Making It Work to Stay Home
For us, the most unpleasant part of taking care of children all day is that it is often amazingly BORING. You do the same laundry, work the same puzzle, clean the same counter. Jiggle the same mobile, read the same book, play the same game, over and over. That's when the desire to do anything else gets especially shrill. But what worked for us and other parents we know is to pay closer attention, noticing tiny details you'd normally overlook. This makes the activity suddenly more interesting and draws you into a more peaceful, contemplative awareness. Similarly, by putting your awareness into your body and releasing any tension or discomfort you find, you'll feel more comfortable and less eager to be somewhere else.
It also helps to look for the nice parts in an activity, or nudge it in a more playful and stimulating direction. For example, you could goof around by putting puzzle pieces in upside down, and see what your toddler does. Or make up a song while she puts them in the right way.
Make sure to get some relief from interacting with your child every day. The possibilities include your partner giving him a bath while you read a good book or watch TV, another mom coming over with a child who will play with your own, or formal child care. In particular, study the conditions that drag the needle on your internal stress meter into the Red Zone, like more than four hours alone in your house with an oppositional three-year-old, and do everything in your power to change them so you never "redline" with stress.
Nurture your sense of worth.
To the extent that your job gave you a sense of accomplishment, status, or worth, staying home means finding other sources of self-esteem. The first place to look, of course, is your role as a mother: it's the plain truth that you are making an extraordinary contribution to your children, with results that are visible every time you see them, and the honor due you for that is magnified by any personal sacrifices you've made to be a mother.
Widening the circle, you could get involved in your children's activities, such as by becoming a room-parent in preschool, a soccer coach, or a teacher in Sunday school. Besides being an excellent way to meet other mothers and families, it would give you a greater sense of making a difference in the world. These benefits also apply to other forms of community service, whether it's ladling soup once a month at a homeless shelter or sitting on the board of a worthy nonprofit.
Finally, it's often possible to use some important capacity within yourself - some way that work stretched you - at home as well. For example, if you enjoyed applying your analytical intelligence to solve problems at work - perhaps you were a CPA, scientist, or computer programmer - you could read fascinating but mentally challenging books such as Godel, Escher, Bach or A Brief History of Time. If you worked in TV, try volunteering with community access television. If you liked public speaking, consider arranging to spend an evening each week with a local chapter of Toastmasters.
Check in with yourself.
Keep paying attention to how it's actually going for you. Are you feeling isolated? Is there a frustrated sense of the world passing you by? If you try some of the suggestions above and you still feel that something important is missing, it could be a sign that you need to shift gears, perhaps by returning to work.
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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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