In Defense of the Parent at Home

I remember when I was starting out my job as a quality assurance specialist for the Department of Defense.  I talked to my parents weekly back then (as opposed to now:  they call me after a few weeks of wondering why I’ve fallen off the planet).  I remember telling my father on my one year anniversary on the job that I felt like I still had so much more to learn.

In hindsight, my 23-year-old self’s naivete is painful, but I digress.

My dad laughed and told me it takes about five years to really get the hang of a job.

I’m not sure if this is entirely true for every type of job.  Some jobs change often, requiring much more flexibility in terms of responsibilities and skills.  There are probably some jobs that truly keep you on your toes almost all of the time.

Air traffic controllers:  I’m looking at you.

As my oldest child rounds the corner toward her fifth birthday, I keep hearing this statement my father made to me years ago.  Do I feel like I’m getting the hang of this job?  This motherhood gig?

I have been a stay-at-home mom for just over four years now; my first year of motherhood was spent working 40 hour weeks while my husband played Mr. Mom (hopefully minus feeding the baby chili).  There are definitely aspects to this job that I feel I have gotten the hang of.

Cloth diapers?  I can use them, wash them, get poop off of them, use them on outings if I need to, etc.  Nailed it.

Breastfeeding?  Check.  I haven’t had a baby that didn’t love nursing.

Reading to Kids?  Got that one down.  I start reading to my kids in the first month of their lives, and it’s one of the things I do most consistently.  I love children’s books, and we visit the library often so I can get my fix.

There are other tasks that I am not so fantastic at when it comes to motherhood:

Baby nap schedules?  I am the worst.  Well, maybe not the worst, but apparently not as good as my husband.  I have had my two youngest babies home with me from the time they were teeny newborns, and I wasn’t able to get either of them on a consistent nap schedule before six months old.  My oldest, raised by her daddy for the first 10 months of her life?  That girl napped like it was her job and slept through the night at 6 weeks old.

Ugh.

Disciplining preschoolers (especially dramatic ones)?  I struggle with this every. single. day. of. my. life.  I have one child that simply doesn’t like to hear the word no or to be told what to do without a full written explanation.  Somehow I feel I have to justify myself to someone who can’t manage to remember to go to the bathroom when they are excitedly playing with friends.

I still find myself researching different aspects of motherhood, trying to improve my game at home, so to speak.  Of course, every once in a while I come across articles like this one, and it blind sides me, causing me to re-think my existence.

The reality is that I struggle with my worth and value as a stay-at-home mom more days than I don’t.  My days are filled with menial tasks:  cleaning, cooking, changing diapers, picking up toys.  The in-between times are filled with book reading, tickle fights, walking the dog, gardening, and sometimes reading.  Do I see real completed work on a day-to-day basis?

Absolutely not.

Unless you count a clean sink at the end of the night real work, I’m really not accomplishing much in the course of a day.  I am simple doing a lot of little tasks that help to maintain the health and well-being of my family.

The author in the above article is of the opinion that this type of work is a privilege and should not be considered a real job.

Although I will agree that being a stay-at-home mother is not a job in the traditional sense, it is certainly hard work, and for many, it is not a privilege.

I had recently had a conversation with the grandmother of one of my daughters’ friends.  She helps care for her three year old granddaughter on a daily basis while her daughter works outside of the home.  She brings her granddaughter to the park, to the library, to doctors appointments, plays with her, and cares for her needs throughout the day.  She is her nanny, in a true sense of the word.

This grandmother has three children of her own, and while she raised her own children (in a country with centralized government childcare and schooling) she worked full-time outside of the home.  This woman confessed to me that as a young mother she felt she was “doing it all”; because she was both a mother and a contributing member to society bringing home a paycheck, she felt that she truly was working twice as hard.

I have heard this argument so many times from working mothers.  They do all the things stay-at-home mothers do, but they work a full-time job on top of that.

