How To Develop A Sense Of Mission For What You Want To Accomplish In Your At-Home Motherhood Profession
Mothers who juggle family, career and self, often envy the at-home mother.
“You have so much freedom,” the briefcase toting mom will say. “You can choose whether to clean house or play with the kids. If they want a picnic at the park, you can just go. No bosses, no deadlines, no tight schedules. Oh, what I could do with an extra 40 hours a week!”
You, of course, know differently. Those 40 hours aren’t extra; they’re the hours you spend on the tasks the briefcase toter pays a daycare center and maybe even a cleaning service to do. Going to the park isn’t an occasional, holiday-like thing to do with your child, it’s part of the at-home mother’s repertoire of caring for her child. And if the cleaning doesn’t get done today, well, it stays undone until you get to it.
Of course, when you chose an at-home motherhood profession, you knew you were trading a career in the business world for this soul-fulfilling, never-ending job of caring for your family and home. Even if you occasionally envy the employed mom’s steady paycheck, most of the time you are convinced that you have chosen the best path for yourself. It is your desire to instill in your children your values, to give them the security of a stable home and to provide a nurturing environment for your entire family that led you to become an at-home mother.
As rewarding as at-home mothering is, though, sometimes you feel as though you’re bogged down in meaningless detail. While you’re putting away clean laundry, someone else is dumping dirty clothes into the hamper. By the time you’ve cleared one meal, it’s time to start the next. A clean room doesn’t stay clean. And the children seem like buckets with holes, no matter how much attention you give them, they want more.
Besides, much of what you do is invisible. Who but you knows the number of times you chased a toddler to wipe his runny nose? When you mopped the floor a second time because the dog tracked in mud, the floor didn’t look twice as clean. The hour you spent calming the baby or watching the four-year-old try to tie his shoes or searching for the Middle Schooler’s retainer in the cafeteria dumpster left no visible reward, especially if you didn’t find the retainer after all.
So, how do you keep your eyes focused on the big picture when the daily details seem overwhelming? How do you decide, day by day, even hour by hour, which tasks have priority and which ones aren’t worth your effort?
This may be the time when you, as an at-home mother, can learn from the business world. Businesses use mission statements to define their purpose, and then set measurable goals to help them achieve that purpose. New ideas are evaluated by whether they conform to the mission statement. Those that help the company reach its goals are instituted; those that head in another direction, even though admirable, are discarded. A clearly defined mission statement can help you set priorities and goals in your at-home motherhood profession and help you gain a healthy sense of accomplishment.
The first step, of course, is to define your mission as an at-home mother. What do you want to accomplish? What’s important? Develop a broad statement that encompasses the many aspects of your profession: children, marriage, home and self. Some examples would be:
1. To provide a healthy environment so that my children mature into responsible, independent adults.
2. To model for my children the values and skills they need for a productive future.
3. To provide a safe and stable home where my children can grow and prosper.
4. To maintain balance in our family so that each person reaches his potential and contributes positively to society.
Despite their simplicity, these statements have broad implications. Take Statement #1, for instance. What is a healthy environment? Well, there’s physically healthy—clean surroundings, nutritious meals, good personal hygiene, exercise. There’s mentally healthy—stimulating conversations, access to information through books or magazines or even the computer, and an emphasis on life-long learning. A socially healthy environment would attend to etiquette, interactions with peers, cooperative work and play, and citizenship.Spiritual health refers to religious training, values and character issues. Emotional health finds the balance between dependence and alienation, manipulation and indifference, ecstasy and depression. One might even consider fiscal health—managing a budget, preparing for the future, and teaching the value of money.
A healthy environment also means healthy for every family member and every family relationship. It must provide nurture for parents as well as children, for the marriage as well as the parent-child or child-child relationships.
A mission statement clarifies decision-making.
Consider how the first mission statement listed above could help a family make good decisions.
1. Three-year old Tabitha begs to stay up until Mom and Dad go to bed. Is that physically healthy for Tabitha? Emotionally healthy for the marriage? No, so Tabitha is put to bed early enough to get plenty of sleep and Mom and Dad have time alone.
2. Eight-year old Kent refuses to eat the stroganoff and demands macaroni and cheese. What a great opportunity for teaching the socially healthy behavior of graciousness!
3. Dad receives a bonus at work. He wants to buy a pool table, Kelly needs orthodontia, and you’ve been begging for new carpeting. These are all desirable, but a mission statement would separate needs from wants.
A mission statement clarifies priorities.
A mission statement helps the at-home mother determine which items on the to-do list have the highest priority. Some days, like when the one-year old has an ear infection, the priorities are clear. If you spend the whole day cuddling and soothing the baby, everyone understands. But on the days that the list is filled with everything from “get Shirley’s recipe for lemon tart,” to “read to the children for one hour,” you may welcome the insight a mission statement will give.
A mission statement clarifies goals.
A mission statement, in itself, is too broad to be a daily target. An at-home mother can use the mission statement to help her develop short-term and long-term goals, though. Assume that one aspect of your mission statement is to help children develop into independent adults. Independence is a gradual process of separating and making decisions for one’s self. A parent needs to guide a child into independence by offering age-appropriate opportunities to practice decision-making.
This may seem obvious to some parents, not a matter for planning at all, but for many parents, setting annual goals for their children to develop independence may be the only way it happens. I’ve met at-home mothers who hold a tight rein on their children, usually out of their desire to protect their child(ren) from suffering the consequences of bad decisions. In the end, such controlling behavior hinders the child’s ability to become independent, though. A mother who suspects she might be a controller (I speak from experience) could benefit from writing annual “independence” goals.
