My Transition; The Making of a Stay at Home Mom
By: Elizabeth Miller
I will never forget sitting in my husband’s truck, my boyfriend of only a few months at the time, and he asked me what I thought my future looked like. I very naively answered, “Well, I don’t want to get married or have any children. I know I want to be a lawyer, and I’d really like to live in San Francisco in a white apartment building with a door pager.” Clearly, I had it figured out. I was fourteen at the time. His response was, “Well, I want to get married, have a bunch of kids, and stay in Batesville forever.” It didn’t take too long for him to persuade me. Fifteen years later, we have been married for a little over eleven years, have five children under the age of 8, and I stay home to raise them.
Needless to say, things don’t always go the way I plan. I had no idea, at fourteen, what my life would look like. In high school, I was pretty unsure of what career I wanted to pursue. I knew I loved writing and fitness and nutrition. I was in love with my boyfriend. I wanted to raise a family with him, and I really enjoyed cadet teaching at the Primary School. Given the fun I had working in the school and my new intention of raising a family; I decided Elementary Education made the most sense. I went with it. I loved my major in college and was thrilled to get a job at the Primary School in Batesville after graduation. I fully intended to stay there forever. It was the perfect fit. Teaching was challenging, rewarding, and a lot of fun. I built wonderful working relationships with colleagues, parents of students, and my students as well. I had my first child before the end of my first year of teaching second grade. I was thrilled that she was due right before the summer break so I would not even need to take a maternity leave and could get right back without missing any work.
However, after that beautiful little girl was born; my attitude drastically changed. After the summer home with her, I was devastated to be returning to work. I sobbed when I walked through the door. My heart was broken. It didn’t take long, however, before I was able to get back into the groove of things. My classroom of students and all the responsibility that comes with that raised my spirits and kept me plenty busy. I cherished every moment at home with my new baby but enjoyed my time at work as an escape. It was like two different worlds. There was the professional me; showered, wearing real shoes, nice clothes, and having adult conversations. Then, there was the family me; playing with my daughter and maintaining a household. It worked, and I was happy.
This story repeats itself for the births of my second and third children. It was NEVER easy to return to work. It was a financial necessity, and I thoroughly enjoyed my job. In fact, I found having three children at home was FAR more challenging and further out of my comfort zone than teaching in the classroom. I loved my kids but was always nervous for the weekend and terrified at the beginning of each summer. In fact, my kids continued to attend daycare two days a week during the summer so that I could get things done around the house and in my classroom. I actually lesson planned all of our time together at home too in an effort to control the madness of having three small children in the only way I knew how; the same manner I would a classroom. From the perspective of an onlooker, I’d say things looked pretty under control.
When I became pregnant with our fourth child, my husband and I realized that it might make the most sense for me to stay at home. I was struggling personally to keep up, and was constantly wrestling with guilt. I could no longer give my children and my classroom what they deserved at the same time. I felt that something was always getting short changed. Not to mention that daycare costs were quickly creeping on my salary. It was then that we made the decision to leave my job after baby number 4 was born. Although it was a joyous decision, it was also a terrifying one. I very quickly realized that I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know how to live with my own children EVERY day. I was in completely uncharted territory with a brand new baby and three other children that were used to full time daycare where they were not even in the same classrooms. To all of our surprise, this was not like an extended weekend. It was nothing like a summer vacation that had a beginning and an end. There was no schedule handed to me, no manual, no handbook, and no monthly staff meeting where my progress was charted. There were no rules, certainly no college classes to be taken, and I was lost. It was very quickly obvious to me that my notions of being a stay at home mother were completely off base. It was SO much more than a comfy pair of yoga pants and a few play dates here and there while blogging my progress. Don’t get me wrong, I cherish my yoga pants, love my play dates, and aspire to get into blogging. However, I really didn’t know how to just be with my family, and I was SHOCKED that there was so much to it. In fact, it threw me into a pretty ugly bout of postpartum depression making the transition all the more difficult. I needed some help, and I couldn’t have been more fortunate that the solution was waiting for me.
