Ask a prospective stay-at-home mom what she hopes to accomplish by making the jump from work to home, and you'll probably hear, "I want to spend more time with my children," or "I want to nurture my family and myself." Seldom is it, "I want to have my laundry finished by 3 p.m.," or "I'd rather flame out doing volunteer work."
But as a stay-at-home mom for the past six years, sometimes I still find myself tripped up by a perfectionistic mindset, caught up in the way I perceived myself when I was an executive secretary for a pharmaceutical company. I loved fast-paced office life, and my personality demanded precision as I tackled projects. Aiming at giving 110 percent, I was determined to be the best worker the world had ever seen.
But when my two girls arrived, my drive to become the perfect working mother took root. I figured if anyone could embody the essence of "Super Mom" while pursuing a career, it was me.
But then I had trouble scaling the cliffs of Super Mom Summit while juggling the demands of the workplace. I was pressured to work overtime, but our daycare required pickup by 6:00 p.m. Work got me when I was fresh and ready to go; my family got me when I was tired and just wanted to put my feet up. Eventually I let go of the dream of having it all, all at the same time. I wanted to become a stay-at-home mom, but I didn't think it was financially possible—that is, until the day I did the math. I realized that after subtracting all the costs associated with me working—daycare, transportation, clothing, eating out, and taxes—I cleared only $39 a week. My husband, Terry, offered to make up the difference by working overtime, and I turned in my notice.
Those first few months at home were wonderful. I loved spending lots of time with my kids. The more relaxed schedule allowed me to recuperate from all the pressures I'd put upon myself to be both the best worker in the world and Super Mom.
I healed. I perked up. And slowly I realized that not only could I do a good job as a stay-at-home mom, I could be the best stay-at-home mom the world has ever seen. Enter my fiendish alter-ego: Super Stay-at-Home Mom!
Faster Than a Speeding Guilt Trip
At work, my job responsibilities were clearly designated. But I quickly discovered there's no such manual for being a stay-at-home mom. I had a pretty good idea what was required, however: I needed to bake like Betty Crocker, sew like June Cleaver, volunteer like Mother Teresa, and clean like the Scrubbing Bubbles.
But it wasn't long before I realized there was something seriously wrong with this Suzie Home-maker chick I'd invited into my house. My cookies were crispy, my seams sagged, and there were rings around my collar and under my eyes.
Suzie was a slavedriver, and I was growing to despise her more each day.
I'm not the only one. Super Stay-at-Home Mom Syndrome sparks nightmares in many stay-at-home dream houses. "I had all these grand goals and plans about our house, our life together, wonderful volunteer efforts, and starting a part-time business from home," says one acquaintance, Gail, who was formerly in the engineering field. "I ran myself ragged trying to accomplish all these things in a short period of time. And my child was interfering with all my best efforts!"
There's an awful lot of work for a stay-at-home mom to do. But refocus—why did we come home? Wait; it's coming back. We wanted whiter shirts and lemony-fresh cabinets. DUH!
It's all well and good to strive for excellence in homemaking, but watch out for the biggest threat many stay-at-home moms face: perfectionism in all the wrong places. In the rush to be perfect, our true aim gets lost in the shuffle, and our kids aren't any better off than before. Too much time fussing over clean closets and gourmet meals leaves little time to enjoy our children—or to forge the friendships that keep loneliness and imbalance at bay.
"There's a lot more to life than what the house looks like," points out Karen, who decided to stay home with her newborn, Jessica, a little more than a year ago. At first, Karen, who had been task-oriented at work, struggled with seeing few concrete rewards as a stay-at-home mom. "It took me a while, but I finally realized I'm helping my child with her social skills, training her so she can have good relationships," she said. This driven mom also realized something had to give, and that something was her unrealistic schedule. "As stay-at-home moms, we have to spend time on our emotional and spiritual health."
Karen's discovered the truth behind the words "less is more." "I know I'm going overboard when I get irritated whenever my daughter, Jessica, needs me," she says. "That's when I say, 'Slow down, Karen. Get your priorities straight.'"
So how do we do that? Knowing why we're doing what we're doing is a good place to start.
