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Staying Home

Adjusting to the Roles of New Parenthood

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 5, September-October 2006, pp. 230-233

"Staying Home" 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.

Mother's Situation

My husband and I have been married for six years and are expecting our first child. We've saved and planned so that I can stay home with the baby, and I'm sure this is what I want. But I'm worried about how it will change our relationship. I've always been very independent and am nervous about being dependent financially. Also, we've always split household tasks equally, and I'm sure this will change now, too! How have other new mothers adjusted to being at home after being in the paid workforce for years? What ideas can you share with my husband and me as we adjust to not only parenthood, but our change in roles as a couple as well?

Mother's Response

I enjoyed a successful career before deciding to stay home with my first child. I have never regretted my decision. In retrospect, however, I see that there are definitely things I should have done differently.

My husband and I agreed that I would stay home. But there are things we didn't anticipate and reach a consensus on before our first child was born. These tips may help you as you prepare for your child's birth:

  1. Decide now which specific household tasks your husband will be responsible for. You will be doing a very important job -- raising your children -- and housework should still be shared. A baby will add new domestic tasks such as baths, picking up toys, scheduling doctor visits, and more laundry. Be aware of these new tasks and discuss them so they don't become your responsibility by default as the parent at home.
  2. Be sure your budget accounts for personal items such as clothes, cosmetics, haircuts, home decorations, and small luxuries. I found it very hard to "ask" for these things having been independent for so long. If it's already in your budget, you won't have to ask, or worse, do without because you feel guilty.
  3. Although it will seem impossible in those early weeks, as you settle into motherhood remember to schedule "alone time" for your hobbies, errands, visits with friends, or even just short walks. It can be quite a shock to the system to suddenly be on your own with a baby after having the variety and freedom that a career allows. Make sure your husband understands that you need breaks in order to be the best mother and wife you can be.
  4. Make sure your husband has plenty of quality time alone with your baby. You will be honing your parenting skills all day, but he will need time to find his own path as a parent. Often this is easier when you are not there looking over his shoulder.
  5. Schedule "intimacy time" with your husband. Staying close and connected will help maintain your bond with each other. Addressing these things now will prevent them from becoming issues later. I wish you lots of luck. The rewards of a career are many, but they pale in comparison to being a mother.

Lynn Migliara
Cincinnati OH USA

Mother's Response

My family has gone through this change as well. Our roles have evolved over time (my son is almost three) and the issues you raise are ones that we continue to work with. The biggest changes for me have been feelings of isolation, need for stimulation and variety, and struggling with the sharing of child care responsibilities.

To combat feelings of isolation, being involved in a variety of activities with my son has helped. Getting out of the house and seeing other people almost every day, especially in winter, has been important. La Leche League meetings and friends have been a big part of that, as well as going to museums and parent-child classes.

Breastfeeding has been such a big part of how our son is parented. I have been the primary person for bedtime, feeding, and comforting. My husband has been able to take on a bigger role in each of these areas as our son has gotten older. I suggest special "daddy time" for your child on a regular basis, which also means some free time for yourself.

As for the division of household tasks, it does seem to make sense for the at-home parent to take on more depending on how big a job parenting your baby turns out to be. Remember to include feeding, changing, playing with, and comforting your little one when you consider how much each of you are contributing.

My last tip is to stay involved in the finances. Know what you have and where it's going. This will help you continue to feel an equal partner and participant.

Deborah Popkin
Southington CT USA

Mother's Response

Having a baby is probably about the biggest change to your way of life so far and, as with all big changes, will require a period of adjustment. I had my first child at the age of 34 and experienced the same worries you are having now. Eight years later, I still worry about not being in control of the finances! However, I certainly do not miss having to go out to earn money myself. Caring for my children and watching them grow is, in my view, the most rewarding career there is.

I think it is important to discuss with your husband how your roles will change in advance. I had a vision of living in a perfectly kept house with a baby asleep in a crib while I cooked wonderful dinners. The reality is that looking after a baby is a full-time job for many, many months, and you often don't have time to grab a snack let alone cook for your husband! Don't try to be a "super woman." Concentrate on what's important -- nurturing your baby.

