Avoiding the Pitfalls of Being a Stay at Home Parent
*** LONG POST ALERT ***
This week, I didn’t realize just how much I had on my heart about being a full time homemaker. I guess I’ve been collecting ideas for a year or so now, so a lot just bubbled to the surface. While I think it’s a healthy and good thing to get it all on paper, I won’t blame a busy parent reader if he or she just skips to the relevant parts in these posts. Next week, I’ll try to lighten up the word count and post something a little less cerebral… for now though… here goes!
On Tuesday, I wrote a post about my personal pros and cons of being a stay at home parent. I also talked about how I prefer the term “homemaker.” For the sake of this post title, I decided to use a term most people use for my profession.
Not to hang you out to dry, I wanted to go over some of the pitfalls of being a full time homemaker and offer ideas for how to avoid, or at least mitigate, some of these concerns.
Everyone does parenting differently, so I’m not trying to persuade you that it’s my way or the highway. There are working parents, part time working parents, unemployed parents, and stay at home moms and dads. We each make the choices that fit best with our personalities, lifestyles, and pocketbooks.
I’m just offering some ideas for those who have already chosen to be full time homemakers or those who are curious about how my lifestyle works. Hopefully, this will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls I’ve found in this career. They’re not insurmountable, and I’d like to encourage you to give them a try!
If you’re in the depths of a total existential crisis about being a homemaker parent, know you’re not alone! In any career, I think we can all question our choices, our path, and just what the heck we’re doing. I have a one year old, and even I have had moments of burnout in just the past year. If this is a decision you’re firm about, try not to let temporary setbacks and discouragement cloud your judgment. Of course, if it goes on and on, by all means start thinking about changing things up! I just want to encourage everyone that it can get better.
I’m going to take you through some of the “cons” I’ve found in this profession and then some solutions and techniques I’ve found to make it go a little more smoothly. Here goes! In no particular order…
+ trackable and recognized accomplishments and successes
In this day and age, only about 30% of parents stay at home full time. Of that number, only 16% are dads. This makes it a slightly unusual career and lifestyle choice, one that’s pretty untethered from the usual accomplishments, successes, and milestones of a career in the workforce. That makes it hard to track your progress and know if you’re doing a good job.
I’m pretty closely tied to my professional and academic achievements and take a lot of pride in my hard work. It’s also not bad being recognized for this by others. If you’re that kind of person, being unmoored from external recognition can be particularly hard. As Lisa Simpson said in an episode of the Simpsons when she was sent to an alternative school with no clear benchmarks, “Grade me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good good good and oh, so smart!” Ohmigosh, that is so me! So that was a big challenge for me in choosing this life.
I have found ways to work around it though and have found real satisfaction in the ways I’ve done that and in my current career.
I guess the first thing that’s helped me is setting my own benchmarks. Especially ones that aren’t tied to closely with my son. I do this because his timeline of walking, eating, talking, learning, etc. are totally on his schedule. I have an influence, but having that kind of pressure on a baby and on my parenting makes this problematic. I set standards for myself instead!
Some of the benchmarks I have center around cleaning and home routines. I love my to do list, and set a few daily, weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly tasks to keep me accountable. I use ToDoist, which gives points to tasks and offers tracking of previous accomplishments. Whatever floats system works for you though! I set personal goals, like taking daily Japanese lessons on DuoLingo and working out, as well as household goals like making my bed, putting away laundry, and doing the dishes. I can go a little overboard with these lists, but they are a nice way to track my progress.
I have also connected with some online communities that support my life choices. I love hearing “you’re doing a great job, mom!” underneath some of my more vulnerable posts. It’s cool to cheer each other on and connect with other homemakers who know the struggles. One micro pitfall to avoid with this particular suggestion is staying connected to a community that is unhealthy: full of negativity, complaints, mean girl drama, and scandal. If your online community of choice builds you up, inspires you, and makes you a better version of yourself, that’s one worth keeping.
I also set my goals around my “core desired feelings” (see my post about that here). I want to cultivate a feeling of peace and creativity and chill vibes in my home, so when I’ve worked toward that goal or achieved it in any given day, I feel successful. It’s these less tangible goals that really spur me forward.
