With kind remembrances, we send our sincerest wishes for a bright holiday
and a peaceful New Year. Enjoy the precious gifts of love and laughter.
About a month or so ago, I ran into a mom who had just made the decision to leave her job and stay home with her two toddlers. I asked her how she liked it, and got pretty much exactly the response I expected: “I… like it.”
This is a common response. It is often followed by a comment or question about how one structures one’s day at home, which is completely daunting if you’re used to sitting down to check voicemails in the morning and looking at the clock to realize you forgot to eat lunch. Toddler time seems much, much longer. My answer is that I cling to any iota of structure I can: Sesame Street at 10 a.m., a regimented naptime and mealtimes, story time at the library, whatever you can find. The addition of preschool two mornings a week has been nothing short of revolutionary for us.
But today I do not wish to discuss the daily lives of SAHMs. No, I wish to continue the conversation Karen began earlier this week about all moms being on the same team. I think she wrote a fantastic post, and between some of what she said and some of what was said in the comments, I think I have an insight for us.
The part of the problem with talking about work-outside-the-home moms vs. stay-at-home moms is semantics. It’s hard to say what you’re doing without inadvertently slighting the other the camp, i.e. “full-time mom” or “working mom.”
We need better terminology.
But I think the other major component of our discomfort is a little tougher. I think it’s rooted in self-confidence; in feeling judged for whatever choice we make. So when the merest hint of valuation pops up in conversation about this topic, we latch onto it and torture ourselves with it.
For the first year I was home, I stumbled very awkwardly when the topic came up. I made self-deprecating jokes. I offered a personal manifesto. Sometimes I said, “I’m a journalist” and then couldn’t keep a straight face because I don’t know any journalists who call themselves journalists. It feels pretty pretentious to say it out loud.
The point is, for the first year or so, anytime someone asked what I “did,” I was never able to give the simple response I give now: I’m at home with my daughter. And you know what? People don’t give me a hard time about it. No one has ever said anything disparaging or given the slightest indication that a negative impression crossed their minds, at least as far as I can tell.
To be fair, I do work a little. I write on this blog (errantly), which is probably the most public if least serious of my endeavors. I also do freelance reporting on Putnam County for the Daily Mail and feature writing for WV Living Magazine. So sometimes when I say I’m not working, people actually correct me because they’ve seen my byline. OK, you got me. The fact is I work about three hours per week most weeks. It’s not much, but it’s enough to keep my resume and clip file fresh and make me feel like maybe that master’s degree wasn’t for nothing. I highly advocate this minimal level of professional engagement, paid or not, to other SAHMs if you can swing it. But I digress.
The major reason I’ve stopped giving an entire monologue when people ask what I “do” is that I’m comfortable and confident with what I’m doing. I like being home with my daughter, and I feel like this is the best choice for my family given the particulars of our life. It doesn’t mean I love her more or I’m a better mom or, well, anything.
I have friends who work and love it, friends who work and wish they could be home, friends who are home and love it, and friends who are home but look forward to getting back to the workforce. I wish we could all embrace our choices and not have this nagging guilt that whatever we’re doing isn’t quite good enough.
I think the most important message I want to send is that I support a woman’s right to choose what is best for her family, be that working outside the home or not, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, co-sleeping or crib training, using cloth diapers or disposables, attachment parenting or Baby-wising, whatever. I choose to believe that each and every one of us is doing the best we can with what we’ve got, and none of us is copping out.
Is timeout supposed to work on a 20-month-old?
I ask because I’m doing it, but I don’t think it’s working.
Example: Yesterday she was pulling the roll of toilet paper, and after I told her no and she didn’t stop, I whisked her away to timeout. Timeout is in her crib because it’s the only jail cell I have in her size (the other being a cat carrier she’s JUST grown out of).
I put her in the crib and looked her in the eye and said, “You are in time out because you pulled the toilet paper off the roll, which is against the rules, and you didn’t stop after Mommy told you, ‘No.’” I left the room.
One minute later (approximately – however long it took to finish applying makeup), I returned to release her. I found her sitting, happily looking at a book she had pulled from a nearby shelf. I stood her up and looked her in the eye and again repeated why she was in time out.
At this point, Super Nanny says I have to make her apologize and apologize myself, and then we hug, so I have been doing that faithfully. So I said, “Can you say ‘sorry?’” She, knowing the routine, said, “sowwy,” and immediately gave me a hug around the neck, which was heart-warming.
