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Monthly Archives: September 2012

The challenges of being a stay-at-home mum and combating them – Self-esteem

When I was asked what I did before I had children, I sounded educated and interesting. Even when I was working part-time I could still take kudos from my job. I glossed over the fact that I was a mother and focussed on the interesting aspects of my part-time career. But in the early days of being a stay-at-home mum when I was asked what my line of work was I would stumble on my words. I would see something come into the eyes of this stranger who labelled me. My heart would sink and I would wonder how I could bring my previous career into the conversation. I felt pigeon-holed when I told people that I was caring for my children. Why did I feel obliged to justify what I was doing anyway? But we are all so polite at drinks parties, so I wouldn’t respond and I would feel annoyed with the questioner and angry that I had allowed my self-image to hit rock bottom again.

Many of us have worked and concentrated on a career before having children. Our careers and subsequent financial rewards have developed, we have met life-long partners and then entered a new chapter of children. When the new role of mother is taken on and you decide to drop your occupation label ‘mother and wife’ doesn’t sit so easily: inner conflict sets in. You feel as if you are losing your identity and being a ‘full-time mum’ doesn’t hold much weight in society.

To put it bluntly, your self-esteem as a stay-at-home mum can plummet and you can feel as if you have lost your identity. You lack self-worth, you aren’t using your education and are unfulfilled. The bald fact is that anyone can be a stay-at-home parent, BUT and this is a big ‘but’ which you must grasp and cling to, you know in your heart that there is more to it than just surviving and treading water. You can embrace and excel in this job of caring for young children who are absolutely reliant on you physically and emotionally. You can pour your heart into being a brilliant stay-at-home mum and allow yourself to believe, quite rightly, that you are doing the job well. I am not saying that your children should be the limit of your horizon but if you can accept that this is a season in your life, remembering that it is not forever, then you can decide to do this job to the best of your ability.

By being self-assured and confident in your role you will raise the status of parents who stay at home. It is essential to care for children, whether it is done for money or for love. Society benefits enormously from happy, loved children, especially as they mature into well-rounded adults and yet society places very little value on the caregiver.

Perhaps part of the difficulty is because our self-esteem is so tied up in our career and we have learnt very early that work defines our identity and thus our self-worth and success. Be wary of thinking your career will provide self-esteem and help you to fulfil your potential, this may just be a myth fuelled by the economy. Self-esteem comes from who you are and not from what you do.

You may not feel as if you are directly using your qualifications that took years to achieve, but your training taught you to reason and to make intelligent decisions. If you are assessing your role as a mother, the direction you are taking your child and the destination you wish to arrive at, you are reasoning and making decisions all the time. Pour your energy, creativity and your skills into making yours and your child’s day interesting and challenging.

Friends around you will judge and label you. Stop caring what others think. You can be a ‘stay-at-home type’ that thinks deeply about the world around you, strives to improve your place of influence and be an interesting person. At the end of the day you need to be strong and know why you have chosen to be a stay-at-home mum. Stop making excuses and feeling that you have to explain. You can keep it simple and say something like, ‘I have decided to take on the challenge of being a stay-at-home mum for a few years. Although it took a while to get my head around it, it has been an excellent career move.’ Then move the chit-chat on so that your answer to the question, ‘What do you do?’ doesn’t become a conversation stopper. If they are really interested then explain your thoughts and feelings but don’t feel that you need to justify what you do. Does it matter what others think, as long as you are at peace with yourself?

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I picked up the book Mum’s List by St John Greene expecting a light-hearted holiday read but was deeply affected as I hadn’t realised what the book was about and nor that it was a true story. When Kate Greene, a mum of 38, fell seriously ill nothing was as important to her as her two little boys and her husband. In her final months of life she wrote her Mum’s List – a guide to her thoughts, her wishes and her longings for the boys she had to leave behind. I wanted to cry as the subject matter is so painful and yet the book is written with a light touch, humour and hope as Singe, her husband, expresses his love for his wife and uses the list as a springboard to a new life.

It made me think about what I would put on my list and I realised what a good idea it is to have a list – mental or otherwise. We can whizz through the days and lose the bigger picture of our desires for our children and our family. I postponed the idea of writing a list as it seemed to be an insurmountable task but then I thought I will write out my longings for my children – big and little. Before I knew it I had a ‘Mum’s List’ which is a plumb line to refer to so my greater desires don’t become lost in the day-to-day. Things on my list include go backpacking as a family around Europe on a budget, have self-confident and assertive children, be kind to others, have a strong faith and relationship with God, create rich, happy memories and family traditions, visit South Africa again, enjoy outdoors and biking. Big things and little things, specific goals and general characteristics… what would be on your ‘Mum’s List’?

Zeb and I are very excited to have launched The Parenting Children Course yesterday. One thing that stood out for me was the importance of Family Time. Families are there to provide support, a moral compass, teach about relationships and to provide fun. What can you do for Family Time? Have fun as a family and enjoy an activity together whether it is a chocolate fondue, a picnic, making pancakes, building dens or going for a muddy walk. As the children get used to the idea, they will become excited about it so let them help plan the next activity. Aim for Family Time of about two hours, once a week. Put it in your diary and then prioritise and protect it. Don’t worry if Family Time is not always successful and the board game degenerates into tears and grumpiness. It is so important to build in regular time together while your children are young so that when they become teenagers, it is part of the fabric of your family.

