March 16, 2007
A new stay-at-home mom settles into a rewarding routine
Special to The Seattle Times
My last day at work coincided with my husband's company party, where two very fit and hip stay-at-home moms talked about their recent marathons.
When I was home with the kids, we were still in our pajamas at the end of the day — I couldn't fathom finding time to train for a marathon.
I began to doubt myself.
A new priority
Just one month earlier, I had no intention of becoming a stay-at-home mom. I was invested in my job at Seattle Children's Theatre, which afforded me flexible part-time hours and a sense of self-worth. I was able to retain my professional identity and spend more time at home than most working moms while my 2½-year-old son, Nathan, reaped the social benefits of day care. I had the best of both worlds.
And then came my daughter Caitlyn, now 7 months. She is a sweet and loving child but not independent like her brother. Caitlyn struggled at day care, fussing all day and refusing a bottle. Everyone said she would adjust, but after almost two months, it was more than I could bear.
Trying to find the balance between work and family is a struggle all parents face. While hauling the kids to separate day cares, through a nasty commute, my life seemed exceedingly demanding. The stress was affecting my relationships, I was losing motivation at work and, worst of all, my baby girl wasn't ready to be away from her mommy. I was not the "Super Mom" I thought I was; I just couldn't do it all.
Rethinking, and acting
My husband, Craig, and I knew we had to rethink our situation, but many obstacles complicated our decision. Not only was I worried about our finances and eventually finding another good job but also — and this is hard to admit — I felt like I might go crazy with my kids all day. I was constrained by my own preconceived notions about staying home. To put it simply, it conflicted with my feminist nature.
I was on an emotional roller coaster. Psychological barriers and fear of the unknown made this a very complex dilemma. The last straw was when I forgot our Spanish class and bungled the time for a birthday party Nathan was attending; he missed Jump Planet, and I cried inconsolably.
After this small but, to me, profound event, I knew in my heart of hearts that I needed to quit my job and devote my energy to my children. Being honest with myself and making a decision that was best for my family, and not just me, was one of the most empowering things I have ever done.
Adjusting to one income isn't easy; it requires a shift in priorities. Craig and I took a hard look at our budget and made the changes we could. Our investments, recreational spending and a new car could wait. A healthy family life could not.
Calm after the storm
My first day at home included moments of panic. I wondered whether I had made the right decision. As the weeks continued, these feelings subsided, and I felt a sense of calm. I wasn't being pulled in too many directions, feeling like my core was going to split with one more decent tug.
Certain things have made the transition from working to staying home easier. Craig and I made it a priority to keep Nathan in day care part-time, where he has a nurturing learning environment and good friends. This also gives me a chance to lavish my attention on Caitlyn, who often comes second to her demanding older brother.
Two months into our new way of life, I find myself more organized and composed. I have more energy for my children and more zest for my home life. I used to resent cooking, but now I enjoy trying new recipes and providing healthier meals for my family.
I impose more structure into our days. The first order of business is to get out of our pajamas. During Caitlyn's first nap, I spend time working with Nathan on his letters and numbers. I reserve the time after their afternoon naps for outings, which give me a chance to connect with other moms.
A new community
Just as other working moms were great allies before, stay-at-home moms are now my fountains of knowledge. I am amazed at the number of kid-friendly places I didn't know about. When I was working, play dates were more stress than I could handle; now they are welcome activities.
Staying connected with working friends, however, has been more difficult. Lunches out and happy hours are not as convenient as they used to be. There are times I feel insecure and worry these friends won't be interested in the new stresses of my life. The best consolation I have is that true friends will be there in any situation, even if they are working to cure cancer on a day I can't get beyond dirty diapers.
In giving up my job, I do miss the personal reward I received from using my skills and ideas to aid in some greater good. By volunteering for Sponge (which offers the Spanish classes I take with the kids), I have added some of this reward, variety and adult interaction back into my kid-centric schedule.
Even though there have been hard days, and I have yet to run a marathon, I know I made the right decision. When I told people I was going to quit and stay home with my kids, the resounding response I received was that I would not regret it. And I am happy to say they are right.
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