This summer I was feeling “sort of stretched–like butter spread across too much bread” in the words of Bilbo Baggins. And I was trying to figure out where my discontentment and general worn-out-ness was coming from.
Because Daniel had a month off of work between his internship and his new job, we had the rare opportunity to switch around our family responsibilities. I left almost every day to work on writing, catch up on emails, and finish other projects that the spotty internet we had when we lived at the farm had made impossible to complete.
Daniel took the kids to the zoo and the museum. He went to the grocery store and kept the homefires burning. He cooked all the meals and because he’s far more culinarily-inclined than I, we ate like kings.
I got dressed everyday. Like, ACTUALLY DRESSED with makeup and hair done and sometimes cute heels and found a corner at one of Waco’s splendid coffee shops with my laptop. I was so productive! Work got DONE. And my brain got a break from the constant questions and requests from small children. Hours went by without anyone asking me for a snack. And then I’d arrive home to a clean house with mind-blowingly amazing food on the table and happy children. I even applied for a full-time job because the setup was so dreamy…..for awhile.
After the novelty wore off, I started to really miss being home. Missing out on all the mornings at the zoo and art projects and readalouds was a bummer. I wasn’t thrilled to be rushing out the door solo anymore. It started to feel lonely in my corner of the coffee shop. I was desperate for updates about what cute things the kids were doing while I was away. I just missed them. Missed them tons.
I didn’t get that full-time job I applied for and I was so relieved. Because I’d figured out that I really LIKED my life as it was before. I love homeschooling my kids. I love teaching them to recite poetry and reading book after book aloud on the couch. I love the cute things they say and the goofy dances they do. I love taking them to the library, the zoo, the museum, and the park. I was hating missing any of that.
On the other hand, sure, I love my work. I love to write. I love speaking. I love blogging. I love podcasting and connecting on social media. My creative work is energizing and refreshing. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind getting to do a little more of it. But right now, working from home here and there is enough. I realized that I don’t want to change anything.
Here’s what my “month off” taught me:
I Needed an Attitude Check
Daniel didn’t text me complaints about the kids’ behavior when he was home all day with them. He didn’t sigh when I got back in the evening and asked how his day was. He was so positive and happy to be spending time with the kids. This really was an attitude check for me because “positive and happy” does not always describe my demeanor when I’ve been taking care of the kids all day. But that’s how I want my attitude to be. I want to be so grateful and happy to get to be there with them.
Working full-time for awhile also reminded me that even though I wasn’t running around after small children all day, my brain was still worn out from work at the end of the day. It’s easy to think that our task is always harder than the task our spouse is doing. I’ve definitely been guilty of assuming my job is harder because I stay home and being all WELCOME HOME FROM YOUR 8 HOUR VACATION when Daniel walks in the door in the evening. But if I’m honest I realize that we’re both doing hard things that are simply hard in different ways to serve our family.
Maintaining the House Is Valuable
When you’re working all day, it really does feel great to come home to a clean-ish house and some good food. I found myself appreciating any housework Daniel did during the day tons because then when I was home I could just enjoy the kids and have family time. It was a good reminder that those things really are valuable for the stay-at-home parent to do. Not that the stay-at-home parent should be tackling ALL the household responsibilities because kids plus dishes plus laundry plus all the other house stuff is too much for mere mortals (or at least for me) to handle. But all the little things the stay-at-home parents does during the day are a huge gift to the whole family. They’re valuable. And true confessions: I think Daniel did a better job than I do at running our home. He really inspired me to take things up a notch and make this little space somewhere that’s a joy to spend time.
Get Dressed. Like Actually Dressed.
It makes me feel good to get dressed for the day, even if we’re not going anywhere. I say this while I’m wearing a messy bun, yoga pants, and a sweatshirt, but I’m sick today and so it’s survival mode (AKA chaos) over here. But on a typical day, putting mascara on and wearing a cute outfit helps my mood. Maybe it’s vanity, but if I feel pretty whilst fielding the 3823483724th question about Star Wars, I’m likely to enjoy the talk about Chewbacca more than I would have.
Breaks Aren’t Nice. They’re Essential.
Only in hindsight did I realize how much I needed some time off. I think one of the major reasons I was feeling discontent is that I didn’t have enough “off the clock” time. That month off from being the stay-at-home parent did wonders for my energy levels and general life satisfaction. It gave me a refreshing break AND reminded me how much I actually love being home by giving me the opportunity to miss my kids. For any mom, but homeschooling moms in particular, this is just crucial. You should get a chance to miss your kids every so often. Otherwise, you’re looking at a serious case of burn out just around the corner.
One of the ways I’m getting that “time off” is by walking in the mornings. I need the exercise, it gives me energy, AND it’s a break from the mentally exhausting task of caring for children. I also am trying to go out with a girlfriend every week or so, take a few hours every weekend to myself for writing projects or reading a novel, and prioritizing date nights (we’re switching off with some friends to save money on babysitters). I know that that self-care is not a luxury, it’s absolutely necessary.
My Life Was Already Pretty Grand
I absolutely love going fun places with my kids. Watching them run around at the park or the zoo, learning beside them at the museum, picking out books at the library. I love it. I love that homeschooling gives us the opportunity to make those activities part of our days. This is such a gift and I don’t want to forget that. Ever. Having time off reminded me of how great I have it.
Don’t Just Complain. Consider Whether You Actually WANT a Change.
It really helps to know that you’re not stuck. One of the things I love about Daniel is that if I ever express a lot of frustration over the current situation, he always is open to changing things. If I say I’m not sure I want to be home anymore, he offers to help me brainstorm other possibilities. When I told him about that job I applied for he was totally down to be SAHD if I wanted to go back to work. He reminds me that I’m not actually stuck, if I want to make a change there’s probably a solution. That’s when I usually realize I just need a break because I don’t actually WANT to work full-time away from the kids, stop homeschooling, send them all to boarding school in Switzerland or whatever the issue of the day is.
From Here On Out
Next time I’m worn down and unsure of how we should structure our family life, I want to remember my month off. I want to offer myself a break. I think no one, or at least very few parents, are wired to be around their children 24/7 without needing a chance to recharge. Parenthood can exhaust us to the point that we forget all the goodness and grace that flows through that vocation. But sometimes a little time off the clock is all we need to recover the joy of it.
It’s pretty amazing to know that if we ever discern that it would be best for our family for me to work and for Daniel to stay home that he could rock life as a homeschooling stay-at-home dad of three. It’s nice to know that our family could thrive with an unconventional setup. Because who knows? Maybe it will happen someday. But it’s also nice to know that right now where I am is exactly where I want to be–right in the middle of this messy world of home life with three beautiful little souls to spend my days loving. I’m grateful to have the reminder that this is something special.