How to Find and Maintain Balance & Happiness As An At-Home Mother
You’ve made the decision to be an At-Home Mother for the children’s sake, for your sake, for your husband’s sake, but for heaven’s sake, there are days when you turn on CNN or worse, As The World Turns, just to hear someone speak multisyllables! When your husband comes home, you may either blurt out all the mountains you’ve made out of molehills, or wait impatiently to live vicariously through his workday. You wonder seriously about your decision to stay home when the few minutes of interchange with the UPS man becomes a highpoint, or you actually enjoy talking to the evangelists at your door. You have polished off everything in your Mother's Day gift bag from boredom. You are out of balance. You are feeding and nurturing everyone else and your Self is slowly starving. Never fear, it’s not terminal. You just need to re-arrange a few things in your life to get back in balance.
A few generations ago, most women didn’t feel out of balance. They had limited options, few conveniences, larger families, and were often too exhausted to meditate or reflect on their own needs. Then we had the women’s movement, and a generation that often put careers ahead of family. Many women today are more balanced in recognizing the challenge of and need for full-time mothering. Yet, the full-time task of parenting can lead to a feeling of isolation, a lack of ability to get one’s own needs met, or worse a dependency on children and husband to fulfill all one’s needs. None of which is healthy for the mother, the husband or the children.
As the psychologist, Abraham Maslow explained in his hierarchy of needs, once we have security, housing, and basic material necessities such as food and clothing, other psychological needs emerge – the needs for positive self-esteem, pride, stimulation, and recognition. When these needs are not met, you can be a prime candidate for depression, anxiety, or a host of physical symptoms. The opportunity is there to be tempted to make unhealthy choices to ease the frustration. Or you might begin to try to get your needs for recognition, achievement or self-esteem met through your children. You push little Suzy into the dance lessons she doesn’t want, but you wished you had. You become the so-called soccer mom. You use an array of toys, games and stimulation methods on your children to boost academic achievement. All of which, in the long run, can be harmful to your children and family. Yes, children must be nurtured and encouraged to try a variety of activities, but for their own needs, within their own framework, when they are ready, not to meet your needs. Maybe you put too many demands on your spouse. He wants rest, relaxation and time with the kids. You want more stimulation. He wants to be a couch potato on Friday night. You can’t wait to go out. Trying to get your needs for stimulation, self-esteem, and recognition met through other members of the family puts a tremendous strain on everyone.
Staying home with your children does not mean you have to be at home all the time, or spend all your at-home time on activities and tasks related to others. You will be a better and happier mother, spouse, woman, person, individual, if you find something other than the children and husband to meet some of your needs for recognition, stimulation, and self-esteem.
First, let’s define what is lacking for you. Although we all have the same basic needs, the amount or strength of the need varies with the individual. One parent may need very little social interaction. Another needs a larger amount to feel satisfied. Each person is unique, each circumstance is unique. You want to identify what is lacking for you at this point in your life. Then we can look at some positive alternatives.
Here are some common needs. Look through the list and see if any of them strikes a chord for you.
THE SOCIAL FACTOR: Do you meet enough moms but always in situations where parenting, budgets and food are the topics? Do you long for adult conversation with a point or goal in mind, a focus? Do you bombard your husband with questions, answers and many minor details the moment he walks through the door? Do you actually pick arguments to provide some stimulating dialogue? Do you recite the plots of television shows in your conversation? Do you find yourself sharing your life experiences with cashiers and salespeople? How many hours a day do you spend on the phone?
THE SELF-ESTEEM / RECOGNITION FACTOR: When you were working you received praise for your work. Now the praise is vicarious, or indirect. Your child does well academically, and you must have had some influence. You glory in his achievement but it is his achievement not yours. Except for a new dish you brought to the potluck, you haven’t received any compliments lately. You give happy faces and gold stars to everyone else, but no one gives them to you.
THE CHALLENGE FACTOR: All of us need some challenge—something to reach for that isn’t impossible but stretches our capabilities. Sometimes, when the kids are doing well, and everything is running relatively smoothly, there isn’t enough challenge. There is plenty to do, but none of it really makes you push yourself to do it well. Some of the tasks you are doing take time, but don’t need much talent. You know a competent housekeeper could do as well.
THE BOREDOM FACTOR: When the kids were all under five you never had a minute to yourself. But now they are in school, and you find yourself watching TV too much, or reading more than your share of romances. There’s plenty you could do, but somehow none of it appeals to you. You feel more tired now that there is less to do. You now take naps. You feel yourself go through the motions, but there is no eagerness for the day.
THE ALTRUISM FACTOR: Some people love to love. They have tremendously big hearts and enjoy giving and giving. This is positive, until it threatens to thwart the natural development of independence in our children. There is a developmental point where children no longer want parents as involved. Too much love can suffocate, or stifle the beloved. Or it can produce rebellion to force independence. Your husband and children tell you to "Get a Life!"
THE CREATIVITY FACTOR: You’ve redecorated all the rooms. The kids would rather have Campbell’s than some exotic recipe. You keep rearranging the furniture just to have something to be creative about. You haven’t done anything original, new or different in a long time. You have a hobby, craft or skill you put aside when the kids were born.
Remember, you have to look at your own individual, unique needs. One mother can luxuriate in the solitude created when the youngest goes to preschool. Another goes bonkers in the quiet. One may be forever grateful to get away from the competitiveness of the work world, another may miss the challenge. We are all different. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, just a diversity of individuals with unique personalities and varying needs. It’s what makes our world so rich. Ignoring those needs is what makes you feel depressed, out of sorts, or just a kind of malaise with the whole world.
