Recently a former colleague of mine (and friend) emailed me out of the blue to tell me she was pregnant with her third child and was leaving her job to become a stay-at-home mom. She was emailing me, out of all people, to ask my advice on how to make the transition easier from working outside the home to working in the home (stay-at-home mom). I was flattered. I also didn’t hesitate to share my experiences with her, both the good and the bad. There’s no sense in candy coating an experience to save face.
I figured this might be a great opportunity for me to share a few tips on how to mindfully transition from working full-time outside the home, to working full-time inside the home as a stay-at-home parent.
**Before I dive right in with my clear, concise, non-rambling bullet points that are just so pinterestingly pinnable… a little background. My mother was not a stay-at-home mom. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that she was laid off and she was home every day when I got back from school. It was weird. It was just not something I was used to seeing or having in my life. When Henry was born in 2008, I went back to work when he was 12 weeks old. I’ll never forget that long walk to the train, wearing my backpack breast pump, eyes weepy, like some kindergartener going off to school for the first time. I worked 40 plus hours a week and frankly, I felt like a part-time mother. My job was intense, the leader of my department, while brilliant, was intense, and I felt like my job came first much of the time. I traveled a lot and much of the evening/weekend care of Henry was left to my husband. I was in China for Henry’s first birthday. Enough said.**
When we moved to Vermont in 2011 I had quit my job in Chicago and had no plans of looking for work. I wanted to stay home with Henry and get him settled before delving into a job search. And frankly, I was tired of working in the academic industry, so finding a new career all together was daunting. And then poof…I got pregnant with Ruby. And that’s when I figured it would just be best to stay home with Henry and my newborn. I realize how lucky we are to be able to make this choice. In Chicago, we were not fortunate enough and I had to work to help support the family.
So now on to the crux of the matter…transitions. Cha-Cha-Cha Changes…..
Based on my experiences, here are my top tips for making a smooth transition from working full time to stay-at-home parent (although one, including myself, would argue that both work full-time).
- Me, myself and I: Finding “you” time. Remember this post of mine from awhile back? It’s really important that you get at least a few minutes of time alone to yourself on a daily basis. If not daily at least once a week. You will soon realize that pooping in the bathroom stall at work next to a complete stranger was much more relaxing than having to take your daily constitutional with the door open and your children asking you twenty questions about how chewing gum is made. If you’re not able to have your partner watch your children for you then find another parent to drop your kids off with while you drive around the countryside eating Doritos and listening to NPR run errands. For me, running has been my alone time. I try and get out several times a week for a run. It’s amazing how much you can get “accomplished” when you’re by yourself. I’m a better person and a better mother when I have some time to myself .
- Where my Homies at?: Finding friends who are stay-at-home parents. Listen up, and here’s the truth, and it hurts: not all stay-at-home parents are created equal. It’s true. Some are really awesome. And some will just suck the life out of you and your spirit. It’s up to you to find a fellow mother or father with whom you can align. Someone who’s parenting style is similar to yours. Someone who you can admit freely to that you let your child watch 5 episodes in a row of Word Girl because you were so tired. Really, it’s like dating (see a previous post of mine about this—shameless plug for my archived work, can’t you tell?!). Finding a fellow stay-at-homie is important for a few reasons. Chances are they have kiddos the same age as yours and you can have insta-play dates with them. And second, while your kids are sharing their goldfish together and/or plotting your demise you have a friend with whom you can chat. Or in my case last week a friend who will continue to eat her salad, not bat an eye, and smile continually while you bawl your eyes out at the kitchen table because you’re feeling like a crappy parent. Depending on where you live and your intro/extro-vertness finding friends will be challenging. Sometimes it’s helpful to enroll your kiddos in activities. They meet new friends, and you will likely find one or two parents you like. Either way, be patient and be easy on yourself.
- Adjust your expectations…about everything: Finding your inner zen. Before I became a stay-at- home parent I had this romantic notion of what it would be like at home with my kids. Dinner would be prepared on time, children would be quietly working on a craft at the dining room table, and all laundry would be folded. Oh heck no. For some reason when you’re a stay-at -home parent, not only does the duty of raising your children (during the day) fall to you but so does all the housework, errand work, and general crap duties. If this is not the case with your current situation, then just skip on over to point #4. Oh you’re still here? Good because I have yet to meet a parent who is able to successfully navigate all of these duties with aplomb. Some days it’s really easy to make that green tomato chutney you’ve been dreaming about, other days you’re lucky if you’re able to take a shower and/or even get out of the house. I have not mastered finding my inner zen. Some days I am ok with complete chaos and other days you’ll find me in the hallway closet crying and stuffing my face with a bag of skittles. Truth. Find a little perspective.
- You say “tomato”, I say “bite me”: Finding communication zen with your partner. My husband and I have been together for 12 years and we still have issues with communication. There was a point where my husband said to me one night, “I don’t understand why you’re so p***y when I come home at the end of the day. I’m so excited to see you and the kids and you can barely talk to me.” He was right. I was p***y. I can be really p***y some nights. What he didn’t realize was that while he was decompressing in the car on the way home from work, I was essentially herding cats all day without much of a break or thank-you (even though I teach them manners on a daily basis). Once we sat down and talked about what goes on with me and the kids all day, he could understand that some days I wasn’t composed, wearing a starched shirt-dress and calling the Beav downstairs for dinner upon his arrival. Talk with your partner. Tell them about your day, the good the bad and the ugly. Tell them about the errands you run, the relationships you manage, and the dried pepperoni you found under the couch cushions. Your job is important… really important. It’s important to talk to them about your day too. It’s also important for your kids to hear you share these details.
Being a stay-at-home parent has been one of the most amazing experiences for me. It was, however, a very difficult transition for me. My career had defined me in almost all aspects of my life. Sad but true. When I quit my day job, I felt lost. I felt like I wasn’t interesting anymore.
It took time for me to warm-up to the idea that being at home with my kids was a legitimate job.
It’s the best job in the world…some days. Like any job… you have good days…days where your heart swells with love and emotion and warm snuggly thoughts. And there are bad days…days where you yelled too much, scowled at your kids, and wished you had a different job.
When I first became a stay-at-home mom I felt so awful about having bad days. I would be so hard on myself, “What are you complaining about? You don’t have to go to “work”…you get to be home all day with your kids.” Just because you admit to yourself that you’re not enjoying every moment of being at home, it doesn’t mean you love your kids any less. I think these feelings are ok, we’re only human. Maybe you never feel this way…and that’s why we’ll never be friends…no, I’m kidding. Everyone’s experiences are different. The above mentioned points about a mindful transition are obviously not exhaustive. Some points may apply to you…others could be completely useless. This is just my story.