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.

Finding Normal

My last day as a federal employee was March 30, 2012, and everyday since then I’ve been trying to find normal.  I went from working 40 hours a week and commuting 5 hours a week to being a stay at home mom.  Bitsy Girl was born in July, and I had to return to work when she was 8 weeks old.  I said that it wasn’t so hard to leave her because she didn’t look at pathetic and helpless as some other 8 week old babies I have seen.  Regardless, it was still difficult to leave my daughter, even though she was staying home with my husband.  There really is not way to describe having to take care of every single need for a very needy little human being for 8 weeks, then have to jump back into inspecting government widgets.  It was not only heartbreaking but confusing, as well.

Months later I find myself in the same situation, only reversed.  I have left my job inspecting government widgets to care for my daughter, and yet, I don’t find my switch to being home as natural as I had hoped.  Yes, I feel better about my choice to be home, and yes, I know the basics of caring for my daughter.  It is my time management that could use some work.  I had always thought of myself as a very ambitious go-getter, and yet, I find myself barely getting laundry done some weeks.  Bitsy Girl is 10 months old now, and not only naps 3-4 hours a day, but can play by herself for almost 20 minutes at a time.  I, of course, devote time in my day to play with, cuddle, and care for her, but I find myself easily frustrated with my lack of productivity on home tasks.  My dishes get neglected, I make super easy meals to avoid having to cook for too long.  I forget to wipe down my bathroom sink some weeks.  It seems ridiculous.  I had thought being at home would give me so much time to do what it was I wanted to get down.  I thought I would have time to paint and declutter and bake and cook and garden.  But sometimes I don’t.

I’m continuing to work on these skills, but I wouldn’t mind any suggestions.  Anyone else have suggestions for a poor time manager?

The Second Most Controversial Decision I’ve Ever Made*

Yesterday was my last day at my job.  In fact, it was my last day of gainful employment for quite a while.  You see, I resigned from a government job to stay at home and be a mom.  This was a decision that both Beard and I made in hopes that it would benefit our family now and as it grows.

I have gotten all sorts of responses from this decision.  Of course, living in the Bible Belt, there are many people who congratulate us on our new life change.  Conservativism does tend to produce single-income households with mom at home (I know it doesn’t always, of course).  But our decision did not come from our own values or desires, but rather our vision for a family.

As Christ-followers* my husband and I hope to grow a family of loving, God-centered children who go on to change people’s lives.  Raising children like this does not happen by accident; it takes discipline and focus on the part of the parents.  Throughout scripture, God commands us to teach our children His ways:

These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.  Repeat them to your children.  Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. (Deut. 6:6-9, HCSB)


God’s words in this passage are directed towards the Israelites after they received the ten commandments through Moses, but they are still very pertinent today.  It is clear that God desires parents to spend ample time with their children in order to train and teach them His ways.  For our family, we felt the best way to do this was to have one parent at home.

When our daughter was born in July, my husband was still finishing school, and I was the sole earner in the household.  I had to return to work, which was most definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.  My husband cared for my daughter during the day and went to school at night, until the beginning of this year when he graduated and was hired by a local university.  We both knew immediately what ultimate goal we had in mind, but we had to wait for the right time.

After a short waiting period for health benefits at my husband’s new job, I put a four-week notice in at my job. 

To answer many questions here:  Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree.  Yes, I had started a career with the federal government.  No, I had no student loans left to pay off (for my own degree).  Yes, I had thought about this choice a lot. 

But being a working mom simply wasn’t right for our family.  We were all over-tired and cranky and spent little time with each other. I was not able to spend much time with my daughter while she was awake.  I could see that maintaining that lifestyle would prevent me from being able to teach her and train her into a Godly young woman.

I am not naive enough to think that by staying at home I will solve all of our family problems.  In fact, I know it will create some different issues.  I do know, though, that I will have more time and opportunity to raise children that love and follow Christ.  That is worth any of the challenges.

 

*The most controversial decision I’ve ever made was to surrender my life to Jesus Christ.  Don’t believe me?  Ask me about it sometime. 🙂

A Wednesday Kind of Miscellany

I write this type of post mirroring posts I’ve seen on The Frugal Girl

 

Finally after having three weeks of bare (but nicely painted!) walls in the living room I decided to map out where I want to put pictures up.  I’ve got a few from our wedding a few years ago, one of each of us with Bitsy Girl, and one of each of us from the past.  Once that is up and done, I’ll share pictures.

This past weekend I cleaned out the pantry like a mad woman, and I’m ashamed to admit that I had some spilled corn syrup on the walls and shelves in there.  (I couldn’t see it until I moved everything out of there; don’t judge.)  Of course corn syrup is a terrifying substance, but I found the best thing to remove it:  hot water.  I put the hottest water I could stand in a bucket and wet a washcloth with it and wiped the syrup off.  I found if I rubbed in circles or side to side, I just spread the sticky stuff, but rubbing in the direction of the drips really got it all off!

Tuesday I took the day off to save sweet Bruno from the pound.  It turns out a neighbor’s dog was killed by a medium-sized black dog, and of course they swore it was the pitbull mix who did it.  Funny I didn’t notice any blood on his white snout….

Today was my going away lunch at work.  It made me realize that my resignation is for real.  I have been talking and thinking about it for a long time now, but to actually be this close to it is amazing to me.  As of Friday I am no longer gainfully employed.  I’ll write a post on it sometime soon, but I’ll just say this:  it was probably the second most controversial decision I’ve ever made*.

Finally, today I pick up my sister from the train station.

Image

That’s my Sniglets at our wedding.  Isn’t she lovely?  She’s a very cool older sister, and I’m very much looking forward to her visit.  🙂

Next adventure:  hanging pictures in the living room.