As a stay at home mom, it's not uncommon for me to hear variations of the phrase, “That's great, but I could never do that.” It's a statement that can sound condescending, though I don't think it's always intended to be. With the exception of those who just don't want to stay at home (which is fine) the two main reasons that I think women say they could never be a stay at home mom are a genuine concern about how to live on one income and/or because they think it would be hard on their mental well being. I can't speak to anyone's individual financial situation, but I have wanted to say something in regards to the second concern, mental well being. Because I'm wondering just what it is that they believe is the difference between us? Why me, and not them? Do they think that I'm some kind of supermom with extra reserves of patience? Just ask my kids, they'll tell you I'm not! Or maybe they think that I really am going a little crazy? Desperately unhappy? Lacking in mental stimulation? No, no, and no. I'm happy in my vocation as a stay at home mom, and I've picked up some practical ideas over the years that have helped me with that whole issue of mental well being. These are tips that can be applied regardless of income level. I've learned what works for me. It may be completely different for you, but I'll share what I've got,
1. I think in terms of a “working week” and weekends. During the week, I feel best if I maintain the same type of structure that's often seen with paid work. Some people thrive on flexibility, I thrive with structure. I have a starting time to my days and I try to be dressed and ready to go by then. My kids often hear me say, “We've got to get going on our day!” when I'm trying to get them moving, even though they're homeschooled. I also have an ending time to my work day. It's not that I don't do any jobs around the house on evenings and weekends, it's just that those jobs are more equally shared with my spouse and I'm more relaxed about when I'll get to them. The purpose of doing this is so that I can enjoy some of the same anticipation and sense of accomplishment that I used to have when I was paid to work.
2. I wear make-up and put some effort into my outfit every day (no sweats), even if I'm not going anywhere special, even if I don't see anybody but my own kids until evening. I would do this just for me, even if if my spouse didn't care, though I think he appreciates it too. This may all be in my head, but I believe I act differently when I feel put together. And honestly, I really like clothes and make-up, and I'd feel left out from rest of the world if I didn't do this.
3. Just like any other profession, I believe that continuing education is an important component of being a stay at home mom. I read parenting books and blogs, I seek out advice from older women who have grown children, and I attend the occasional seminar or class. I do think that there are certain skills that can be improved upon to help me to be a better mom, and I am always trying to improve, learning about and taking pride in my job.
4. Goals and rewards are built into each day. A load of laundry folded, the floor swept, put away the clean dishes from the dishwasher= fifteen minutes of time on social media....or whatever motivates you. A menu plan and shopping list is often drawn up while I enjoy a hot cup of tea. Some jobs that I do aren't very exciting, but I try to balance the things that I don't really want to do with little rewards.
5. Volunteer. I always like to have some kind of volunteer work going on outside of my immediate family and their needs. There are several reasons for this, most of all because it's just a good thing to give back, but a more selfish reason is that I think this helps my kids to see me in a different role, one that isn't just centered on meeting their needs alone.
6. I have some rules for myself that help me maintain self discipline. When my daughter was a baby, I started watching soaps while my daughter napped. I would actually find myself getting irritated with her if she woke up early from her nap, because I was missing out on my show. That is an embarrassing thing to admit. So I decided not to watch any daytime television. It's not that I think there is anything wrong with daytime TV, but I needed to draw a line that kept me far away from that temptation towards laziness and misplaced priorities. For someone else, it might be something totally different. This is just my example.
7. I try to get out of the house every day. Just a little change in environment, even if it's just a walk around the neighborhood, can do wonders for my mental well being.
8. Time with adult friends, on a regular basis is very important.
9. Exercise. It's not always easy to fit in, and sometimes I have do a video at home, but it's well worth the effort.
10. Prayer. I think this is the most important tip on this list. It doesn't have to be anything formal. It can just be an ongoing conversation throughout the day, a spirit of gratitude, a surrender to God, giving over those problems to someone who can handle them, and contemplation on the goodness of a loving heavenly Father. I don't care what job you have, prayer helps.
This is what works for me. I don't want get into any kind of working mom vs. stay at home debate, I'm all for choice. This is simply my response to that old refrain that being a stay at home parent is “great, but I could never do it”. Maybe you really could...just something to think about.