“After spending a month straight with both of my wonderful, young children, my MBFF (mom best friend forever) and I decided we needed a child-free date. We started with a nice brunch and then went to see the movie Bad Moms. The movie was amazing–funny, sweet, and thought-provoking. It inspired me to accept and actually confess my parenting faults… Hi, I’m Melanie, and I’m a Bad Mom.”
“Even before we see that plus sign on the pregnancy test, we compare. We compare our ‘trying to conceive’ journey to our friends’ or even to our own previous journey(s). We look at the similarities and differences from one woman’s pregnancy, and body, to another’s, from one’s own pregnancy to a subsequent or previous pregnancy. Some of us are more hardwired than others to see, or look for, these parallels. Does that come from being a type-A perfectionist? While it is one thing to compare ourselves to ourselves, it is an entirely different thing to compare ourselves to others, the entire reason for the “mommy wars.” But what happens when we compare children, especially to their siblings? How does that negatively affect them, and how can we prevent it?”
“This is the story of how a fence strengthened my marriage and saved our family.
Yes, a fence.
This past spring, when the weather started getting nicer, my two and four-year old children (understandably) could not wait to play outside. I enjoyed the nice weather too… for about ten minutes. At that point, my four-year old ran to the front of the house, which borders a moderately busy street, while my two-year old started climbing the playhouse ladder in the backyard. It wasn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice, but it was frightening. Almost the same thing happened the next day, with roles reversed when my two-year old ran out front to “watch the cars.” I quickly learned two things: (1) my kids were way too fast, and (2) playing outside was way too stressful. So, I asked my husband if we could get a fence. Initially he was reluctant, but I made my point by asking him to play outside with both kids. It took less than fifteen minutes to change his mind.”
“The graduation season is upon is–from preschool to college and everything in-between. The wonderful summer filled with family trips and lots of fun quality time together can commence. Right? Not in my house. Without school (even just ECFE and preschool), I know the increased time together will ultimately bring increased tantrums–in quantity and severity. My littlest one is almost two years old and entering prime tantrum territory. My four-year old is no longer napping and is teaching her little brother pro-level epic tantrum skills. This will be my first summer as a SAHM with two tantrum-throwers–hence the need to create this special edition pairing guide, for all of us.”
“Looking at other parents’ Facebook or Instagram feeds may make it seem like they really have it all… a wonderful marriage, a supportive spouse with a successful job, a beautiful house in the suburbs with a white-picket fence and a big yard for the dog, at least two children (including at least one boy and one girl), and fashionable clothes, shoes, accessories, cars, and everything else under the happy, bright, blinding, disgustingly flawless sun. They post pictures of their days filled with Pinterest-perfect arts and crafts, gourmet meals, impeccably planned and executed trips (even if just to Target), and every moment spent with their families looks like the best and most rewarding time ever spent. These social-media-queen-bees are called Supermoms. I have been called one. I do not have a utopian life, but I do have a wonderful life with many good things and some bad ones… including postpartum depression.”
“If I had a dollar for every time someone has said, “You sure have your hands full,” regarding my 4-year-old daughter, I would be a millionaire. I used to cringe when people would say that to me; now I reply, “But my heart is even fuller.” My child has had a strong personality from the beginning. She was a (pleasant) surprise pregnancy. She was a long delivery, requiring 22 hours, two doses of Pitocin, and two attempts to break my water. She was a sensitive sleeper and eater, never wanting to do either. She was an intense and persistent crier, but did not have colic. She was in total control of everything, including her Type-A, control-freak mother. Fast forward four years later and not much has changed. We still battle about sleep, food, and anything she does not want to do. Some call her strong-willed, stubborn, picky, exhausting, controlling, challenging–you name it.”
“I moved to Minnesota about 14 years ago from Milwaukee. I cannot even count how many six-hour trips back and forth from Milwaukee I have made over the years. However, I can tell you how many mistakes I have made. Over the past four years I have made many trips with small children (usually without my husband) and I have made MANY, MANY mistakes.”
“Earlier this week, while enjoying a breakfast date with my 20-month-old son, a woman came over to us and commented on how cute he is. She continued to comment on how well he eats, how much he eats, and how tall he is. We continued to make small talk and I mentioned he eats a lot more than my 4-year-old daughter, who eats nothing–meaning she is a picky eater. She responded, “Let’s hope she stays eating nothing.” I laughed it off, out of wanting to be polite, but more so from being in shock and not sure how to respond. After she left, what she said began to register with me and I became increasingly angry.”
