Beware those Quiet Moments
My dangerous decision to leave my full-time job and become a stay-at-home mom came straight from the heart. Eventually, my brain caught up. I’d like to tell you how I made one of the hardest choices in my life.
Ten years ago, one Memorial Day afternoon, I sank down in a cheap beach chair and reassessed my life.
Lounging in the backyard of my parents’ co-op building, I watched my dad and my 3-year old daughter playing ball together. My mom was in the kitchen making lunch. There was no beach in sight but the weather was perfect, breezy and warm at the same time. It had been a hectic week at work and I welcomed a moment of mindfulness.
Afterwards, as I drove home with my daughter, I felt troubled. I thought about how few opportunities my daughter got to be this carefree, vivacious kid on a Monday afternoon.
As my mind wandered, I felt something slowly materializing. It was like staring at a stereogram for a few frustrated minutes and finally seeing the hidden picture (something I LOVED to do when I was a kid). You never wanted to blink because you wanted to hold onto that illusion – you could almost reach out and touch it.
My own childhood was sprinkled with beautiful and endless days when we lived in Jamaica. Dad was a teacher and mom was a stay-at-home mom so we all spent a lot of time together. We traveled in our noisy, old Volkswagen buggy to stay with our good friends in the big city – while their own parents worked, my family took us and their three kids on fun trips around town.
Glorious memories were made when we entertained family and friends visiting from the US. We toured the island with them, having crazy new adventures in this lush, savage island of hidden beauty. We had jerk chicken and sugar cane juice on the roadside while my mom found a bathroom for me to use. I watched as our guests precariously climbed up Dunn’s River Falls and I knew it was something I’d never do as a local.
Home was fun too – we played board games and video games with our parents (ye ole Commodore!), built our own toys and games, read the comics in the newspapers, and we were constantly buzzing with creativity and innovation, even during the school year. You could also find me, deep in thought, sitting on the stone wall of our hilltop, looking down at the empty school below. I spent hours daydreaming about what my life would be like when I grow up. Never did I think I would become a stay-at-home mom!
Back to reality….
Flash forward 20 years to my relaxing afternoon and moment of revelation.….I’m married to a great husband and we have a small child of our own. Each morning, my daughter would be dropped off to her daycare and my husband and I commuted to our respective offices. My own office had no photos or personal touches – this was to improve my focus and get me out of there on time to pick her up.
My daughter was in daycare from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm, five days a week, for the entire year. She still had two years of daycare before Kindergarten – that would be over 5,500 hours of time away from us, with someone else raising her during her most formative years.
Sure, we had the weekends, in between errands, but they were never long enough to reach that carefree state of mind and spark creativity, curiosity and a sense of peace that I wanted for my child.
They say you reach that point in your life, sometimes, where you take stock of where you are and realize that you need to make dramatic changes.
Something had to be done.
Am I Really Doing This?!
My husband didn’t fully understand my metamorphosis but he let me continue my monologue and pointed questioning until I finally blurted out, “Maybe I should stay home with her!” What the hell was I saying, I thought. This was not the solution I expected to arrive at but as I heard my words, I started feeling more confident. And scared.
Because you have to be courageous to walk into your office the next day, look at all that you worked for, studied for, struggled for, and be willing to let it all go.
Three months later, I bid a tearful farewell to my favorite boss and the company which I had given so much of my life to. It was time to turn that passion and dedication to my new adventure: become a stay at home mom.
I fully embraced it too – I took my daughter everywhere! In my second year, we decided to have a second child and were blessed with a baby boy. Our local connections grew exponentially as playdates were the new way to meet people. My daughter attended a phenomenal co-op Pre-K where I volunteered often. She had the right amount of play and academic opportunities and I supplemented more extracurricular activities during the day. And we had plenty of time at home to come up with brilliant ways to have fun!
Was it worth it?
A decade ago, my career vanished. I became a full-time mom, PTA queen, craft connoisseur and budget fanatic. It’s all my kids know me as and happily, their childhood as they remember it has always been at home. Now, as full-time students, they get off the school bus at 3 pm and the rest of the afternoon is at home with me. Weekends are for sleeping in, screen time (we are a gamer family!), visiting the park or cool local adventure, trying my latest recipe fiasco and delightful get-togethers with dear cousins or local friends.
Notice my emphasis is on local. Check out my budget article for ways to save when you become a stay-at-home mom and switch to being a one-income family.
