"What do you do all day?"
As a stay at home mom, this question crops up occasionally by the flabbergasted individuals who are genuinely curious and don't know how else to ask. I don't get offended - it's a legitimate question, and one I asked other moms before I became one. I mean, this is my new life! I wanted to know what to expect from my days as a 24-7 parent. Now that I'm 16 months into my new lifestyle, I feel ready to answer the question of how I take care of my child, myself, and my home - and why.
Before we even started talking about a family, the little flicker of desire to raise my kids myself took root deep in my being and grew into the realization that being a stay at home mom was my purpose. In my bones, I knew I wanted to be a housekeeper and mother and wife - from home - and I was fortunate that my husband felt the same. I still found contentment in my job and my relationships and traveling, and lived life to the fullest, but it felt like the best was still to come for me.
I know, I know. It sounds a little trite and mighty unambitious - a cop out - to say that after earning two degrees and working in higher education that I'd want to stay home and "play house," but it was and is my dream. I love it. I knew it would be hard and that there would be poop and boogers and exhaustion and lots of cleaning involved and that we'd have to take a pay cut, but I wanted it. We wanted it. And after 16 months, we still want it. I don't feel like I gave up my life to raise Alice. Oh ho ho no...quite the contrary. By having Alice and raising her myself I live way bigger.
I have also found that by staying home, I have time to devote to my creative endeavors. It was just this last year that I have been able to get my photography business up and running and have hence brought in not an insignificant side income. I've finished almost a dozen paintings. I've actually been able to allow myself to think about my goals as an artist. What do I want to produce? Do I want to dabble in a new media? Illustration? Stationary? What kind of a photographer do I want to be? Natural light? Newborn? Wedding? I never got to think about this awesome stuff when I was working 40+ (note: major +) hours a week in higher ed. I hardly had time to see JD and take care of our apartment, let alone gratify the artistic desires of my heart. I don't think for a second that I'd be able to do that while working a job and taking care of a family at night. Not without detriment to my emotional/mental/physical well-being and giving my family the leftover part of me.
No, that is not a life I would choose. I'm quite aware that not all women could or would be a stay at home mom so please don't assume I'm advocating all women should. In fact, a good friend of mine told me she would go bonkers if she was with her kids all day and is a much better parent because of the separation and that she gets to feel like an adult among other adults. And it's true - she really is best suited to work outside the home and it serves her and her family best. But it still takes thoughtful introspection to make the choice, and it's one I didn't take lightly. The biggest concerns I voiced to colleagues during my pregnancy was "I'll miss adult conversation and gratification." "I'll be bored." "I don't know what I'm doing." "I'll miss being a part of something big." Notice the "I" in everything - only until after did I realize how self-centered I was. It's funny now, because all of my selfish concerns answered themselves.
As an extrovert with a natural inclination toward building relationships, I made a point to stay connected with my friends, but it didn't stop there. All of a sudden as a mom, it was like I was admitted entrance into a super sweet club. Upon meeting another mom with children, an instant glimmer of knowing and understanding passes between us and I feel accepted and relieved - no judgement, just "I know exactly what you're going through." It's A. Mazing. I have cultivated so many new, close friends because I'm a mom and stay at home. Playdates and hanging out happens all the time during the week. God has given me a dozen very close girlfriends who are also moms, and we're are surrounded by a community of friends who love us and want to spend time with us. My worries about no adult time dissolved within the first week of bringing Alice home. What a blessing they are to me.
As to my worry about boredom...yeah. That doesn't exist here. In a house where there is always something to be cooked, cleaned, composted, grown, weeded, painted, fixed, washed, blogged, photographed, edited, written, watered, and read, "boredom" is not necessarily a bad word, but it's certainly a silly one. I hope to raise Alice to feel the same. For her, there will always be an adventure to go on, a recipe to try, a story to read, a dream to dream, and a pirate that needs a first mate. And a tea party to throw. Oh, the things we'll do! But that's a different thread.
Panic and inexperience gave way to trial and error which gave way to confidence which grew into a happy baby. Happy baby equals happy mommy (which equals happy daddy). Every new stage there is something new, and I expect with every new baby there will be new troubles to smooth out, but knowing you can is probably the biggest mental and emotional hurdle you'll face. When we got home from the hospital with Alice, I was terrified. I honestly warred within myself over begging a nurse to come home with us. I don't know what I'm doing! You just gave me this kid I popped out and you trust me?! What does the crying mean? AAAAAAA!!!! It's cliche but worth remembering to take one moment at a time and suddenly you are looking back at a year's worth of moments you figured out somehow.
