An Ode to the Stay at Home Parent
I have a whole lot of respect for stay at home parents. I used to be one of those that always thought it was easy... at least when your children were napping, you could shower or do the crossword, or something.
Ummm....think again lazy.
My family and I have recently relocated from Colorado to the Washington D.C. metro area, for a number of reasons, finances and family being the top two. We are currently staying with my parents while we get the lay of the land, see exactly which overpriced suburb we want to live in, where we end up getting jobs and generally getting things in order. My husband is the first to get a job. A more swanky, power suit-y kind of job than he had back home. So while that gets figured out, and we start to understand the demand on him for his time and energy, I am staying home with our 18 month old. My parents both work still, so while they'd love to help out all of the time, realistically, if my husband and I both got full-time jobs right away, we'd be back on the full-time daycare boat right away and probably in a similar one-of-us-is-just-working-to-pay-for-daycare (translated as: me) position. So I then, by default, am the one to become a stay at home parent. For now.
I have to preface what I'm about to say and iterate strongly that I ADORE my daughter with a love that knows no bounds. She is the brightest star in my sky, and having the opportunity to have so much quality time with her in her formative years is a blessing that I appreciate wholeheartedly. And, too, I acknowledge that many parents do not have this opportunity, with such a loving safety net under them as they rework the fabric of their lives to create something amazing for themselves and their child(ren). ....Ok, with that said, let us proceed.
Being a stay at home parent (SAHP) is THE hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than the act of giving birth, harder than learning to nurse, harder than trying to make a tetris-like schedule of work and daycare work to enable a somewhat functional life. It is non-stop demanding, for 10 hours a day, at least for now, divided into a morning and afternoon shift. And I happen to have what I'm starting to understand to be a very active, creative, curious and unafraid child. Which at 18 months translates into, you can't take your eyes off of her. At all. I can let her free play - I'm not trying to be a helicopter mom, but unless I want the walls (of my parent's home) colored in crayon, glass tables in shards in the living room, my child chasing a ball that got swallowed by a drainage ditch, or eating dog food, I have to keep her in my periphery, at the very least, all day. Oy.
Gone are the days when I could lay her down for three naps a day, do yoga, eat, take showers, plan classes, and catch up with friends on the phone. Gone too are the days when she was in daycare, and I got an entire half-day of vacation time when I went to work. And I did at least an hour's work at a time, blessedly uninterrupted. Even when the spa was slow, I could go work out in the gym (unheard of now), steam, shower and be ready for my next client. Sounds like a dream.
And I'm sure to the dedicated, selfless SAHPs out there it probably smacks of selfish egocentrism. It's ok. You can think it. Its nothing I haven't thought myself.
But I have to say, and I've been giving this a whole lot of thought lately - I think some people are really cut from a different cloth when it comes to being at home with their kids. Some people love that stuff! And I'm so amazed, inspired, grateful and quite frankly, in awe of those people. Because some of us aren't...and that is totally ok. It's not that I get immediately overwhelmed, tired and frustrated just as soon as my sweet angel wakes up in the morning - no, no, no. It's not even a whole day that does me in (well, I do suppose that depends on the day, now doesn't it?) but day in, day out, the same attention to detail - of which the object changes about every 15 seconds, give or take 15 seconds...is well, very draining for me personally after a week. I think back fondly on those days when I'd get V from daycare back home, and I'd have had a great day of adult time, focused work and just being able to relax that hyper vigilance that comes with parenting a toddler for a few hours, and be fairly refreshed and so excited to see her. And in the meantime, she'd had a stimulating day with other kids, with a different adult (one of those amazing specimens that has boundless energy and attention for little ones), learned, sang and colored many things that I probably wouldn't have thought to present her with at home, and she'd be tired, happy and so excited to see me! And we'd have a lovely reunion, eat some dinner, have a bath and off to bed for the both of us. Happy as clams, I'd say.
And it's totally ok.
There is nothing to be stigmatized about needing time away from each other. Of being stimulated by encountering many different people, places, things and ideas. By being able to express ourSelves in many ways, manifestations and contexts. This goes for the both of us, not just the adult in the equation. I believe that some children get bored in just one main environment all day, every day. Seeing just a few people all of the time. Interacting with the same toys, books, dogs, furniture and neighborhood features all week. It is ok to need space to be you, to breathe and to miss each other. To have something to share about your time away from each other when you come back together (even when they're too young to talk, they can communicate their feelings of safety and comfort in a child care setting with you when you pick them up). It's ok to need help, just because you need space. And believe me, I understand how privileged this comes off, as many people need to work, or need to stay home and don't have many other options, as I've had since my child was born, and I am only speaking to my limited experience of parenthood and nothing more here. But I will tell you this: I am beyond tired of the self inflicted judgment, comparison and critique that takes over my head sometimes on the topic of parenting skill. It is totally ok to listen to what your heart says and take the time you need to be the best you that you can be for yourself, your partner and your children. They deserve the best you that you can offer, don't they?
SAHPs I'm in awe of you. Your (inferred and projected) patience, gentle smiles, picnics at the park, and general ease with parenting. I bow at your feet. And look forward to the day when I can be only a part-time you. And be a better me for it.
I'd love to hear thoughts, tips and suggestions of ways being a SAHP has worked for you. Things you like and don't about it. In general, be a part of this conversation.
Big love, parents and children alike - Alex
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As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!