I emancipated her from the crib, though she was clearly sorry to leave her book behind.
Then she immediately went back to the toilet paper roll.
I’m not sure I made my point.
I feel like it might be more effective to play a loud, scary noise when she touches the toilet paper roll. Or maybe hook it up to give her a mild shock (something legitimate toilet paper users could easily disengage). It’s called operant conditioning, and it has a solid track record. But I think that might be frowned upon by society. And CPS.
So help me, moms and dads. How does one discipline a timeout-impervious toddler?
One challenge of staying at home full time is figuring out what your days should look like; finding a routine. It’s something I’ve talked about with just about every other SAHM I know.
At 19 months, my daughter is on a pretty rigid schedule of her own design. She gets up between 7 and 8 and has breakfast with her daddy while I convalesce. I’m not a morning person. At 10, she watches Sesame Street, and then at 11 it’s naptime. After naptime is a late lunch, and we spend the rest of the afternoon in a mood arc that begins with delighted play and gradually degrades into impatience and tears while I try to cook dinner.
Her day is pretty simple: eat, play, sleep, eat, play, sleep.
My day is a little harder to put together. Think of it as an obstacle course: I have to figure out how to shower and dress, eat adult meals and do at least a bare minimum of housework while also providing childcare.
After a year and three months at home full time, I’ve finally found a groove.
While she watches Sesame Street, I get to spend quality time with the computer. While she takes a nap, I get my shower and basic chores done. When she eats lunch, I get mentally prepared for dinner and sometimes get a head start.
For the past couple weeks, I’ve tried to get one major chore accomplished each day. It seems to work.
The inspiration for that division of labor comes from The Fly Lady. I tried following her system for a few weeks, but it wasn’t a perfect fit. This modification seems to work.
The Fly Lady system emphasized keeping your sink clean an empty so you don’t ever have a pile of dirty dishes nagging you. I don’t necessarily keep the sink clean and empty, but she made me realized that the dishwasher sets the rhythm for the housekeeping day. Ideally, I go to bed with an empty sink and the dishwasher set to run so that in the morning I’m ready for the next round of dishes.
Our afternoons are usually a free-for-all, but that’s OK. Lately we’ve been playing outside a lot, and we might join a pool this summer. Giving over the entire afternoon to play might sound fun at first, but the truth is it can be tedious. By the time my husband gets home I’m ready for my shift to be over. But I’m well aware that she’ll go off to school before I know it, and this time at home will seem like a blip on the radar.
How do you structure your days at home? Do you have any tips for managing housework while watching kids?
I did not mean to take a three-week hiatus from The Mommyhood. I meant to take a one week hiatus. Then the next week I was unbelievably busy with this and that. Then the week after that I was inhumanly busy – mopping up vomit.
Oh, the vomit. I’m willing to bet your family has been sick, too. My husband, daughter, mother, father and I have all been sick – most of us twice. It’s been tedious.
I feel like I crossed a major parenting threshold when I held my daughter as she threw up all over me this time last week. Other people’s vomit has always made me want to produce some of my own, but it really is different with your own kid. It was still gross though.
There was Pedialyte. There were movies. There were many, many loads of laundry. Times were dark.
But we’re through them now, and I think we’re all on the road to good health just as the clouds part and spring gives us a sneak peek on this glorious first day of March.
She still has a raging case of Spoiled Sick Baby Syndrome, but we’re working through it. Symptoms include impassioned demands to watch TV all the time (“Rock!” for Fraggle Rock as she toddles over to me with the iPad, plucked from some high surface believed to be out of reach, and I have a panic attack), a voracious but particular appetite, and a need for constant physical contact with mama. And I do mean constant.
The real story this week has been a developmental growth spurt. Just this morning she learned to say “up” as she pulled the covers off my sleeping form and tried to rouse me to get her “muk” (milk) – another addition to her vocabulary.
I politely replied that it wasn’t time to get up yet – still before 7 – but that she might have some luck with Daddy. She whispered his name diabolically in response and padded over to try the same thing on him.
Eighteen months. Oh boy.
Before I became a parent, I was very judgmental of TV screens in cars. File that along with child leashes and implanted tracking devices under “things I’ve completely backpedaled on.”
Last weekend, we visited friends in Clarksville, Tenn., about seven hours away. The kiddo is almost 18 months old and is not a notoriously patient person. This was not going to be pleasant. I can sing songs and play peak-a-boo with the best of them, but seven hours is a long time. She’s not old enough to read or draw or play car games like I Spy, so our options for in-flight entertainment are pretty limited – if not for the iPad.
