By Sheila Wray Gregoire
If you judge by the comments of many of my acquaintances, I have the personality of a pea. If you're a stay at home parent, you know what I mean. People constantly remark, "I don't know how you do it. I would go stir crazy if I had to stay home with my kids." The inference, of course, is that I am some sort of mutant sub-species that requires far less intellectual stimulation than normal, and can survive for days on end with the praise from Barney "I love you, you love me".
Nevertheless, despite this common portrayal, the tide seems to be turning. In 1998, almost 60% of mothers with infants under a year old were working; today it's down to 55%, falling for the first time in decades. The change seems to be hastened by the young Generation X mothers who grew up with their mothers working. They don't want the same kind of harried lifestyles for their children that they experienced growing up.
They're challenging this notion that staying home with your kids is akin to a prison sentence with an awfully whiny jailer. Certainly it can be tremendously difficult, draining and exhausting, especially since you usually walk around with banana mash on your jeans and spit up on your sweatshirt. But often part of the reason that it's difficult is because we undermine our own success by failing to acknowledge our needs.
Staying at home with your kids is wonderful, but if you're relying on them to bring you peace and fulfillment you'll still feel empty. We need God, whether we're mothers with young kids or grandmothers. And making time to listen to God is hard when everybody else is making demands of us. We soon start talking to God in the same way: here's my list of problems, Lord! We spend all our time talking at God instead of listening to Him. Yet listening to His voice is what we need to keep us focused on our mission to stay at home, especially when the rewards for this mission may not be evident for years. Make sure that you plan some time just to be by yourself. Take your kids for a walk in the stroller, if you have to, or hire a baby-sitter once a week so you can get out of the house. Make time for solitude!
Next we need to acknowledge that as much as we love our children, we crave adult conversation as well (that Barney thing only works for so long). Take your kids to a church playgroup, or organize one yourself. Join the local YMCA or another fitness club that offers baby-sitting. Just make sure you do something with other people everyday.
How about intellectual stimulation? You definitely don't need a job for this! Try an in-depth Bible study, like those written by Kay Arthur or Beth Moore. Start a new hobby. Take your kids to the library, and visit the adult department while you're there. Even if you only have time to read while sitting in the bathtub after the kids are in bed, you're giving yourself something new to think about. (Just don't drop the book. I've paid the library big bucks for this transgression).
Finally, what about a sense of accomplishment? At work we get praise for finishing something. At home we get whines and piles of laundry that never get folded. If you want to feel like you've accomplished something, ask God to show you some needs that you can meet, even in your present situation. Introduce yourself to your neighbours and see if you can lend a hand to some older people or other struggling parents. The more connection you have with your community, the more you'll realize the difference you can make in people's lives.
I do not have the personality of a pea. I'd say it's more like a bunch of grapes, with many different things in my life that are all interconnected. It is such a privilege to stay at home and watch my children grow. They are my reward. But I could not survive without acknowledging that though I love being a mommy best, I am more than that. Plan for success when you stay at home. Don't settle for exhaustion. Your life will be richer for it.
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