Friday, February 22, 2013

Advice for a Newly at Home Mom

My cousin recently became a stay-at-home-mom and expressed her conflicted feelings at being at this point in her life (motherhood is not necessarily her first choice of careers). She asked for insight on how stay-at-home-moms and housewives maintain their sanity. This is my response:

1 - Be very careful not to confuse what you do with who you are. There are many things you do because they need to be done, but that doesn't define you. You can choose to be whomever you like, even if you have to do other things some of the time. Being a mom may be part of your identity. Maybe it's an important part, maybe it's a significant part, but it doesn't need to be (and really shouldn't be) all there is to you. If it becomes that way, I think you're doing yourself, your husband, and your children a disservice.

2 - Decide and defend who you are. Once you have that figured out, don't forget it. Don't get so lost in taking care of your husband and child(ren) that you lose yourself completely.
Our current society is largely into self-interested actions. Many people have encouraged me to live apart from my husband in order to further my own career and allow him to further his. Neither of us would have to make any professional sacrifice. Unfortunately, the quality of our marriage would be sacrificed instead. I don't believe that's a feasible solution. You can't make every decision in your life based on what's best for you. However, you shouldn't rule your own wants and needs out completely. Decide what you want and weigh that into your decisions. You'll need to make some sacrifices in order to be happy, I'd guess, but you don't need to sacrifice everything. Don't lose sight of who you are and what you want. Never lose that. If you feel like it's lost, take some time to yourself and find it again. Ask your husband, your close friends and the rest of your family to help you. If they love you, they'll support you in your need to be an individual with your own personal goals, needs and wants.

3 - Make an effort to develop yourself continually in ways you enjoy. For me, this can be learning new recipes or reading books I like. Some people take photography classes or exercise. One of my friends quilts. Have things that are yours that you do because you enjoy them (I happen to love cooking, so there is the byproduct of feeding others, but that's not why I do it). Take time for these things regularly. You need a break from parenthood sometimes. Regularly.

4 - Don't view yourself as inferior or subservient to your husband just because he's financially supporting the family. This one is really important. You've both chosen for you to stay home in order to save the family money. You're taking care of some things and he's taking care of others. He should NOT be ordering you around and you shouldn't be letting him just because he makes the money. Your roles are different. It's not like you're not doing work; you're just doing different work. Don't undervalue your contribution. And don't view yourself as subservient for any other reason either. Whatever you may have learned in Young Women or anywhere else, you are his equal and don't ever believe otherwise. Ever.

5 - Raise your daughter to view the world differently. Talk to her about college and her career and everything you wish you'd been told were possibilities. Protect her dreams about her future and don't let others take them away. If her Young Women experience is mirroring yours, voice your objection to her leaders. Living solely for marriage and motherhood is not doctrine.  Families are important and valued, but wedding dresses, baby names and choosing your wedding colors as a teenager are not. Those things really don't matter. They're fun for teenage girls to dream about, but they don't matter. There are so many resources available on how to raise a confident daughter. Be on the lookout for them and make conscious choices about the woman you'd like her to become.

6 - Reach out and be connected to the world. Establish a routine that includes you having time to read the news if that's important to you or read fashion magazines if that's what you prefer. Get in the habit of connecting with other adults. For the next two years your "play dates" are going to involve you bringing your baby to sit or play next to other babies and it won't matter to her at all whether the other children are there or not. But you need the adult conversation, so make it happen. Find other people who you like being around who have children or have time to hang out, and schedule time together regularly. You'll have more time as she gets into a sleeping and eating routine, and you have to prioritize time with other adults. It really will save your sanity in many ways. You can also join (or start) at book club, have people over to get their hair done, start a cooking group, or whatever other way you can dream up to get adults into your life for grown-up conversation. It takes more effort when you have a child, but it's so worth it to pursue adult conversations for yourself.

7 - Don't let anyone else (including me!) tell you who you need to be our how to run your life. Don't let anyone else define happiness for you. Part of the issue with the women in the Mona Lisa Smiles  era is that these women have to keep up the appearance of perfection. And that exists a lot in Mormon culture, particularly in Utah. You'll decide what's important to you. Maybe having a clean living room is worth the effort, but having a clean bedroom isn't. Maybe you want your daughter's hair done all the time but you don't care about whether her clothes are designer or hand-me-downs. Maybe you'll hand make all the decorations for all of her birthday parties, but most nights dinner will be from a box. That's fine. You're allowed to have your own priorities and make your own choices about how to spend your time and effort. Kirsten Dunst didn't want to be a SAHM. Julia Stiles did. Different people want different things, and that should be okay. You don't have complete freedom to choose what you want to do at this point, but you can make the most of the situation you have and choose what's going to be important enough to warrant your effort.

8 - Remember, nobody's life is as great as it looks on their blog. We present the best version of ourselves. But truly, everyone has problems, and most of them are pretty serious ones. So don't judge yourself by the tiny piece of other people's lives that you can see.

