Category Archives: Stay-at-Home Mama

When A Stay-At-Home Mom Goes To Work: Lessons From The Trenches

After eight years of stay-at-home motherhood, I took the plunge into the part-time-paid-work-outside-the-home realm. Yes, stay-at-home motherhood is a job and a demanding one to boot, and yes, I’ve been paid over the years as a freelance writer, but for the first time since Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration speech (the good old days), I clock in and out of a workplace at a location outside of my home on specific days and at specific times…and not in my pajamas.

It’s a small step—a dip of the toes in the water, if you will—but it’s a big deal because eight years ago, when I stood unshowered and sleep-deprived in my kitchen breastfeeding a newborn baby in one arm and flipping a grilled cheese sandwich for a toddler in the other, I couldn’t imagine having the time, energy, or desire to be accountable to anyone but my precious snowflakes ever again.

Yet, here I am. One day a week, I teach creative movement, tap, and ballet at my local YMCA. It’s fun, exhausting, demanding, inspiring, and always unpredictable. In fact, it’s a lot like stay-at-home motherhood but with other people’s kids wearing pink tights.

Rediscovering my true calling after a decade entrenched in motherhood has been a gift. I feel like I’m exactly where I am supposed to be, but my new endeavor has come with a steep learning curve. Going to work has triggered a delightful dose of mayhem at home and has taught me some important lessons about the intersection of stay-at-home motherhood and work.

Murphy’s Law is no joke. When your kid wakes up before dawn, you’ll be late for school, when you go to the trouble of cooking dinner, everyone will hate it, and on the morning of your first day of work outside the home after almost a decade, your kids will get the stomach bug. If you’re lucky (I was), your angel of a babysitter will show up anyway and be rewarded with a big fat tip and good karma for the rest of her blessed life.

Saying yes is as hard and worthwhile as saying no. When I was encouraged to apply for my job, I said yes even though I hadn’t updated my resume in a decade. When I was offered the chance to teach in the afternoon after my kids got out of school, I said yes even though I had no plan for childcare. When a friend offered to take my son to his drum lesson while I worked because she took her kids at the same time, I said yes. Those yeses were scary, but once they spilled out, things fell into place.

Small change = big chaos. The average newborn baby in the United States weighs just 7.5 pounds, and we all know those tiny humans are flipping tsunamis! Whether you work 40 or four hours per week, your routine will come unhinged. The easy breezy flexibility of stay-at-home motherhood and the entire family’s expectation of said flexibility—to spontaneously invite friends over to play after school, to wait at home for a delivery, or to run to the craft store today for a project due tomorrow—will need some adjusting. Not to worry, like with infants, it gets better.

You have (earned) permission to reframe the cost. I was flummoxed by Sheryl Sandberg’s plea in her book, “Lean In,” for working women to stay the course during the early years of motherhood, especially when the cost of childcare consumed most of their paycheck. It made sense in theory, but in execution…not so much. When I quit my job to stay home full time, I did it for a lot of reasons, but the cost of childcare was a major factor. Today, it’s still a factor—I hand a significant portion of my weekly paycheck to a babysitter—but I’m leaning in this time around because my babies have morphed into moody adolescents on the cusp of middle school, Instagram accounts, and curfews. Now, I’m investing my next chapter…me.

Your self-esteem will skyrocket. I’m grateful to have a supportive circle of family and friends who could care less if I’m a stay-at-home mom, working mom, helicopter mom, lawnmower mom, free-range mom, Dutch mom, or hot mess mom. They just want me to clean the toilet seats when they come over, and I do all most some of the time. But, I don’t live in a vacuum. I’ve been on the receiving end of “What do you do all day?” many times, and it takes its toll. I relish my new responsibility. It’s given me a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to learn, and it’s introduced me to many interesting adults and some fascinating kids. It feels good to be a part of something outside of my household, and getting paid for my time and skill is swell, too.

Your kids will miss you (and…psst…you’ll miss them, too). You know how the kids go bonkers when Daddy gets home from work or emerges from the bathroom after disappearing for an hour?Oh, Daddy, we missed you! We love you! You’re the best Daddy in the world!” For stay-at-home moms who reappear after going to the DMV or getting a root canal, it’s more like, “Oh, Mommy, why didn’t you cut the crusts off my sandwich before you left? There’s no ice in my water! You didn’t come when I called for you!” When I get home from work, my kids’ eyes light up. It might be because they’re hungry or can’t find the iPad charger, but I’ll take it. Also, it feels good to prep for and teach my classes and then put my work away for the night. It even makes me appreciate a sink full of dishes. That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Independence, baby! (Not yours, although it’s nice to interact with people who don’t ask you to hold their trash.) Since I started working, my kids do their homework right after school, pack their backpacks in the morning, and bring their plates to sink occasionally (i.e. when there’s a full moon during months that start with “M”). They’re learning in big and small ways to do things for themselves. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my job, but I like to think my newfound autonomy (and my commitment to flushing the toilet) is rubbing off on them.

Your kids will surprise you. They might give you the side-eye when you arrive home after several hours with a babysitter, and they might not ask many questions about what you do, but one day one of them will bring home a picture he drew at school and you’ll realize they have been paying attention, they are curious about what their Mommy does at her job, and despite their surface discontent, they just might be a little bit proud.

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The Stay-at-Home Mom’s Must-Do List For 2017

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Stay-at-home motherhood is relentless. It’s always moving. It’s never still. But it’s also static, unchanging, and monotonous. It’s “Groundhog Day” with occasional location changes.