More Powerful Than a Loco Motive
I still tend to float off-track when I become project-oriented instead of little-people-oriented. This is an ongoing problem for us recovering perfectionists. One thing that helps me is having a family business plan that outlines my purpose for being home.
An employer wouldn't even consider setting up shop without having a plan, and neither should you. If you haven't already done so, consider sitting down with your spouse and crafting a plan for your family. Don't worry; it doesn't have to be a notarized document. Just write down some house guidelines, such as:
What do we hope to accomplish by bringing me home?
If it's really to have the best-manicured lawn in the neighborhood, then go for it. But if it's to have the best-mannered kids in the neighborhood, then don't feel guilty if the grass gets a little high while you're trimming your child's tendency to grab other kids' toys. When one of my daughters bursts through the door after school with "the look" on her face, I'm immediately available. This is what's important to our family.
What are our management team roles?
That's right—I've got my own little private corporation going here, with my husband, Terry, and me acting as the board of directors overseeing our anticipated product: great kids. We've decided who's responsible for which work duties. For instance, I support Terry in his work, adjusting our family's schedule to fit his work schedule. Whether he works days or nights, evenings or weekends, I'm available to take care of the kids and help him prepare for or recuperate from work. And Terry helps me by doing lawn care, car upkeep, and home maintenance. We've communicated what we expect from each other as we work together to create a haven for our family.
How will we handle our finances?
Uneasiness about living on one income throws Super Stay-at-Home Mom into a penny-pinching frenzy. She's so conscientious about weeding the "wants" from the "needs" she forgets that sometimes we need a want or two.
Though our income wasn't reduced drastically when I became a stay-at-home mom, establishing a budget gave Terry and me peace of mind—and flexibility. Since we know where the money's going, we can clearly identify areas in which we can splurge every once in a while. I'm not talking about blowing a paycheck! But I do think it's important to build in a little mad money, or else the whole family will eventually fall into miser-induced burnout.
When does Mom get off work?
I put myself in time-out at least once a week. That means I go off the clock, leave the house in Terry's or a neighbor's capable care, and rejuvenate alone or with friends, doing something totally unrelated to parenting. I can see a movie without animated characters, drink a soda I don't have to share, or order something my kids think is disgusting, such as dinner slathered in onions and green peppers.
Super Stay-at-Home Mom demands self-sacrifice, but who really wants a martyr for a mother? Get some time away, recharge your batteries, then come back ready to nurture your little ones.
Being in agreement with your spouse helps block barbs from that pesky Super Stay-at-Home Mom. Who cares what she thinks, as long as your husband—and God—support your efforts?
However, if hubby's impatient about the house not being perfect or dinner not being on the table at 5:00 sharp, then he swings the door open for our fiendish alter-ego's triumphant re-entry: "I'll work harder, faster, smarter. … be-come the most perfect wife and mother there ever was." Or she'll flatten him with her sparkling frying pan.
Either way, it's time for a chat. Go back to your family business plan. Do you need to tweak your expectations a bit? If you need it, ask for more flexibility from your spouse.
Able to Leap Tall Misconceptions in a Single Bound
Keeping the lines of communication open with my husband has been the key to the success of our plan. In the six years I've been home, sharing our feelings and ideas have helped us accommodate whatever comes our way. I take life one day at a time, and having a bit of at-home experience under my belt has taught me to loosen up. For instance:
Money's been tight, but Terry just received his annual raise.
I've learned to let sleeping dust bunnies lie.
Loneliness no longer looms, since I've linked up with other like-minded moms through parent organizations, walks in the park, and chats on the Web.
With the advent of computers, e-mail, and the Internet, I've discovered work-at-home opportunities—such as writing my stay-at-home moms' newsletter.
Through it all, Terry and I have found it encouraging to know God has a plan for the Gochnauers, too. He says so in Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
It's good to have a plan. It's enabling, invigorating, and inspiring. Super Stay-at-Home Mom can keep her stress and unrealistic expectations. I'm learning to blend my family plan with God's, and the results—reflected in the faces of my children—look promising.
Cheryl Gochnauer, author of So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom (Inter-Varsity) and founder of www.homebodies.org.
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