Lessons Learned: 1 Year as a Stay-At-Home Mom

Happy Mother’s Day! I love that this holiday is celebrated uniquely by each family to honor the giving spirit of women in our lives. We are faced with an interesting time to rejoice as we are continuing more social distancing this week. Our family will be celebrating together at home, just the 3 of us. In the chaos the past couple of months, I have watched mothers, grandmothers, and friends step up and serve their community in beautiful ways. The art of nurturing isn’t limited to mothers, and I’m thankful to bear witness to the support and generosity provided by women over the course of my lifetime.

This year marks my second ever Mother’s Day. I’m also coming up on the 1st anniversary of my decision to become a stay-at-home mom. With this turn of the calendar year, I’ve taken some time to reflect on lessons learned that I hope can apply to friends in many seasons. I would be remiss to say that all mothers — working, stay-at-home, or working from home — are bright symbols of hope to me. I must also acknowledge the privilege of my life by saying that because of my religion, race, and economic situation I did have a choice about the next step in my career. Not every woman is afforded the opportunity of deciding her fate. Additionally, the fact that I had the chance to choose between work and home without judgement isn’t lost on me. I believe my generation is a unique one because being home is a choice, not an obligation or monetary exchange. My grandmother would have been crucified by her generation for seeking work outside of the home. My mother’s generation criticized those who did stay home for not exercising their feminist rights so recently earned. Yet, I live in a generation of women who empower others by lifting them up. In my friendships, family, and even the media I continue to see women’s choices for their careers respected. In a scene from Greta Gerwig’s most recent film rendition of Little Women, the director went off script and brought tears to my eyes. Before her marriage, Meg explains to her younger sister that her decision to marry for love and focus on creating a home are just as valuable as a career. “Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.” That’s a rally cry that goes to my core, a message for every dreamer searching for value, big or small.

When I first decided to leave the working world and be home full-time with Noah, I was consulting my pal Google constantly. Not only did I have the “New Mom Jitters” (ie. fears of keeping a tiny human alive), I wanted a guiding light to provide hope in a foreign territory. I was braving the wilderness with a four-month old in my arms, and darn it, I was going to do a great job at it! My eyes would often ache from scrolling screens of schedules, tricks, and tools that promised to make a more organized and fulfilled life in spite of the fact that my main company was unable to communicate. Today, my perspective on leaving the workplace and being home is a lot different. I wish I could say that the schedules, the routines, and the advice worked perfectly for us. No matter my willpower, I had to eventually learn that the job of parenting was going to be different than any other I had experienced before. No training, education, hard work, or discipline could prepare me for it. I’m still learning to let go and lean into the discomfort starting something new.

Let Go of Expectations

In the beginning, I had a lot of ideas about what my days as a stay-at-home mom would look like. Some of them included fresh baked cookies, freshly folded laundry (put away instantly), art projects, infinite amount of time to read books, and lots of quality time with my child. Looking back, I’m fairly certain that quality time might be the only true thing on my list. Needless to say, I had expectations for myself and my journey as a stay-at-home mom. Being human means that expectation comes with the territory. These standards can provide a strong motivation. Yet, some of these ideals of perfection can translate to disappointment and heartache if expectations are not met. 

I do battle with expectations and contentment on a regular basis. Part of me yearns to be a super-mom who can balance homekeeping, attend to the needs of her child, and keep us on the go with activities all the time. But I can only be stretched so thin. After a year, I’ve learned to identify my priorities. My focus is to provide unconditional love to Noah, care for our home, and find small ways to seek peace throughout the day. While I wish that meant we had a schedule we could use every day, that is unrealistic for my life. Sometimes it means that cleaning the house, cooking dinner, doing dishes, and the million other things on my “to do” list are put off for another day. While I would love to meet all my expectations as a stay-at-home mom, I’m learning to seek contentment each day. God has been watching my journey of motherhood, and I know I can rest in the fact that he knows I am doing the best I can. 

Let Go of Control

My sisters have not so secretly labeled me a bit of a control freak in the past year. Just mention nap time schedules or throw off our nighttime routine and I am gritting my teeth. I have white-knuckled my way around sleep for the past year. Nothing causes my heart to race like a nap cut short or a middle of the night wake-up. While we are fortunate to have a good sleeper in Noah most of the time, I still find myself anxious and controlling about sleep as he continues to grow. In becoming a stay-at-home mom, I thought that I would have more control over Noah’s life. Surely I would be able to make sure he took long naps, ate great meals, and played educational games. I’m not quite sure where I developed this fantasy, but I was in for a rude awakening. This past year, I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is offer options and let go of control. I can hold him, rock him, and sing to him, there will be times when he just doesn’t want to give in to sleep. I can offer him healthy food and he can still choose to throw it on the floor. (Although he is a strange kid and actually loves broccoli and spinach… Weirdo.) I can try to set up a fun sensory bin I found on a toddler activity website, and he will still flip the tub upside down sending miniature pom-poms everywhere. Thankfully we haven’t tried a rice bin yet for this reason.

Unfortunately, I think letting go of control is part of the art of parenting in general. I know that as Noah continues to grow, there will be many more hand’s off moments ahead. Riding his first bike, jumping into a swimming pool, driving a car, going to college… (I’m tearing up. It’s fine.) But I know that the beauty of parenting is guiding your child into independence and watching them grow into being their own person. The same can be said for projects, careers, and relationships. If we are able to let go of control, the true joy and freedom comes in trusting the process.

Let Go of Achievement Banners

Achievement banners are something that I’ve really taken notice of in the past couple of weeks. We truly live in a culture that is obsessed with benchmarking “success”. It starts from when we are young children and follows us throughout the course of our lifetime. Grades, test scores, promotions are all milestones to be met. In parenthood, you place these markers on your children and brag about how quickly your child is walking, talking, or mastering a new skill. We have even boiled down accomplishment to tracking “likes” on social media, platforms that were meant for community and support. As a society, we are constantly searching for another finishline to cross, running a race that is endless and stretches a lifetime. Like expectations, achievement banners aren’t all bad. They provide incentive and responsibility. Yet, these markers for success shouldn’t be how we measure our lives.

When I meet someone new and they ask what I do, I usually give the sheepish response “I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” This usually receives a variety of responses. From mature couples, I usually hear praises about making the “right” choice for my family. From younger generations, I’m usually met with a few blinks and a quick pivot of the conversation to something we could have in common. Most of the time, I wish people could give a neutral response. Because just like a career, being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t define me. Culture measures identity by productivity and potential. But I’m a lot more interested in the person I’m becoming instead of what I’m doing. In 2015, David Brooks wrote a book titled The Road to Character, in which he discussed his idea of “resume virtues” vs. “eulogy virtues”. As I was confessing my lack of achievement banners as a stay-at-home mom to my husband, he recommended spending some time reflecting on this topic. At times, I really find myself missing the challenges of work and the skills I built there. But when I’m at the end of my life, I hope my family can look past my bullet points on LinkedIn and instead focus on my growth as an individual. It’s much easier to measure the advancement of a company, the impact of a project, the progress of a new idea, the overall success of an event, or even a career trajectory. I’m not sure how you can measure soul work. I just hope in the end they can say that I loved well and learned along the way. And I’ll keep working towards that every day of my life.

In my year as a stay-at-home mom, I’ve learned to appreciate so many of the small moments every day. I’m learning from the babbling, the diaper changes, and the little tears. While not every moment is going to look picture perfect, I know it is refining me. I’m savoring this time at home, but I’m also open to my next chapter of motherhood. Letting go of expectations, control, and achievement banners is helping me embrace the person I’m becoming.