I recently had a friend make the decision to leave her lucrative career to stay at home with her kids. She was excited about the change but nervous at the same time. Nervous about how she was going to fill her time, stay motivated, and most of all, fulfilled. She asked me if I had any advice.
I'm no expert, but I have now lived on both sides of the fence. And I'm here to dispel the notion that staying at home is the easy choice. I know for some women the choice isn't really a choice at all. Some are forced to work to pay the bills. Others stay home because it doesn't make any financial sense to work after they pay the daycare bill for "x number of" kids. For me, the choice was easy to start with. When I graduated college I planned to work at least until my loans were paid off. It just made sense. When Abby came along three years later, however, I didn't have those loans paid off and we had car payments and a house payment. We were adjusted to a certain way of life that we liked. My career had already accelerated by that point, and I contributed to at least half of our household income. So I kept working. While I definitely had moments where I wished I could spend more time with my kids, most of the time I didn't feel like it was a huge sacrifice to be a working mom. I felt like my kids benefited from being around other people, educational opportunities at daycare, and most of all, structure.
There were other benefits to working full time. There was a distinct definition between work and home. When we weren't at work, our time was all ours and we could spend it how we wanted to. We could afford to take family vacations. At some point we hired a housekeeper to come every other week, frequent enough because we weren't home much to mess the house up. We hired other things done also; our car repairs, building our house, landscaping our yard. We had a small yard to care for, and if we didn't have time to do that we could usually find a neighbor boy to mow the lawn. You get the picture. I also had help from Tom. Because we both worked full time, we shared the housework. Tom was mostly in charge of the laundry and he cooked, cleaned, and payed the bills.
My decision to stay at home was attached to our decision to move to the farm. By the time I pay for gas to get to town and childcare, and work at one of the low-paying jobs a small community offers, it isn't very practical for me to work. Plus, I'm more valuable at home. Keeping the household going takes time, and Tom can't help. He doesn't get off at 5 (or 6 or 7) like he used to. We have fallen into more traditional gender roles here on the farm just by necessity.
The truth is, the idea of staying at home was a big part of the allure of this lifestyle and the decision to move to the farm. I knew what I was getting myself into, but I didn't know, if you know what I mean. I am definitely much more busy with all things domestic than I expected to be.
In theory, we have the same amount of laundry as before. We have the same amount of space (roughly) as before. Okay, our lawn is gigantic now. The house is a little bigger. But the housework load seems like it should be about the same, right? Well, instead of cooking dinner every night, we cook (and clean up after) 3 meals a day. There is no fast food down the street. I do all the yard work. My house gets messy 3 times faster because we are IN it all day long. Every time I go to the grocery store, I spend 2 hours in the car. I spend another hour in the car on school days delivering and collecting the kids from the bus. Another hour if I have to get them to town for activities. And this business of keeping three kids busy and out of trouble all day is a full time job in itself. Especially with a toddler. You know what I'm saying.
In this new life of ours, we now have more time than money. We do more things ourselves. For example, our remodeling projects are almost all DIY. Another example—I need a baby gifts for my new niece and nephew. Before I could afford a really nice gift—like a stroller or name brand baby shoes for instance. Now I can't spend that much, so I am making a handmade gift in an effort to make it more special and meaningful. At the moment I am stressing about getting this gift made, dinner cooked tonight, my house cleaned for guests, and keeping my toddler entertained on top of it all. This job comes with a different kind of stress—one that is self-imposed but real none-the-less; pressure to be a good mom and be everything to everyone. I want to cook yummy and healthy meals. Have a clean, organized, and well-decorated home. Raise good kids. Lose this baby weight already. Be smart. Well informed. Be involved in the farm. The list goes on.
Then there is the quesiton of fullfillment. Before it was easy. Work, get paycheck. Work harder, get raise. Buy clothes. Buy stuff for house. Work some more. Buy more. (Ha.) But the work was attached to a tangible (key word) reward, and I felt like I was accomplishing something. Now, I don't contribute directly to the family income. Much of my work is never finished. I clean the house and do the dishes, just to do it all over again. I'm not saying it isn't worthwhile or rewarding, but the reward is much less tangible.
I know time makes you forget. I know I am forgetting the stress and overwhelming fatigue of our old schedule. It wasn't easy. Tom traveled a lot, for one. My lucrative career was such because I was in management, which added to the stress and emotional strain of my job. That stress was hard to cope with sometimes. A lot of times. Money doesn't buy happiness. It buys lots of stuff. That we don't need.
I suppose there are a few out there that get to stay at home with their kids and can still afford the housekeeper, nanny, or (heaven help me) cook. They exist in a different reality than mine. But somehow I'm pretty sure that instead of stressing about how to pay the car repair bill and getting dinner on the table, they are stressing about how to pay the pool boy and private school tuition and how they are going to manage to squeeze in that Botox appointment before the soccer game. What I'm trying to say is this: Our means dictate our priorities. And we are all pretty good at maxxing ourselves out.
So what's my point?
I'm happy. This lifestyle isn't always easy, but its what I want. The grass might look greener on the other side sometimes, but I truly believe we are happiest if we can bloom where we are planted. With change comes challenge, but I will work at perfecting this life until I get it right. That is just my nature. Instead of fighting for that next promotion I will fight for happy kids, a clean house, and efficiency.
Today I read a blog post about how to make the laundry chore easier by foregoing much of the sorting (what? really?) and just doing a little bit every day. It's strikes me as funny that I get jazzed about reading blogs about housework and organizing. It used to be we learned everything we knew about domestic things from our moms. Now there is no end to the inspiration and help we can get from moms of all walks of life. It occurred to me though; in the time it took me to read that blog about laundry efficiency I could have folded a whole basket of laundry. Ha. (As much as I feel guilty about my blog reading habit, I do value and appreciate the connection it gives me to life outside the farm. Its that adult interaction I miss by not working outside the home. The key is moderation, right?)
Recently I discovered our online library where I can download both e-books and audio books. I've enjoyed how listening to a story while doing housework really makes the mundane chores much more enticing. After I finish a book, though, I am usually happy to work in silence for awhile so that I am more in tune with what is going on around me and using my brain to meditate and think. (Think up ideas like this blog post. :) I just had to quit what I was doing so I could write this all down while it was in my head.)
So, what are your tips for staying motivated through the mundane? I'm all ears and I need all the help I can get!
(About these photos: I feel like I do a pretty good job of documenting major life events on camera. But sometimes I feel like I miss out on the best photo opportunities when I don't pick up my camera at home and capture what happens on any old boring day. I love to follow everyone's 365 photo projects for this reason. It forces you to take a photo every day. I'm not sure if I have the discipline for that, but maybe I should try? Here's to capturing the everyday!)