Life, Parenting

Keeping the Home Fires Burning – My Stay-at-Home Experience

There’s been a lot of hoopla in recent weeks about which scenario is harder in relation to balancing work and home life:

1. Working outside the home

2. Working at home

3. Being a stay at home parent

Relax. I’m not here to add fuel to the fire or even TELL you which is harder — there’s no right or wrong answer. It all depends on one’s individual circumstances, how many children there are, what the financial situation is, individual personalities and talents, confidence levels … yaddayaddayadda.

And believe it or not, I’m not arrogant enough to make one definitive statement about it; I think that’s rude and presumptuous of people to blanket a subject that is so complex.

However, I can tell you my own experiences and opinions on each scenario because I’ve lived each scenario.

I’ve talked about my experience working outside the home, now I’d like to share what it’s been like for me to stay at home with the boys.

I entered The Motherhood realm November 18, 1992. It came abruptly and quite unexpectedly. Dude wasn’t scheduled to arrive until January 1993.

But arrive he did. And it completely threw me for a loop. I hadn’t had a chance (okay, I PUT off the chance) to think about what I wanted to do with my banking career before he came along so I just sort of picked up where I left off after he was born.

I returned to work. (You can read more about that in my working outside the home post).

Dude was about five months old when things started getting weird for me. My perspective started changing and I wasn’t sure what to do or how to handle it.

I started having these overwhelming feelings of guilt. I just had a baby and yet, I never saw the kid. And when I did, I was tired and emotionally bankrupt — I didn’t have a lot left over after my days were through to properly give to my newborn son.

And to top off the mommy guilt, my grandmother-in-law’s health, (she was watching Dude while I was at work), was starting to wan. And I started feeling more and MORE guilty for pawning him off on her. Not that she didn’t LOVE taking care of him, but she was having enough trouble taking care of herself, she didn’t need my munchkin to add to her burdens.

And like my mother said, I didn’t have a child for someone else to raise. It was time to stop being so selfish and make some lifestyle changes.

So, I quit. I didn’t want to, if you want the truth. I loved my job. I loved the outside interaction and the chance to dress up and act “grown-up.” But my life wasn’t about me anymore, it was about taking care of my baby boy … so, I bit the bullet and stepped out of the corporate world.

Kevin was also at a point in his career where he had to make a pretty big decision. He was working for a public accounting firm at the time and it required A LOT of travel. So much so, in fact, that he decided being away from me and Dude that much just wasn’t worth the money and sacrifice, so, he switched jobs. He moved to private accounting. This meant less money, but regular hours. It was totally worth the sacrifice.

We also moved out of our rental house and bought a house during that time period. So, to say my life did a complete about face would be pretty accurate.

Let me be clear about something, I love kids. I truly do. But I’m not exactly a baby person. I mean … I am a control freak so handling a baby and trying to guess what is wrong with him or to anticipate his needs was CHALLENGING to me. I got very frustrated on a number of occasions and I’m quite embarrassed to tell you, I totally took it out on Kevin. I honestly don’t know how the man put up with me.

To top ALL of this off, since Dude was a preemie and was in the hospital for six weeks before coming home, on a monitor, no less, I had his delicate health issues to deal with, too.

I wouldn’t say it was a nightmare, but I will say that I learned a lot about myself and what sort of grit I was made of surviving that time period. I grew up — FAST.

The first 18 months of Dude’s life, I never really THOUGHT about being a stay-at-home mom. Ya’ll know how it is, you’re too busy to think of anything but your baby. Your entire world is centered around this one human being, taking care of him, entertaining him, teaching him, and when you finally get to the stage that the child can somewhat entertain himself, it’s like you’re exiting a dark cave and stepping back into reality.

It’s a blinding re-awakening and oh wow, how the world has CHANGED since your baby arrived!

I started feeling restless and “trapped” when Dude turned two years old. I became more and more aware of my role in his life and I was consumed with being a mother, it was time to re-evaluate my role as wife, as well.

I think I had just come to terms with it all, was just starting to get a handle on this whole mommy thing, when I became pregnant with Jazz.

I was much smarter the second go-around. I watched my weight (I gained about 60 pounds with Dude!), and I was just more … comfortable, more settled, centered, I guess, with my second child. I knew what to expect; I knew my personal limitations and I had gotten over my inability to ask for help from time-to-time, whether that help came from Kevin or from my family. (You quickly get over yourself when you have kids).

Jazz’s birth was textbook perfect. He arrived two days before he was scheduled to and he was a good size and perfectly healthy. (In fact, he was so good we were allowed to go home the very next day. Actually, we HAD to, our insurance wouldn’t pay for another night and we certainly didn’t have the money to pay for it on our own).