But wait, this grandmother let me in on a secret:  she felt that her current situation, being the sole caretaker for one preschooler, was much more challenging than working full-time while having children.

Of course, age is a factor here.  She is at least 30 years older than the last time she had children of her own to care for.  Her point, though, remains valid.

Staying home with one’s own children, though it is something to be thankful for, can be a very difficult job.  Throughout the course of the day, stay-at-home mothers have to do many things that working mothers miss out on:  making three meals a day (probably from scratch to save $$$), reading aloud, planning any day trips, teaching/doing preschool activities, kissing boo-boos, playing, and cleaning up after all of these activities.  Working mothers, who do work very hard, I know, pay some one to perform these tasks while they work and earn a paycheck.  If the care and teaching of children isn’t considered work, why do working parents need to pay someone to do it for them?

There is another contributing factor to the debate of whether or not staying at home with one’s children is considered work:  the value placed on mothers who choose to stay home.  I find that there are two kinds of stay at home mothers:  one stays at home for a short period of time, anywhere from 2-5 years until her child(ren) go to school, and the other stays home for the foreseeable future to care for and nurture her children as long as they need, often taking on the task of homeschooling them.

It is in the first category of mothers that I often see women who feel de-valued.  They see their time at home with their children as a break of sorts.  Or at least they see it as that before they enter into the reality of life at home with children.  They feel they are on some sort of work hiatus, and some don’t recognize the work they are doing that is contributing to their child’s well-being and to society as a whole.

There are definitely mothers in the latter category that succumb to these feelings, as well, but more often, they see the longevity in their work and focus less on the menial, day-to-day annoyances.

I would venture to say that many of the mothers who feel their work at home is not contributing to the world around them jump at the chance to find employment outside the home when they become available for it.  They put less effort into their work at home, and they may be less intentional with the time they spend with their own children.

In short:  not considering the work done with children on a daily basis as “real work” allows one to settle for a lower standard of quality.

Those mothers who see their work at home as valuable and their position as important often spend more time planning and working to create experiences, routines, and opportunities for learning.

This friends, is where I often find myself.  At this crossroads of valuing vs. not valuing my work at home.

Some weeks I feel desperate to seek outside employment or to do anything but be home.  I want more than anything to earn a real paycheck, to make things, to do things, to complete things, and to pee alone.

But lately, I find myself being challenged to put value into the work I do at home, especially as I grow into the role of teacher with fall and homeschool kindergarten quickly approaching.  I hope that as I learn to value my work at home, and my role as stay-at-home mom, I will be better equipped to handle the tasks that this position requires.

I Am Not a Single Mom, But I Play One at Bedtime

Disclaimer:  This title is not meant to offend anyone, not single parents, not military spouses, nor my own spouse.  It is simply a funny way to say I get my kids in bed by myself most nights.  Relax and enjoy some humor.  It’s good for your cardiovascular system.

With a spouse that works second shift, I am almost always on bedtime detail by myself.

How, oh how do I get stuck on bedtime detail alone every time we have an infant?

If you recall, when Squishy Bean was a little Squish, my husband was working until 11 pm, so I was putting a toddler and an infant (and sometimes a friend’s toddler) to bed alone.  Bedtime with multiple small children can really be tricky, especially the more children you add.

Now that we have three of our own little people, I have had to create two sections of our bedtime routine:  Baby Brother’s bedtime and the girls’ bedtime.

Since I am primary parent on duty from mid-afternoon until late morning the next day, I am a firm believer in decently early bedtimes for everyone and the strategic use of a digital clock to teach staying in bed until a specific time in the morning.  It is truly a sanity saver for me.

Our bedtime routine, then, typically starts around 6:30 pm, after the girls and I have eaten dinner.  Baby Brother has probably been hanging out with us at the table, either in my lap or in the pack and play with some toys.  By 6:30, the Little Sir is getting quite tired.  He has begun to wake at night again, so his nighttime sleep isn’t as restorative as it had been.  Because of this, I am trying to get him down and asleep by 7 pm.  (More on why this isn’t happening currently but what I’m doing to help make it happen eventually).

