I was not always the happy, positive person I am today. About six or seven years ago, my husband and I hit a rough patch. Or, I hit a rough patch and took my husband along for the ride.
We had to move because of an impending re-org at my husband’s company, and we relocated to a city where we knew not a soul. My husband (who takes the word driven to a new level) was working some crazy hours and travelling, and I had three kids three and under to manage day in and day out, including my daughter who was in some pretty significant developmental therapy at the time. I was also trying to keep my small public relations consultancy above water, but a lack of child care options was making life pretty complicated.
I was crabby and bitter…just plain unhappy. One day I was mad at my husband because I was doing it “all” with the kids. I think the fact that he wanted to get his hair cut on a Saturday morning instead of go to My Gym set me off. His response: “I thought you wanted to stay at home with the kids!”
Huh. It was easy to blame my husband for all of my unhappiness. He “made” us move, he wasn’t around enough, he didn’t help out, he was selfish, he just didn’t understand. Sound familiar?
My husband is a great man and father. And even if he wasn’t, my issues really had nothing to do with him. I was in a stay-at-home funk.
Of course having small children is the most challenging. You often are a prisoner to sleep schedules, deal with frequent tantrums, diaper blow outs and a never ending mess (although even as my kids grow I still seem to be dealing with all of those things except for diaper blow outs!) One day, when I hit a pretty good low, I realized that I could make some changes in my life that would probably improve my attitude. I no longer wanted to be mad at my husband all the time, yet I did not think going back to work would really fix my life either.
Here are a few things that helped me get my stay-at-home happy on:
+ Stop complaining. Seriously, just shut up. I got to the point that I got tired of listening to myself. Complaining never gets you anywhere and doesn’t change anything. You can vent, but wallowing about how hard your life is — particularly when you have your health — is pretty much ridiculous.
+ Take control. I realized one day that although my husband and I are a team, I could not expect him — or my children for that matter — to have control over my happiness. I began focusing on the things that made me happy, which included planning family trips, learning to cook, taking a publishing course and getting involved in my children’s educational institutions. If my husband could/would participate in these things, great. If not, I found a way to do them regardless. Interestingly enough though, I discovered my husband was exceedingly willing to support me in these endeavors, even if it meant I slacked off in other areas (the house was never spotless and sometimes we ate some serious take out when I was busy.) It was a good reminder that he wanted a partner, not a mother.
+ Abandon stereotypes. Being a stay-at-home mom does not mean you have to be the queen of crafts or Betty Crocker in the kitchen. That is not the point. At the end of the day, the goal of being a mom — working or not — is just taking care of your kids and spending time with them. I like to think that all my girls have their passion for books because of the hours we spent reading together (something I love to do.) And all three are great storytellers, which I hope is because of the pretend play we did. We also went to every museum, zoo and library within a 100 mile radius. I don’t say these things because I think this makes me a great mom; instead, I say them because I am admitting that I couldn’t bake a batch of cookies with my kids without pulling my hair out until they were seven, and my babysitters do infinitely more crafts with my girls than I ever will, unless you count coloring at Red Robin. The point is to enjoy what you love with your kids, and not conform to what you think you should be doing.
+ Keep a toe in the door (or open a new one.) I tell people that I am predominantly a stay-at- home mom, but I have run my own consulting firm for nine years. In addition to working for various clients, when my kids went to school full-time, I began some freelance writing for a local magazine and did some pro-bono work for some charities. This made me feel like I was still using my education and showed my kids that working for people outside my four walls was part of who I am, whether I got paid or not.
While not every profession allows you to work part-time or from home like mine, I believe any mom can still keep their skills fresh or even gain new work experience — without sacrificing their desire to be there for their kids. Multi-level marketing businesses, freelance opportunities, retail operations, call centers and even pro bono work can ensure that –if desired — you can re-enter the workforce when ready. You may not earn the same paycheck or be at the same level, but in today’s world of technology and trade, you should be able to go back in some capacity. And for some moms, just feeling productive and valued by someone outside of your three-year old is just the attitude adjustment you need.
I would also like to reiterate that I understand not every family has the financial means to do this, but I believe with some creativity, you can at least try to make it happen.
+ Dream. If being a domestic engineer is the pinnacle for you, fantastic. But for most of us who dedicated our prime career years to our kids, reality smacks us in the face when our kids start getting older. The days become a bit longer when your kids go to school full-time, unless you’re filling the void with something else. And I can’t imagine the heart ache that happens when the last baby bird leaves the nest.
I began feeling more content with growing older, and with the fact my kids were growing up, when I started realizing I could fulfill some of my own dreams. Pursuing a full-time writing career (and publishing a book), travelling, and starting a philanthropic organization are just some of the things I have been talking about with my friends for years. And although I’m not sure that between soccer, horse back riding, gymnastics, theater, piano, PTA, birthday parties and everything else we do will allow me to reach all of my goals just yet, dreaming about making them happen makes me smile. Achieving some of them makes me giddy.
+ Think more like a man. Most men do not rest their entire self-worth in what type of father they are. And they shouldn’t. Being a parent should not consume your identity — it should only be part of it, even if it’s your full-time job. When I started branching out beyond just “being a mom,” I became a much happier person, and I believe a much better mother. While I am proud of the job I am doing raising my kids, I am prouder of the person I have become. Well, really, becoming.
+ Develop an attitude of gratitude. I have a lot of friends who are single parents, widowed, or just do not have the financial means for either parent to stay home even part-time with their children. I did not have to stay at home…I had the choice. If I didn’t want to do so, I could go back to work. I finally became grateful to spend this time with my kids, even when it sucked. That’s what wine playdates were for…
Yes, I think “just” being a stay-at-home mom is enough. More than enough, in fact. As long as you continue to be productive and fill your own happiness cup along with the kids.
And while you probably know all this stuff already, it never hurts to hear it again, especially if you get in a funk.
How do you keep your mom mojo? Please share in the comments below!