Just like any new job, there is an adjustment period. It has been about two weeks since I started this new chapter in my life as a full-time stay-at-home-mom. The first week was incredibly challenging and overwhelming. I was trying to wrap up tasks for my paid position and get caught up on everything at home, while my husband was working long hours. We also had my 4-year-old daughter’s birthday party, family visiting, and of course, illness. I became increasingly frustrated about not having a break to catch up on cleaning, groceries, laundry, paying bills, taking a shower, etc. That first week I really questioned if I was cut out for this and if I had made the right decision. Then, while my husband was working long hours again, my kids got sick AGAIN…and the cats. It was incredibly convenient that I was able to be home to take care of the sick kids without having to feel guilty about missing work again and without my husband having to take off of work. I was able to take them to the doctor, get their medications, and enjoy so many snuggles with them. My mom came to visit a few days early so I could get caught up. She was in my house less than five minutes before she turned into a Fairy Grandmother and granted me a MUCH needed shower and 10 minutes (okay, maybe 30 minutes) of alone time. Then she whisked me off to the Margarita Ball! Even though my children did not behave AT ALL at the restaurant, at least I was clean, had some help, and delicious food accompanied by an even more delicious drink.
When you start a new job, you also have to get your workspace set up, complete with a computer, paper, pens, family pictures, etc. right? Well, being that my house was my official office and workplace now, I needed to get it set up. After a round of deep cleaning and too much laundry, my Type-A side came out. Under the guise of “teaching my 4-year-old to read,” I labeled every bin I had just organized in the laundry room, every toy bin, and even the shelves in the refrigerator. Crazy? Yes! Necessary to try to keep my husband from putting things in the wrong place and asking me where things are 24/7? Yes! It may seem strange, but I needed to do it as a part of the transition to being home. If the house is my new workspace, I need to have some order, so I can be productive and keep inventory. Once I ran out of label maker tape, I turned my focus to my planner. I finally have a chance to keep track all the appointments, meals, grocery lists, bills, chores, etc. instead of flying by the seat of my pants at every moment. Keeping this organization is not only necessary for my own crazy peace of mind, but also to help me plan ahead to save money now that we are down an income. It was amazing how much better I felt after getting the house put together…even though it only lasted a few hours until the family came home from Grandma and Grandpa’s and toys and clothes ended up everywhere again.
There is also a training period when starting a new job. My daughter just turned 4, but acts like she just turned 14. It has been a fairly consistent pattern that her time of disequilibrium is always around her birthday. Instead of fighting with her to “just be quiet” during nap/quiet time while I’m trying to work, I can now cuddle with her while rereading “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka (or read while they are both sleeping in the car). I am also taking an online course on Positive Parenting Solutions. I love my daughter so much, but I need some help training myself on how to parent her and her uniqueness, which is incredibly different from my 20-month-old son. I am now able to focus on how to help my daughter through these difficult phases. In just the second day since I’ve started my self “training” program, we have had way less yelling and way more laughing. This is the kind of SAHM I want to be, not the yelling, crying, losing my mind kind, that the first week brought out in me.
Lastly, I can say I really enjoy my new job! Yes, there are challenging days, but that’s why there is wine (Haskell’s delivers via the Drizly app)! Even with my older one in preschool three days a week, we have still made Play-Doh ice cream and snow people families; had lots of naked dance parties (them, not me); Olaf tea parties dressed as Anna; read libraries of books; enjoyed chalk and bubbles outside; and even fit in a day to the local aquarium. It’s certainly not easy, no job is, but I am finally okay with my decision to stay home, even if my house is a mess 5 minutes after I clean it.
The final page to my new chapter includes the opportunity to write about it as a contributor for the Twin Cities Moms Blog. This is a great way for me to process, share, find camaraderie, and have a creative outlet. My first article was posted today. Enjoy!
What do you for work? That is a question I have had varying responses to over the past four years. Even though I have worked at the same organization for almost 4 years, my work schedule and location have fluctuated between home and office and between 10-30 hours. I have been an exclusive stay-at-home-mom, part-time work-at-home-mom, and everything in-between. Some days it is the best of both worlds, some days it is the worst of both worlds. How do you ever strike that perfect work/parent balance?
When I was pregnant with my now four-year-old daughter, I knew that I would not be happy continuing to work the demanding 50-60-hour weekly schedule once I had a newborn. My employer at the time did not have a part-time option, so it had to be all or nothing. We were fortunate enough that my husband had a great job at the time, but we weren’t sure what we could afford to do. We did a trial run during my pregnancy, living off of his income and saving all of my income, to see how long we could afford maternity leave. We decided that, with significant spending changes and a giant leap of faith, I would stay home with the new baby for six months and then find a part-time position elsewhere. So, for the first time since I was 13 years old, I no longer had a paid position and became a full-time stay-at-home-mom.