Additionally, I follow a pretty unique parenting and homemaking philosophy strongly influenced by the book “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross. It’s also correlated with the philosophy and practices behind Waldorf Schools. This is something I tend to really geek out about. One important thing for me based on these ideas, for example, is getting my son and myself outside in the fresh air every day, rain or shine. It’s a simple goal, but it’s daily and trackable and makes for a happier home life.
If you love a particular parenting and homemaking philosophy, it’s nice to check in with yourself and evaluate how you’re doing. There are so, so many guides to faith-based parenting, raising high achieving children, arts-based childhood, French parenting, you name it. If one of those inspires you, by all means use that as a way to evaluate your progress.
+ professional advancement opportunities
Although some high schools include home economics courses as a part of the regular curriculum, the age of a homemaking major in college is long gone. There are hold-outs like Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life degree, that is certainly not the norm. When this kind of degree was the only option for women, that was pretty problematic, but now it’s not a part of any curriculum. I think that’s kind of a bummer. We homemakers need some education and professional advancement opportunities too!
One way to avoid the dearth of professional development is to get creative with how you improve on your position and advance in your career.
Lots of local cooking schools offer community classes to improve your techniques. I’ve seen a lot of blogs offering tutorials on meal planning, budgeting, home organization, and the like. There are a handful of Christian resources and curricula for stay at home parents, if that’s something that interests you. My local high school offers financial classes to keep things humming along in that part of your life.
If homeschooling is part of your plan, you can look at education classes at your local community college. I have my master’s in education, and I think the best crossover class for my new life was a human development course. Learning about Vygotsky and Piaget’s theories of childhood was so interesting! And reading journal articles about evidence-based parenting have helped me immensely.
There are also tons and tons of YouTube channels dedicated to professional homemaking. And don’t forget websites like SkillShare and Craftsy to learn all the other stuff you might want to learn like knitting, mending, baking, etc.. Even learning baby sign language online or in person can help a lot with raising tiny ones.
Just because my career doesn’t have a formal certification doesn’t mean there isn’t material available to help me along on my path. It takes some creativity and a can-do attitude, but it’s doable and realistic and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
+ self esteem
Going along with not a lot of external recognition for my career is the real hit my lifestyle took on my self esteem. If your accomplishments have little to do with your self-esteem, good on you! I’m in the opposite camp. I strongly connect my profession and achievements and actions with my self-esteem, and I’m ok owning that. I have an inner Tiger Mom who won’t rest until I’ve done everything in my power to keep going and achieve, achieve, achieve.
When I accomplish things and learn practical skills, I do feel a surge of self-confidence. I remember the day I learned to change the oil in my car myself. This simple, practical skill made all the difference in my confidence. I think learning practical skills like this and setting your own benchmarks goes a long way toward boosting your self esteem. At least it does for me! I like knowing that I’m improving at life and adult-ing and parenting, and that’s a good feeling.
I often get my dreaded “so, what do you do?” question at cocktail parties and when meeting strangers. For me, saying “stay at home mom” can be a little cringe-worthy because people can have some negative stereotypes about who I am and what I do based on that. Like, I’m not a slave to the patriarchy people! And I do take showers… In that scenario, I have started to fake it until I make it. If I act confident and secure in my job title, it makes me feel a little more confident and secure in my choice. Eventually I became a lot more confident as I practiced this. I also started owning the term “homemaker” after a lot of thought. It’s kind of a weird profession, but I feel secure in how that word makes me feel.
It’s also important for me to take pride in my appearance and in the appearance of my home. My son’s appearance can vary wildly depending on what he had for lunch… I cut myself slack there! His dress and messiness are more a reflection of his rambunctious joy rather than a reflection on my parenting.
For me, taking the time and effort to get up a little earlier, tidy myself up, and wear something I’m not afraid to be seen in outside of the house makes me happier and more confident. During my son’s nap, I like to workout, make myself a nutritious lunch, take a shower, put on makeup, and do my hair. This is a priority for me because it makes me feel better and more put together. Regardless of whether or not I’m out in public, I like to look tidy and professional (though my wardrobe has more leggings than blazers these days).
