Tag Archive for 'parenting advice'

SAHM Chronicles – What it’s REALLY like

In Annabel Monahgan hilarious article, “An open letter to my husband, don’t ask me what I’m up to today” she highlights how staying at home isn’t all “naps and brunches.”

Whether you are a professional mom on maternity leave or a seasoned Stay at Home parent of multiples, you quickly find out that staying at home with your child is often not as glamorous or as easy as it sounds. Also, the better the parent you try to be, the more work it is (and the less you productive you actually feel)!

Staying at home with your child can be the best job in the world; you get to spend more time with your baby or older kids, no business trips or early morning conference calls to deal with, you can wear anything you want, right? But sometimes it can be the most frustrating and undervalued in terms of feelings of accomplishment and value with no regular office hours and no paycheck to take home. Kids can be more unruly than coworkers and there is nowhere to hide and no one else to blame when things get rough or go wrong. You assume as a woman that mothering and homemaking come naturally so there’s no major learning needed; women have been doing this job for years so how hard can it really be? It’s not like you can get fired, right? But that whole assumption is a myth at best, you may not get fired but your family can give you a lot of grief if things start going haywire so that you wished you could get fired. Staying at home is a job and it is truly a labor of love that often goes unnoticed and underappreciated for all the work it is, mostly by the person doing the work herself.

After reading the satirical article by Annabel Monahgan where she details a few typical days of herself as a SAHM, I could not stop laughing at how closely it resembled many of my days at as a stay at home parent and probably the life of most of the SAHMs I knew. I promptly mass mailed it to everyone I knew who was a fulltime at home parent. Soon afterwards my inbox was flooded with exclamation points in vigorous agreement on the validity of this author’s humorous rant.

My husband did not think Annabel’s article was the least bit funny, and he seemed a bit insulted that I thought it was, that I maybe felt underappreciated in my job as a SAHM as he never minimalized my role (nor did he ask me to be a SAHM, I decided that one myself and spent a good couple of months convincing him and everyone else, namely myself, that it was a good idea).

I told my husband that the point of the article was not about blaming the husband for assuming he is quietly judging the SAHM wife for being unproductive or useless, the husband was in fact the “straight man”, even the “good guy” in this story and never showed any hint of disappointment in his wife’s chosen role, it was about the SAHM wife herself trying to justify her existence and sense of accomplishment in her daily life as it appeared she was doing absolutely nothing (as she was still in her pjs with dirty dishes and needy children at the end of the day when her husband returned home as she was at the start of the day when he left). She had in fact done plenty -racing around kids in and out of school to doctor’s offices, making meal, running necessary errands, doing the dishes, just nothing that seemed very important at the time. Everything she did and needed to do fell below the radar of even mentioning to her husband over coffee on most days of the week unless it was attending a School Board Room Meeting, where she would proudly enunciate Ex-ec-u-tive as part of her title in her appointed position as a school parent on the Board. However, the majority of her mundane and seemingly silly repetitive or stress inducing tasks were highly necessary in order to raise healthy, productive, nourished kids and to keep the house and everyone’s lives running smoothly. This in itself is a daily miraculous feat for any of us although it’s easy to not see or appreciate the effort that goes into this arduous task until you personally experience it first hand, everyday.

What really struck a chord with me (and other SAHM who responded to this article) was the lack of visibility of accomplishments in the mom-job. This is actually true for both working and stay and home moms. The difference is that the fulltime SAHM, unless they are highly secure evolved individuals, not in need of positive reinforce or monetary reward and who truly understand the meaning of life and their important place in the world, have very little tangible and visible day to day proof of their hard work.

For example, unless your house has gone from very messy to clean over the course of the day (which begs the question as to why you allowed it to get messy in the first place or why you haven’t better trained your children put away their clothes and clean up their toys), you generally don’t have a lot of “proof” of your accomplishments from that day, and you certainly don’t have a paycheck to show for it (although you might feel the need to justify the kid’s new spring wardrobe or even worse, new additions to your own wardrobe).

