The Heartbeat of Homemaking and Happiness as a Stay at Home Mum
Before you decide to skip over this post all together, no this isn’t about how to be the perfect housewife or perfect parent. If it were I certainly wouldn’t be qualified to write it! So the pictures might look pretty but if you came over for coffee at my house it may not always look so picture perfect! But this is the first post in a new series at Lattes Laced with Grace titled the ‘Cappuccino&Chaos Consulting for stay at home mums, work outside the home mums & all mums’. Because the well- being of mothers is worth talking about. This series isn’t about giving advice, as after all, I don’t have all the answers and I struggle just as much as the next person. But it’s really about encouraging all parents to support one another in the season of being in the trenches with little ones, regardless of their different circumstances or choices they may have made. This post is really specifically targeted toward those mothers who are currently at home with their children, and I wanted to reflect on how one can be happy in this season.
If you are a ‘stay at home mum’, what has worked for you? I know that the term ‘work at home mum’ (WAHM) refers to mothers who may work from home as well as raising children, but I’ve always thought that all mothers at home are work at home mums. Because regardless of the fact that society may think that stay at home mums just sit around painting their nails, watching Oprah and eating Tim Tams, it’s actually hard work. Really, really hard work. And besides, Oprah isn’t on anymore, and Jeremy Kyle? Well it just isn’t the same.
Thriving or Surviving? Flourishing or Frazzled?
Jokes aside – Are you thriving while at home or merely surviving? Are you flourishing or frazzled? I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum, and while I enjoy my children, I love being a Mum and I want to be at home with them, like many mothers there have been some days where I’ve had to work on enjoying being at home. In some ways I find it easier to be at home now that I have three children as opposed to one, as I’m busier and the day goes more quickly. I’m also probably less isolated than when I had one child under three due to connections through preschool, school, church and online connections also.
And my experiences are not unique. Many women struggle with being at home. Many mothers feel trapped and stuck, even though the years with little ones go by very quickly. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that when you are ‘in the trenches’ and some mothers may report feeling resentful and unfulfilled. Furthermore, research confirms that ‘stay at home mothers’ are more likely to be depressed. I’m grateful to be able to be at home with my children as this can be difficult financially for many families and I don’t have any regrets staying at home . However, while I realise it is a priviledge to see my children grow and develop, I don’t see it as a luxury and there have been times where I have grappled with the loss of a career (seven years since I have worked outside the home other than a little part time work). The isolation and boredom despite being busy has also featured.
It is difficut today for many women to be ‘at home’ as the traditional role is often devalued. And when your children reach school age there is significant pressure to get into the workforce, to get a ‘real’ job. Despite the fact that running a household is a fulltime job when you have children, and there is alot to do, even when they reach school age. And I’m not talking about having a perfect house. I’m just talking about maintaining reasonable standards of cleanliness and tidyness so that one’s home isn’t a biohazard. Personality is also a factor in how happy one is as a stay at home parent. While working mothers experience different stressors, many mothers find it easier to be at work and that the stressors of work are easier to manage than those associated with being at home.
Everyone is different but these are some strategies that have worked for me to enable me to thrive rather than just survive as a stay at home parent. Because when mum is happy everyone is happy. The saying ‘a happy wife, a happy life’ has some truth in it too.
Valuing my Role
I have no doubt that it has been good for my children to have a parent at home. There have been lots of fun moments and precious lovely moments, as well as some less lovely moments. For our family it has been especially important for me to be the primary caregiver as we have no family close by who can assist us and my husband has a very busy job, working lengthy hours. And there are so many aspects of home making that I enjoy embracing – cooking, baking, organization, and most know that I am party mad. Although there are days where I feel domestically disadvantaged. Furthermore, homemaking may seem mundane, mindless even, but one can take an intelligent approach to anything. And it requires a very diverse skill set. One of the blogs I enjoy reading is ‘The Humbled Homemaker’ (wwww.thehumbledhomemaker.com). Because being a ‘homemaker’ in this day in age is a humbling job, there are no accolades, promotions or rewards, it’s often thankless and sometimes invisible. It’s also relentless and if you are someone who has high standards, it can be difficult to maintain those standards. Sometimes I fnd it embarrassing when someone comes over as it is so difficult to manage the mess and it often looks like I haven’t done any housework at all, even if I have. It really is shovelling snow while it’s still snowing. I know that God values my role and that my role has eternal significance. What could be more important that raising the next generation and nurturing little lives? What do you have up your sleeve when people ask you what your day job is? I say that I am a ‘Director of Domestic Affairs’ by day and blogger by night.
Prioritize your Marriage
If you are in a relationship or married, prioritize this. No it’s not all about this kids, but the best gift we can give our children is a strong partnership. You’ve probably heard it before – scheduling regular date nights doing things that we enjoyed B.C (before children) is vital. Putting this into practice when you have little ones, is a little harder as life can be busy.
Routines & Structures
We all have routines with preschool and school (or homeschooling). In our family we have a timetable with activities such as ‘Music Monday’, sports, church and school activities. I’ve also found that having a routine with meals and housework has really revolutionized my sense of feeling like our home is ‘organized controlled chaos’ rather than ‘out of control chaos’.