Staying home was the best decision I have ever made. I had a very difficult baby that loved to scream and hated to sleep. I don’t even know how long (months? years?) I spent, sleeping on a (very uncomfortable) couch in her nursery, or in the glider chair with her nursing or asleep on my chest. No advice, book, or sleep consultant helped. Maybe because I fell asleep reading the books and was too tired to remember all of the advice I had received, but regardless it was pure hell.
My mornings were completely unpredictable. Baby was either up for the day at 6 a.m. or was up at 5 a.m. and then asleep until 9 a.m. There was no rhyme or reason. For a complete Type-A first-time mom, this was torture. I wanted to “fix” her and get her on a schedule, but no matter what I tried, it just got worse. I couldn’t even make coffee; my husband did it and in attempt to cheer me up, left me sweet notes. Aside from that coffee he made, I lived on quesadillas (really just microwaved cheese on a tortilla–not the nice restaurant kind), and Diet Coke. Not exactly the diet of (breastfeeding) champions, but it was all I had the energy to make and all I could eat one-handed. Trust me, you did NOT want to disturb that baby once she was asleep, or you would pay–big time. One time (probably more than one time), it took me over an hour, including driving around for a good 20 minutes, before I could get her to sleep. When we arrived at my in-laws for dinner the baby was finally asleep, but then we opened the door… Their sweet dog barked in excitement to see us; baby instantly woke up; I instantly swore and cried. With so much sleep deprivation and such an unpredictable baby, there was no way I could have been even a semi-functioning or reliable employee.
Of course it wasn’t all bad. We had so many great days as well. She was born during an unseasonably warm Spring, so we got to spend a lot of time outside walking. We had many sweet moments cuddling and reconnecting from the hard moments. She was (and still is) an incredible child and I got to enjoy seeing her grow and learn every (literal) step of the way. She was my doll, my muse, my heart, my everything. For those six months, I knew I had made the right decision to stay home.
Then our savings started to take a hit and I started to look for work again. I found the perfect part-time position, working for a legal nonprofit, with the ability to work remotely. I found and was offered the position quicker than I thought the job search would go. I worked 10 hours per week, exclusively from home for about 7 months. As the baby was getting older and a little bit better with sleep, our organization was growing as well. I was promoted and my hours increased to 15 hours per week, requiring in-office time. I found a great childcare set-up thanks to my in-laws and a family friend. Aside from an occasional sick child day, I was able to pull off a pretty great work/stay-at-home-mom life balance…until I had baby #2 about a year later.
My boss warned me that going from one child to two children does not duplicate the workload, it exponentially increases the workload. He was definitely correct, especially with a spirited 2 year-old and a constantly-hungry newborn. Working for a small nonprofit gave me in flexibility what it could not provide in monetary benefits. I was able to take 12 weeks completely off (unpaid), and then slowly increase hours, varying between at-home and in-office depending on my breastfeeding schedule. I had the most patient and understanding boss in the entire world. Every time I would talk to him about how stressful it was trying to get everything for home and work done, he would not only empathize, but go completely out of his way to work with me on changing schedules and duties. I tried to resign a few times and he talked me into staying. I have never felt as valued at a job as I have working for him. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. That made it even harder to stick to my guns of resigning.
For months, as my life situation has changed, I have gone back and forth on what to do. On the one hand, I would feel like a weight would be lifted off my shoulders. I would not have to worry about driving two hours to drop off children at their respective preschool and childcare (and paying for it); missing the early-bird parking (therefore paying $25+ for parking); letting down my boss, interns, and clients for not staying caught up on work; letting down my family for not staying caught up on things at home; for being so stressed on how to balance being a full-time stay-at-home-mom and a part-time work-at-home/office-mom. On the other hand, I would worry about finances (the small income was enough to help us out when my husband was laid off this past summer); keeping my career going, setting an example for my children, using my graduate degree, and pride in myself. Bottom line, there is no right answer, and this is the real struggle.
A few weeks ago, I finally ripped the Band-Aid off and decided to take a leap of faith in resigning for real. My husband’s new job had become very demanding, requiring a lot of night and weekend hours, meaning I had been on kid-duty instead of being able to complete my paid work. As much as I loved my paid work, it became unfeasible to try to do everything and be everything to everyone. I felt like I was failing at work and at home.
So today marks a new day, a new chapter, a new journey. I am incredibly fortunate enough to be able to call myself a stay-at-home-mom. I was already doing this job as a mom, but now am going to revel in my pressure-free days and still cry in my tantrum-filled days. There will still be a lot of coffee and wine, but a lot more freedom to focus on my babies while they are still babies. A mantra has been taped to my refrigerator for years and now I can live by it.