It seems the bar is always being raised for moms, not only are we expected to take care of the kids and their meals as a woman might have over 50 years ago who stayed home with her kids, we are also supposed to prepare meals that are properly balanced in the ever changing food group ideal and prepared according to the current guidelines of what is considered “safe” and “healthy” for your family to consume without some fatal allergic or carcinogenic ingredient. Even if ,say, you cooked a new dish for dinner that was properly organic , glutton free and vegan with the right balance of carbohydrates and protein according the food pyramid du jour, you have not really nailed it completely as a model SAHM. To be truly accomplished in this endeavor you must encourage your kids and husband to sit down at the table together politely and with good table manners (that in itself a monumental task), have everyone enjoy and eat all of the said meal while remarking nicely over its flavor and finish said meal on time before carting the kids off to their next activity or helping finish a homework assignment and or get kids showered and changed into pajamas AND get all of those dishes and counter tops cleaned up before bedtime before it could really be said to be a job well done with today’s high standards and expectations for parents, particularly moms. But you ask yourself as devil’s advocate, isn’t feeding your kids and family a nutritious meal on time just part of the job description of SAHM, not something you should get kudos for – just feeding the family dinner right? It’s not like you got a raise, promotion or invented a patent…

Of course the professional parent has the same dilemma for mealtime, but I know when I was professional parent I cut myself a lot more slack and leaned on my husband a lot more for meal preparation. It really boils down to self-assessment and expectations, which can feel insurmountable if we believe the myths of our culture.

So the measure of success is difficult for a SAHM and since no one is really interested in measuring it besides you, it usually boils down to you yourself being your own boss and oftentimes a pretty tough one when it comes to self-reviews of job performance. It’s a very ambiguous area, although it is clear when you are truly slacking and have missed the mark in certain areas…Like when the school calls to tell you that Johnny has been waiting at the school office to be picked up for the past 45 minutes and you forgot it was Tuesday when he doesn’t take the bus home. Now not only is Johnny late for soccer practice he is pretty grumpy at being forgotten and abandoned at school when you yourself told him you would arrive early to get him first thing in school carpool pickup lane that day. Instead he had to sit glumly as the minutes ticked away on the big school office clock as an unclaimed child next to the humorless office clerk who was not too thrilled with his humorless company either.

Or, you know you missed the mark when you get a stack of library notices in your kids’ take home folder that indicate that every one of your children have overdue books from the beginning of the school year that are not to be found in your house ANYWHERE at all. None of them. Also you owe the library double the costs of each one of these books although they would really prefer that you find and return the actual books themselves. But they are NOWHERE. You have checked in your kids’ backpack and all over your house, every room, drawer, under the kids’ beds, bookshelves, laundry bins, trash cans, outside in the backyard sandbox, nowhere. How big of a personal check do you need to write the library and how big of an apology do you need to give to the homeroom teacher and librarian to cover this mess of incompetence? Should you buy all the books on Amazon with overnight shipping to quickly assuage this debt to the struggling school library and your struggling ego as a responsible parent? Heck, this sin cancels out your week of volunteering at the School Book Fare last month!

Or how about the day when you forget to pack your child’s snack AND lunch which you only happen to find out about en route to dance class when your daughter casually mentions to you that she has not eaten ALL DAY as she did not have a lunch or snack at school (or think to buy one on credit or have the school call you) and is REALLY hungry! When you return home later you discover the untouched lunch box and pristine brown snack bag sitting innocently on the kitchen counter where it was neatly packed that morning and where it was unclaimed by your child and never placed in their backpack as they were running late to the bus that morning. It was also never noticed by you in the midst of your whirlwind morning routine. How did this slip through the cracks?

Or worse, your kid comes home sunburned from school and you later read the teacher email sent out to all the class parents cautioning that the kids should be sure to wear sunscreen to school along with their long distance running shoes with the current surprise heat wave that’s going on and with outdoor PE at noon as they are still running laps on the black asphalt on Wednesdays despite the warmer weather. You KNOW the email is targeted to you alone and that every parent on the mailing list who picked up their child at school that day MUST know it too as they have also seen your red-faced blond headed child sitting on the curb at the afternoon carpool pickup. Yes it’s easy to get a little paranoid or self critical. These are the days that you feel you have truly “failed” on the job and there are no two ways about it, because on these days even the President knows you do not deserve your title as “Mom” and the school principal himself must be calling Child Protective Services at this moment. But somehow the sun goes up the next day and you have a blank slate to start the day with and a chance to raise the bar and tally up some “Good Mommy Points”, although only you are really keeping score, right?

So it goes in the life of the Stay at Home Mom. But again, this is often a self-chosen profession, so no pity parties here and most of us are grateful for the privilege, although we do have our days in our pjs doing dishes at night when we wonder, what did we accomplish today? Just remind yourself, plenty.

The Mommy Guilt Syndrome – Good or Bad?

According to many polls, it is surveyed that as many as 94% of moms feel guilty about some aspect of their parenting. This guilt ranges from the amount of time they spend with their kids, the way they feed their kids (breast milk or formula, nutritious or junk food), to the type of diapers they use on their kids (environmentally friendly), yelling at kids, leaving kids at daycare of with another caregiver, the list goes on. There is always something to feel guilty about.

