When I left my job to stay at home full time with my daughter, I quickly realized one snag in my be-at-home-all-day-everyday plan: I didn’t really like being at home! Don’t get me wrong, I loved spending every day with my baby girl, watching her grow, learn and change, I just realized I preferred to witness all that wonderfulness in a place other than my own living room. Being a working mom wasn’t the right fit for me, but staying at home all the time didn’t fit either. I needed to get out.
As my daughter grew from infant to toddler, I filled our days with play dates, story times, museum trips and all the fun adventures I could cram into the morning hours before nap time. When we didn’t have any plans there were always parks to explore, libraries to play at, stores and malls to browse and groceries to buy. I started researching all of the activities we could do as she got to be 2 and 3 years old. Pre-school! Dance class! Tumbling! Art! Music! The possibilities seemed endless and I wanted her to do them all.
I haven’t mentioned it here on the blog, mostly because I’m still processing and still adjusting to our new normal, but last fall, a few months before my daughter turned two, something unexpected happened. Just when I felt I had finally found my place, my people, my purpose as a mom, we relocated to my husband’s rural Illinois hometown. I’m definitely more of a city girl so this has been quite the change for me. Things are a little smaller, a little slower. Options are a little more limited. A lot of those city comforts and activities I’d been used to having nearby – not just as a stay-at-home mom but for my entire life – are an hour’s drive away now and getting to them takes time and planning. Our schedule and my expectations changed almost instantly. I went from at stay-at-home mom who was never home to a stay-at-home mom who was home a lot.
In the beginning, I did what any normal, rational city gal would do: I cried. I longed for leisurely Target trips. I missed the activities, the restaurants, the shopping. Most of all, I missed (and still miss) our friends. So, yeah, I cried. I threw myself an epic pity party for one.
Then I put on my Positive Pants, focused a hopeful eye on our not-bad-just-different new life and got over it. And something kind of incredible happened: I rediscovered the joys of being at home.
Turns out there’s a lot to be said for a day at home. No schedules, no rushing around, pajamas until whenever. It’s sort of glorious. These kinds of days dwindle as kids grow and I’m so happy to have rediscovered their worth. Not only is there less stress, less driving, and, let’s be honest, less budget-busting frivolous spending, but I’ve also started noticing the sweet little nothings I’ve been missing because because we were constantly on the run. Things like my daughter’s insatiable love for books and the way she delightfully devours them. The way her tiny eyes light up when I ask her if she wants to stand at the counter and help me in the kitchen. Things like just letting her play and seeing where her blooming imagination takes her with no guidance from me. Sure there are some difficult days (because toddlers), but even on those days, there are peaceful, insightful, hilarious, joyful moments. I’ve finally had my A-HA moment – THIS is why I stay at home. To connect, to share, and to spend as much of this short time of complete freedom with my girl as I can. Spoiler alert: we can do a lot of that at home. Without plans and schedules every single day of the week.
Of course we’re still out and about, getting involved and meeting new people. And even though we’re in a much smaller community these days, there are still fun activities for the littles. We still make that hour drive on occasion because I crave those city things. But I’m also making sure our outings have a purpose. I no longer feel the need to be out just for the sake of being out. No plans? No problem! We’ll make pizza dough for the freezer. Drag out all the cookie cutters and cut shapes out of play-doh. Stalk a squirrel in the backyard.
My kid is not going to remember the day I pushed her around in a shopping cart and used that 30% off coupon to buy myself some rather unfortunate Southwestern print leggings (not that I’ve ever done that….ahem.) But she may remember the day I sat down beside her in the grass and we pretended to dig for dinosaur bones. Or the day we made popcorn for lunch and watched one of my favorite childhood movies. She will remember and cherish the little moments with me, the same as I will her. Those moments are so quick and fleeting and we don’t need to spend every second out of the house to create them. If I had been home a little more in the last year or so, I probably would have realized that sooner.
When I look back at why I felt like I needed to be out of the house all the time, I think it all comes down to my own insecurities. When we were out, the pressure was off. There was new places, spaces and faces to explore. Even if we were just window shopping at the mall, at least we weren’t sitting in front of the TV. At home this bright, beautiful kid was stuck with just me. How could I possibly be enough? The walls felt too close, the rooms too quiet.
The doubting voices in my head grew loud and uncomfortable – you’re not playing with her right, you’re not talking to her enough, you’re reading the wrong books, she won’t grow properly because you’re just doing it all wrong. When we were out I didn’t have time to dwell on all these feelings. I packed our schedule mainly to quiet my anxious brain. I made it about me when it should have been about her. This new life adventure has made me slow way, way down. I never thought I’d say it but I’m sort of loving it. My daughter will have plenty of time to be busy and involved. School, sports, activities – all of that is right around the corner and she’ll get out there, discover her passions and become the kick-butt young woman I know she is destined to be. But for now, while she’s still so small and our days stretch out like canvases ready for us to fill, we’re going to spend a few more of them in pajamas until whenever.
What’s your favorite thing abut staying at home with your young kids? Have you ever had a parenting a-ha moment?