Why do a parenting course? It is a minefield out there with many bewildering choices and yet no role we undertake can be more important. You don’t have to be a struggling parent either, maybe you just want a few more tools at your disposal.

The Parenting Course is a practical 10 week course based on biblical principles that will help you parent effectively. It is written by Nicky and Sila Lee from Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), London and runs along similar lines to The Alpha Course. It follows Christian principles but is not so overly Christian that it alienates those with other (or no) beliefs. The evening consists of pudding and coffee, a 20 minute DVD and about half an hour for discussion and to work through your manuals. Here is a link to the HTB website which has a video about the course www.relationshipcentral.org. If you are interested in doing a course, have a look on the website to see if there is one near you.

Sophie had a harder time than I had anticipated settling into school. I had thought it would be easier for the second child in the family to start school. But her comment six months after starting school made me realise afresh that each child in unique. Without a trace of self-pity she turned to me one afternoon and said, “I thought that when I went to school the other children would be excited and smile at me but no one did.”

I wanted to weep. I know she is at a caring school and that the teachers are very attentive but we still can’t protect our children from all the hurts. What we can do is pour love into them at home, make them feel accepted for who they are and help them to be resilient to withstand life’s challenges.

Somewhere along the line, your little reception child will find the novelty of school wears thin and he becomes very tired.

I found the best way to deal with this was to arrive promptly at school pick-up with a fruit snack, scoop him up and take him home for a cuddle and a story. I also ensured that we kept  to our regular routine so that he didn’t feel as if everything was changing. Because he was so tired, I tried to foresee what may escalate into a temper tantrum and give him extra space before an explosion. I would also tell my child about my day and what the younger siblings had been up to – as long as it wasn’t too exciting.

When your child is a young school starter be confident about talking to the headteacher about how many hours / days he has to be at school and don’t allow yourself to be pressurised by the teachers. I also stopped all after-school activities. Your child will not be disadvantaged if they don’t do swimming / ballet / football during their first year of schooling.

One thing that caught me by surprise was that when my second child Sophie started school, my first child, James was very difficult and unpleasant to her. He felt that school was his territory and she was invading his space. I spoke to James and explained that they shared school and also empathised with his feelings and tried to help Sophie understand why James was being so grumpy. Mums are good negotiators!

Image provided by Terri Heisele

First days of school! The excitement, the butterflies, the fresh new shoes and the crisp white socks. Oh happy days. I remember Sophie starting her first day at school. I woke her up and helped her get dressed but she told me in a sleepy voice that she should do it on her own because she needs to practice. I said mummies could help and we exchanged excited secret grins. The morning went smoothly and when we got to school we hung up bags, changed to indoor shoes, positioned her lunch box, gave Sophie a big hug and left. She shouted, “Bye bye mummy, bye bye daddy” and continued exploring the book corner.

Top tips on starting school:
A few days before:

  • Try on the uniform and ensure it fits.
  • Label everything – socks, shoes, lunch box – if it is leaving the house, label it if you ever wish to see it again.
  • Read a few books about starting school and look through the school’s prospectus or website and chat about what happens during the school day.

The day before:

  • Keep this day very calm without seeing friends or dragging them around shops. And don’t talk about school all the time.
  • Lay out her entire uniform including shoes and have her school lunch packed.
  • Have your camera charged and ready.
  • Know what you are going to wear and where your handbag / phone / keys are. There is nothing worse than rushing around flustered and late.

On the day:

  • Dress your child and give her a good breakfast.
  • Allow plenty of time to get to school and take photos.
  • Be excited and don’t let your child see your anxieties, fears or sadness.
  • Take your child into school, settle her and ensure she is sitting with a friend. Give her a quick kiss and GO without becoming emotional or snivelling.
  • Meet up with a friend for coffee and a weep / champagne and celebration depending on your mood.
  • Email family and friends with photos and an update of the big day so far.
  • When fetching your child, give her a big hug but don’t ask too many questions, let time pass and give her space.
  • We have a family First School Day Tea. Pink milk and biscuits are a great way to celebrate.

Feel like you moan and grump at your children all day? Then feel really guilty and mean? This holiday we made a ‘Well Done Chart’. Each family member including parents have a column and every evening we gave each other compliments. It has been fantastic to see a little face light up as you acknowledge their kindness / good behaviour / willingness to help. Another benefit that I hadn’t realised is that I spend my day looking out for things that my children do right. AND it is gratifying when they compliment me and start realising what mums and dads do for them. Ella (aged 3) thanked me daily for helping her ride a bike and James (aged 9) realised what an effort it was to get him replacement shin pads. This chart is a winner! So good in fact we used in on an extended family holiday which was hilarious as the adults had a mutual appreciation society complimenting each other long after the children had gone to bed.