Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Making the most of the Home Years

While I was on spring break, I thought a lot about you veteran moms.

One of them is my friend Kelly. Her kids are 7, 5, 2-1/2 and 5 months. Kelly is in the “kid zone.” She’s taking care of two in diapers, so she tries to stay very organized. She has "days" for certain things, like grocery shopping, laundry and errands, but mostly, she says, “I just like being home.”

I like watching Kelly, because she is not a hapless victim to her children’s every whim. She knows what she wants, knows how to say “no,” and because of this, she gets a lot done. She's resigned to the limitations of her job, but doesn't focus on that. She has found a good spot for herself, and is making the most of these years.

I whined a lot during the Home Years - the decade or so when I had several children, but none could be left unattended. While I hated the Act of God it took to get to the dentist, make a hair appointment, or go to the bathroom in peace (hey, wait, I still have that problem!), looking back on that time, I realized they were some of the most productive of all my mothering years!

Why? Here are at least a few reasons:
  • I was forced to keep a schedule because of babies. No matter what I’d been doing or where I’d been, I made sure my little ones got at least an afternoon nap in their own bed. We worked hard to make sure the kids had a regular bedtime. Mercy, I wish my teens would go to bed at 8:00 again!

    I am one of those people that needs a deadline - imaginary or otherwise. Weirdly enough, knowing my time was going to be chopped up actually made me plan better and get things done more efficiently.

  • Few outside activities. As you know, I am not a big proponent of outside preschool activities. And I was too busy during the day, or it seemed like someone was always sick for a few years there, for me to take on much volunteer work. Our evenings and Saturdays were free to get things done.

  • It was just easier to be home. I was tired. I didn't want to lift, haul, carry and cajole four or five kids on a two-hour grocery expedition. I simply didn’t go out a lot during the week, and saved errands for weekends, or I asked Dennis stop and pick things up for me on the way home from work. He did the grocery shopping for me for NINE years. Yup. I love that man.
I sat down the other day to took an honest look at some of the things I learned during the Home Years. I was shocked! I started out in the Dark Years and ended up a Veteran Mom!

Here is a selected sample of things that can be done in one- to two-hour spurts with children underfoot "helping" and/or napping:

Cooking. Since I was stuck at home, I might as well cook. We were always short of cash, so I checked out cookbooks from the library. I overcame my fear of the backyard grill. My kids loved helping in the kitchen; now the big kids are very creative and can follow a recipe (or not) with no help.

Routines, skills and family traditions. Even though you may feel out of control at times, my experience is that you will never have as much control of your family’s schedule than you do when your kids are all under age 7 or 8. Kids at this age thrive on routine, so this is the time to put some things in place: Where things go, what we do when, how we treat each other, and what special things make our family TOTALLY COOL. Things like bedtime stories, Friday night breakfast night, tickle time with Daddy create fond memories that bring years of dividends down the road.

Gardening. If I had to be outside with little ones, why not make the place look spiffy? I planted my first shrub when Allie-15 was a baby, and it was downhill from there. What started out as a harmless pastime has morphed into a plant obsession and resulted in three (very simple, very cheap) re-landscaped houses. Unfortunately, nowadays when my kids see springtime coming they hide from me so they don’t get conscripted into digging service…

Haircutting. After being sorely disappointed with Allie's-15 "first hair cut" at the hairdresser's, I thought, "I can do better than that!!" I still cut the three younger girls' hair. I never cut Neal's-14 hair until this year, when he assured me his 14-year-old friend did his brother's with a clippers. That's all the challenge I needed!

Painting. We’ve always lived in fixer-uppers, and it drove me crazy waiting for the “perfect” time to get with Dennis to do projects around the house. In another, “I can’t take it anymore” moment, I painted the paneling in our 1974 house – two coats of oil-based primer and two coats of oil-based paint (each with 24-hour dry times) – by getting up before 6:00 and getting a coat on a section before fixing the kids breakfast, and another after they went to bed.

Power tools. Dennis’s favorite story to tell is this: He was sitting in a meeting with several co-workers when I called from home. He put the phone on speakerphone, only to hear me say, “Hey Babe, how do you start this chainsaw?” Hey, why should guys have all the fun?

(If this is overwhelming to you, realize these projects took place over a period of ten years or so….)

Maybe your deal isn’t manual labor like mine is – maybe it’s scrapbooking, or photography or writing a novel. During the Home Years my sister Rachel Anne started painting – something that has gone from a hobby to a source of income for their family. My friend Kelly makes and sells beautiful candles.

I think it's easy for Veteran Moms to become discouraged because the needs are so great and the work is never-ending. If you let it, it can just suck the life right out of you. You could almost begin to believe you HAVE NO LIFE.

But that's not true. There ARE some things we can do that we enjoy, that do not take us away from our families. There are things that bring pleasure and beauty and meaning. There are things that we need to do just because. It just takes some extra planning to make it happen.

I think it’s good for us as moms to have interests outside of laundry and dishes and children.

And I think it is good for our kids to see that we have interests outside of laundry and dishes and what makes them happy. Besides, a happy mom tends to have happier kids, anyway. I'm just sayin'.

