Like many of you, staying at home with my children was a dream and a goal that I had worked toward for a long time, so when that goal was realized, I was elated. In my excitement, I didn't really take the time to think about the adjustments that always accompany a major lifestyle change. My first year as a stay-at-home mom was full of trials and tribulations and some of the most precious moments I will ever experience on this earth. But the most surprising thing about this year was that I would make so many discoveries about myself and life in general. I'm sure I am not unique in these discoveries. Many of you have had the same experience and can also attest that children are not the only ones who benefit from having their mother at home.
Months 1 - 2: Elation
After several months of thought and discussion with my husband, the decision was made and December 30th, 1997, I left the office that I had occupied for eleven years to begin my new career as a full-time mother. I was thrilled. In the first few days of my stay-at-home life I reveled in things such as rocking my daughter to sleep before her daytime nap and seeing the smile on her face when she woke up to see Mommy and not a baby-sitter. I spent time reading to her and playing little games that I had not had time to play in the evenings after a long day at work. I began to see firsthand how much my daughter and I both benefited from my being home with her full-time.
During my daughter's naps I filled my time with such things as cleaning out my pantry, alphabetizing my spices, and preparing meals for my freezer so that I would be sure to have a nicely prepared meal on the table every night when my husband came home from work. Part of the reason I did these things may be attributed to the "nesting instinct" because I was nine months pregnant with my second child at the time, but mostly it was due to the illusion I had of what a "homemaker" should be. I was elated that I would finally have the time and energy to be the kind of wife and mother that I had always wanted to be. These first couple of months were wonderful. I spent a month at home with my daughter before we welcomed our second daughter into our family and my life was so full that I didn't miss my career or my working friends much at all.
Months 4-6: Realization
In the next few months, things began to look a bit different. With a new baby in the house, much of my time was spent nursing her as well as caring for my 21-month-old. I was no longer able to prepare meals and keep the house as neat as I wanted it to be. I began to miss the adult conversation that I had taken for granted when I worked and to be perfectly honest, I missed the money. I had been used to a lifestyle that we could now no longer afford and it was much more difficult to let go of the material things than I had wanted to believe. I realized that staying at home, although that is precisely where I wanted to be, was more difficult than I had anticipated. I was working harder than ever before but oftentimes, at the end of the day, I had nothing concrete to show for it. Although I loved being with my children, I didn't like the feelings of loneliness or how much I missed my friends at work. For the first time, I had doubts about whether I had done the right thing by leaving my job.
Months 6-8: Rumination
My thoughts turned to the possibility of going back to work. But how could I go back after declaring to the world that my children meant more to me than all the things that money could buy? I was filled with disappointment, in myself mostly, because I discovered that I liked having money and that having to say, "I can't afford that," was more difficult for me than I wanted to admit. I guess I just thought it would be easier and that I would be stronger. Certainly I had gone to work before and left my daughter with a sitter and it didn't seem so bad. But that was before I had spent time at home with my kids and discovered everything that I had missed while I was working. I continued to worry and ruminate, but I kept coming back to the knowledge that I needed to be at home. I had always been a very driven person who could make decisions in a flash, but I just couldn't make this one. I can honestly say that this was one of the most difficult times of my life. I knew my children needed me and I cried every time I thought of leaving them at a day care center but I didn't know if I was strong enough to go on living my lonely life without much money. This is when I really turned to my faith for the first time. Although I had always professed a faith in God, it was never really something that I took into consideration when making decisions in my life. This time, after much soul searching and prayer, I decided to ask God to help me make the right decision. I came to the conclusion that home was where God wanted me to be and if this was so, then He would help me find a way to make it work.
Months 9-10: Adaptation
Surprisingly, when I took this new attitude, the money, or lack of it, didn't bother me nearly as much. I began to focus on building friendships with other SAHMs who would support my decision to stay at home and who also knew what it was like to live on one income. I began to adapt my image of the perfect homemaker to something a bit more realistic and to remind myself that my house will always get dirty, but my kids won't always want me to cuddle them or to play "the itsy, bitsy spider." I've been amazed at the number of times during the day that my daughters come to me for a brief hug or kiss before they return to their play. I can't help but feel that my being available to them anytime they feel the need to "connect" has helped them to feel more secure. Being at home with my second daughter from the time she was born really opened my eyes to how much I missed in those first 21 months with my first daughter. I know I can never get those times back but I can make sure that when those "teachable" moments arrive that I'm there to guide her and instill in her my morals and values.
Months 11-12: Culmination
By the end of my first year as a stay-at-home mom, it was difficult to even remember what it was like to go to work everyday. My new lifestyle had become so ingrained within me that it was difficult to imagine life any other way. My daughters and I have grown so close and the things that we experience together during the day are so special that there is no way I would give those experiences away to a baby-sitter. Those are my experiences, reserved for the mother of my two wonderful little girls. I'm sad that so many mothers choose to forfeit those special times. I have learned that children are a gift from God, and He has entrusted them to OUR care. That is an awesome responsibility and there is not, in my opinion, a more important job on earth. I've heard that change makes us grow, and this year has proven that for me. Being at home has not only afforded me the quality time I needed with my daughters, but the time I needed to really look inside myself . It's one thing to SAY that your family is your top priority and it's completely another to live as if they are. I found that I was paying lip service to many things in my life and not really living them. Being at home with my children has brought those things to my attention. I'm definitely not perfect but my daughters think I am the perfect one to be their mother and that will always be enough for me.
Crystal Dupay is a stay-at-home mom living in West Virginia with her husband and two toddler daughters. Although she stays quite busy with home and family, she enjoys writing and publishes a web site for stay-at-home moms called Main Street Mom. The purpose of the site is to network other mothers at home for support as well as humor, discussion, inspirational stories, and more. You can visit Main Street Mom at www.mainstreetmom.com
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