by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.
I love my time with Josh (3) and Sam (9 months), but I miss talking with the people at work and using my mind in a different way. I don't really want to get a job, I just want some kind of change at home.
You're bringing up a widespread and complex issue. If you have paid any attention to the so-called "mommy wars," you know that there can be a fair amount of emotional heat about the topic of stay-at-home "versus" working-for-pay mothers. Of course, to complicate things:
- Obviously, every mother is a working mother, whether she draws a paycheck or not.
- There is actually no inherent "versus" at all, since all mothers want the same fundamental things for their children.
- In many cases -- probably the majority of American families -- there is no option for a choice, anyway, since the family needs two incomes.
- Different things work for different mothers and different families; any research on this topic is about the averages of groups, within which there are many important individual differences.
- Many mothers work-for-pay from home, work part-time, are the primary breadwinner while their husband stays home with children, stay home for a couple years then return to their career track, etc.; there are lots of options.
- Often these issues are framed as criticisms of mothers, but in fact dads also play a role, in that they could in principle stay home with children instead of mothers.
- Further, the shortage of quality child care in this country -- ranked last among developed nations in this regard -- makes this whole subject much more challenging and charged.
If you are sorting out staying at home or returning to employment, or just trying to figure out how to make either path work well for your family and you, we encourage you to take a look at the last chapter in our book, Mother Nurture.
Meanwhile, let's focus here on a summary of suggestions for stay-at-home moms, especially those who might be missing their previous employment:
Cultivate community, especially with mothers. That will reduce monotony, give you emotional support and a helping hand, and satisfy the tug in your heart for the company of other mothers.
Leave your work-mind behind. You just can't do motherhood like a day at work. The same pace will frazzle your nerves.
Use your work skills. On the other hand, there's no sense in forgetting the work skills you've got that could be useful at home, like helping organize events for a mothers club or preschool. Similarly, you could use important abilities within yourself. For example, if you enjoyed using your analytical intelligence at work - perhaps you were a CPA or computer programmer - you could read fascinating but challenging books such as A Brief History of Time. If you worked in TV, try volunteering with community access television. If you liked public speaking, consider joining Toastmasters.
Take it easy and enjoy this time. Some women feel guilty about savoring the wonderful moments at home. But you're entitled to! Each day, you handle situations that are harder than most work problems, so when you get an opportunity to relax, grab it and linger. You don't have to keep the house spotless in order to justify your (supposed) "vacation" as a homemaker: it's not a vacation, as anyone well knows who has taken care of young kids all day. You've earned this time with your children, and it won't last forever. Plus you absolutely need to rest whenever you actually get the chance, in order to settle down the stress chemistry in your body and nurture your health and well-being.
Feed your mind. Many mothers pursue a natural subject: child development, health, and family relationships. You could return to an interest you had before children, such as playing a musical instrument, writing letters to help free political prisoners, etc. Or take up a new interest. You could also stay current in your field, so that reentry to work goes well.
Manage the boredom. Sometimes, taking care of children can be, uh, really BORING. Paradoxically, what works is to pay closer attention, noticing details you'd normally overlook. This makes an activity more interesting and draws you into a peaceful awareness. Also, look for the nice parts in your activities, or nudge them in a more enjoyable direction.
Find respites. Every day, you need relief from interacting with your child, such as your partner giving her a bath while you watch TV, another mom coming over with a child who plays with your own, or formal childcare. Study what drags the needle on your internal stress meter into the Red Zone, like four hours in a row alone with an oppositional three-year-old, and do everything in your power to change those things so you never "redline" with stress.
Nurture your sense of worth. Staying home means finding new sources of self-esteem. The first place to look, of course, is your role as a mother: it's the plain truth that you are making a great contribution to your children, and the honor legitimately due you for that is magnified by any sacrifices you've made to be a mother. Next, you could get involved in your children's activities or other kinds of community service, giving you a greater sense of making a difference in the world.
Check in with yourself. Keep paying attention to how it's really going for you. If you try some of the suggestions above and you still feel something important is missing, it could be a sign that you need to shift gears, perhaps by returning to or increasing your work.
Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin.
Copyright © Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.