The blessed iPad. For all the things the iPad does well, child care ranks pretty high. I’m only kind of kidding. It has the Netflix app, so my standard operating procedure for getting a shower is to set her up on my bed with Fraggle Rock on the iPad. (She loves Muppets – Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street are both are available on Netflix.) But it’s a wifi-only iPad, so Netflix isn’t an option on a car trip.
So I went to Facebook for advice.
Any thoughts on the best way to use a wifi-only iPad to entertain a toddler on a seven-hour car ride? Is my best bet to buy and download a movie through iTunes?
I got a lot of recommendations for apps, and I tried the free ones. But I think she’s still a tad young to be entertained for long with apps, so I bit the bullet and bought “Elmo in Grouchland” on iTunes. It downloaded to the device so we didn’t have to worry about streaming it.
I drove the first leg of the trip, and my husband tried to hold off turning on the movie as long as possible. But from the get-go she was uncomfortable, and she screamed from Teays Valley to Ashland. So he fired it up. And it was amazing.
“I’m for that,” he said after five minutes of blessed quiet while Elmo and Mandy Patinkin argued over a blankie.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch Facebook posting, this comment popped up.
Wow! I just read all of these responses. It’s a Brave New World. I know I sound like the old fogy that I am, BUT in my day toddlers looked at story books, played with little toys, sang songs with their parents, and generally learned that sometimes life is boring.
I think it’s a fair comment – one I would have agreed with at one point in my life. But now I don’t. Two friends replied that modern car seats are more restrictive and necessitate more passive forms of entertainment, which is probably true. Also, I think people forget pretty quickly just how mercurial toddlers really are. It’s the same phenomenon that makes mothers forget how horrific childbirth is the moment they hold their new babies.
But, moreover, I’ve come to think the character building argument is a fallacy. As I said in my reply on Facebook, I realize now that my parents didn’t force us to endure long, boring car rides without TV because it was good for us. They did it because the technology wasn’t available. My mother assures me she would have showed us movies to pacify us in a heartbeat if she could have. Apparently I passed the time on long trips by whining and kicking the back of her seat repeatedly.
We haven’t watched “Elmo in Grouchland” once since we’ve been home. I try to limit TV to an hour or less per day. And I have lots of opportunities as a parent to teach my daughter patience mental stamina. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting car trips turn into movie nights.
Especially if it means the driver isn’t distracted and frazzled.
I am so far behind on laundry. It’s bad. Today, I vow to catch up. I have to because we’re leaving town for the weekend and we currently have nothing to pack.
If I had to pinpoint the moment the laundry situation began to deteriorate, it would have to be Monday of last week when I accidentally took the baby to the doctor’s office in a cloth diaper instead of a disposable And she pooped. So I had to wrap it up in a plastic bag and take it home, where it sat for days nagging me to open up my little present.
“I’ll do that right after I clean the bathroom,” I’d say to myself. “Right after I polish the piano.”
By the time I got up the gumption to deal with it, all the other cloth diapers had been languishing in their pail for days. The poopy diaper from the doctor’s office really wasn’t that bad, but the pail was, well, aromatic.
So I stripped them with dish soap and soaked them in Oxy Clean and hot water overnight. They still smelled, so I rinsed them and then washed them with laundry detergent. And because the diapers had a monopoly on the washer, nothing else got washed. That takes us up to maybe Friday of last week.
Then some friends came for the weekend and chores were abandoned. And then I decided to paint a dresser in my precious hours of baby-free time at night. (It’s going to be super cute! It has three drawers that will each be painted a different color with a white top and sides. The drawers are red, pink and aqua. And I got gold drawer pulls to bling it up. Thanks, Pinterest.)
Finally, last night I opened up the washer to check on the diapers. They needed another soak and rinse. So today, Thursday, 11 days after the doctor’s visit, I finally put the diapers in the dryer. We’ve been through the better part of a box of disposables, and I have at least five loads of laundry waiting behind them.
I know the rules. I know I should do a load of laundry every day so it doesn’t build up. I know I shouldn’t put off odious tasks. I know I should do the things I need to do before the things I want to do. But sometimes all that fails. Sometimes I just want to paint a dresser and forget about poop.
Now I know the most important rule is this: Never take the baby out in a cloth diaper. You can’t fully comprehend the ripple effect it will have.