An example would be:
- Two-year old: Encourage child to consistently choose own clothing. (Force myself not to worry about color or pattern combinations!)
- Three-year old: Allow child to choose three lunches per week from a limited list of options.
- Four-year old: Encourage child to choose her own activities.
- Five-year old: Encourage child to develop friendships within kindergarten class. Let him play at classmates’ houses and urge him to invite classmates to our house.
- Six-year old: With some guidance, allow child to plan guest list and activities for birthday party.
The goals you set will be tailored to your child and should be written each year, not as a five or ten-year plan. After all, children have their own timetables for development. Although I had to consciously encourage independence on my oldest child, the second one wrested it for herself long before I was ready.
You may write goals for any aspect of your mission that doesn’t come naturally for you. If you have trouble with a picky eater, you may even write daily, weekly or monthly goals for encouraging the child to try new foods. Just be certain that whatever goals you set, they are measurable and attainable.
It’s admirable to say, “My child will become a sharer” but how will you measure that? Compared to whom? Far better to set the goal having your child choose five toys that she will share with playmates. Then, when playmates come over, restrict the children to those five toys and let your child practice until sharing those five toys isn’t so painful. Gradually, you may increase the number of toys until the child finds sharing enjoyable.
You can also use the mission statement to write family goals in areas of finances and personal growth. Again, make sure those are reasonable, attainable and measurable. One mother I know takes a whole day in January to review her progress during the previous year and to write new goals for the next year. She says this has kept her balanced and has ensured that she focuses on what’s important for her and her family.
A mission statement helps you identify areas of focus.
A mission statement lets you measure your progress toward specific behaviors or goals. Over the years, you should see definite progress toward attaining your family mission. You will undoubtedly discover weaknesses-- areas where you have either lost the focus or changed direction. You may even decide the mission statement needs to be rewritten to reflect better what you truly believe is important. Remember, you and your family do not remain stagnant. You mature, circumstances change, you take on additional responsibilities or face a crisis…many things can change what you once thought was your mission. You grow wiser, too. When you have young children, you are involved daily in shaping their character. By the time they reach their teens, your influence is far less powerful.
A mission statement lets you focus on success and forgive yourself for mistakes.
Mission statements are deliberately broad and all-encompassing. They say, “Here’s the ideal I’m striving for.” Realistically, a mission statement isn’t a measurement of success. Success is measured by the small goals you achieve on your quest to reach the ideal. As you progress in your at-home mothering profession, you can celebrate your achievements without beating yourself up over the mistakes. You aimed for a lofty ideal and, to the best of your ability, you embraced it. During those years when your children obsess over all the ways you failed them (and it’s an inevitable part of growing up), you can point to the mission you set for yourself and say, “I did the best I could with the tools I had.”
Writing a mission statement may seem unnecessary to you. After all, you may think, I’m lucky to get through the day. Developing a mission statement and setting goals seems like too much work and that’s one thing I don’t need.
Whether you put it in writing or not, the process of thinking about your mission as an at-home mother will help you perform in your day-to-day life with a sense of purpose. Some days, knowing where you’re trying to get will motivate you when you feel used up. Sometimes it will give you the backbone to take an unpopular position. It can build consistency in your parenting and protect you from following the whims of others. It can be the lighthouse beam that guides you through rough seas. It’s certainly an idea worth thinking about.
How to Get Started On Your Mission Statement
- Preparing yourself
1. Set aside time for thoughtful contemplation of your mission. This may be done in an evening while the family is busy without you, during children’s naptimes, or in half hour spurts daily for a week.
2. Find or purchase a notebook expressly for your personal goal-setting. I prefer a blank book which I keep tucked in a magazine rack near my favorite chair while my neighbor, who was once an executive, uses a section in her Day-Timer®.
- Setting the mission
3. Decide, in broad terms, what you’d like to accomplish as a mother/wife/person. I started with a broad statement such as one of those listed in the accompanying article. I wanted a general statement that I could post as a daily reminder.
4. Write at least ten long-term goals. I found it helpful to create a separate page for each aspect of my life: raising my children, maintaining my marriage, and taking care of myself. Then for each of those I listed a general goal in each of the following categories: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and fiscal. That gave me eighteen goals, although some overlapped. Perhaps you’d prefer to analyze your role models and write goals that will help you emulate their best qualities. For example, consider your mother’s influence on you. Are there things you’d like to copy? Ways you’d like to be different? What good traits have you observed in your friends who are parents?
- Focusing on action
5. For each goal, write at least one concrete action you could take within the next month to help you reach that goal. These must be specific and measurable. For instance, for the broad goal "Spend more time with my children," you might write, "I will plan at least one fun activity a week with my children." Or, under the personal goal of being physically active, you might write, "I will walk for 30 minutes five times a week." Focus on what you can do, not what you wish others would do.
6. By now the list will be overwhelming. Choose the four action statements that are the most important to you. Because too often stay-at-home mothers attend to our children’s needs so completely that we sacrifice the health of our marriages and self, I suggest two statements concerning raising your child(ren), one for maintaining your marriage, and one for personal growth.
7. Schedule your action. Block out time on the calendar for the activities you’ve selected and for evaluating your progress. Plan one action for TODAY. Remember that it takes small steps to reach large goals.
- Monitoring your progress
8. At first, you will want to evaluate your progress monthly. Celebrate even the smallest accomplishments and be forgiving when there is a lack of progress. Gradually focus on additional goals. Eventually, you will be so comfortable with your mission that you may go several months without looking at your goals. Do plan to review them at least annually, so that you can revise and rethink your goals as your family changes.