May 7, 2010From Career to At-Home Mothering: Mastering The Transition
National Association of At-Home Mothers
Info Guide #31
From Career to At-Home Mothering: Mastering The Transition
You've thought it over, weighed the pros and cons, and changed your mind a half dozen times. You long for the positives of being a full-time parent#151;the opportunity to guide and nurture full time, the security of knowing that you can be there whenever your children need you, the freedom from feeling yourself spread tissue paper-thin trying to juggle too many demands on your time and energy. You've certainly acknowledged the drawbacks#151;decreased family income, the possibility you'll feel bored or isolated, loss of the status your career has afforded. But finally one day something clicks. You realize you don't
to go back to your job a few short weeks or months after you've given birth. Or you realize that your kids have bonded with, and later had to say good-bye to, too many caregivers. Or you realize that, despite the "official" policy, your boss really does hold it against you when you miss work to attend your child's kindergarten play. You make the decision#151;you're going to be an at-home mother#151;and a good one, to boot. You feel a tremendous sense of relief just from finally making the decision.
But making a successful transition to this new way of life requires a bit more than just giving two weeks' notice to your boss and smiling during your going away party. It requires attending to the process of transition itself. You already know how important a good start is for future success. A good start is a gift you want to give your children, one of the reasons you've chosen at-home parenting. And by understanding the nature of transitions, it's a gift you can give yourself as well.
Transitions are, by definition, a process of moving from the old and
to the new and
. And no matter how tiresome or difficult the old, familiar way was, moving into the unknown can be difficult and downright scary. Even when the change is one you really desire. If you don't believe it, just think about what it was like to be an adolescent. You couldn't
to be grown-up. You probably screamed bloody murder if someone treated you like a child (especially when you were acting like one) but in truth you simply hadn't yet mastered the skills to function successfully as an adult. And to make the whole thing even more complicated, you felt you couldn't admit that there were times when you really
the security of childhood. It was a crazy-making time.
But that's just the nature of transition#151;not quite knowing who you are anymore, and not quite feeling like you fit. It's the desperation of having one foot on the dock and the other on a moving boat. And if being an at-home mother is new for you, you're going to experience some degree of distress in making the change. So what things can you do to master the transition?
Recognize that the transition to at-home parenting is stressful
. You need to take
care of yourself during the changeover#151;get plenty of sleep, pay attention to nutrition, make time to exercise. The tricky part here is that you may find yourself feeling morally obligated to spend every waking minute doing for your family because that is your new "job." Fight the temptation. You're infinitely more valuable as a role model than a servant. Hopefully what you're modeling is that full-time parenting doesn't mean exhaustion and martyrdom.
Guard against taking on the entire job of parenting yourself
. Your children have a father, too, and it's important that his contributions are still seen as essential even though Mom is now around a lot more. Your husband may at first be delighted that you may have time for the vacuuming or bathtime or shopping or whatever chores were his when you both were employed outside the home. But he can soon start to feel like an outsider if he is suddenly "excused" from participation just because you're at home with the kids now.
Plan to be the real you, and to let your family see who that is
. It's tempting to try to become some combination of Martha Stewart and Mother Theresa, but if that's not who you are, it's not likely to work very well. You can choose to become a gourmet cook or an expert in child development if you want, but keep in mind that neither is necessary to be a really great parent. There are lots of ways to be a wonderful mother; finding your own is the key to real success.
Set aside time to be a couple
. Keep communicating, and be sure that you do have things to talk about besides the children. If money is tight, find another couple with whom you can swap kids so that you can have the occasional night out alone.
Actively seek out a support network
. Although there may not seem to be many at-home mothers these days (there are only two on my street), they are out there if you look. Your church group, the YWCA, toddler story hour at the library, neighborhood parks#151;all are places where you are likely to meet kindred spirits who share your lifestyle.
Accept that you're going to feel some real sadness or grief
over the things you've given up in order to be an at-home mom. And you may in fact feel worse before you feel better. Especially on those thankfully-infrequent but absolutely-inevitable days when the washing machine breaks down and the baby has the croup and you hear that your worst enemy from high school has been named Vice President of some Fortune 500 company. It's only human to have at least a
sadness or envy or regret, or even anger, that you're no longer primarily out there in the world of grownups. Allow yourself to experience these unpleasant emotions#151;and know they will pass.
Set aside some time each week, even if it's in small increments, to fill up your brain
. Read a book about anything but children. Write poetry, or an essay entitled, "Who I Am Now." Take a class in something you know nothing about. Attend a lecture. Call your smartest friend to discuss philosophy, or politics, or the space program. Otherwise, it's easy for you to forget how really bright you are.
Find some external rewards for the work you do
. Face it, there aren't a lot of job promotions and pay raises in the at-home world, and believe it or not, those warm feelings of self-satisfaction don't always do the trick. Maybe you need your husband or mother or best friend to tell you periodically that you're doing a terrific job. Let them know you need it.
. They can be extravagant or simple, short-term or long-term#151;having some of each is best. Do you plan to teach your children French? To take them to the park three times a week? To build a new redwood deck during naptimes? To breastfeed for eight months? To start a home catering business? To make two new friends who are also at-home mothers? Whatever your goals may be, write them down and check your progress once a month. So much of parenting is more about daily maintenance than about achievement; it helps to know you're accomplishing as well.
Remind yourself (daily!) that this is the course you have chosen
. Bumps in the road are a little easier to handle if it's a road we want to be on. And as most at-home mothers will tell you, there will be those times that you'll be dismissed with a bored or pitying look by others after you respond to the question, "What kind of work do you do?" It's annoying, even hurtful. But if you know in your own mind that you have chosen to spend this time at home to nurture your children, others' opinions about it will matter a whole lot less.
, perhaps once a year or so, in much the same way you used to have an "annual review" at work. Ask yourself how you are doing, how the children are doing, how the family as a whole is doing. Revisit your original reasons for being at home, and determine whether they still apply. Don't be surprised if you find that it has been one of the most rewarding years of your life, and that you wouldn't
of going back to the old lifestyle. Obviously the opposite is a possibility, too. What is most likely, however, is that you will discover at-home mothering is very much like the rest of life#151;lots of wonderfulness with just enough unpleasant stuff to keep you from becoming smug.
It is clear that children need the grownups in their lives to
to be with them. It's also a safe bet that they can tell if you don't. If you honestly find that you can't summon any joy or warmth or enthusiasm for at-home mothering, then do everyone a favor and make some changes. Talk over with your husband how you are feeling, and see if you can come up with solutions together. Consider other ways for you to fill your emotional tank. Perhaps if your children are school-aged, going back to work part-time will give you the balance you need while allowing you to spend time with your children. Look at your options, try something new, and of course, be prepared for another transition! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.
Posted by Staff at 1:55 AM