I think one the most important part about maintaining my self-esteem is realizing that homemaking is really just a job. It’s a job that has a pretty big impact on society, but so do medical professions, education careers, social work, you name it. When I’m having a bad day and my son is a teething, tantrum-ing mess, I remind myself that it’s just a job. Sometimes my “coworker” can be a total disaster!
My husband helped me see that. Thinking about things that way lets me put this career into perspective and helps maintain my self-esteem. It also means that I do some things that make it more of a job than I often see with other homemakers. For any jobs, breaks are essential.
In my job, I decided to hire a babysitter for 2-3 hours a week so I can take a breather. It’s the best $25-40 I spend every week! If you can find a friend or relative to give you a break during the day, that is good too. And once I’m done with my weekly “me time,” I start missing my son and feel refreshed about my job. It was important for me to do this during the day instead of placing this responsibility of down time solely on my husband’s shoulders. He needs a break too! Coming home from a demanding job to a baby who is freaking out gets old sometimes… So give yourself a break, cut yourself some slack, and remember, it’s a hugely important job… but it’salso just a job.
+ reentry into the workforce
Yes, reentering the workforce after a stint of homemaking can be a challenge. Not every employer recognizes the huge value a former homemaker can add to their company. Keeping a calm head in a crisis is probably my best crossover skill! I can’t change anyone’s impressions of my job though, so I try to adapt to how things are, rather than how I hope them to be.
I’ve taken my workforce sabbatical seriously and have kept my connection to my professional life alive by dipping into low commitment types of work that show I’m still alive professionally and haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.
I’m currently mentoring a group of grad students with their ESOL certification. I’ve worked extensively with international students and have been able to offer a little “in the trenches” expertise. It’s all online, by text, and by phone. It’s a cool way to stay relevant. I have also volunteered in the past in fields that tend to align with my workforce career.
It doesn’t take a ton of effort or time. Just stay engaged! You can also connect online through a blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, or meet ups with former coworkers. This is a very important part of my reentry plan and something I think is vitally important to making this full time homemaker thing work.
+ avoiding isolation
This is the really real-est pitfall of homemaking that I’ve found. This career can get really freaking lonely! Especially for an extrovert like me. When I was working in a high school, I loved the variety of perspectives and personalities I got to interact with on a daily basis. Between 800 students and 50 colleagues, I was hanging out with people all day long. I loved it! Even if you’re not an extrovert, things can get pretty lonely at home all day.
One of the better ways I’ve found to combat this isolation is connecting to other homemakers and spending time with them. A close friend of mine is a full time homemaker (and serious side-hustler!) who lives a few miles from me. It’s great to help normalize my struggles and get the heck out of the house. I also signed up my son for classes at the Little Gym, which helps him with socialization, and most importantly, helps me hang out with new people. I’ve started making a few friends that way.
Whether it’s gym friends, church friends, family, yoga class mates, school friends, neighbors, or whoever, making the effort to avoid isolation is worth its weight in gold. My once-a-week babysitter helps too! With those few hours a week, I can do pretty much whatever I want to maintain my sense of self and combat that isolation.
At first, you might feel like you’re ok keeping you and your family to yourself, but I think the isolation creeps in surreptitiously and sneaks it way into your psyche without you even being aware of it. The weeks when I’ve been like “I’m all good, I don’t need a babysitter this week” or “I’m all good, I don’t need my husband to take over for a few hours this weekend” I’ve felt that creeping depression as the days go by and have felt totally off as the week wears on. It also takes a big toll on my patience with my son. If I’m not making time for myself, I can be a raging monster if my son is being a sweet, but stubborn, coworker. Avoiding isolation and getting out there helps me maintain my zen. It’s also really fun to bring my son along wherever I want to go too! The art museum, church, shopping, the park, the library. He’s a pretty good traveling companion.
+ losing your identity
This sort of goes along with the isolation and self-esteem component. It’s really freaking easy to get sucked into parenthood being the only facet of my personality. Before I had my son, I was a pretty interesting and fully realized person. I mean, I wasn’t perfect, but I had all kinds of interests and passions and ambitions. Having a child didn’t make those disappear, but it takes work to keep my focus on Stephanie and not only my son’s mom. Being my son’s mom is noble and an honor and pretty cool, but it’s not all I am.