I’m grateful for every minute I’ve spent with my kids over the last decade, but I’m wistful for the version of me that performed on stage, planned press conferences, helped launch a non-profit organization, and lobbied for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

I’m a person who likes to take risks, surprise people, and get s**t done, but I’m also the default parent who runs the dishwasher twice a day but never seems to empty the sink of dishes.

I take great pride in the little people I’m raising to be happy, healthy, and caring adults, but I sometimes feel the weight of an elephant on my chest. I love where I am, except when I don’t. In other words, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, but I sometimes want to run away…just so long as I’m back in time for the afternoon school pick-up.

If there’s a stay-at-home mom equivalent to a midlife crisis or the seven-year itch of marriage, I’m waist deep in it. It’s not necessarily a bad place. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m on the cusp of doing something great. I’m bursting at the seams to take risks, surprise people, and get s**t done again, which has resulted in me doing some unexpected, inspiring, and empowering things.

If you identify as a stay-at-home mom, default parent, or any person feeling stuck in the daily grind of parenthood (or life), I highly recommend you tackle these must dos in 2017. They’re not resolutions. They’re simple and bold actions that will remind you of your value, power, freedom, and potential.

Update your resume. I know you think there’s a huge gap since you last held a “real” job. You’re wrong. Did you plan a successful silent auction or bingo night at your kid’s school? Did you create a meme about poop that was shared on social media a quarter of a million times? Did you learn how to code to connect with your kid? Are you a leader for your daughter’s Girl Scouts troop or a coach for your kid’s Lego League or soccer team? Did you collect a billion Box Tops for Education? Your resume is ripe with relevant skills and qualifications, professional development, and community involvement, and discovering that the rift isn’t as wide as you imagined is an instant confidence and happiness booster.

Declare bankruptcy. The electronic kind. You know that nagging sensation you sometimes often always feel that something is preventing you from achieving your dreams? It’s your inbox. Get rid of it. Sort through as many recent emails as you can. Deal with or save what’s important and then screw the rest of the seven (or seventy) thousand of them. Choose “select all” and “delete” and I promise you’ll feel like anything is possible.

Time travel. I sucked at making baby books and I’m a firm believer that less is more, but I did save a few babyhood relics, namely my favorite board books. They have bite marks in the corners and some of the pages are warped from milk stains, but they’re intact.  Recently, I read I Love You, Stinky Face to my seven- and 10-year old boys. They thought I was bonkers, but a sweet look of peace and relaxation emerged on their faces after a few pages and I knew their hearts recognized the words and the sound of my voice as I read, “Mama, what if I were a big scary ape? Would you still love me then?” They remembered – we remembered – and I was reassured that this journey is worth the anguish, chaos, and sleep deprivation. Read your favorite baby books to your big kids. You’ll be glad you did.

Pick A Hill To Die On. It’s hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when every load of laundry I fold and clogged toilet I clear is followed immediately by another one. Whoever said a messy house is a happy house didn’t have kids. There isn’t a single surface in my house that isn’t marred by my children. Until now. The coffee table may have succumbed to Lego/Stickbot Village and the dining room table will be swathed in Christmas clutter until, well, probably next Christmas, but the kitchen table is all mine. No one leaves the house or goes to sleep unless my kitchen table is cleared and wiped down. It’s glorious to wake up to her clean, smooth surface every morning, and, yes, it’s the battle I’ve chosen and the hill on which I will proudly die. Pick your hill and don’t look back.

The force is strong in you, Mamas. Take on 2017 like The Boss you are. Happy New Year!

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Five

Today is Riley’s birthday.  He’s five.

My baby is five.

Five is big.  It’s the threshold of childhood.  It’s a new beginning.  It’s a landmark of a birthday, and it’s as significant for me as it is for him.  You see, I worked for the first few years of motherhood, but by the time Riley was born, I had chosen to stay home full time.  His fifth birthday not only celebrates his remarkable life, but also it marks the fifth year that I’ve been a stay-at-home mother.

My baby is five, and I’ve been a stay-at-home mother for five years.

Believe it or not, I was recently asked, “Still home?”  It’s a rude question, isn’t it?  It’s full of judgment, disappointment, and presumption.

“My youngest is still in preschool,” I said in a polite response.  “We’ll see what happens when he’s in Kindergarten and at the same school as his older brother.”

We’ll see what happens…

The thing that was so unnerving about the question was that I wondered (and worried) about it, too.  About still being home.  My boys were four and six when the question was first posed.  Today, they’re five and seven, which has put me even deeper in thought about the notion of still being home.

I didn’t have a specific plan or timeline when I chose to lean out, opt out, or whatever it is I did all those years ago, but I didn’t imagine I’d be home five years later either.  It’s like I’ve trudged up an enormous hill (with a sense of pride, determination, strength, and resilience I didn’t know I had) only to reach the top and have the feeling of accomplishment cut short because I’ve found myself out of breath at the edge of a cliff.

The truth is that I have no clue what I’m going to do when my baby’s in Kindergarten and at the same school with his older brother.   I feel the same amount of anxiety about it as I did five years ago when I stood on the precipice of work and home.

Today, on Riley’s 5th birthday, we’re both on the cusp of something new and unfamiliar.

For him, it’s Kindergarten and new friends and fieldtrips and big yellow school buses and sleepovers and rock paper scissors and thumb wars and knock knock jokes and every adventure that comes with leaping fearlessly into the wonder and surprise of childhood.

For me, it’s following his lead and trusting that if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I’m probably exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Happy birthday to my beautiful baby, er, boy.

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