10 Things I’ve Learned as a Stay-at-Home Mom:
It takes guts to pause your career and become a stay-at-home mom or dad. Here are my tips if you’re considering going down this path:
1. Write it down.
List the Pros and Cons for your own life. See mine at the bottom of this article for a dose of reality.
2. Don’t burn bridges.
Prepare your current boss and colleagues ahead of time by making a fair exit plan. I told them about a week after we made our decision but I gave them a full three months’ notice so I could train my new replacement or reassign my duties. It was a courtesy I extended them but it also gave me time to prepare mentally and physically. The idea to become a stay-at-home mom was not a course of action I had ever thought about before! If you want to transition your work to being home-based, this will also give you time to set up your new space and figure out your new routine.
3. Be ready to adapt.
Listen to others’ opinions and warnings about the obstacles you will encounter as you become a stay-at-home mom – it is not an easy way of life. However, don’t let it discourage you. KNOW the struggles, accept that you will face them all, and most importantly, PLAN for how you will overcome them.
4. Keep in touch.
Don’t forget your old life – stay connected with people at work through social media or regular meet-ups. Over time, some of your colleagues may be promoted or obtain more lucrative jobs as they move up in their career. Don’t feel stagnant. You chose to give yourself the flexibility to design your own weekly schedule. Your priority is the kids but you can certainly include online classes to refresh your work skills.
5. Build new skills.
Welcome any volunteer opportunity relating to your child’s new school. I met amazing people and developed new skills I might never have done in my old life – graphic design, project management, note-taking, public speaking, networking, event planning, fundraising, organizing and so on. Plus, depending on what you did before, you can apply your own talents to each organization and grab that insane high of doing a fabulous job only you can do!
6. Figure out the budget first.
Before you take the leap, outline what your income and expenses are now. Then, create a realistic budget for when you become a stay-at-home mom. With only one income and plenty of enrichment ideas for your child, you’ll have to cut the costs somewhere. Are you willing to make those sacrifices? It’s ideal to have savings built up beforehand to get you through the first year. As you progress from one year to the other, you will make lifestyle changes to compensate so you don’t deplete your savings.
7. You might have to do things you hate.
As a working mom, I had a maid for three years – every two weeks, she did her magic and the house was gleaming. When I quit my job, I sadly let her go. Housekeeping was going in-house now (sob). The upside is that you finally have time to organize your home properly, one project at a time, at your leisure.
8. You alone are responsible for your child’s enrichment.
I researched tremendously and made lists of places that I wanted to visit with my daughter, library and other local events to attend, home projects that we would attempt and a daily routine for both of us. I did the workbox system where you plan a whole day’s events in plastic boxes with drawers – one activity per drawer. It worked well, especially when I was pregnant with my second child and there were some independent projects that my daughter could work on.
9. Your sick days are nonexistent.
It’s great that you’re going to be home to care for your child when they’re sick – but who takes care of you when you catch their colds? Take care of yourself on a daily basis – drink plenty of water, wash your hands often, exercise regularly and watch what you eat. And when you’re down with the flu, slow things down with the kids and don’t feel bad if you have to order delivery or get help from friends or family. It’s temporary (hopefully!) and you’ll be back to yourself soon. In the meantime, the kids can step up and help out, in their own way, while you’re not able to.
10. Have a night out.
Plan some time to rejuvenate with friends in a kid-free setting, on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be in the evening but you need to nurture those friendships to stay sane. Always make time to de-stress, vent, gossip, reminisce and conspire with friends. In the early days, I remember attending a friend’s Pampered Chef party one evening and I chatted with fellow moms for hours into the night. I arrived home at 1 am and my husband was shocked that I had stayed out that late on a weeknight. Years later, his attitude has relaxed and I can barely stay awake past 11 o’clock. Still, it proved that I couldn’t neglect my own friendships.
I still haven’t returned to Jamaica and climbed the falls as a tourist but maybe the next major decision in my life will get me there!
If you do choose to become a stay-at-home mom, be realistic about it, be flexible with your plans and practice mindfulness. You could possibly embark on a life-changing journey and you don’t want to miss a single minute of it.