Getting breastfeeding off to a good start and recuperating after giving birth leaves little time for anything else. It helps if your husband appreciates this, so that he won't resent the fact that more of the burden of routine chores will fall upon his shoulders in the early months. More often than not the baby will want to nurse when you feel you should be preparing food or cleaning the house. Keep things simple. Ask your husband to cook easy-to-prepare nutritious meals in the evening, and perhaps you can wash and chop the vegetables in the morning when your baby is happy to be put down for a short time. Have him call for a pizza if he's had a hard day.

Having a spotless house cannot be a priority if you want a happy baby! Unless, of course, you employ a cleaner. Some men are more ready than others to help with housework, but most will recognize that the job of mothering comes before that of housewife. Get used to lowering your standards -- children make a lot of mess!

One of the difficulties of adjusting to your new role as a stay-at-home mother is the change in the pace of life. If you are used to a job in which you complete pieces of work within set times and have something to show for your efforts, you may feel that you are no longer achieving much by looking after a baby. The opposite is true. By being there for your baby, you are providing him with a secure and loving start to life, and there really is nothing more worthwhile than that!

If you feel that society as a whole undervalues the role of mother, I recommend you read What Mothers Do, Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by La Leche League Leader Naomi Stadlen (see review on page 225). This may help you feel affirmed in your new role.

Remember to enjoy your baby. These years are precious and only happen once.

Barbara Higham
Ilkley Yorkshire Great Britain

Mother's Response

Adjusting to family life can be hard. It was for my husband and me. The best advice I can give is to keep talking to each other. It turns out that when we agreed that I'd stay home with babies, he thought I'd be transforming into a person who gets great joy from a tidy, well-ordered home. I thought he'd come home from two jobs and jump into parenting with both feet the moment he walked in the door. Both of us fought really hard not to become what the other wanted us to be. My husband and I needed a marriage counselor to get everything in the open. Counseling can be useful anytime you have a lot to negotiate in your relationship.

First, my advice to you is to accept the new levels of interdependence as a family. Your baby will be utterly dependent on you. You will be more dependent on your husband than before. Your husband will need you to meet his baby's needs. Some men are awed at their wives' power to birth and nourish babies; others may feel helpless and frustrated. Both responses acknowledge his dependence on you.

It may help to cultivate a larger sense of mutual dependence. Who will your husband rely on when he feels overwhelmed? Who can you call if neither of you has the energy to mow the lawn or do laundry? Friendships can be raised to a new level when one friend needs the other. I found that in the first couple of weeks, I even needed someone else to cut my food, as I could only spare one hand at mealtimes. My baby needed me to do everything for her, and I needed others to do nearly everything for me. It had a certain beauty to it.

Second, discuss with your husband what the term "staying home" means. Will you also be in charge of cleaning, cooking, and getting the car inspected? How do you each picture evenings and weekends? Will you devote yourself to other tasks -- such as volunteer work, part-time employment, or working at home -- once your baby gets a bit older? How much older? You may not be able to answer these questions in a meaningful way now, but keep talking to each other as these things arise. Some women find household work very fulfilling, and you may be surprised at how much you enjoy it if you let yourself. But you'll still be the same basic person. I don't gain a lot of satisfaction from order, but I do enjoy teaching others. For me, teaching other parents how to wear their babies in a sling made my stay-at-home life much richer.

Third, you are probably right that household tasks won't be evenly divided. At first, you might not do anything but breastfeed your baby and sleep. Your husband may have to do 100 percent of the household tasks for a short time. (Try to set up friends and family who can help in the early weeks, especially if your husband won't have time off of work.) When that time is up, you will probably have a larger portion of the domestic work. This isn't all bad. I suggest looking at the division without an eye to typical gender roles. Take out the trash -- it's a good excuse to put down your baby for a minute and have a moment alone outdoors. He can wear your baby in a sling and wash the dishes while you trim the hedges. Balancing the checkbook and paying the bills is a good way to stay connected to the family finances. You may not bring in the money, but you can be in charge of spending it wisely.

Talk about what you expect from each other, and be willing to rework those expectations when the need arises.

Caren Barth
Rochester NY USA

Mother's Response

The adjustment to becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom with no income of my own was a challenge for me. I felt a new independence regarding my time, but was aware of a dependence on my husband to be our provider. Now I appreciate so much the work that my husband does to support our whole family of four, and he builds me up in my role as stay-at-home mother with all the work it entails.