My advice as a Mom of 3 to new and first time parents is that there are no perfect parents and no perfect kids. No matter how perfectly you try to parent your kids they will not be perfect and neither will you. You can try to do your best most of the time. However, there are days when those standards will have to slip.

Today I was home with my sick 4 year old and I am recovering from minor leg surgery from a few days ago. Although I can hobble around a bit, I am supposed to sit still and let the wound heal. My son has plenty of other plans as his fever seemed to have cleared as soon as the School Bus drove past our front door. After a few games of Hedbanz and Lincoln Logs in addition to me hobbling about to fetch snacks, feed the cat and make lunch, I decided to call it a day. My son was treated to his favorite Ninjago Snake Attack Movie that I only very sparingly let him see, not only because these Ninjas are excessively violent at times but mainly because my off the charts snake phobia. But after feeling the twinge or two of pain in my leg and the even more pronounced twinge or two of excessive boredom in my brain from hours of mind numbing games (that I felt guilty I should not be feeling), I threw in the towel and allowed him to indulge in several hours of these movie festivities while I retreated to another room, well away from the attacking snakes video.

Did I feel guilty about this? Not a lot, maybe a little. Am I a bad parent? I don’t think so. If I did this every day, then yes I think that would be detrimental to my child’s development and show a serious lack of effort on my part. But once in a while, when we both really deserve it, sure, no harm done. However, if you were to ask me this question 6 years ago when my oldest son was this age, you would have gotten a very different answer. Yes, I would have felt incredibly guilty if I did anything like this, but this scenario would never have occurred. First we would not have had any movies of this type in our house, nor would we have access to NetFlix and not in a million years could he watch anything other than educational TV, Bob the Builder or The Wiggles (now I am burnt out on all of the above). Second I would have used this time as an opportunity for him to work on his coloring, or for me to home school him on adding and subtracting with string and pegs (yes, I was one of those “Tiger-like” Moms), although he would not learn these skills in school for another year or so. But I am a different parent at 44 and with my third child, who also has a very different temperament than my first child and does not find hours of adding games all that fun after a few minutes, nor do I at this stage. So in this case I think my degree of guilt has subsided with age, experience and number of children.

Many people might mistake me as a deadbeat parent to my youngest child on certain days of the week or hours during the day. I disagree. I actually believe my less stressed out and more laissez faire approach (or less present approach as I am parenting two other children with their own plates full of activities, homework and playdates), has encouraged my son to do more for himself. He knows that Mommy is not hopping around the house to anticipate his every need. So yes, he has a few more sugar snacks than the other two would have at his age (they had none other than fruit!). He has a little more TV time that usually is not educational and I do not drill him on reading and math all the time (although his siblings like to try their hand at homeschooling him from time to time with varying levels of success or dispute, depending on the day). I do however make sure he is safe, cared for, loved and feed every day which I think is the primary responsibility of any parent.

On the flip side my youngest is remarkably helpful and self-sufficient. He helps me with many chores, loves to help with cooking/mixing and baking things, he helps with the dishes, cleans his room, vacuums and dusts, dresses himself, makes his bed and is overall a very confident kid, proud of what he can do like his big brother and sister (and sometimes better). Maybe he has a few more scrapped knees and maybe his outfits don’t always coordinate perfectly, but I am pretty sure he will be able to do his own laundry and cook for himself by the time he goes off to college as he’s well on his way to mastering those skills now. Plus I can daydream that one day his future wife, my future daughter in law, will profusely thank me for raising such a self-sufficient guy while I nod knowingly.

On the other hand, guilt is not always a bad thing if it is used wisely and in proper context. Guilt is an internal alert system our body has to tell us that something is potentially wrong and we need to address it. It is a sign our body uses to encourage us to get on the right track and change a behavior, or make a different choice. Maybe we shouldn’t trust a particular caregiver. Maybe Johnny does need to eat healthier and cut back on the junk food. Yes we should watch what we put into our bodies when we are pregnant and stop dangerous habits like smoking or drinking too much. But we also have our common sense to override that guilt and cut ourselves some slack from time to time (not in smoking), but in most of our parenting decisions. Overall parents who apply love, consistency, their best instincts and joy to the job are on the right track any day of the week. We all need our cheat days every now and then to recharge. As long as our baby/child is safe and well cared for, I think we can cut ourselves some slack from time to time.

Are Your Baby and Maternity Clothes Really Clean?