In our home, someone gets a bath every night, but not every one gets a bath every night.  Baby Brother takes baths on his own, since he cannot sit up, and the girls take baths with each other.  Once Brother can sit up more confidently (much closer to 12 months old), he’ll join the girls in the bath.  But for now, his bath alternates days with the girls baths.  If it is a night for him to get a bath, I let the girls either look at books, color, or watch a short television show while I bathe their brother.

I know a lot of people that like to involve older siblings in bathing baby, but that is simply not for me, nor is it for Baby Brother.  He is a very alert, very extroverted little guy, and his sisters stimulate him so much.  He loves them and laughs at them constantly.  Having them help bathe him is just too stimulating and prevents him from settling down well.

After a bath and some lotion, I diaper and pajama the Little Guy, read him a short book, and nurse him.  Unfortunately he doesn’t fall asleep nursing.  Bitsy Girl always did, and it was a cinch to put her down to bed at night; Squishy Bean was hit or miss, but when she did fall asleep nursing, life was easier.  Baby Brother finds his last little bit of energy after nursing, so I often find I have to swaddle and rock him to sleep.  This usually takes only 10-15 minutes.

(Added Bonus:  Standing while swaying and rocking a 17 lb baby is an excellent oblique workout.  I should write a post on postpartum fitness.  Haha.  Just kidding.)

Theoretically, if all has gone well, Baby Brother is asleep in his crib by about 7 pm.  If not, he is laying in his crib with some nighttime music playing, talking to his stuffed monkey.  (Desperate times call for desperate measures, folks.)

It’s at this time that I round up the girls if Baby Brother has gotten a bath that night.  If it is a night for the girls to get a bath, I let their bath fill up while I’m putting pajamas on the Little Guy.  Once it’s full, I let them hop in and play a bit while I nurse and rock their brother.  Fortunately, the bathroom is right next to the nursery, so I can hear them giggling, playing, and splashing.  I usually instruct them to keep their fun to a dull roar.

After Baby Brother is in the crib, it is time for the girls to either get clean or get pj’s.  Bitsy Girl is very self-sufficient in the bathtub, so she can wash herself fairly well.  I do often help her condition her hair since she has so darn much.  Squishy Bean can wash herself just fine, as well, but she needs to be supervised in order to do so.

Once I have two clean girls, they hop out of the tub, dry off, go potty, brush teeth, and put on pajamas.  Then we tiptoe (like ninjas, of course) to the girls room to read a story.  On nights when they don’t bathe, we can read a longer book; on bath nights, I ask them to pick shorter books.  Most nights they ask for ridiculous numbers of books.  Suffice it to say, we are big fans of reading before bed.

After a book, we talk about our favorite things and least favorite things that happened that day.  I love having these few minutes to connect with the girls and to get a window into their little minds and souls.  Having an infant often means the older siblings get less attention than they had previously.  Setting aside time to talk about the day forces me to look them in the eye and hear what they have to say.

We usually finish our bedtime routine with a prayer.  We used to ask each girl to pray for themselves and others, but recently I read this blog post, and we have been trying to read Psalm 121 each night.  It’s simple enough for the girls to understand, and short enough to read in its entirety before bed.  Plus I love that they ask me every night where Israel is; then we have to check our world map in the morning to see, again, where Israel is.  They are often disappointed to find out it is, in fact, not in Wisconsin.

Then we kiss, hug, shnuggle, and I remind the girls that they need to stay in bed, stay still, and stay quiet.  I turn on some nighttime music, and leave the room, hopefully by 7:30 pm.

There are days when I check back in a few minutes, and both girls are asleep.  These are few and far in between.  Most days I have to check in several times, reminding the girls (ok, just the Bean) to stay quiet and still.  On a good day, everyone is asleep by 8 pm.  On a bad day, I have to grab Baby Brother and nurse him to sleep laying down (which is not as convenient as it sounds).  Then they are all asleep by 9 pm.

