Here at the Forever Years our aims are twofold: 1) to elevate voices of child advocacy here in Aotearoa/ New Zealand and also around the world and 2) to encourage the hearts of parents, caregivers, grandparents and extended family/ whanau, teachers, health care workers, sports coaches, “buddies”, scout group leaders and anyone and everyone who interacts regularly with children through their work or personal life. These two aims go hand in hand– the well-being of children is integrally connected with the well-being of those who care for them. The saying “happy adults, happy kids” is, for the most part, true.
Sometimes parenting or any kind of interaction with children can be a grind. No matter how much we love our kids the fact remains that, in caring for them, we have to do a lot of monotonous practical stuff over and over and over again. And there’s the noise, which would try the patience of the most saintly of saints, plus the general mess and chaos.
Those of us who are “stay at home” parents (whatever that means, I feel more like a yo-yo, as I’m constantly between home and somewhere else for my kids) are also aware that society still doesn’t particularly value the role we have taken on. I realise that’s quite a general, sweeping statement, and I do believe our role is valued far more now than ever before, but it’s still often perceived as “not working” and that you have lots of time on your hands, when quite the reverse is true. I’ve been asked a number of times whether I’m “working” or “just a stay at home Mum” (I actually do some paid work from home, but I don’t feel I should have to justify not working outside the home by saying “yes, I do earn money”, as if there is no value to what a person does if there’s no financial remuneration). In many cases the expression “just a stay at home Mum” is a turn of phrase and those who use it do not intend it to devalue the role, but the fact that it is still commonly used says a lot about the view society takes of those who choose to look after their children at home. (I’ve heard some “stay at home Dads” say they have been judged even more harshly, as “living off their woman” and so on, so it seems to cut both ways).
About two years ago I overheard my second oldest son say, “My Mum doesn’t work.” It’s interesting how this expression can evoke guilt or a sense of “am I doing the right thing?”. I even found myself, at one stage, looking at working Mums and thinking, “they manage to work outside of home and bring in some money. Where have my days been going?” To cheer myself up and make sense of all this, I decided to write down everything I do (for the kids as well: I put a copy in each of their scrapbooks. The scrapbooks are focused on them… interesting for them to have my perspective from time to time). This is not to say that I’m commanding appreciation. Writing the list gave me a new level of respect for what I am doing and why. As Sarah Wilson (co-editor of this blog) says, we are “Directors of Domestic Affairs”. Our role is a 24-7 one and while not easy, the rewards are more than worth it.
Mum Doesn’t Work…
(Written for my kids, Monday 28th May 2012)
Today son number 2 asked me why I “don’t work”. I’m a stay at home Mum and I love it (and I also look after kids for Mums who do go out to work). What I do is hard work though and our family wouldn’t keep going without it. So, for the benefit of all you guys, so that you’re in no doubt that despite the fact that I’m in our home I do work, here is a list of what I do:
Putting rubbish out (daily and weekly) and putting rubbish into piles for recycling and cleaning round the main kitchen bin, which gets stinky and putting compostable stuff in the compost bin); Laundry (at least once, sometimes twice daily—can be up to 5x if on a day when I’m changing everyone’s bed sheets); Folding and putting away washed laundry; Fixing any clothes that need it; Making School and Kindy lunches (every week day); Taking kids to School, Kindy, Choir, Music, Swimming, Rugby, Birthday Parties (Minimum transporting 3x daily); Bathing kids and cleaning up flood-like aftermath in bathroom (Minimum 3x weekly); Cleaning pooey bottoms and general “accidents” and the aftermath, including wees round toilet, as boys seem to have poor aim (several times daily); Loading and unloading dishwasher, rinsing and scraping and putting away dishes (2x daily minimum); Organising presents for your friends’ birthdays; Organising presents for your birthdays and doing invitations and decorations for your birthdays; Organising all “traditions”, Easter, birthdays, Halloween, Christmas…; Feeding pet bunnies (daily); Cleaning out bunny hutch (weekly); Changing all bed sheets and remaking beds (weekly); Cleaning out and organising toy cupboards; Mopping all uncarpeted areas (weekly or more often when there are spills or puke or poos or wees); Cleaning toilets and basins; Luxing the whole house (it seems to be a very dusty house—do this weekly, lounge daily as it gets so messy, especially after we’ve had rice for tea); Topping up food we’ve run out of—means trip to Supermarket every 2-3 days, usually with kids; Reading and responding, if necessary, to all school, church, kindy and other notices; Dealing with raffles and other money raising ventures Kindy, Church and School ask us to participate in; Buying clothes and shoes kids need where necessary; Taking kids to church; Organising school lunch money for lunches bought once a week; Organising kids’ pocket money; Organising hair, doctor and dental appointments for kids when necessary (with 4 kids there is something every week or so); Clipping finger and toe nails; Applying ointment and giving out medicine and vitamins (regularly for son number 3 who has eczema); Organising all family holidays and all babysitters and all school holiday activities; Mediating fights and family meltdowns; Buying swimming togs, rugby boots , ballet pumps and other sports and activity gear and school uniform; Supervising and helping with homework… there’ll be more, I’m bound to have forgotten stuff, but that gives you an idea. LOVE MUM oxox
So, now that we have ascertained that being a “Director of Domestic Affairs” is indeed a challenging full on role, how do we go about surviving it? (The length of this contract is, after all, at least 18 years). Different things work for different people. Here are some which I have found helpful.