We all know that once you become a parent your laundry volume goes through the roof. Even pregnancy seems to be a precursor for the greater amount of laundry with maternity clothes generally being larger then our pre-pregnancy wardrobe and more frequent wardrobe changes. More body temperature changes and generally running at a higher temperature leads to increased sweating and often greater body discomfort (or fussiness with the way our clothes look on our changing body) which all lead to our laundry bins filling up quicker.

Taking care of a newborn just adds to the laundry pile with babies spitting up on their clothes, blowing out diapers, drooling and generally getting messy as they begin to crawl. Also we all know it is fun to change those cute baby clothes several times a day and show off our newborn in cute clean clothes to friends and family. It can often feel like we are raising a movie star as we shuffle our baby through multiple wardrobe changes gifted from baby showers before they outgrow the outfits in the next week.

As every new mom knows, staying ahead of the laundry can quickly become a fulltime job that never seems to end. If you are like me and most moms out there you probably feel just putting the clothes through the laundry machine with the right amount of detergent is getting them clean. You are also probably patting yourself on the back when you finally get through the overflowing bin of dirty clothes and have returned them nicely folded to the respective shelves and drawers.

It seems we are mistaken. Recent research by the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) indicates that we may not be doing the laundry right. If we are using cold water with antibacterial detergent we are not getting our clothes as clean as we think. We are in fact putting dirty clothes right back on our body and even worse, on our babies.
First when it comes to the water temperature we are washing our clothes in, we need to go hotter. “If you’re putting clothes in cold water, you aren’t getting rid of bacteria,” Marcelle Pick, an ob-gyn and pediatric nurse practitioner at the Women to Women health care center in Yarmouth, Maine says. “For babies, their clothes tend to be more contaminated, so you should definitely wash using hotter temperatures.”

Cute onesies and adorable stuffed animals may look clean and you may hesitate to inflict a hot water machine wash on them, but there’s a good chance that they contain bacteria (and often the really bad kind, from feces). Of course you cannot throw all stuffed animals in the wash, but at least wipe with warm soapy water and make sure they thoroughly dry before you hand them back to your baby to cuddle.
According to the ACI’s recommendations for laundry procedures, cold water can be used to presoak items that have been heavily soiled (especially of the pee and poop variety). However we should use hot water in addition to detergent and bleach, if necessary, to thoroughly sanitize and disinfect dirty laundry.

The second step is using an effective detergent. Ed Osann from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior water policy analyst, explains, “Warm or even hot water is not hot enough to sterilize clothes exposed to fecal matter. If detergent is formulated for comparable effectiveness in cold water, then no extra benefit would be expected from warm water use.”
Contrary to what many of us would consider common sense, Osann advised avoiding antibacterial detergents as they actually promote growth of resistant bacteria. He also recommended thoroughly drying clothes in the dryer.

How frequently should we wash our clothing? It depends on what it is. The ACI recommends washing clothes more frequently that are tighter fitting and more likely to carry more bacteria. In our baby’s case, that would be just about everything but jackets, extra layer sweaters or flowy dresses that are not soiled. For ourselves and older children, items like underwear, socks, tanks and T-shirts, tights and even jeggings should be cleaned after each wear. Other items such as jeans and khakis can get 3-4 wears before they need to be cleaned. Towels should be hung to dry after each use and should also be washed every 3-4 days, especially if they are used by kids. Bed sheets should be washed at least every two weeks and more frequently if you sweat a lot, which is common during pregnancy and postpartum.

The next step is maintaining a clean washing and dryer by setting up a regular sanitizing routine. Clothes will get only as clean as the machine allows. Every week, or more if you do tons of laundry, you should run an empty cycle with your washer using hot water along with bleach and detergent to disinfect the washer (some washing machines have a sanitizing cycle labeled on the machine). Next be sure to run an extra rinse cycle to make sure the bleach is completely flushed out. After that it is a good idea to start off by washing your whites with hot water and detergent as there still may be some bleach remaining in the machine from disinfecting. After washing, dry your whites on high for 45 minutes to sanitize your dryer. This way your laundry machine and dryer are sanitized for the rest of your laundry.

When the weather is nice and sunny, you can be more eco-friendly approach to save energy by washing in warm water and line-drying in the sun. The good news is that as your children get older and out of diapers, there are less of the particularly bad bacteria types to contend with, so washing in warm water may do the trick most of the time.

Remember husbands and older kids can do the laundry too, so don’t hesitate to train as needed and delegate. Just make sure they know the laundry for optimal cleanliness.