Early on, I decided to start this blog to remind myself that I’m me, fully me, apart from my family. Ok, I know now I’m blogging about being a mom today, but that’s pretty rare. I’ve made the time to create this blog to remind myself that I have non-mom interests, passions, pursuits, dreams, ambitions. One good side effect is that I can see my son fully as himself, not an extension of me. If I have a fully formed interior life, then I am more likely to respect and honor his. If I follow my own arrow, I can show him how to follow his. Pretty cool, right?
I’m working on adding more to myself as my son gets a little older. When I have free time, I like to pray in my church’s chapel and do some Bible journaling. That plugs me into the universe and a God who knows me by name. He’s good at realigning my view of myself in the world. On a non-spiritual plain, I’m also looking into taking weekly barre classes at a local gym. Sounds pretty fun and a good way to meet some new friends. This is a work in progress, but one I force myself to prioritize it. It’s just that important.
I also like to focus on the end game. For me, the ultimate goal of parenting is to make my position obsolete in about twenty years. By encouraging independence in my son, I’m kind of shooting to get fired at the end of this! Of course, he will only ever have one mom, but in terms of daily life functioning, I’d like him to be fully independent.
Focusing on that end goal helps me stay attuned to my own identity and where I want to be after this stay at home mom life. Eventually, I’d like to make my way back to the workforce in some kind of fulfilling vocation. That would be great! There’s a lot of legwork that goes into that, though. I’d also like to be the type of mother who recognizes herself in the best way at the end of the high-intensity years of parenting. Is there a way to avoid empty nest syndrome? I don’t know, but I’m sure as heck going to try! In previous generations, parents might live only a decade or two of their life after their children became adults. The average lifespan has expanded so much that we have a lot of good years left! Even us older parents… It’s important for me to focus on the end game to maintain my own sovereignty and identity.
+ unstructured days and dealing with overwhelm
When I was teaching, my days were insanely structured. Forty-five minute classes with three minutes in between classes. The warning bell rang at 7:50 and the last bell rang at 2:35. Every day. The whole academic year. Then the year was divided neatly into quarters and semesters. Even though I hated rushing, it was nice to have that kind of structure and routine in my life. I could plan on things and expect certain things in my days and weeks.
Many professions have a certain flow to them with busy seasons, regular hours, regular breaks, and a routine to fill your work hours. When you’re a full time homemaker in the very early stages, all of those time stamps in your agenda fly out the window. Babies can be really unpredictable! And they change so much day to day and week to week. Sleeping, napping, eating, crying, and diapers can all come at odd intervals. And just when you feel like you have the hang of it, there they go again changing things up! If you’re a lover of routine like I am, it can drive you a little crazy.
As my son has gotten older, I allowed that unpredictability to seep into our lives and was probably a little too casual with our schedule. Our nights have been pretty consistent since about three or four months, but I hadn’t let those routines seep into the rest of my day. Eventually, at about nine months old, my unpredictable days because really trying, and I found myself overwhelmed, burned out, and frazzled. I was losing my temper at the drop of a hat and felt really disappointed in myself and my situation.
I have a very low “fed up” threshold that I hit. After that, I did a bunch of research and found a schedule that worked for my son and I. I even printed it out and taped it to the wall. Sometimes we deviate from the script for things that might pop up, but for the most part, it’s kind of set in stone. Ohmigosh has this made my work life so. much. better. At first, I didn’t want to push my son into any kind of strict schedule, until I remembered that I’m his mom, and kind of his boss at this point, and it’s up to me to set the time signature of our days. I gotta work hard to conduct this little orchestra.
So I would recommend first of all, do your best to get into some habits and routines as early as you can. I know little ones can be very very unpredictable, but the more you repeat things (like bath then bottle then bed at night) the more they can get into the rhythm and anticipate what happens next. Whatever that looks like for you!
I also think as your kiddos get older that a schedule is even more important. You can have a weekly schedule written on a white board or just go through the next day’s plans the night before. When I was teaching, I noticed that even eighteen year olds thrive on routine and predictability. They might have laughed a little and teased me about it, but they actually started anticipating having a group activity every Friday, rain or shine.