Also? Maybe it’s time to potty train.
My mother-in-law sent me this image recently, and I have to share it with you if you haven’t already seen it. According to one blogger, this illustration by Melissa Balmain originally appeared in a 2003 issue of Parenting Magazine.
At this moment, Goodnight Moon, Elmo and the word “no” are my kid’s entire world.
I also found this response, which is just as LOL worthy, by another mommy blogger at sippinglemonade.com.
Do you relate to these as well as I do?
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with toys? I’ve been feeling that way since Christmas. As predicted, the smallest person in our family got the largest volume of new stuff, and it’s taking over our basement family room and her bedroom.
I’ve got no problem with a house that has visible evidence of a child living here, but ours was beginning to look more like home to several feral children and no adults. But I’ve been fighting back! Here are some of my strategies, none of which are original to me.
1. Edit. I’m an editor, so this is my first instinct for a lot of problems. Pack up and put away surplus toys – old toys, neglected toys, big toys, whatever. Only keep out toys the kid can actually play with in a day.
2. Rotate toys. This goes with editing. When the kid gets tired of the toys that are out, put them away and get out others. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
3. Don’t over-organize. It’s a lot faster to pick up if I keep my organizational standards low. Canvas totes are fantastic for this.
4. Pick up often. Don’t let the clutter take over. Clutter isn’t fun, not even for kids. Because I have low organizational standards and have edited down the number of toys she has access to, I can pick up relatively quickly. I might not do it every single day, but maybe a couple times a week.
5. Make sure she sees you pick up. It’s tempting to do it after she’s gone to bed, but I’m modeling behavior. If she doesn’t see me doing it, she’ll never learn to do it herself.
6. Keep consumables out of reach. Crayons, markers, paper, play dough, bubbles — I’m happy to get them out every day, but I’m going to put them away up high every day, too.
I’m a SAHM, so I definitely have more time than working moms to clean up, but that doesn’t mean I want to. I dread huge messes, so my solution is to prevent them from happening.
Do you have any tips for dealing with toys?
I think someone is trying to tell me something. I have four friends due to have their second babies within one month this spring.
Erica has a daughter who will turn 3 in March and is due in early June. Tori has a daughter who will turn 2 in January and is due in June. Molly has a son who will turn 2 in May just days before her due date. And Jen has a daughter who won’t turn 2 until November and is also due in early June.
Erica lives in Tennessee, Tori lives in Nebraska, and Molly and Jen live in Charleston. So I can’t blame it on the water.
I guess it’s like the year my husband and I went to something like seven weddings. Our cohort is in the baby-having phase. Still, four in one month is a lot.
Before you ask, I’m not pregnant. Nosireebob. But I’m feeling the pressure. My daughter is three months younger than Molly’s son and three months older than Jen’s daughter. So we’ve been in this together so far.
Are we ready for a second kid? I don’t know. But I dwell at length on spacing between kids.
I don’t really think there’s a right or wrong spacing for kids. Every family is different, and there are pros and cons to every approach.
For example, my husband is one of four, and they are on average five years apart. He was 15 when his youngest sister was born. On the plus side, each child had the spotlight for a decent period before a new baby came along, and their sibling rivalry isn’t bad. On the con side, my in-laws have a both a tween at home and a granddaughter.
When my mother-in-law and I talk about this, she always cites the example of her friend Lisa’s family. Lisa had her three kids at two-year intervals, so she had three under five at one point. While it seemed crazy while the kids were little, my MIL sees the virtue of it now that they’re all three done with college and married and Lisa and her husband are free to enjoy the next phase of life.
My brother was born two months before my third birthday. We fought a lot up until I got to high school, but we get along now.
The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy says that a mother is physically best suited to conceive a second child 18-23 months after the birth of the first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recited that fact. My daughter is just shy of 17 months. I’m not there yet!
My mom says that when she read about spacing, she concluded that the easiest spacing in terms of child-rearing is seven years (for only two kids) because the first is old enough to be independent but also help out with the new baby. My dad is seven years older than his brother, and they are very close as adults.
I don’t think we’ll wait seven years, but I don’t know if we’ll be ready next month either.
I know I don’t want to own two cribs, and I’d rather not have two in diapers at the same time. But I want them to be peers, to go to high school together. That really narrows it down, I guess.
So tell me, moms, what have you learned about spacing kids? Is there an ideal interval?