At which point I have to face the sink full of dishes.

 

How Toys Become Real

The other night Madeline asked to read The Velveteen Rabbit. Our copy is the same one I read as a little girl. I can prove it; my five-year-old self wrote my name in the front cover complete with backwards letters “f”.

The story is about a stuffed rabbit that wishes to be “Real”. His friend the Skin Horse tells him how he became “Real”: by being played with and loved for many years by a little boy. The rabbit soon begins to play with and be loved by the nephew of the Skin Horse’s boy. He takes the rabbit with him outside to play in the fields and the bracken; he builds him burrows in his bed sheets at night. After months and months of love, the velveteen rabbit’s fur begins to become dingy and worn. His seams are coming loose. But it does not matter; for the boy has decided that the rabbit is “Real”.

Not long after, the boy falls ill with scarlet fever. The rabbit sees the boy through the illness, and comforts him during the sleepless nights. Once the boy is well, the doctor and nanny decide to burn all of the boy’s toys and books that he used while ill, including the rabbit. After narrowly escaping a bonfire due to the gardener’s busy schedule, the rabbit encounters the Nursery Magic Fairy. It is she who makes the rabbit REAL. His shabby velveteen becomes real fur, and his body, once sewn as one piece, has front and hind legs that allow him to run, jump, and hop.

 

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite books as a child because I had a bear that was “Real” to me. My grandmother gave Teddy, or later Theodore, to me for my first Christmas, and he never left my side all through my childhood. I took Teddy with me everywhere: he went to the grocery store, he went to school, and he played outside. I took Teddy to college with me, and he even ventured abroad with me to England. When I tell you Teddy looks worn, he looks worn. That bear has had his face eaten not once, but twice, by my childhood dog, and he has been dragged by one paw so long that the seams on that arm are loose.

There had been times over the course of my childhood when I thought I had lost Teddy. The story of the Velveteen Rabbit was always a comfort to me. The Nursery Magic Fairy would surely turn him into a real bear, since I had loved him so much.

Now that I have children, they have their own stuffed animals, of course, but I have added Teddy to their collection. He sleeps on Madeline’s bed, and I notice her hugging him in her sleep sometimes. In my mind, I imagine that Teddy is like the Skin Horse. He is old and wise, and I have already made him “Real”. I picture him talking to Madeline and Clara’s stuffed animals, explaining to them lovingly that being hugged tightly, dragged around, and squished in bed are all part of the process of becoming “Real”. Teddy is the newer stuffed animals’ mentor, just as the Skin Horse was the Velveteen Rabbit’s mentor. He is further along in his “journey of life”, and he has much wisdom to share.

I had to grow up and face reality eventually. Teddy isn’t Real, and he isn’t “Real” either. He is just a stuffed bear that has been loved so much his eyeballs have fallen off. That doesn’t mean, though, that I can’t remember fondly the time in my childhood when my imagination was so active that I felt like my Teddy was my best friend. I can only hope that Teddy is “teaching” my girls’ stuffed animals to play along, too, so they can have a special friend like I did.

Stumbled Upon

In praying and thinking about different ways to raise funds for my upcoming trip to Thailand, I came to the idea that I could make and sell some of my homemade, all natural body care items that I make for my family.

Before this week I made only deoderant for myself, hair moisturizer/conditioner, and body butter.  Upon squeezing the last few drops of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste out of the three tubes we had lying about the house, I thought I would like to make some diaper cream for Clara.

I did a bit of research, looking up different diaper creams and what kinds of ingredients they had.  I, of course, am not a large company and cannot put all kinds of emulsifiers and preservatives in my products, but that’s really the idea isn’t it?  I looked for the main ingredients, the ones that truly heal the skin and protect it from the wet diaper it touches.

