When I quit my job five years ago to be a stay-at-home parent, I had a picture in my mind of what the years at home with my kids would look like: Pinterest-worthy crafts, a tidy house and hot gourmet meals on the table every night when my husband got home from work. I can count on one hand the number of days all those things fell into place. Being a stay-at-home mom was nothing like I'd imagined and I often struggled with the decision to lean-out when it seemed like so many moms who were leaning-in had it all figured out. But through the ups and downs I learned some valuable lessons that helped keep my sanity intact. There's no one secret or solution, but there are tips that make it easier. Here's what I've learned:
1. Learn to delegate When I left my job, I became the default parent. You know, the one who cooked the food, cleaned the house, paid the bills and wiped the bums. I felt that since I was no longer providing an income I needed to make the role of perfect housekeeper my full-time job. It was also a fast track to burning out and resenting my stay-at-home status. By delegating age-appropriate household tasks to my kids and talking to my husband about my feelings, I was happier and less stressed out.
2. Keep one foot in the working world Even if you are the most committed stay-at-home mom in the world and love your new life outside the workforce so much you can't imagine going back to work, try to keep one foot in the working world. After I quit my job, I moved halfway across the country, essentially severing all ties with my previous employer. When my husband lost his job and I needed to find work to help make ends meet, it took a lot of work to whip my resume into shape. Keep in touch with colleagues, ensure your LinkedIn profile and resume are updated, and volunteer with organizations in positions that keep your skills sharp.
3. Go to play group (even if you don't want to) I'm an introvert and the thought of going to play group terrified me (and, to be honest, I'm relieved my kids have outgrown play group), but the social skills my kids gained by attending play group were immeasurable. My shy-by-nature daughter flourished when we started going regularly. Friendships I made with other parents at play group five years ago are still strong today.
4. Know that you won't always feel lucky "You're so lucky to be able to stay home with your kids all day!" If I had a dollar for every time a working mom told me that, my husband would be able to retire. There were always two problems with that statement: First, staying home with your kids isn't as much about "luck" as it is planning and budgeting; Second, some days I felt like I'd made a horrible decision. Know you're not alone—and trust me, those days when you're feeling blue will pass.
5. Teach your kids to play independently When I first quit my job, my daughter Gillian was only six months old and my son Isaac was three years old. It meant I played a lot of cars and Lego, and I learned that playing is something I'm not very good at (nor do I particularly enjoy it). Being my son's only playmate when he was younger meant nothing got done around the house. In teaching my kids to play independently, they developed amazing imaginations—and I got to mop the floors without a Hot Wheels race going on underfoot.
6. Make peace with the mess Remember what I said about my drive to be the perfect housekeeper and how that was an epic failure? On any given day, the condition of my house is somewhere between the setting for Lord of the Flies and an audition for Hoarders. In the event that I do give my house a top-to-bottom scrubbing, my work is undone within minutes by my kids, their friends and our dog. Rather than stress about the mess, I've learned to make peace with it.
7. Move your needs to the top of your to-do list When you think about the people and things that are important in your life, where do you fall on that list? I bet you're close to the bottom. When was the last time you met a friend for coffee, exercised, bought a new shirt or went on a date with your partner? If you can't remember, then it's time to adjust your priorities and put yourself near the top of the list. Self-care and positive mental health are key to being a happy stay-at-home parent. The bonus is that everyone benefits from time invested in yourself—especially your kids.
Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.