9 - Enjoy it. Being a housewife and a stay-at-home-mom is hard and it's not always fun. But, there are great moments and I think it helps to revel in those. Enjoy the various stages your daughter reaches. Enjoy your time with her. Take pleasure in the things you do enjoy (decorating your house? spending time with your husband?). Choose to be happy. There will be parts of your life you don't enjoy (changing poopy diapers, anyone?) and you'll probably never enjoy them because no one does. Or because they're just not your thing. But find parts of your routine that you do like and try to focus on enjoying those. It really does make things better. Spending all your time wishing things were different will make you unhappy very quickly. And, having a career probably isn't quite as great as it seems like it would be, just like staying at home probably isn't really as perfect as it looks to someone who can't.

10 - Know that this full-time mom who also has a full-time job is jealous that you're financially able to do just one or the other. I know it isn't what you pictured for yourself, but you are lucky to be able to do it.


  1. I'm not sure exactly what to comment, just know that I enjoyed reading this and that there were some nice reminders in here.

  2. Great post! My YW experience was not (I recall) solely marriage and family oriented, but it sounds like others' were. I really like what you said about what you do does not define who you are. The things that we do are sometimes fragile--stuff happens and then we can't do them anymore. But that means it's harder to define who we are. My mind is now circling around some kind of science fiction plot that would explore that theme....

  3. Loved this post and it reminded me of a quote that I saw recently from CS Lewis. Of course I had to make sure it was legit - and it was paraphrased as:
    "The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career."
    but here is the real quote:
    “I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)
    Daniel and I read the paraphrased quote together and he was like, you know - that's so true.

    Thanks for this great post! It has some great advise (and reminders!)

  4. Amen Melanie.

    An acquaintance here once voiced frustration that at some stake event one woman said that she felt she was a better mother when she worked part time. The hearer was bothered by this until she thought about it and decided that this other woman must have been "running away from her problems" by going to work and that since she was staying home full time what she was doing was better and that she was justified in her choices.

    I wasn't a huge fan of this idea so I told said hearer that she didn't need to look anywhere other than inside herself to decide whether her choices to stay home full time were correct and justified or not. We shouldn't gauge what is right or wrong for ourselves (especially when it comes to decisions as personal as whether to stay home and raise your children or not) based on what others choose to do, or secretly (or publicly) root for others who've made choices different than ours to fail or be met with difficulties. Because the right answers are not the same for everybody. Even on an individual basis there are different answers at different points in our lives. And it's hard when our timetables don't match up to God's. I've seen this in both friends with children, friends without children, and friends who are still single. And I agree with Melanie in that so many people's lives look better from the outside than they probably do from the inside.

    Although I remember doing a lot of those types of stereotypical activities in YW I do remember branching out into other areas of preparedness as well. When I served in YW I made an especial effort to emphasize that, even if we were cooking or talking about home and personal organization, that these weren't just skills useful in being a SAHM, but also in being a successful person overall. And, although others would argue that my decision was culturally influenced, my husband and I have chosen to embrace more traditional gender roles, at least for now, and I sometimes need to remind myself that we did choose to live like this for a reason. Because we think it's the best way to care for our family. It goes deeper than "I'm the woman so I do this and he's the man so..." The fact that others can't see that doesn't change what we know.

  5. Melanie, this is an awesome post. You could write a book. I'm glad we have similar opinions about such things. I can relate some days especially to your last point "know that this full-time mom who also has a full-time job is jealous that you're financially able to do just one or the other." Great advice too about not losing your identity in the transition.
    However, I know exactly what you mean when you talk about your YW experience. I only wish the reinforced stereotyped roles had stopped in YW, maybe its Utah, but I continue to get the same messages in RS - they all just assume we are SAHM, or should be. Allowances are given for single moms, but married moms working - their first thought is why isnt your husband providing? If he doesnt make enough, then maybe he should work two or three jobs so you can stay home. Are you kidding me!? His job is to provide for a family he never gets to see? No thanks. And I would rather he loves what he does than work at one he hates, that might pay alot.
    Bottom line - we are doing what we think is best for our family through the inspiraction and direction of our Heavenly Father. I absolutely love how much time my kids get with their dad, and that he is so anxiously involved - not a couch potato trying to destress when he gets home from work at 5pm. Our roles are very equal in every sense and I love that. They are literally speechless when I mention wanting to pursue an MBA and studing for the GMAT!
    "Living solely for marraige and motherhood is NOT doctrine" - Amen! There is a lot of time in the day, and many years in life past child rearing. We absolutely must have hobbies and other interests to fill our time wisely besides husbands and children. I would rather continue my education and be poised for a career when the opportunity comes and the time is right than spend two hours on facebook or watch two hours of television every night. Keeping our priorities in order, however, and finding balance in all that we do is what life is all about.