its own challenges. In particular, how do working moms perform professionally while sleep deprived? And how do we nourish relationships with our children when we have less time with them than we'd like? Those of us who had returned to work, however, were quick to say that staying home was not always the easy option. Most crises at work just don't compare to the challenges of keeping a restless toddler happily amused all day, or staying home with a newborn which, for some of us, can seem scary and not necessarily all that interesting.
Some of the strategies our group came up with may sound obvious, but it wasn't obvious to me how to survive, and even flourish, at home with my children and I'm sure I'm not alone.
Strategy One: Mindset
Adjusting to staying home with a baby doesn't come naturally to everyone. But you can apply the same problem solving skills you'd use at work to your home situation. Look at keeping your children fed and happy as your job, rather than as something you're fitting in around what you want to do -- it really saves on frustration. Having been both a working mom and an at-home mom, I find that the time I get for myself alone is about the same: the hour in the evening after the children are sleeping and the chores are done before I'm too tired to keep my eyes open. Relinquishing the expectation that I'd get my own projects done during the day, when first and foremost my job is child care, actually decreased a lot of my frustration. And if I actually happen to have two children asleep at the same time, then that's a rare bonus!
Strategy Two: Structure
We all agreed that it helps to structure the day -- not necessarily to have a rigid routine, but just a definite way to break up the day so it's not an endless desert stretching from breakfast to bedtime. As well as meal times, several moms in our group formalized snack times, such as afternoon tea at the table at 4 o'clock, or half an hour watching a DVD with a drink and biscuit mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Speaking of DVDs and TV, we agreed that such things lose their power if overused, but can provide some much needed down-time if carefully rationed. In our house, we save DVDs for the tired and grumpy half-hour before dinner and for special occasions, such as illness or when we are packing the car to go on holiday and need to keep the children occupied.
Strategy Three: Get out and about
It can help to leave the house every day, if at all possible, even if only to go to the corner store. When things are getting fraught at home, there's nothing like a quick walk around the block to provide a change of scene and to enable a fresh start once back home. I mentally divide expeditions into major and minor ones. Major expeditions are things like a trip into town or to a friend's house. Minor expeditions are things like going to buy milk, post letters, or play on the swings. I aim for one major expedition or event every day, or two minor ones, depending on the weather and energy levels.
Strategy Four: Meet other moms
A big realization for me was that other mothers are just as keen to socialize as I am. We all agreed that it's good to go to groups such as LLL. I'm quite shy about making friends, but have one close, extrovert friend who has introduced me to many groups and happenings on the "Mommy Circuit." I'm now brave enough to go to them on my own, and even to talk to mothers whom I don't already know. We have so much to learn from one another -- what new foods to try, where to find fun playgrounds, which toys are worth buying, what's the best type of sling, and so on. And, of course, there are the games of "I'm more sleep deprived than you are" and "My toddler is an even worse eater than your toddler" to keep us busy.
More Practical Ideas
Stay a meal ahead. It's easier to do preparation while everyone is content and full rather than hungry and restless.
Always keep the diaper bag packed and ready to go, including snacks and drinks for both you and your children. It's easier to replenish the snacks and sort out the diapers when you are just in the door, or in a quiet moment during the day, than when there's a mad rush to get out the door to be on time for something, or to avoid a crisis due to "cabin fever."
Keep some toys and activities in reserve. I have a friend who used to keep about two thirds of her children's toys in the garage and just have a few available at any one time. In our group, we all agreed that keeping some toys aside for a "rainy day" is a good idea, and if something is put away for a few months, when it comes out again it's like new and regains its novelty value.
When I was staying home with my first son, I made the mistake of thinking that it was just six months out of my "real life," which would promptly resume when I returned to work. Consequently, I didn't try many child-centered activities while I was off work. I thought there wasn't much point in getting to know other moms since I was going back to work. I have since learned that motherhood is more than just a temporary phenomenon -- it's to be my major employment for the next couple of decades whether or not I'm concurrently working outside the home. As such, it requires the application of all the ingenuity and energy that I can throw at it.