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Staying Home Instead

In the Balance

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, pp. 31

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Before I became a mother, I was a cross-cultural researcher, among other things. I was used to planning, being organized, and doing things efficiently (most of the time). I had no way of knowing that mothering would change all of this-that one day I would find a very different way of accomplishing my work and finding some degree of balance in my life.

When I became pregnant, my interest in culture led to an interest in how mothering happens in different parts of the world. The ideas that I most connected with seemed to transcend culture. I liked the idea of parenting in a manner that matched the biologically based needs of human infants. It was clear to me that many of those needs could be met through breastfeeding.

So even though I did not grow up with much exposure to breastfeeding, I planned to nurse my baby. But nothing that I read led me to plan on loving my daughter, Denná, so deeply. After her birth, I felt strongly that she needed me to be with her; the thought of leaving her to work outside my home quickly became unthinkable.

Staying with my daughter was neither an easy decision nor an easy practice. I can't count the number of times people have asked me something along the lines of: "Don't you feel you are wasting your education?" or "When are you going to go back to work?" I lost much sleep trying to figure out who I am, if I am "just" a mother. (I think "just" should be removed from our speech in such a context!)

The practicalities of stay-at-home mothering have also posed challenges. My husband and I have made many difficult choices based on our resolve to live on his income alone. From housing and clothing to travel and recreation, we have been careful that our behavior reflects our understanding of Denná's need to be with me.

Though I'm officially a stay-at-home mother, I've never cared much for the term. My daughter goes everywhere I go and we most definitely do not stay at home. By being engaged in my life, Denná has gradually learned skills that enable her to participate in a variety of events-many of which have not been particularly baby or child friendly. For that matter, I have learned to care for her in ways that help her to participate.

While she was a baby and toddler, I wore her in a sling and stayed in motion. Since she is petite and still loves to be carried, I can even use the sling upon occasion now. And, I have always nursed her whenever and wherever she needed.

As her capacity to understand has developed, my husband and I have helped Denná practice whatever would be expected of her in a given setting. We've "played" concert, recital and meeting together. Now that she is older, I have a good collection of portable projects that help her stay more quietly focused whenever needed. We are also sensitive to her needs and capabilities. We leave early or don't go to an event at all if we think it meets her best interest.

Denná thrives on being included in our lives, whether she spends time with us at home, the store, or the library. She and I have even attended several conferences together. Most recently we participated in the 2001 La Leche League International Conference in Chicago, Illinois for six days, five nights and more than 17 hours of sessions on breastfeeding. It was a glorious (and sometimes chaotic!) experience that I was very happy to share with my then-four-year-old girl.

It took time for me to figure out how to be a mother while still expressing other facets of myself. In the beginning, I was solely focused on learning how to breastfeed my newborn. After that I had to figure out how to mother a baby while keeping the house in some semblance of order. Then I had to learn how to run errands, too, not to mention stay connected socially. And then there was my marriage to look after! While these activities are all critical in my life, they weren't everything that I dreamed of doing, even as the mother of a young child.

I have been an active member of La Leche League since being pregnant with Denná. As my appreciation of the importance of breastfeeding and breastfeeding support grew stronger, so did my urge to use some of my other skills. I decided to apply to become a Leader and I have been using my pre- and post-mothering experiences in that capacity for three-and-a-half years now. I also conduct research and write. I value the opportunity to be involved in this work while still being engaged in the daily mothering of my daughter.

I have learned that efficiency is not possible in my current life. I can stop and start the dishes five times in a day. I plan for grocery shopping to take at least two hours, so that there is time for Denná to talk to all the clerks who have become her friends. I can write three sentences of an article, help my daughter dress her own "daughter," and then write one more paragraph. I can search the Internet, help Denná read a book, and then hunt down a reference in my personal library. I can conduct a phone interview while she takes a nap or plays with her father-and I can even do so while I am cooking and she is right there with me, though it is much more difficult and far less graceful! Needless to say, my non-mothering work progresses slowly -sometimes painfully so.

On occasion, I feel overwhelmed by particularly challenging projects. But, one way or another, I manage to get things done in spite of all the interruptions that come with the loving supervision of my sweet girl.

Before becoming a mother, I would never have imagined that I could find a way to work under such challenging conditions or that it could take so long to finish a project. There are many days that writing and research are impossible: Denná needs all of my attention, all day long. But I am convinced that the time and energy that I put into mothering is a priceless investment in her present and her future. In reality, I believe that anything else that I engage in is an interruption to my mothering. So when I am repeatedly called back by the needs of my daughter, it is just fine with me. Everything all works out in the balance. And I have years of life ahead to pursue my beyond-mothering dreams.

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