If you have a hard time pinning down what is lacking ask your spouse for input, or a long-time friend. Sometimes others can see us more clearly than we can.
FINDING THE BALANCE
What did you find? What factors you found will determine the direction you take. While volunteering to provide holding and rocking for infants in the hospital will reward the mother with an altruistic needs, it won’t satisfy someone who longs for adult conversation, or longs to use her creative talents. Here are a few suggestions for each need.
THE SOCIAL FACTOR: Look in your local paper for meetings, lectures or organizations that involve an interest for you--ecology, the environment, causes such as child abuse, or politics. See what you can get involved in. To best refresh you the focus should be totally away from parenting.
Create a book group. They usually meet once a month to discuss the chosen book. My sister has been involved in the same book group for over twenty years now. They’ve all watched their kids grow up and go on. While this involves only one evening per month, you get the added challenge of the book, and the conversation or focus for the evening is defined.
Some find social interaction in classes. Contact your local community college for a listing of community education classes. These cover anything from making flower arrangements to powderpuff mechanics courses. Or scan free publications. Ideally to give you the maximum satisfaction, this should not be a child focused endeavor but something completely different.
Volunteer one morning, day or afternoon a week. Those computer skills you left at work could be just the thing needed and wanted at the local Meals on Wheels organization. You may not get money volunteering, but you usually get sincere and lavish praise.
Start a home business or find a part-time job that you can do from home. Though you won't have as much contact with others, you will receive an income and the praise you were accustomed to from work.
Some of these factors may overlap. The self-esteem factor and the creativity factor may be intertwined. You haven’t painted since your oldest was born? Enroll in an art class. Have you always longed to be a writer? Start with poems, or short stories, or parenting articles. Submit them around. Think of a skill or talent you put on hold. Do you have a box of materials for quilts sitting in the attic? Pull it out. If your self-esteem was previously bolstered through creative activities, see if you can now find a place for them.
THE CHALLENGE FACTOR: Self-esteem and challenge may be sisters too. The same exercise activity that raises your self-esteem does so because you have mastered a challenge. Or you can find a new challenge. Try an entirely new activity. Enroll in an archeology class, or poetry course. Find yourself a new mountain to climb. Take a class to renew and refresh your work skills. Learn a foreign language. Do something nontraditional. Learn how to build a cabinet, fix your own plumbing or tune up your car. Do something that is not easy for you. Stretch yourself.
THE BOREDOM FACTOR: Helen MacInness once said, "Nothing is interesting if you are not interested." You need something new and interesting. This one may or may not involve getting out, it could be something you do at home. If you have never tried gardening, maybe now is the time. Go to your local library or book store and wander the aisles, look afresh. See what strikes your eye. Perhaps you are interested in exploring the history of your region? Being an amateur historian could be fun. Go to the craft store and see what they have to offer. Look into lessons. Are you curious about the genealogy of your family? Search the Internet. Some people find this fascinating, including looking up long lost relations and establishing contact. If you don't know how to search the Internet, take a computer class. Volunteer to work in the public library or at you own child’s school. Make a resolution to get involved in something new this month.
THE ALTRUISM FACTOR: Some people are what I call "all people lovers." They just have so very much love to give. They aren’t really happy unless they are sharing this love. Certainly our communities have abundant opportunities for those brimming with extra love and affection. Hospitals often have preemies who need to be held and loved, with not enough nurses to do the job. Rest homes always have a need for someone to visit and bring cheer. Volunteer at your child’s school to help children with special needs who always need an abundance of love and attention. Consider how a foster child might fit in your home. Drive cancer patients or the elderly to doctor’s appointments. The options are endless.
THE CREATIVITY FACTOR: You are the one with the gnawing hunger. Creativity thwarted and stifled brings depression, frustration and anger. Having children doesn’t mean you have to bury your creativity for 18 years. Many a stay at home mother has written during the kids’ naps. Erma Bombeck wrote around her kids. Danielle Steele is rumored to write all her novels during the middle of the night. See if you can clear a corner (I’m not even suggesting a room of one’s own, just a corner) for your writing. Get back to it. Take a creative writing course just as a refresher and to meet other creative types. The same goes for art work. If you can’t seem to find the time, or space, sign up for a studio art course, where you have several hours one morning or afternoon a week, to peacefully paint or draw. Join a theater group.
Having activities that are your own, far from taking away from your family, will give back in abundance, for you will be a happier, more balanced individual. It is not healthy to haveall your needs, wants, and desires invested in the family unit. In those times, when there is a rough spot in the family, your outside interest will help buoy your spirits, and carry you through the inevitable hills and valleys. When one of your kids is acting out, for that time when your self-esteem and confidence as a parent may suffer, your exercise program, your artwork, or your cuddling of preemies will bring sense and balance back to you. Putting all your energies into the family and home can make each event, each challenge or stumbling block seem overwhelming. When your Self is nurtured not only through the family but through an outside source, you can ride through the rough times.
Total and singular involvement with your family causes you to short change yourself. Whether in a short temper towards the kids, an enmeshed relationship with the children, a psychosomatic illness, or putting too much pressure on your spouse to meet your needs, giving too much backfires. Take a reality check to see if you are out of balance. If you are, identify what you need, and go for it. Your whole family will benefit when you find your own balance.