By Emily Stimpson
When Laura Garland’s first son was born in 2007, her question wasn’t, “Do I want to be a stay-at-home mom?” She knew that without a doubt.
Rather, her question was (and still is) how to be a stay-at-home mom.
“I grew up with a working mother,” explained the now 25-year-old mother of two. “All my friends grew up with working mothers. I never had anyone show me how to do this.”
Garland isn’t alone. The children of the baby-boom generation watched their moms head off to work in heels and pearls, not struggle to shower before noon.
They were taught how to be accountants, lawyers and public-relations executives, not how to juggle the needs of children, husband, house and self.
And for those now choosing home over office, that education — or lack thereof — can cause no end of confusion, frustration and tears.
But the tears don’t have to be the end of it all. Staying sane and happy while being a stay-at-home mom is possible, if you know the tricks of the trade, as shared by three women who are in the know.
1. Take care of yourself.
“I know it’s counterintuitive, but the most important thing a mom can do is take care of herself,” said Rachel Campos-Duffy, pregnant with her sixth child and author of “Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood.” “It’s like the oxygen mask on the plane: You have to put your own on before you help anyone else.”
That means, she said, working out, eating right and, most important, taking time daily to nourish your faith life.
“Even when there’s not time to pray, try to see all the ordinary things you do for the kids as prayers in themselves,” she said.
2. Nurture your marriage.
The more little ones you have who need you, the easier it is to forget that your husband needs you, too.
But, said Campos-Duffy, the family can only be as strong as the relationship between husband and wife.
“The family functions better when Mom and Dad are working in tandem, being in love and acting that out in all the chaos,” she said. “So nurture that relationship. Schedule date nights. Carve out time to be alone without the kids. And keep doing the things you enjoyed when you were first in love.”
3. Embrace the mess ... literally and figuratively.
Happiness is often a question of expectations. So stop expecting perfection.
“That’s not what family life is,” said blogger and mother of six Justine Schmiesing. “Life is a mess. Your kids will make mistakes. You’ll make mistakes. Peace and tranquility aren’t always going to reign in your home. That’s normal.”
So, too, she added, is a house that doesn’t look fresh off the pages of Good Housekeeping.
“Those magazines are architectural pornography,” said Schmiesing. “They do the same thing to your perceptions of your home that real pornography does to people’s perceptions of women’s bodies. It’s not real, there’s no life in it, and you’ll go crazy if you try to maintain that level of perfection.”
4. Get help.
Once upon a time, most women stayed home. But they weren’t alone. They had mothers, sisters and aunts living with them, neighbors all around, or servants in the kitchen.
Today, families are scattered, neighborhoods empty and live-in servants the rarest of luxuries.
But a mom’s need for help remains the same.
Accordingly, advised Faith and Family editorial director Danielle Bean, if you can find a way to have someone help with the cleaning — even once a month — take advantage of that opportunity. And if you can hire a baby sitter for a few hours every week so you can run errands or grab a few precious moments for yourself, do it.
“Unlike anything else, parenting is nonstop,” said the mother of eight. “Just knowing that you have three hours of help coming can get you through. That’s not something you should feel guilty about. We all need help.”
5. Expect more from your husband.
“Just because you’re the stay-at-home parent doesn’t mean the house and kids are your sole responsibility,” said Campos-Duffy. “Your husband should be your partner.”
And if he’s not stepping up to the job?
“Don’t give him a choice. Wave goodbye to him and the kids for the evening — or just long enough to go to the grocery story. He’ll figure it out,” she said. “The more he understands what you’re doing, the more he’ll appreciate your need for help.”
“Besides,” she added, “it’s often us that won’t let husbands help because we know they won’t do things the way we would. We need to let go of that. The kids aren’t going to die, and we’ll be a whole lot happier for the break.”
6. Connect with other moms.
If there’s a playgroup at church, join it. If not, start one. Find other young moms, and make sure to spend time with them.
“Having someone to whom you can vent and who can remind you that everything you’re going through is normal is a must,” said Schmiesing.
Even if you’re the only stay-at-home mom on the block, added Bean, there’s always the Internet.
“Blogs, Facebook, the forums on faithandfamilylive.com — all those are useful tools for mothers to reach out and find other moms who share their circumstances,” Bean said. “Staying at home doesn’t mean you have to be isolated anymore.”
7. Remember the big picture.
At times, being a stay-at-home mom can seem a thankless task. But rewards do come.
“This is the most important job any of us will do,” said Bean. “So be patient with yourself. You will see your decision to stay home pay off in the long run.”
“Being an at-home parent doesn’t automatically make you a better parent,” added Campos-Duffy. “But it does give you more opportunities to be the best parent you can be. The more you play tennis, the better you play. Likewise, the more time you spend with your children, the more you understand them, the more parenting becomes second nature, and the more you enjoy it.”
And when all else fails, concluded Schmiesing, “Remember you’re not just wiping bottoms and cleaning up messes: You’re building a life. Wiping bottoms and cleaning up messes just happen to be part of that life.”
Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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