Just over three months ago, I took my children out of daycare and took a “sabbatical” from the company I run with my husband.
When we first started this experiment, we were coming off a two-year-long crash and burn of getting two sleepy children dressed and out the door in the mornings, and racing cranky children home for the dinner/bath/bed routine in the evenings.
So I guess it makes sense why, for the past 3 months, Isaiah has wanted nothing more than to live in his pajamas.
We all needed to calm down. We needed space and quiet and big huge buckets of unscheduled time. We needed to adjust to our new routine and find our rhythm.
Our 3-month retreat
The past three months we have been a little pocket of a family. A retreated family. Two sons and a mother alone at the park on Monday mornings. A threesome at the village diner. Regulars at the library play room. And more hours at home than any of us have ever spent.
Over the past three months, I’ve watched two brothers become best friends–so attached that when the little one goes up for his nap, the older one cries. So attached that the small handful of playdates we did have were mostly ignored, the comfort of a brother’s company easier. The hierarchy and boundaries clearly established.
Over the past three months, my 3-year-old has has shown affection to me that I only caught glimpses of before.I’ve woken up my sweaty-headed 2-year-old from his nap and seen his smile spread across his face before his eyes even open. I’ve tumbled in leaves and collected rocks on our walks to the pond. I’ve grown comfortable taking two children to grocery stores and museums, and even done a couple daytrips to the city–just the three of us.
I’ve been there to see the heart-melting moments like my 2-year-old’s pride in learning how to use the potty–his proud little trot out of the bathroom, his naked little legs and bum. And I’ve had the time and patience to let me 3-year-old water the plants, and help me bake muffins, and to stop doing whatever I’m busy doing during those moments when he says in that little voice, “Mommy, will you sit with me?”
I’ve experienced the off-ramping bliss of not knowing what day it is. The luxury of wondering what we’ll do to fill the pockets of time. The beauty of a blank calendar. The space to find our own rhythm.
And with our new duties more clearly defined, my husband and I are no longer aiming for the unspoken (and unachievable) 50/50 split on everything: work, house, kids, selves. Somehow by “reverting” to more traditional roles, I feel like our days run smoother. He can focus on running the business with the peace of mind that the homefront is stable. And I’m sure having a calmer wife has its benefits.
How it has changed me
My first couple of weeks at home, I tackled big organization projects like the entryway closet (shudder) and the pantry. I made sure dinner was on the table when my husband got home. I started reading those mom bloggers who write all about how to save money. I had all these self-made rules about what I needed to accomplish at home in order to justify the extra stress my not working might put on our family.
I had grand visions of the daily routine we’d follow, and felt antsy when that routine didn’t work out. Then I remembered my big learning from last year: let it go.
So I started leaving the breakfast dishes and joined the boys in the playroom. That’s been a big adjustment for me — to be comfortable “just” sitting and playing Legos without the nervous itch that I should be doing something “productive.” The amazing thing I learned is that once you “fill the meter”–that is, give your children some undivided, no-iPhone-in-sight, attention—you can actually slip off to do some closet cleaning or, as I eventually discovered, Google Reader reading.
Even though we don’t have a consistent routine, one thing we stick to every day is nap time/quiet time. Every single day I take an hour to read, write, or rest if I was up with a child the night before. During this time at home, I’ve started drinking green smoothies and tea. I’ve gone off the medication that pulled me out of postpartum depression/anxiety, but didn’t serve me anymore.
During this pocket of time, I’ve experienced profound personal growth that comes with an act of humility—not being part of the full-time working world. But most of all, I’ve gained an internal sense of peace knowing I’m giving my boys my best, even on the tough days.
Having this time at home has been a gift of magnificent proportions. And I know it won’t last forever.
In some ways, it already seems gone.
This month, I’ve taken on two client projects that have me working a couple days a week (the boys stay home with our long-time babysitter) and logging in at night.
This week, Isaiah will start going to Montessori school 3 afternoons a week. (More on that decision later.)
But even as we slowly add activities and work projects and preschool into our lives, I want to be able to tap into this bubble we created. I want to not let myself get sucked back into busyness and always feeling like I need to be wherever I’m not (i.e. work or home).
So I guess I’m not really a SAHM
For some reason it bothers me that I don’t really fit into a bucket of “stay at home moms” or “working moms” or even “work at home moms” (most of the work I do happens in an office alongside other grownups).
But nevertheless, my new hypothesis is that taking on carefully-selected work projects with clear ending dates will be a good way for me to stay active in my industry, contribute a bit to our family income (Montessori school is not cheap…) and keep my skills polished. Like other freelancer moms, sometimes I’ll have projects going on, and sometimes I won’t.
I don’t think my SAHM experiment failed. I think when we started this journey we were all maxed out so we stripped everything out. After a few months of that, we had the luxury of getting a little bored/understimulated, and now we’re letting things back in, slowly.
And so even though I had wanted to check off that big box labeled “To work or not to work,” it turns out I’m still experimenting to find the right balance. I guess like most things, it’s not a destination, but a journey.
Here’s to all you other moms who are walking the same path.
Interested in reading the whole story behind my decision to stay home in the first place?
Here’s an interview with me on In Good Company: Inspiration from the brightest minds in the ad industry.
Lovely image by ashleyg on Etsy