After a few days of research, I came up with a list of some key ingredients to make my diaper cream:  coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax, and zinc oxide powder.

I had found out that zinc oxide powder is most often the ingredient in diaper creams that heals any rash.  Unfortunately, zinc oxide powder is also the only ingredient in diaper cream that makes it incompatible with cloth diapers.  So, that wouldn’t be going into my own diaper cream.

So my three other ingredients went into a double boiler and were melted down; about 1 part shea butter, 2 parts coconut oil, and 1 tbsp of beeswax pellets.  After it was combined, I poured my newest concoction into a mason jar and let it cool.

The next morning, I had a wonderful test for this new diaper cream on my hands.  In the interest of not over-sharing, let’s just say that Clara has had quite an appetite lately, which means she is producing many more dirty diapers.  When she produces a lot of dirty diapers in a day, no matter how quickly we change them, she gets quite a nasty diaper rash.  Poor girl has some seriously sensitive skin.

Anyway, I saw her rash and thought “oh geez, this diaper cream doesn’t even have zinc.  I hope it works.”  I doubted this new cream could do anything to the rash I saw on her.

But I consistently applied it after every diaper change and used it liberally.  In one day, I saw almost half of her rash go away, and most of it shrank.  In two days, there literally is no rash left on her bottom.  I could hardly believe it.  This diaper cream worked as well, if not better than, my precious Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, for which I had been paying almost $8 for 4 oz.  This 2 oz. batch of my “Butt Goo” cost me pennies, literally.

Please feel free to use the above instructions to make your own “Butt Goo”, but if you’d like to wait a few days until I receive my containers in the mail, I will be selling “Butt Goo” through my blog.

Parenting Priorities and a Book Review

I am no seasoned veteran when it comes to parenting. My oldest child is only two. So, really, I am not trying to advise other parents here, just share my view.

In recent weeks I have been thinking about my goal as a parent.

I find it so common for mothers to want to raise “advanced” children. They’re babies have to know their colors by 18 months, talking in sentences by 20 months, and reading by age 3. I hear about moms and dads like this; they often focus on the cognitive and academic milestones of their children. They spend hours and hours researching games and strategies to help their child learn and understand concepts very early, and then they spend hours on top of that executing what they research. It’s exhausting. And all the while, the parent(s) are spending much of their time, energy, and mental capacity on the future of their child.

Some parents focus on physical milestones. Is my child walking? Can they run? Will they be a famous baseball player. Parents focused on these aspects of their child’s development often spend less time up front concentrating only on their child. They do, though, often invest a lot of their psychological and emotional well-being on the success of their child. (Not to say that the previous type of parent doesn’t.) These parents spare no expense at helping Junior get the best training and exercises, playing on the best teams, getting the best coaches, etc. so he can really succeed in life. And, of course, give mom and dad the glory.

There are some Christian moms that say they want to raise Godly children. They focus a lot of time and attention on showing their children who God is, reading bible stories to them, and doing activities that reinforce biblical stories and themes. Though this sounds like a noble goal, these parents (read: moms) often find themselves heartbroken and disappointed when their child doesn’t accept the Lord the way they were expected to and Junior ends of leaving the church and the faith all together. Mom and dad feel as though they can personally lead their child to Christ, but are often ultimately disappointed when that falls through.

None of the above are mine and my husband’s personal parenting philosohpy.
Let me stop for a moment to assure you that we do read to our girls, teach them things, take them outside to run around, and teach them about God. I will repeat, though: None of these things are our focus.
Right now, with two toddlers, our focus is obedience and treating others with respect. With two sisters so close, it’s easy to imagine the slapping, pinching, toy-stealing, and other daily atrocities that may go on in our house. Not to mention blatant disobedience of either parent while attempting to get a “second opinion” after receiving an undesired response from one parent. Our daughters may be young, but we believe a child is never too young to learn that they are not the center of the universe; life doesn’t revolve around them.
Obviously, having two children makes this a bit easier.
By focusing on humbling our girls and teaching them that others should be treated with respect, kindness, and love and that elders should be obeyed I feel that all other things will follow.
If our children can obey us, they can obey God.
If they can be kind to one another, they can be kind to non-believers.
If they can respect one another, they can learn to respect future friends and husbands. (One for each, preferably ;-P)
If they can love one another, they can show God’s love to the world.