My last selfish plea was not feeling like I was part of something big. If you are a mom reading this you know how dumb that sounds. But I wasn't yet and it was still all about me. Raising Alice is the most soul-satisfying, life-affirming, purpose-giving thing I've ever done. Wow. You want to talk about being part of something big, talk about shaping a little person. Alice will grow up to be a citizen of this world and her dad and I have the biggest impact on how she will leave her mark on it. Did your mind just blow up? Leaves me reeling every time. I have the opportunity to be the one who teaches her how to eat, how to read, how to garden, how to imagine, how to serve, how to have compassion for others, how to speak another language, how to reach out and love a stranger that's hurting. I get to do that. More than anything I want to live my life and show her how to weave a thread of love through the lives around her. This is big. No, I'm no surgeon or president or judge, but shaping a child's life - the lives of this small generation - has got to have the biggest impact on the world. I'm sure teachers and day care providers can also attest to the weight of responsibility they carry. Shaping our youth really is the most important thing in the world, so when I got the chance to do as much for Alice, I couldn't let it go. This is big. She is one little person, but she is big.
So, to the question, "what do I do all day?" no two days are the same. I get up before Alice and get ready, pick up the house, spend some quiet time with my God, and check my email. Alice sleeps a good 12 hours so I've got 8-8 to do my thing. Once Alice wakes I get her ready and make us eggs and fruit for breakfast. (Alice is in love with eggs, not kidding. She would eat three a day if I let her, but I cut her off at one and an egg white scrambled. My dad brings us a fresh dozen or two from the farm every week so we have a steady supply. Thanks, Dad!) After breakfast, I clean up. We play. We "drink tea" with her singing pot and cups (which usually hold cheerios). We read books. We play in my studio, Alice coloring on one desk and me writing at the other. We tickle and giggle. We make a big mess in the playroom. Sometimes we clean it up.
Occasionally after back-to-back weekend photoshoots I edit photos while she plays next to me. Or I might make calls. I'm the designated secretary for making appointments and scheduling stuff since JD is busy at work, which works out fine. On any given day there could be laundry and diapers to wash. Dishes are constant. (Constant, you guys. Like, every. Single. Hour. I feel like I'm always washing something.) Some days we take a bike ride around town to run errands at the post office, bank, or library. Then lunch and nap time. Nap time is sacred here. That translates to "mommy time." Nap time usually means Facebook, emailing, blogging, Pinterest, editing photos, painting, or reading. I do a lot of all of the above. I know I have one and a half to two hours of this, and I cherish it. I'm not sure how moms with multiple kids manage this holy time. If I'm being honest with myself, that is my biggest concern with having another child. Surprise, surprise! Selfish - I know - but really, really true. Naps are probably the biggest perk of being a stay at home parent. When I was working I never got to enjoy any of the above because I was too busy rushing through it so I could get more done in less time.
After this glorious and quiet reprieve, we play outside, go for a walk, or I have Alice watch and "help" me with things around the house. She can't do a lot, but she loves to watch and feel like she is doing something. She lights up when I ask her to put something in the trash, or bring me an object, or wash something in the sink with me. I get to raise her to be an independent little person who feels valued and useful, who can think and do for herself. Then we start getting dinner ready for when JD gets home. For this, he really is grateful, and I am happy to make him happy. After a coffee, Alice gets her daddy-time while I finish cooking. Dinner and more playtime and dishes are after that, and then when it is time for bath and bed, JD scoops up the babe, carries her to me to say "bye-bye" and then they go upstairs for their evening ritual. That's when I sigh and slow down.
The first 3 months were a different story. Even trying to think back on it is like trying to part a heavy fog. It's amazing how much sleep you don't get when newborns supposedly sleep all day. But that's another life already.
I'm no stay-at-home-mom-martyr throwing a pity party for myself that I'm saddled with a kid and no "real" job. Sure, our income is currently less right now than if I were working, but not by much. An article bashing stay at home moms recently said that this "job" leaves women socially and financially hobbled and alienates dads from children and I want to point out what utter nonsense that is. I won't even link it because it's such trash. Anyone who really believes that is completely ignorant and thick. I have never had such a close and intimate group of friends, thanks to JD at the helm of our finances we're paying our bills and socking it away (not to mention God has totally provided for us), and Alice is even more in love with him because after spending all day with me she is ready for daddy-time. It's not always easy, and I'm sure once we add to our tribe it will be more difficult, but we'll manage and love it. I'm happy. It was a good decision for me and for my husband. Sure, we're out a paycheck, but we're also not paying for daycare or commuting and by having time to take care of the house during the day, I free up time at night to spend with my husband. Time - you know, that stuff you can't get back when it's all said and done. It's worth so much more than extra cash in our pockets.
And as for this being a thankless job, that couldn't be further from the truth. My husband is my biggest supporter and he showers me with thanks all day long. It might be a text saying "thanks for ironing my shirt!" or "thanks for taking care of the Peanut" or it could be a note on the frig that says "thanks for making the bed everyday" or "thanks for doing so many dishes." Or it might be his thanks at the end of the day when we're laying in bed and he lays close and whispers "thanks for being my partner." Feeling appreciated and loved by him makes it all the more worthwhile. Alice is enough, but the praise of this man is icing on the cake and sees me through some long days.
I am enormously grateful that my husband works so that I can play with Alice and take care of our home. Yep, this is the best life for us. Everyday I'm amazed that this is my life and that I get to be a helpmate and homemaker. Mother and wife are the best jobs I've ever had. Thanks, God, for giving them to me.
photo by Gabrielle Schwanebeck