Whatever your life looks like or however your little ones are, predictability and routine have helped me immensely toward my keeping cool head in the face of a few parenting disasters, ratcheted down my irritability, and helped me enjoy parenting a whole lot more.
+ keeping the romance alive
I didn’t mention this in Tuesday’s post because it slipped my mind. What does that say about where my head is in my relationship with my husband?! That’s why I’m glad I remembered today. One of the hardest things about being new parents and being a full time homemaker is keeping the romance alive in your relationship with your partner. Early on, my little one needed undivided attention from both mom and dad, so there wasn’t a whole lot of room for making each other a priority. But try we did!
Ever since we started dating twenty (yes twenty!) years ago, my husband and I have prioritized date night every Friday. When we were broke temp workers in our 20s, we might have had a very frugal date night (Taco Bell and free reading at Barnes & Noble were pretty common) but we kept it up and made the effort. Right now, date night often includes our son, but we’ve made space to get a babysitter some Friday nights to keep our tradition going.
It can be hard, really hard, to keep the kind of intimacy going I once had with my husband before my son was born, but by making a commitment to it, talking it through, and making time and space for that, we are really loving and appreciating each other even more than we did before. It takes some creative solutions, but I think it’s very well worth the effort.
It also goes along with keeping my self esteem and sense of identity intact. It’s easy to let self care take a backseat, but it’s been really important for me to keep that up. Even if I’ve had a rough day, I try to fit in a shower or even just put on some blush and tidy my hair to show my husband I’m making the effort. And he gets it. I know he appreciates that I’m thinking of him even on my worst days. This includes picking out something cute for date night or buying clothes that remind myself that I have a figure. Goodbye sweatpants and hello cute yoga pants! It doesn’t take a lot of time or energy, just a little to let your partner know you tried.
I also try to invest in my own identity and intellectual growth so I’m a good date! It’s fun to talk about our son, but I really try to do a little less child-rearing talk whenever we have a date night or some time to ourselves. I keep up with podcasts and articles and fill my days with interesting things, so I’m a good companion. I don’t want to spend my precious time with my husband griping about diapers and my parents and how little sleep I got this week. Ok, it’s good to be open and vulnerable with our spouses, of course it is. But it’s also important to balance those negative things with positives.
This might all be the case for general parent-life and not just relegated to full time homemakers, but I think it’s all enhanced and exacerbated when you don’t have the outside cues to enhance your self esteem, keep you looking your best, and reminders that you exist outside of your profession.
It’s also cool if you have a rough idea of your partner’s love language or how they work. My husband loves when I do simple things for him and accompany him on all of his adventures. I take an active interest in his hobbies and pursuits, try them out when I can, and do nice little things to let him know I’m thinking of him. Early on, it might have been making him coffee while he was pacing the floor with a crying infant. It was those little acts of kindness that show how much I appreciate him. Remembering he’s a person aside from just being a dad helps keep that romance alive and lets him know he’s a priority too. I’m also respecting and honoring his own individuality away from his role of parent. That goes a long way toward building up his self esteem along with mine!
Ok, I told you it was a long post! I hope you were able to have a better idea of how I’m avoiding some of the pitfalls of being a full time homemaker. I think all of these pitfalls are surmountable and take a little creativity, practicality, and trusting your instincts to make it work.
I’ve found a lot of joy and life and grace in my chosen career right now. I’m grateful and glad I’m on this path. I hope by sharing some of the solutions I’ve worked through that I can help you on your path or give you some helpful information if you’re considering the homemaker life. We are all so, so different, but I think listening and sharing with others is one of the best ways to get through this life with an open heart and a positive outlook.
I would seriously love if you would share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions below. I really enjoy listening to other perspectives and how other people make their path work for them. And in doing that, I’d like to give some room for differing perspectives and for people who think this whole scheme I have set up for myself is ludicrous. Although if you’ve made it to the end of this post, I’m guessing you’re a little more predisposed to my lifestyle than not.
Enjoy your choices, keep going, and make it work! It’s well worth the effort. I love my life and hope you do too.