Being a full time 'stay at home' parent (why doesn’t someone come up with a better job description), is not for the faint hearted. It is a job for which there is no training and most of us just jump in at the deep end. But it strikes me that in the current climate, there must be many women and men who are now finding themselves as 'stay at home' a role they never anticipated for themselves. Looking back over my years at home, there are a number of things I wish I had known at the beginning which may have made life a little easier. Things like….
Being a 'Stay At Home Parent' is probably not forever
As you embark on this new and possibly unexpected phase of your life, remember that is most likely going to be a defined phase of life. Your children will grow up… you won’t be needed forever. So it is vital that you keep that in mind and keep your professional skill set up-to-date.
A place to work from
I remember clearly when I left the world of paid work I did two things immediately:
I bought a laptop (ten years ago not every home had a computer) and I also felt I needed a desk. I couldn’t rationalize why I needed a desk but I knew I had some deep need for a desk. Perhaps it was a ‘me place’ – my own corner of the living room devoid of family or baby paraphernalia. Although for most of the time that ‘me place’ was in fact the end of my kitchen table.
Having left the workforce you have skills that voluntary organizations and local committees may be delighted to have at their disposal. Take some time to think about what interests you, what causes you may have some passion for, what charities’ you particularly support. Then make contact and get involved.
Your children’s school will no doubt regularly be looking for assistance with various tasks. Making tea and coffee at communions etc. may not be your bag but you could offer to help out with various other ad-hoc jobs. If your children are involved in sport, your help could be very useful there, whether it be in training the kids or doing some of the administration work.
Invisibility and The Art of Saying No
Being at home, particularly if you have very young children, can be very isolating and lonely. It is vital that you get involved with activities beyond the local parent and toddler group. If you don’t reach out, you run the risk of losing confidence very quickly and becoming invisible.
Being a house-spouse can easily mean that various well meaning friends and family begin to depend on you for helping with menial tasks. You might find yourself running here and there or minding other people’s children on far too regular a basis.
Learn early on to say ‘no’. Remember you are still doing a job. Just because you don’t get paid, doesn’t mean that what you are doing is not just as important as any other job you have had. Never fall into the guilt trap of “I’m not earning money so what I am doing is worthless”
It can be lonely
Unless you worked in a solitary profession, you will miss people. Kids can be great entertainment but you will really pine for a good old chat and laugh with adults. It is vital you work to make connections – with other parents (yep, the school gate mafia) and neighbours etc.
Along with meeting and connecting with people in real life, the internet also offers a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and renew old friendships. It doesn’t appeal to everyone but personally I love Facebook and Twitter – but you know that.
Learn a new skill
Now could be the ideal time to learn a new skill. How many times have you thought, 'I would love to learn to dance, or to write, or do some research into family history.' Signing up for a class for a couple of hours a week should be easy enough, especially when the kids are in school. Just make sure you do something you enjoy.
Remember Who You Are
Working in the home, looking after children and all the domestic chores, is tiring and seemingly endless. Lunch or coffee breaks are not guaranteed and your day will certainly not finish at 5 or 6pm. So make sure you build in some ‘you’ time into your week. Once a week either meet some friends or former colleagues for lunch or coffee. Protect your sense of self.
Finally, especially if you have small children – remember you can leave the house! I know there is a huge amount of palaver in getting young kids out for an excursion but I remember well rainy, winter days when packing them into anoraks and wellies and heading out to the park or the beach saved my sanity!
I could wax on lyrically about how wonderful it is to spend time with your children when they are young… or to even be around for teenagers, as I had both, but that’s also a different post. It has all been a marvellous privilege but I know it's not a choice all have or indeed want.
The day I left work my colleagues gathered to toast my departure. One wise older woman gave me a card. When I opened it her message was simply:
“Good luck Barbara. Enjoy making memories with your children.”
And I have. Very much. So whether you find yourself being a so called 'stay at home' parent by accident or desire... I hope you do too.