The Good Stuff & the Harsh Realities: My Perspective
Pro’s of Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom or Dad
Your schedule is wide open
You suddenly have more choices for preschool, summer camp and extracurricular activities for your children. For instance, you can place the kids in half-day camps or preschools without having the burden of a full day. Or, even sign them up for classes during the weekdays without having to cram everything into the weekend! Also, if your child has special needs, you have more time for therapy sessions.
No conflicts with work
If your child is sick, don’t stress out! You don’t have to take time off from your job since you’re already home! You can focus on getting them better and even shorten their recovery time.
You’re not far away
You’re the local parent now so if there is any school emergency, you’re nearby. You don’t have to leave your job, grab a train or jump in the car and travel for over an hour to get to your child. Also, you don’t have to rely on friends and family to rescue your child – you are conveniently in town.
More time to bond
Being home gives you more opportunities for teachable moments to reinforce family values and have more in-depth family discussions. Also, you may learn more about your child’s experiences as they have more time to open up about their concerns and questions organically, e.g. over a homework session, lounging at home or while travelling in the car to an after-school activity.
Experience the milestones
There’s not a single child who waits until you’re home on the weekends or evening hours to make their biggest accomplishments, like taking that first step, saying ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ or other precious moments. It’s heartwarming to witness it yourself instead of hearing about it from your daycare or babysitter.
School vacations are fun again
During the school breaks, your child can engage in play dates, field trips, vacations and more quality time at home with you. They’re not stuck at the daycare or hanging out with the babysitter while you’re at work. They have a chance to decompress, sleep in, recharge and pursue their favorite activities.
Shorten their school days
Quite a few schools offer after-school care for kids with working parents. However, this means your child will not leave the school building until late in the evening. They will have to adhere to the afternoon center’s schedule of activities and you will need to double-check their homework when you get home from work. If you become a stay at home-mom or dad, your child is home much earlier and can relax however they please.
Weekends are looking better
Now that you are home during the weekdays, your grocery shopping, errands and household chores can be done during the week. This leaves your weekends free for entertaining, family time, and travelling.
Explore your town
Being at home gives you the opportunity to volunteer in your school district (e.g. PTA’s) and meet other parents. Also, you can take advantage of more events at the library or recreation center and meet more neighbors or friends in the community.
Con’s of Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom or Dad
It’s not for everyone! Although there are a lot of benefits, you will have to make sacrifices. Can you handle these?
Could be isolating
If you don’t make an effort to make friends on the playground, volunteer for school activities or keep in contact with your friends, it can get very lonely spending the day with your child. No more vending machine chats with your coworkers; no more lunches with clients or colleagues either. Some days, you might never see another adult until your spouse comes home.
Activities may be limited
You don’t need to lead a spartan life but you might not be able to afford some of the activities you planned for you and your children (e.g. kids’ concerts, Broadway shows, more expensive enrichment like tutoring, karate or swimming classes). Vacation and clothing shopping trips are limited as well. I found myself having to resort to lower-end clothing brands because I lacked the bargain-shopping skills to grab better ones on sale.
Retirement savings take a backseat
When you’re working, you are earning credits for Social Security later down the road when you retire. Also, you would have the means to establish a 401(k) with your employer and capitalize on their matching program. However, when you become a stay-at-home mom or dad, your spouse’s income and your savings are being redirected to funding your basic and lifestyle expenses. Retirement savings take a huge step back.
Delayed financial freedom
With dual incomes, you can afford to hire maid service, dine out more often or hire people to do time-consuming tasks for you. Plus, you could try to pay off your mortgage and other debts earlier to avoid huge interest payments over time. When you give this up by cutting off one income, the debt stays around longer.
Your career may suffer
Unless you do part-time work or work from home, you will be disconnected from your industry for a long time. Whatever field you’re in, you’re not seeing the impacts of workplace changes firsthand (new laws, industry and technology innovations and new ways of conducting business, aka millennials, lol!). Your experience will still be useful but you’ll have a LOT of catching up if and when you return to the workforce. Hey, who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new career path when you’re home!
Metabolism slows down
When you’re a working parent, you’re used to being on the go constantly – you drop your child off to the babysitter, daycare or school and you head to work. Your work day is filled with activity. In addition, you might stop off at the gym for a workout or grab a healthy lunch from the deli nearby. Being home full-time, you might find reasons to snack more, less time to make a nutritious meal for you and be less motivated to exercise. For me, the kitchen is a constant distraction.
Return to: 10 Things I’ve Learned as a Stay-at-home Mom
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