And that, my friends, is my segue to an awesome book review that I am so privileged to do here on Domesticated Physicist.
I recently received The Beginner’s Bible: Jesus Shows God’s Love (” title=”get it on Amazon”>) to peruse, read to my girls, and review.
Ok, so by recently I mean I received it just before we left for the great north for Christmas.
But man was that an awesome Christmas gift.
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This book is not a true children’s bible, necessarily; instead, it gives highlights throughout Jesus’ life of how He showed love to others around Him.
Each page had a few sentences with a large colorful picture depicting a scene in Jesus life. Allow me:
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This had to be my *favorite* page in the entire book. This illustration’s caption is: “John also baptized people. He said, “Get ready! The Lord is on his way!”
Why do I love this picture so much? Because this is EXACTLY how I picture John the baptist when I read the gospel of Matthew. Rugged, with dirty toes, lots of hair and a giant beard with a slightly wild look in his eye. Perfection.
But aside from my love for this book, I found that Madeline loved it, as well. The pictures were drawn in a very kid-friendly way. She was able to pick out and understand the theme on each page (for the most part), just by examining the drawing. I think she also liked hearing the many small instances in Jesus’ life when He loved on others. Many children’s bibles (the ones we have, for example) often skip over some of the lesser miracles and healings that Jesus performed to leave room for the major events in His life. This book filled in some of those lovely details.
She may just love looking at the illustrations, too.
I found this book to be a great addition to our Christian children’s book library. It’s message was very clear and easy to understand for a young preschooler, and the pages were colorful and exciting enough to keep the attention of both of our girls.
My only complaint about this book is that it is paperback. At this young age, especially with Clara around, I tend to prefer board books. This book just requires adult supervision when the littlest one is around.

Just Another Chore

In our house we have a rule:  the washcloth hanging on the kitchen sink is for wiping tables and counters, while the washcloth hanging on the kitchen faucet is for wiping babies.

I change both daily, so don’t get your panties.

Today I was cleaning up from lunch, and I grabbed the table/counter cloth to wipe up Clara’s high chair.  I went to the sink, rinsed out the cloth, and nearly went to wipe Clara’s face with the same cloth.

Friends, you read correctly.  I almost wiped my babies face with the same cloth I just wiped the table and highchair with.

Is this really that big of a deal?  No.

Are there people who probably use the same cloth for both messes?  Yes.

Do I judge them?  No.

Secretly? Maybe??

Just kidding.

But back to the point:

It wasn’t the cloth that I was using that stopped me in my tracks so much as my heart.

I was treating my 9 month old as just another thing to wipe up.

I find myself caught in this trap more often than I would like to admit.  When it comes to diaper changes, wiping faces, changing clothes, playing, teaching, etc., I can put my kids on my to-do list right alongside “fold laundry” and “wash dishes”.

Kids are certainly a lot of work.  Right now, a lot of the things I do for my children are physical, and so they feel like a job in and of themselves.

But I have to remind myself daily that they are much more than a job.  They are blessings.  Somehow the Lord found Beard and I suitable enough parents for these two little princesses; He has entrusted us to raise them the best way we are able.  That does include some physical daily tasks like feeding, bath time, and tucking into bed, but there is so much more to it.

Parenting includes smiles, laughter, hugs, kisses, discipline, encouragement, rewarding good behavior, comfort, reassurance.

Love.

Tomorrow I am given the opportunity to change my attitude for the better and to look at my two sweet girls as the gifts from God that they are.