Well, this laundry isn't going to fold itself, I remember thinking to myself with a sigh just after my first child was born. I sat staring at yet another load of burp cloths, onesies, and miniature-sized jammies. As I began to attack the huge mound of blue, I felt listless. What was the point of folding these? I would put them back on my son Michael, he would spit up on them again, and I'd be right back here on the couch staring at the same pile of baby clothes. Again.
Don't get me wrong—I adored my son. My pastor husband Geoff and I had been thrilled with the news of our first baby boy. We played the name game, shopped for our first crib, and joyfully bought that first pack of diapers, having no idea how much money we would be investing in the diaper industry over the years to come.
I was thrilled we had figured out a way for me to quit my first teaching job to stay home with Mike. I had only taught for a few years and loved it, but now it was time to be a stay-at-home mom. Anticipating my time at home, I dreamed about how my day would go. It would allow me extra hours to bond with my son, and I could really devote myself to keeping a tidy house and planning out nutritious meals. I could finally attack those messy closets, and make my way through what seemed to me an endless list of stay-at-home mom projects.
The novelty of this carried me for about two months, and ran out about the same time as my list. I had tackled all of my major projects, and now found myself searching for ways to engage not just my hands, but my intellect as well. I wasn't having doubts about my time at home with my precious baby boy. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I was thankful. But I wasn't prepared for what was happening to my brain. I felt uninspired. I felt tired, as if my supply of never ending mental energy in the classroom had completely drained away, never to return. I felt bored. I felt guilty.
What was wrong with me? The self-condemning thoughts kept me up at night. I should be loving every minute of being a stay at home mom. I have more than enough to do, so why am I feeling so restless and bored?
I soon realized that I had a war going on between my mom heart and my leader brain. I knew in my heart I had made the right decision for our family in this season, but this didn't mean that I had ceased to be a leader or could shut off the craving to learn and grow and lead. My thoughts went back to a conversation with a mentor friend who talked about seasons, and how I was now in the "mommy season," and I needed to enjoy the unique opportunities it brought. In my heart I knew she was right, but my head wasn't following. I craved the stimulation of the classroom and the challenges it brought. I wanted to think hard and bump up against other leaders who invigorated my creative spirit.
Was there a way to do both? Is it possible to fully enjoy our mommy days and also grow leader brains and potential, even while folding the laundry? As I began to apply some simple strategies that I used with my students in the classroom, I began to believe it was possible. Here's how:
Start with the right framework. As a teacher, it's always a good idea to start with reality. Accomplishing my teaching goals in each teaching day was extremely challenging, some days seeming impossible, but what really was the problem? Were my students capable of learning more? I was positive they were, but they seemed disinterested and didn't think learning was fun. This was my starting point, from a framework that learning could indeed be a fun experience.
For me as a stay-at-home mom, I had empty brain space that translated into the feeling of a wasted leader spinning her wheels. Was this really the situation? For the first time in my leadership life, I had the time and freedom to design a learning program around what I really wanted to learn and grow in as a leader and as a person instead of what I needed at that moment in my job or career. It was incredibly freeing to realize I could dive into whatever books or learning materials I wanted to or have coffee with other wise leaders that I had never had time to pursue before. I let my framework of thinking be the unique gift of time and freedom that I had in this season of my life to really develop myself.
Feed the monster what it wants to eat. I have realized my leader brain really is a monster that can't be turned off and has an appetite for leadership learning. Instead of trying to force myself to forget about that part of me while being a stay-at-home mom, I decided to use my at-home time for customized at-home learning. Just as the students in my classroom each had unique proclivities toward different subjects that piqued their interest (and I really had no control over this), so did my leader brain. Instead of squashing it, I decided to channel it. I read every book by Nancy Ortberg, John Maxwell, and Patrick Lencioni that I could get my hands on.
I journaled and took notes. I thought of past leadership situations and how I could have applied these principles. I didn't just speed read, but gave my brain time to digest the ideas. I took time to pray about the things I was learning and asked God to help them sink into not only my leadership but my life that very day. Many leadership principles are about how to treat other people so I asked God to open my eyes to ways I could apply these things to my marriage and friendships and being a mom.
Fun is even more fun with friends. As a classroom teacher I applied the truth that more learning happens in a group setting surrounded by conversation and laughter. As CEO of an organization that focuses on moms with young children, I know that being a stay-at-home mom can be very isolating and lonely. But this doesn't have to be the case. One of my favorite ways to learn is a book club with other friends who love to learn as well. Choosing a leadership book to read together, discussing the ideas contained within and then holding each other accountable to applying the principles is a great way to expand your learning and have fun in the process. Apply your creativity to the book themes and design your food or snacks around this. Send out thought-provoking questions in between meetings based on the reading to make each other think. Or just read, relax, and focus on the fun of getting together.
Being home with Mike also allowed me to set coffee times and lunches around his nap times, and have great conversations that encouraged my leader yearnings. I talked with other leaders about what they were learning and how they were growing and applied it to my own life and opportunities. I also encouraged myself to get my eyes off of myself and invested some of my free minutes to really pray for my leader friends and the requests they shared with me.
Being a stay-at-home mom is challenging, but it's also a gift in so many ways. For me, it all started with the right framework for how I viewed my time at home. I had to guard my time and remind myself to not overload it with volunteer opportunities that would indeed be fun, but would take me away from the time at home that God was calling me to. This season with your children is unique, precious, and fleeting. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of wishing it away! Nor should you waste time in guilty moments feeling like you are wasting your time or not enjoying every moment. Instead make it an incredible time to invest in your family and develop your potential, whether as a leader or daughter of the King. This will ensure it as a time you will look back on with fond memories and thankfulness.
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