Of course, everything in balance (PLEASE don't send me hate mail!). My kids roll their eyes when I look at paint chips or a plant catalog, but when the project is over and the dust settles, they are proud of me and what I have done. So am I.

Do I have every dish and every clothing item washed when I work on these projects? No. Do I always cook the most nutritious meals? No. Do my children always love that I am not always at their beck and call when I am working on these projects? No.

Will my children remember it? No. But they might remember that mom was passionate about something, and that will inspire them more than you know.

I'd like to challenge you to think of something you enjoy - something you've wanted to do but just thought it was too overwhelming with kids in tow. Start small, and make plans to work it into your life!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Doing projects with kids around

How does your home operate?
The $50 landscape
Weekly planning for moms

What are some things you have done that you thought you couldn't do with little kids at home, and how have you managed it?


Cassandra said...

This post is just one of the reasons I think you and your blog are just awesome...I have never sat and really thought about what I have learned (and am still learning) during these home years...shoot! I decided to take college classes online during these years...and am learning much of the same things you mentioned...thank you so much for a new are so good at that... :)

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

You are SO absolutely right! I love this! Sometimes I do get bummed thinking about all the volunteer work and ministry work I could be doing if only . . .

Thank you for helping me to see the benefits of being at home and focusing on the ministry IN my home.

Something particularly striking - my daughters have inspired the two most important hobbies/past-times in my life right now - photography and writing. What did I have to shoot pictures of before my beautiful girls arrived? What on earth did I have to write about before I became a mother?

So uplifting. Great links, too. Thanks, mama!

Peapod Four said...

I love the encouragement you give on your blog. It's honestly inspiring. I love being home with my kids. I've turned down many opportunities, including good things like MOPS, just to treasure the time with my kids. My husband does a lot of grocery shopping too! : ) and I'm so grateful. Thanks for writing about this.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing the things I can get done with the kids. I've done tons of gardening/landscaping, sewing, writing, etc. I think it is important for mom to have these things too. I'm not at a stage to get much done right now but thats OK. You remind me that I'll have plenty of years to come!

Ginger said...

Hi Katherine, It's been 'one of THOSE days'. The kids are in bed and I'm wondering if I've permanently ruined them, and hoping they are still young enough to not remember a day like today where Mommy lost her patience. Ann, over at Holy Experience, linked to your post: Shelter is a not a Place, it's a Relationship. Wow. I needed to hear those words, along with this post. It was like a virtual hug. Thank you for your reasurring, encouraging, get your eyes back on what's important, get your 'butt' in gear, 'sermons'. Both posts were just what I needed!
I so appreciate you taking the time to come alongside those of us in the diapering trenches.

momoffouratfifty said...

As a new mom of four kids (4-12) I'm always thrilled with the advice you give - so wish you were my neighbor!

I'd like to hear more from moms of many who are also working full time outside of the home. I definitely do not have the planning aspect down and could use a mentor!

My Pink Boutique said...

Great post Catherine. Probably the most challenging of projects that I've undertaken is to have a home based online business. I've built my company from the ground up. Some of the lessons I've learned: the best way to photograph my products, Photoshop, how to build my website template, SEO (when I started I didn't even know what those 3 little letters meant let alone that the phrase existed and might actually be very important to me), marketing and more. Through it all G-d has guilded me and taught me. I'm blessed.

Sarah @ said...

I'm still waiting on my baby, but this inspires me more than you know. It's know that there are moms that find new hobbies and activities even when their children are still small.

Thanks so much for this post, seriously, thank you.

Jen @ Rolling Through Looneyville said...

This post was perfectly in line with what I needed to hear. I told my husband all about it and how it affirmed in me that it's ok not to work-work-work all day long. Sometimes, because I don't ever get everything done, I get completely frustrated or feel pretty discouraged.

It spurred a great conversation with my husband where I was able to hear his expectations and be totally surprised at how different they were from what I assumed, (and what they were before we had kids and even when we first married). It was wonderful to hear his reassurance as well.

And believe me, this summer, when my kids are 3, barely 1, and a newborn, I'm going to come back to this and re-remind myself :)

Keri said...

Katherine, I haven't commented on your blog in ages, but I have to thank you (and the good Lord) for the timeliness of this post. Yesterday had some extremely frustrating moments with my kids(almost-5 yrs, 2.5yrs, and 10 months), and the word "TRAPPED" kept flashing like a neon light in the front of my brain. If the authorities read the entry in my prayer journal from yesterday, they may well haul me away and lock me up.

I have asked my husband to help me schedule some "retreat time" at Starbucks when he's home on vacation in a couple of weeks. I'm adding this post to my list of things to read and think about during that time! Thank you so much!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Katherine! I have about a billion miles of trim to putty and paint in our new house, and I needed a kick in the pants to motivate me! It's too tempting with little kids underfoot to say with a dramatic sigh, "I'll just nevah get that done!"

Well, here I go.


Polly said...

Thank you so much, I am going to bookmark this page and come back to it often. I'm in the thick of kidville right now with 7,6,5,3, and 1 y.o. Your words could not have come at a better time! I really do want to treasure these times the Lord is giving our family, in the midst of the exhaustion. And, you're right, I have learned a lot of really cool DIY things already. Now, I am looking forward to learning even more! Thanks, again!