Following two out of five of my pregnancies, I have struggled with postpartum depression. Both times, I found myself withdrawing socially, holding too tightly to my children, and avoiding everyone else. The first time, I was able to battle through by going to work and keeping busy. I knew this time that, in addition to seeking medical help, I needed to force myself out of my house and learn how to do my job. I needed to pull myself clear of this funk by immersing myself into groups of women who were actively living out their journey at home with their kids. So, I became more active in my church, sought out families in the church with several children, started praying more and working on my relationship with Christ, and I also looked up this Mom2Mom group that I saw a sign in a window for a few years back. Those things combined, not one without the other, allowed me to begin to feel comfortable and confident in my own skin again.
I contacted Melissa Hanley, Mom2Mom director, and made a commitment to myself to come to every Mom2Mom gathering that I could. I came to meetings (regardless of the speaker topic), Moms' Nights Out, and everything that was posted I could fit in my open and empty schedule. It was very difficult for me at first and WAY out of character to put myself, and my kids, out there like that. I saw a post on the Mom2Mom Facebook page for a play date and timidly asked if it was really okay to bring all four of my kids with me. It took every ounce of my nerve to drag my kids out of the house and take all of us into a basement full of new moms and children. My kids stumbled through the play date, and I think I was in a full sweat the whole time. My children hardly knew how to play well with each other without my guidance and instruction much less with a house full of loud and giggling children of various ages. I didn’t know if it was appropriate to nurse in front of these women, was terrified that my kids would fight, disobey me in front of strangers, or that I might not have anything in common with these women. As it turned out, I was received with smiles and acceptance, nursing my baby was welcomed, my children fought and disobeyed me in front of strangers, and THAT was what I had in common with these women.
I had my eyes opened to the welcomed and even enjoyed chaos that comes with staying at home. It was the first time that I saw women who had messy houses, imperfect dinners, and children that often made mistakes and were okay and open about it. The misconception that a stay at home mother must be the perfect housekeeper, an excellent cook and dinner host, a strict disciplinarian, in great physical shape, while maintaining happy children and a satisfied husband went right out the window. I felt renewed and strengthened as I was reminded that I was home to nurture and keep my children alive and safe first, the rest is just a bonus. This was real, unscheduled, imperfect life at home with children.
At first, I felt the need to have a daily planned event to get out of the house. We went to the library, the YMCA, play dates, Mom2Mom events, church events, and participated in any sport the kids were eligible to play. I needed the structure of getting out of my home just as much as the kids did to make the transition less alien. The more comfortable I got with my children as we raced around filling our time with positive experiences, the more I also began appreciating our down time at home. I was no longer afraid of my children. I think it was the fear of failing them that held me back at first. It was a lot easier to place expectations on daycare providers and listen to them tell me how they planned to make progress with my children, than it was for me to have complete responsibility for their days. This fear and discomfort wilted away with each play date, Mom2Mom meeting, Sunday school class, and, most importantly, leisurely day at home.
I have come a long way with my children. I experiment a lot. I come up with a hypothesis of something I think will be great. I test it, and I keep the good and throw out the bad. We are in a constant mode of flexibility as our family dynamic changes with age and numbers. When my mother came to help me after the birth of my third and fourth child, I handed her a strict itinerary of expectations. When my fifth child was born, I wished her well and asked her to keep my kids safe.
Structure and boundaries have not flown out the window. I am just not afraid to relax with my children, to try out new things, and to live life with them. I owe my faith and trust in God, my husband’s love and support, and my new understanding that it is perfectly ok to accept a helping hand, for my confidence in raising my family.
I do not miss my career outside of the home. I loved it while I was there and miss my colleagues. Occasionally, I miss having a stricter schedule and time away from home, but I am where I am meant to be right now. I am thankful that I understand, through experience, what it means to be a working mother. I have respect and love for mothers who work outside of the home. I am also thankful to currently have the opportunity to be stay at home mother. My time at home is a learning experience, and I’d like to think I make improvement each day.