A year ago today, I experienced my second layoff in less than a year. My first layoff, from my job of eight years, occurred in April 2017; I started a new job in July 2017 and was subsequently laid off again the following February. The same week I was laid off, my husband was offered a new job that included a significant pay raise, so we mutually decided that I’d take a break from the workforce for a while. Part of the reason was so I could write my book (I submitted the proposal the week I was laid off), but I also wanted to give the stay-at-home mom life a try. I’d never had the opportunity before and I was eager to give it a shot.
Now that it’s been a year, I wanted to write a reflection about what I’ve learned.
1. It’s Not Easier, Just a Different Kind of Hard
I confess that, as a working mom, I often thought that being a stay-at-home mom would be so much easier than working outside the home — but it really isn’t, it’s just a different kind of hard. I thought that I’d be able to keep my house clean as a stay-at-home mom because I’d have so much free time with which to clean. However, when I was a working mom fantasizing about being a stay-at-home mom, I don’t think I fully realized that my kids would be there, too.
During the school year, my older four are gone for a big chunk of the day, and my 5-year-old goes to a special-needs preschool (he has autism) for a few hours per day, so it’s mostly me and my 2-year-old. But I still can’t get anything done. I try, I really do! The problem is, if I leave my 2-year-old unsupervised downstairs while I’m cleaning or decluttering upstairs (for example), she wreaks havoc. If I take her upstairs with me and have her alongside me as I’m cleaning or decluttering, she wreaks havoc.
The bulk of my time seems to be spent entertaining her so she won’t wreak havoc on the rest of the house, and then trying to get cleaning done once my older kids are at home and can take turns entertaining her (while also nagging them to do chores and homework). I tend to spend naptimes writing or working on book-related tasks, as that’s the only reliable block of time I have where I can concentrate on the computer and not worry that she’s wreaking havoc elsewhere. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse will occasionally buy me another half-hour or so of uninterrupted time, but more often than not she climbs off the couch about five minutes in and comes looking for me.
I have no idea how those of you who run in-home daycares do it, I really don’t.
I know this is just a season and it will change — Peter starts full-day kindergarten this fall, and Laura will hopefully grow out of the wreaking constant havoc stage in another year or two. For now, though, it’s exhausting. (Any tips or tricks for getting chores accomplished with a toddler tornado around? I’m all ears.)
2. I Do Better in a More Structured Environment
I’ve also found out that I do better in a more structured environment, like a workplace, where I have clear goals and expectations, a list of tasks to be completed on a given day, and a boss to keep me accountable. Right now, being my own boss, I’m not that great. I’ll set goals for the day but I don’t often meet them because there’s only me to hold myself accountable. The only reason I was able to write a book was because I had a publishing company to hold me accountable, and monetary penalties involved if I broke my contract. The only reason I write consistently at this blog was because I signed a contract holding me accountable for at least two posts per week. Even so, finding time to blog is a challenge, and I only got my book done because I left the house every weekend for two months straight and went to our local library or gym or Chik-fil-A to write.
I would like to make a career out of freelance writing in lieu of returning to full-time work, but I’ve found I’m not that great at blocking off time to work consistently every day. I think it would help in setting dedicated hours if I had a dedicated space in which to work (I’m currently writing this at the kitchen table, with Winnie-the-Pooh temporarily entertaining the gremlins), but since our home office hasn’t been used as an office for months, it has slowly but surely been overtaken by clutter. Major decluttering definitely needs to happen, but, well, #1.
Frankly, my house was marginally cleaner when I worked full-time because kids weren’t home to mess it up. I’m still spending weekends trying to catch up, but our weekends are busy with activities more often than not, with older kids involved in Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls and Junior Catholic Daughters, and we also try to make weekends our family time.
3. The Flexibility Is Amazing
The best part about being a stay-at-home mom, hands down, is the flexibility. I can schedule doctor’s appointments and IEP meetings and parent-teacher conferences without having to worry about taking time off of work! If the kids are sick, I don’t have to stress out about taking a day off or using up my sick time or leaving work early to take care of them. That’s a luxury I’ve never had before, except during maternity leaves, and it’s such a relief. My husband appreciates it too, especially as he’s been working hard to succeed in his new job and hasn’t wanted to take time off unless absolutely necessary. Also, not working meant I was able to take my kids on an epic road trip last summer without worrying about having enough vacation, and it also meant I could fly to my grandmother’s funeral this past January without worrying about the time off.
I’m also grateful that I have a teenager who can babysit, because that means I can schedule everything for late afternoon, after school is out, and not have to haul all six kids with me wherever I go. It makes appointments that much more efficient.
While I was still a working mom, I lamented to my stay-at-home mom friends about not being able to do things like take my kids to the park on a whim, and they told me it didn’t happen much for them, either, due to “inertia.” I didn’t really get it then, but I do now. Leaving the house means getting everyone dressed and finding socks and shoes and then spending an exhausting few hours chasing them around… and often it’s just easier to stay at home.
My son takes the bus to and from preschool for safety reasons, and I’m always paranoid that we will be running late and not get home in time to meet the bus, which makes it even less appealing to leave. I’ve tried scheduling playdates as well, but usually someone gets sick at the last minute and we have to cancel. I’m reluctant to attend events at the local library because Peter’s autism can make it difficult for him (and they usually don’t have events for my toddler daughter during the short window of time he is at preschool).
Now that my book is done (and available for pre-order on Amazon!), I’m still in the process of discerning whether or not I will return to the workforce. Ideally, I’d like to find a full-time work-from-home position where I have structure and accountability, get paid enough to afford daycare so I can focus on work, and still have the flexibility of working from home when kids are sick and/or need to be picked up from school (we only live two blocks from the kids’ school so it’s a quick trip). I’ve applied for a few such jobs, but so far nothing has panned out.
I’d love to make a full-time career out of writing and speaking, but that depends on the success of the book and on whether or not I have more than one book in me (I’m not sure of that at this point!). Also, starting a speaking career means someone would have to hire me to speak, and that hasn’t happened yet either. However, we’ll see what happens. Maybe God has something really exciting in store for me and I just have to wait for His perfect timing.