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.

Raising Responsible Adults

First, I will tell you, that after an hour on a lawn mower, there isn’t a lot that hasn’t gone through your mind.  There is just something magical about the monotony of riding on a lawn mower that truly opens your mind and helps you to sort through thoughts you’ve been holding on to.

Or at least it does for me.

Last week, I had a scary moment with my oldest.  I was cleaning in the house, and she wanted to play outside.  My youngest, though, wanted to stay inside.  As per our house rules, I told my oldest she could stay outside, just so long as she stayed inside the fence.

She has strayed before, and has been disciplined for it, but I know it is never beyond her to follow her whims into the next yard.

After a little while of cleaning, I called Madeline to come inside to wash up for lunch.

She wasn’t there.

I looked on the front porch where she might be coloring with chalk.

She wasn’t there either.

I grabbed Clara and started wandering down the road yelling Madeline’s name.

(Sorry, neighbors.)

On my way back, I decided to knock on our next door neighbor’s door, only to find my 3-going-on-35-year-old-first born sitting on her couch.

Apparently Madeline had helped her bring in her groceries, then sat herself down to relax.

“My mom will come find me,” she told our neighbor.

Of course, upon hearing this I was very upset.  I have been trying to teach Madeline to obey the rules of the house, especially because they all truly have her and her sister’s safety in mind.  The fact that she would blatantly leave our yard without telling me, and sit herself in someone else’s house, was infuriating.

Seriously, how dare she?

It wasn’t until this week, having had many hours to think about it, that I considered Madeline was actually exhibiting some characteristics my husband and I have been working hard to show her.

First, we are teaching our girls to show initiative.  Do no wait to be asked to do something, but do it if you see the need.  This hardly ever happens in our house, but when it does, we go wild.

Serve and help others.  We often ask our kids to help us with tasks, just so they can get used to the idea of helping one another.  We do have Madeline help Clara sometimes, when Clara can tolerate her big sister’s help.

Although it can be frustrating at times, we are raising a very independent, strong, caring, initiative-taking young girl.  Our little Madeline will move mountains one day, I guarantee it.  But until then, she will at least have to live by our house rule.

Who Cares What the Packaging Says..?

If you trust your child, let them eat it:

100_2405(The red and yellow box on the bottom says:  Choking Hazard:  Do not feed nuts to children under six.  Clearnly, Bitsy Girl is not six, but she can tear through some almonds like nobody’s business.)

In other news, today is Food Waste Friday.  Cleaning out my refrigerator I found only one container of gross items, but I did forget to snap a picture.  For any of you who make your own broths, you know the usual suspects that get thrown into a broth:  onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, bay leaf, etc.  Well, after the broth is made, I always have a hard time throwing out that much food, so I put the leftover, mushy, broth-sucked-out-of vegetables in a container in the fridge.  I made broth two weeks ago.

Enough said.

Oh well, it’s a new week and I have a clean fridge!

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It’s Always a Successful Day When..

Somebody poops in the tub.
That would be the Squishy Bean for the win this evening. My girls have both had huge appetites lately, and there is no longer any predictability about their bowel movements. Which leaves me in fear each time I put them in the bathtub.
But today, folks, I overcame that fear. The Little Bean pooped, and I *almost* calmly pulled the Bean out of the tub and put her in her little reclining floor chair, while having the Bits just hang out on the bath mat. I drained the water quickly, wiped out the tub, and refilled it.
I had only just shampooed their hair and hadn’t rinsed it yet.
While waiting for the water to drain, the Bean pooped again. In her reclining chair. Perfect. Luckily the fabric cover removes easily and is machine washable. It’s washing with the diapers at the moment. 🙂

I have these moments in motherhood when I think to myself “I really can’t deal with this right now; I’m hungry, tired, grumpy, etc.” But somehow God manages to give me grace. And a lot of patience. We get through a rough moment and suddenly the Bean coos at me or Bitsy Girl gives me a big ol’ kiss and none of it matters. What does matter is that I can enjoy them while they are small and form strong relationships with them now so that years from now they will remember that Mommy was the one who watched them play outside, kissed their boo-boos, read them the same book five times in a row, and gave them their favorite food for lunch.

Yesterday, folks, was Food Waste Friday.  Fear not, I did clean out my fridge.

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The bowl was some chicken-ish soup I had thrown together a few weeks ago that Bitsy Girl didn’t particularly want to finish.  I don’t know how long it has been in the fridge, so it’s going.  The purple top container was some gravy when I made roast chicken.  Last paycheck.  So two weeks ago.  I’m not sure about the lifespan of gravy in the fridge, but I am not about to test it.

Below it is some turkey rice soup I had made (you can see a pattern here) that Bitsy Girl didn’t like much either.  I do try to re-introduce foods I make for the family at least once, but if she refuses it, I typically don’t push the issue.  She is a very good eater otherwise, and I am amazed sometimes at the things she loves.

Olives, for example.  Seriously, what 18-month-old loves olives?  Mine.

Finally, on the bottom was some leftover salad that I had sent with Beard to work for his dinner.  He has a hard time eating green things in general, and I think I just got over zealous and gave him a bunch, in hopes that the ranch dressing would cover up the taste enough.  It didn’t.  And then it sat in our fridge til I found it yesterday.  Ew.

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I have been asked by a lot of people how it’s going with two children.  I ended up taking a short sequence of photos yesterday that I feel really exemplifies the sisterly relationship already developing between my girls:

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The Mini Squish, just relaxing in her boppy.

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Bitsy Girl, in a blur as usual, runs in for a hug.

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Then a kiss on the nose.

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Then I get a big grin from the Squishy Bean.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love having two little girls.

The Importance of Napping

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There aren’t very many things set in stone schedule-wise in our house, but nap time is one of them.

The other is actually my refusal to eat lunch before 12 or dinner before 5.  Never. Gonna. Happen.

Anywho.  Nap time is an essential part of our day.  Bitsy, of course, needs a few hours to rest and recoup from a long morning of playing, running around, and generally just being busy.  That little girl hardly sits down if she’s not eating or asleep.

Nap time, though, is also important for the rest of the household.  For those of you who don’t have young, mobile children, you may not realize how much attention and care they really need.  Granted I am not changing Bitsy’s diaper every hour or so like I am Squishy Girl’s, but I do have to have my good eye on her at all times, otherwise she is likely to pull things out of the trashcan and eat them or stick her hand into her diaper to check for what I can only imagine she thinks is buried treasure.

But I digress.

Both on days when Beard is working or when he’s home, nap time is essential to everyone’s sanity.  It’s when adults get to eat lunch in peace.  It’s when we can watch shows that may be inappropriate for little ones on a Sunday afternoon.  (Lately we have really gotten into Fringe, and there are far too many dead bodies on that show to allow a toddler to see it.)  Nap time is when I get my chance to stare at the Little Squish’s cute squishy cheeks and kiss her lips without a jealous sister asking for “uppies”.  And nap time is when I can read a book in peace.  It really is wonderful.

And as you can see, nap time is when dear Bruno recoups from a morning of chasing after and dodging our active little Bits.

And, of course, after nap time, our little toddler is so much more pleasant and ready to tackle her many roles of dog catcher, scholar, scientist, daughter, and big sister.

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