I now had two children to deal with. Again, I went into this … mommy zone. Not exactly a zombie, but not exactly ME, either. Just sort of on autopilot, I guess. I adored my kids, but I lived for them.

This got old, fast. I started craving my own time. I started craving my own interests and I began to lose sight of who I was. Karen wasn’t completely gone, but she was fading, fast.

I had joined a Mother’s group when Dude was a baby because I felt it was important for him to interact with other kids, to get used to sharing, etc. So when Jazz came along, I continued with the same group of women. And they were all great, honestly, but I never really felt like I belonged. They were all so OBSESSED with their children and cooking and their houses that I nearly lost my mind.

What about what was going on in the world?! What do you think about our current administration? Heck, I would have been happy just to discuss the latest movie, anything BUT diaper rash, developmental challenges and where to get the best deals on designer clothes for the kids.

ZZzzZzzzZZ

Don’t get me wrong. I was interested in all of this and I picked up quite a few helpful tips and resources from these women, but seriously, where did WE go? As women? I just felt so fake and … plastic around them. Sure, I wanted to talk about our kids, but when exactly do we shut that part of ourselves down and talk about issues that concerned us, as women?

That trapped, claustrophobic feeling swallowed me whole. I had completely lost sight of who I was. It angered me. It scared me. And I got incredibly frustrated staying home with my two sons all the time and not having anyone to REALLY talk to.

Again, I took it out on Kevin. And our marriage … uh … deteriorated. To say the least. I threatened to get a job. He laughed at me. Which only fueled my determination to DO something with myself. I wanted to BE someone other than Dude and Jazz’s mom or Kevin’s wife. I wanted a label. I didn’t want to be JUST a stay-at-home mom; I wanted a title. Like Kevin. Someone new would ask Kevin what he did and he would reply, “I’m an accountant.”

That same someone would ask me what I did and I would have nothing to say. “I stay home with my kids.” And inevitably get that LOOK. That condescending, patient, tolerant, fake-polite sort of glazed smile.

I’m sure you know the LOOK I’m talking about.

So, I got a night job at Wal-Mart and worked there for the next seven years.

But life started shifting and my priorities changed yet again. I had started back to college during that time period and I was taking two steps forward and one step back — I needed to graduate and get ON with my life.

So, I quit Wal-Mart to concentrate on graduating from college. Which I did, in ’03 with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing. I did it for ME. I did it for my CHILDREN. Because they were both in grade school when I graduated and I knew they would remember mom graduating and hopefully want the same thing when they grew up. I was trying to set a good example for them as well as doing something for me.

After graduation, I stumbled onto my current job as web designer. I’ll talk more about my experience of working from home in a later post.

Do I think staying home with the kids is hard? Yes. And no. Ultimately, I think working outside the home is the hardest of the three scenarios: working outside the home, staying home or working at home. I’ve stated the reasons why I think this. And though staying at home is hard, it’s still not quite as hard as leaving the house, in my opinion and in my experience.

At least at home, I had down times. I could do something for me while the kids napped. I had that pocket of time that I could catch up on stuff that needed to be done. I didn’t have that pocket of time when I was working outside the home. In fact, when I was working outside the home, there was NEVER any down time.

But staying home with the kids is no picnic, either. You lose a portion of yourself when you stay home – your life revolves around your kids and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be like that or that it doesn’t get easier when they get older, but sometimes it’s a necessary focus in order to raise caring, considerate and responsible people.

Staying at home with your kids is probably THE most important job you can do. Because the job is not about YOU. It’s not about furthering your career or making more money, it’s about making the world a better place THROUGH your children. Staying home and raising children is probably one of the most RESPONSIBLE jobs you can ever have because your decisions ultimately shape your children’s lives and personalities. (NO pressure!)

Staying home gives your children stability and security. YOU are the center of your children’s universe, their rock they can hold on to while they tentatively touch the world around them. It’s probably one of the most unselfish kinds of jobs you can have. Because again, it’s not about YOU, it’s about caring for another human being. It’s about putting their welfare and their happiness first. It’s about making sacrifices and being okay with those sacrifices.

So yes, staying home is hard, but it’s a different kind of hard because it demands different parts of YOU. And it’s a thankless job, for the most part. And you never REALLY know how you’re doing because there aren’t any performance reviews to gauge your progress. You’re flying blind and doing the best you know how.

But I have to tell you, speaking as a mother of teenagers, when you reach the point in motherhood that I’m at now and you SEE how awesome your kids are and you’re SO PROUD of them because they are decent and loving PEOPLE, being a stay-at-home mom is the most satisfying and rewarding job out there.

You’ve GROWN and RAISED a person?! How can anyone possibly compete with that accomplishment?