1) Acknowledgement and Acceptance
As I’ve just said above, acknowledge yourself and the job you are doing. I think some of it is about accepting that part of parenting is doing mundane stuff like the dishes or the laundry or the school lunches day in and day out. (I always find it interesting how you don’t really see people doing these tasks over and over in TV shows or movies. Their kids don’t seem to cry or fight much either. Hmmmm). Accept that things won’t be ideal all the time. Find a good middle line between an impossibly pristine house and one where you can’t remember the colour of the carpet. Do a bit of housework, feel a sense of achievement, then read the kids a story or do something for yourself. That housework’s got to be done, but you can break it up and ease up on yourself. Some things will keep until tomorrow.
2) Respect yourself and your Partner/ Spouse
Encourage your kids to do this too. I often tell my kids how hard their Dad works. This can be done in a positive non-whinge kind of a way. It’s about the kids knowing the reality of what it takes to run a home and preparing for a role they will be in themselves one day. It’s also about cultivating a culture of respect both for stay at home parents, and for those who work to pay the bills. Both roles take time, energy and perseverance. Single parents, you fill me with awe!
3) Find Joy amidst the Mundane
Celebrate the kids’ milestones and pause to look back at how far things have come. I enjoy creative hobbies and I love scrap-booking, because it kind of makes order out of the chaos that is life in a busy family. I don’t get a lot of free time to do scrap-booking, but I enjoy it all the more when I do. I do a book for each child and I like that I can focus on the kids one at a time as I do their books. Our children, in turn, enjoy looking back on the things they have done. I do scrap-booking because I find it relaxing, but if it’s not your thing, there may be something else that gives you head space and creative pleasure in this way. Whatever it is, break it down into small lots so that you also feel a sense of achievement. It shouldn’t become a pressure or a chore. I often say to myself things like, “while I’m watching tele tonight I’ll finish sticking the photos from my daughter’s last birthday into her scrap-book and write down the names of all the kids who came to her party.” Clear, concise goals, rather than, “Help, her scrap-book’s 2 years out of date, I’m doomed!” (You get the picture). This blog is another creative outlet of mine. It’s still about kids, but it’s also “me time” and something I care about and, hopefully, a way to support others.
Gratitude is something which can never be underestimated. Even in difficult times, feeling thankful for the children in our care and the positives in our lives is a great morale booster.
Go for a walk, have a cuppa with a mate, a date night with your spouse. Pockets of time without the kids may be rare, but with planning you can get the most out of them. I struggle to do these things, I admit, and tend to put kids and housekeeping needs first. When I realise that there’s been no “out” time for a while, I consciously create some. It helps, too, to be realistic. I often think things to myself like, “I won’t have any time to myself today or tomorrow, but then on Thursday Chris and I are going out to dinner”. These little mantras keep us going. Self-care and space is essential to sanity!
6) Find the Humour in things
There is usually a funny slant somewhere (sometimes only with hindsight) and, as the old saying goes, “laughter is the best medicine.” Laugh with others who are in a similar situation to you and who can see the funny side. (Just by the way, I find these vintage 1950s housewife pictures and ads quite amusing and cheering).
Community groups are great for “blowing away the cobwebs”. There are plenty of playgroups and music groups and so on for those with preschoolers. These get you and the kids out of the house and into interesting and supportive environments. We are fortunate to be living in the Internet era too. Again, balance is necessary here. Make the Internet your friend, say “hi” to others and support them through their day, as they support you with contact. (Don’t let it take over your life though). Organisations such as Plunket (here in NZ) are only too willing to help stay at home parents. Seek out people and resources which empower you!
Caring for the parents (ourselves) reaps benefits for our children. Respecting ourselves and the roles we have chosen or had to take on in order to do the best we can for our families is the best way in which we can parent without resentment or bitterness. Everyone needs to “recharge” their batteries and have head space, particularly when we spend much of our time around children. Kids tend to pick up on how we are feeling and we are better able to give to them when we have invested in ourselves.