Since I became a mom I have been a stay-at-home mom; therefore, the following observations are inevitably from that perspective. Nevertheless, it is important for all parents to be proactive about their happiness. I think different factors make it difficult for SAHPs and working parents to do this. I hope this post is useful for all parents!
It is easy for us stay-at-home-parents (SAHPs) to adopt a passive attitude about our happiness. We keep our routines and expectations flexible in order to support the demands of our working partner's and children's schedules. Unfortunately, always being flexible can make us reactive instead of assertive. We allow our circumstances to control our mood and we hold external factors, like our environment, our spouse, and our child, accountable for our contentment instead of ourselves.
There are a million excuses for why at-home parents become passive. Many couples make financial sacrifices so that one partner can stay at home, and at-home parents often feel guilty spending money on luxuries when they are not earning income for the family. Some couples relocate in order to start their family in a friendlier environment; this means that many at-home parents are isolated and depend on their partner for adult interaction. Even if you live close to family and friends, it is difficult to get out with kids and the extra effort sometimes feels wasted.
And even when the working parent is available to relieve the SAHP, the child may not comply! Nursing mothers whose children don't take bottles, for example, can't leave their babies for very long.
I am not immune to these issues. At my worst I am passive and look to others to fulfill my needs. I expect my husband, exhausted after a week of work, to make a full gamut of exciting weekend plans for us. I expect my baby to behave perfectly on outings and am frustrated when he does not cooperate. I spend three consecutive days in my house, get a terrible case of cabin fever, and take my crabbiness out on everyone rather than work to change my attitude myself.
I am learning that I can’t take a passive approach to being happy; I need to take steps to make it happen. I shouldn’t expect my husband to whisk me off for a date night when he might need a night in to rest. I shouldn’t assume that the baby will be a tyrant if we leave the house. If I find myself looking out my window and wishing I were out in the world, I need to pack up the diaper bag, grab up the baby, and go outside. It is that simple.
I recently read a cheesy, yet undeniably true, allegory on the importance of prioritizing happiness. A teacher shows his students a jar filled with sand. He attempts to place a few golf balls in the jar, but they won’t all fit. He empties the jar and puts the golf balls in first. He then pours the sand over the golf balls; the grains settle into the nooks and crannies between them. Everything fits. The idea is that you have to prioritize the important stuff (the golf balls) over the unimportant things (the sand). Chores, obligations, and perceived limitations will expand into the space you give them, and if you don’t carve out time for things that make you happy, you won’t find any.
Stay at home parents often complain that they never get a moment "off": even after putting in a 40 hour work week, their work continues. The main reason for this is because stay at home parents are usually the primary caregivers for their children and have a hard time delegating tasks to their partner that they feel they could manage easier.
But another reason that SAHPs feel like they are always "on" is because many of them take full responsibility for chores around the home, and view a messy house as a personal failing. Although I work at home, I must be careful not to derive personal value solely from how smoothly house operations run. My daily obligation is to care for my child and to be kind to my partner. Some days this leaves little time for chores.
Still, as a stay-at-home parent it is easy for us to view our home as a reflection of ourselves. We end up caring for kids all day, doing chores all evening, and resenting our spouses for resting when they get home. But the reason working spouses often neglect home projects may be because they derive less personal value from that work than their at-home partners do. At-home parents should take a cue from their working partners on this point!
Before my husband and I had children we both worked outside the home. We split the chores evenly (we even held a draft every season to select which chores we would be responsible for), and we did them on our own time. This meant that sometimes the dishes and the laundry were piled to the ceiling, but we felt entitled to relax after a long week. We understood that a simple 30 minute scrub was often as good as a deep clean. Like all hard workers, SAHPs also earn the right to go off the clock at times. We’ve got to make sure the golf balls fit.
For me, this means making a list of quick, simple, inexpensive, healthy, and easily attainable ways to make myself happy at a moment’s notice. Sometimes free time comes when I least expect it, and it is important for me to have a ready plan to maximize it when it occurs. Something as simple as driving to town, grabbing a latte to go, and taking baby on a joyride through the countryside can clear my mind. If my husband doesn’t feel up to getting out of the house after a long day of work, I might leave baby with him while I take a walk in our neighborhood or window shop at the garden store. Or I might drive to our local college and take baby on a nature stroll around the leafy campus. Yes, this requires some creativity, and I have to be happier with less freedom than I had pre-baby. But I always find that taking time to focus on my happiness leaves me eager to get back into my daily routine, and I return to these tasks with renewed vitality.
How do you take time to focus on your happiness?