Two things have helped me during this time of transition. The first is that my husband and I have remained flexible in our roles as we learn to communicate about the balance we wish to achieve. For a while, I took care of all the housework -- cleaning, laundry, cooking, and paying bills. When our son was born, that level of household responsibility overwhelmed me. My husband took over the laundry. I enjoy cooking and am good at it, so I kept that job. After six months of trying to keep up a hectic housecleaning pace, we relaxed our standards. I clean the bathroom once a week, spot clean the kitchen floor, and try to get all the dishes done once a day before dinner. Keeping the house under control but not spotless makes all of us feel at home.

The second thing that helped me was to consider my labor of love at home to be true work. I have learned to reward myself for a hard day by enjoying tea with a friend in the evening at least once a week while my husband takes care of our one- and three-year-old children. I have learned to say no to outside requests to volunteer my time, realizing that my work at home is demanding and important. I'm not afraid to ask for a backrub now and then. I read somewhere that being a stay-at-home mother is as stressful as any paid job outside the home, except perhaps working in an emergency room. Taking breaks from the work to put up my feet and nurse my baby is a privilege of the mothering profession that I am ever grateful to enjoy.

Sarah Fields
Hobart IN USA

Mother's Response

When you first start breastfeeding, it will be almost impossible for you to do any housework, so your husband or another support person will have to take care of all of it until you and your baby's nursing relationship is established. Thereafter, it will become very apparent that you still have a full-time job: mothering your baby. If your relationship with your husband was egalitarian before, it can be afterwards, too, and the two of you can continue to split household chores. Best wishes to all three of you!

Kathryn Wellen
Washington DC USA

Mother's Response

We waited nine years before getting pregnant. I went back to work at six weeks postpartum with my first child, but continued pumping at work during the first year. It was difficult to leave my son in the care of other people, so if I were to give advice now, I would suggest staying home for the first three years, if at all possible.

With my second child, my husband and I agreed that I should stay home to provide child care, but we had concerns about finances. Luckily, a friend needed child care so I was able to supplement our income by watching her one-year-old daughter four days a week. That arrangement lasted three years. It was much easier to provide child care than to try and do something completely different from what I was already doing as a mother.

Household tasks still had to be shared with my husband, however. The girls hardly ever napped at the same time during the first year, and so many chores had to wait until evening. Often, dinner dishes weren't washed until morning because we all ended up falling asleep while I was reading the bedtime story.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed being at home, one of the things I missed was the socialization I got from being employed. Mother's support groups are a great way to get much needed time and friendship with other moms. Volunteering at school and working as a consultant one or two days a month were ways I found to keep myself connected to the world of adults.

Your relationship with your husband is extremely important, so schedule a date night regularly. After a long week, my husband was too tired for togetherness on Friday, so we chose Saturday night as our night.

I encouraged my husband's involvement with our children and boosted his parenting confidence by bringing him to prenatal visits and birthing classes, and by setting aside certain things as "daddy only." For example, after breastfeeding every two hours around the clock, I was glad to have a break and let him give our children baths. I was lucky to have a husband who encouraged me to breastfeed, who helped me by taking turns walking the floor with the babies at night when they had their fussy times, and who enjoyed his "daddy duty" when I was away from home.

Charlotte AR Greene
Glenwood Springs CO USA

Mother's Response

My husband and I also used to split the household tasks before we had children. He told me once when I was pregnant that he expected the house to be clean since I would be home all day. Well, once he spent a few hours alone with our baby he changed his tune!

It is true I do most of the housework now. When my husband gets home, he needs to be able to spend quality time with our son. The biggest thing you both have to realize is that, unless you can afford hired help, the house will not be perfect. It is more important to spend time with your child.

It was an ego adjustment being dependent financially on my husband, but we were able to see the big picture. Talk to your husband about this -- let him reassure you. The biggest piece of advice I can give as far as adjusting to being home is to get involved. Join a La Leche League Group or other support group, start playgroups, take walks to parks, and window shop at the mall. A little time out of the house goes a long way.

Elena Jeffus
Dallas TX USA

Mother's Response

I think it's great that you are thinking about these issues before you even have your baby. I've learned a lot since having my daughter, who is now 21 months old.

I've realized that taking care of a baby is a full-time job -- and that's not even including household chores! My husband and I have had some growing pains in this area, so I suggest talking about your concerns and expectations with your husband and working out a plan before your baby is born.

I was also worried about the financial side of things, but designating a separate account for groceries and miscellaneous items helps me keep track of what I can spend.

Kristen Rikkers
Minneapolis MN USA

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