Sometimes it is the mundane everyday tasks that can become overwhelming with a family and implementing a simple routine has really worked for me. I now know that the toilets get cleaning on a Tuesday at the very least, the bathroom and kitchen surfaces are cleaned on a Saturday, the beds are made on a Monday and baking for lunchboxes is done on a Monday. I can leave folding the Mt Washmore til Washing Wednesday and the grocery shopping is always the outing on a Thursday morning. I do one load of laundry a day, sometimes two, and no washing on a Sunday.
For meals I have used a menu planner for years. It means that when I go to the supermarket I can plan for seven meals, and I know I need to get food items for one vegetarian meal, one caserole, one stir-fry and so on.
For school holidays I often draw up a timetable of activities with one outing per day. I enjoy school holidays but adding structure also works for me. See my post ‘School Holday Serenity for Stay at Home Mums….or just staying sane’.
I’ve also added some structure to my eldest daughter’s wardrobe recently. The Rainbow Weekly Wardrobe for Fussy Young Ladies’ is for daughters who are ‘Fussy Frieda’s’ when it comes to clothes. After months of spectacular tantrums in the mornings, frequent changes of clothes and clothing avalanches in the bedroom, we have needed a change of game plan. Two colour-based choices per day and a drawer for each day of the week has worked for my Fussy Frieda, and a significant reduction in the number of tantrums has been observed.
And laundry. In our household we have four mountains, Mt Washmore, Mt Drymore, Mt Foldmore, and a smaller mountain, Mt Ironmore. Sometimes I lament over my laundry lethargy, however I’ve found that having a laundry routine has helped me to feel less overwhelmed.
My new laundry routine is not rocket science, I simply wash one load of laundry per day (sometimes two if there are cloth nappies to wash), and I make a rule never to do any laundry (or other housework other than ironing on a Sunday). I fold all the washing once a week on ‘Washing Wednesdays’ and some time ago I purchased plastic containers to store each person’s laundry in. They are then delivered to their rooms, to be put away when there is time.
And to target the sock monster, a sock monster eradication plan is being trialled……
As a stay at home parent that I’ve had to really watch busyness. There are many expectations on mothers of young children these days, and I’ve had to learn to say no. If you are at home people often seem to think that you have time to help with this fundraiser and that committee and so on. It’s not that I don’t want to help with the cheese roll fundraiser or the sausage sizzle, it’s just that I like anyone, am not superwoman, and I can’t be in more than one place at a time. The spirit is willing but the body is weak. Of course, I do spend time blogging but this is something I can do in the evenings witho put having to leave the house. My husband and children are the first priority. I also find that just because I’m at home, I can’t go to every single preschool or school trip. especially with two preschoolers in tow. So instead I try to do what is manageable which might be going along to one school trip per term. Some mothers do go along to every school and kindergarten trip, but I’ve learned not to compare myself with others.
Having Realistic Expectations
Those who are happiest at home with children seem to be those that have realistic expectations of themselves. After all, when you have a very young baby, taking a shower is an achievement. Let alone attempting to make a six tiered cake in a morning while looking after three children under two. Silly I know, and let’s just say I was a little flustered on this occasion! Supermum does not exist.
Having a supportive community around you is so vital when you have young children. Stay at home mothers need encouragement and someone on their side. The age old saying it takes a village to raise a child is so true. Do you have one or two friends you can call on if there was an emergency at 2 am in the morning?. So many mothers feel isolated in our fragmented society, but we don’t have to do the stay at home mum thing alone. Sadly some ‘mother’s groups’ or coffee groups can be competitive and judgmental, but if you have a good group of supportive caring mothers (or fathers!) that you can be authentic with, this can be invaluable. I’ve also found alot of support from reading blogs and websites. One such website is http://www.itakejoy.com
Rest, Recreation & Self-Care
Since the home became my workplace sometimes I’ve found it difficult to relax at home as there is so much to do. It’s not like you can clock off at 5 o’clock. And in the day of facebook and pinterest where we all see pictures of so and so’s child learning the flute and someone baking organic bread, we can wonder, are we doing enough? (And I know, I’m guilty of posting pics about things I’ve been up to too). But we are doing enough, and I’ve been learning to slow down and smell the roses (see my post on reflections of rest). I try to have at least one coffee break in addition to sitting down for meals and periods of R & R. Otherwise you can feel like you are running yourself ragged. Self care is so important for parents. Whether it is a day off now and again, a date night with your spouse, or a walk in the fresh air, having some space is not something you need to feel guilty about.
Putting the ‘u’ back in Mum, pursuing passions and engaging the brain
Do you feel like you have lost confidence since being at home with your children? Do you feel like you have lost a part of yourself? Sometimes what we do defines our identity even if it shouldn’t, and so a possible pitfall for stay at home mothers is that our children become our identity, and we lose our selves. Perhaps it is freeing for children to realise that they are not the centre of our universe. They may be up there, but God is first and then our spouse second if we have one. And the good news is that we can find ourselves again without going to a mountaintop monastery in the country for a month.
What is it that you are passionate about? For me it is blogging, writing, playing music, crafting, baking, reading, walking on the beach and prayer. I find that doing things outside the home can really refresh me. For others it might be going to the gym. I’ve also learned to have a healthy balanced view of being a stay at home mother, while not over hyping this, or undervaluing the role. I want to be proud of being a stay at home mum (in a humble way!).
While my heart has been to be at home, these strategies have helped me to maintain joy in the journey of stay at home mum-ing, and have prevented me from going completely stir crazy. Oh and another one that has been key for me….I ditched the track pants! What has worked for you? I’d love to hear from you.