When I made the decision to leave the workforce and stay home after I had children, I had two major hurdles to tackle beyond keeping my little humans alive. First was how to manage my own time, and second was finding a reason to wear actual pants.
I no longer had the external motivations imposed by my boss for meeting deadlines, nor the compliments from coworkers regarding my sartorial choices. The truth was my children didn’t care what I looked like or whether my plans for the day fell apart.
It was easy to conclude that these things don’t matter, and to put the needs of my kids above such trivial stuff. If we were beings composed of matter alone, that would be true. But our nature is both matter and spirit, and as such we have inherent dignity that we must work to maintain.
My husband has often mentioned to me the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz. He was captured by Frankl’s experience of shaving every day in the camp, even with ice cold water, and how that simple act became an affirmation of his humanity and thus helped him survive. Frankl’s experiences and subsequent psychological research are collectively titled logotherapy, which articulates among other principles, that even in the face of suffering without an end in sight, we can and should find worth and meaning in our existence.
I by no means suggest that being a stay at home parent is akin to the Holocaust. But, as more states are extending the stay-at-home orders, I find Frankl’s theories beneficial to consider in our present global pandemic.
Keeping Up Appearances.
I learned quickly as a SAHM that if I did not intentionally take time to myself every day, I gradually lost my sense of dignity which had a dramatic negative effect on the way I treated my family. I had to recognize the connection between affirming my personal dignity and meeting my family’s needs with patience and love.
Don’t worry, this is not where I suggest we all become June Cleaver. Nor do I recommend that you adopt a particular “beauty” routine, especially if makeup and frilly dresses aren’t your thing. What I do recommend is a hygiene routine. After all, personal hygiene is a good habit we want to pass on to our kids, so modelling it is important. Take a shower, put on clean(ish) clothes and deodorant, and brush your teeth. If you’re not you when you’re hungry, make sure you eat 3 meals a day, and snacks when needed. Not always easy, but simple. Be flexible and practical when looking at your day to decide when it’s feasible for you to do these things, but do them. Every day.
Of course, if there are days where you can or want to go beyond the bare necessities, do it with gusto. Wear the cuter T-shirt, put on those fun earrings, freshen up your days-old bun with a scrunchy (cause they’re back!). Maintaining a wardrobe that is both classic and practical will go miles in making this feasible. And I don’t care what anyone says, these efforts have a positive impact on your mood.
You can apply this to your home as well. Making your bed as soon as you rise, picking wildflowers for your dining table while you’re at the park, or teaching (and helping) your kids to pick up their toys and crafts after playing are simple ways to maintain personal responsibility and beauty in the midst of chaos.
For me, establishing a prayer routine has always been easier said than done. A prayer plan that is not practical will not be consistent, and consistent contact with God is paramount when life demands that you give of yourself constantly.
A rosary takes about 20 minutes, a Divine Mercy chaplet around 10. Reading the gospel of the day with a short reflection is 15 minutes tops. Choose something that helps you connect with God, and a time you can realistically do it – then do it. Yes, it requires discipline. I am not a morning person, but I have found that getting up before I get my kids, taking a shower and talking to God over coffee sets my day off on a much better track.
Probably the most beautiful and consistent opportunity for prayer will come from moments that deepen your understanding of God as your Father. Days when I’m about to snap from the incessant demands, I realize my children are showing me the truth of “ask and you shall receive”. Or when my kids look me dead in the face and do the thing I just told them not to, I recall the times I have flagrantly disobeyed or didn’t trust what God commanded out of love and ask forgiveness. The best is when I get to relish just watching my kids play, and remember that God watches me with the same joy. Granted, there have been days where the only minute I had to myself was when I shut myself in the bathroom to pee. I definitely take the opportunity to send up a quick “Hey God, yea, it’s been a day.”
Prayer is absolutely essential right now, and barriers to beginning a routine are not evidence that you have no time, but that Satan is trying to prevent you. Just begin. Something small, practical and consistent that gives God access to your day.
You’re Part of a Team.
As mothers, we tend to be the primary caretakers of our kids. It’s just part of our nature as women to respond almost instinctively to the needs of others, and I’m all about playing to our natural strengths. But do not forget that through your marriage, you are part of a team. It’s commonly said that children need a mother and a father, but we can forget the very practical and tangible reality of what that means.
Obviously, things will look different in every home, and it may come easier for some than others. I’ll give a few examples of what this looks like for us. On weekends, my husband gets the kids up in the morning and takes over making lunch so I can take a break from being constantly needed. He’ll take the kids to the park so I can clean without worrying about them getting into the cleaning supplies, or so I can write or paint in peace. We trade off getting ready for church on Sundays so I can take a shower, and do my hair and makeup (yes, even in quarantine). These little things make a world of difference, giving breathing room when needed, and reaffirming that we have each others’ backs in this parenting gig.
My husband doesn’t do many things the way that I do them when he takes over, but that’s kind of the whole point. Earning the paycheck and keeping the home are tasks we’ve divided between us. But the kids are our mutual responsibility.
If there is one absolute rule in the life of a stay-at-home parent it is: don’t make absolute rules. The mark of a good parent is flexibility and adaptability. Rigidity will turn your house into the Von Trapp mansion pre-Maria: highly functional, but devoid of joy. Routines and standards are important to keep, but they must be adjusted or thrown over entirely as different needs, developmental stages or emergencies are encountered. A schedule is never more important than giving and receiving love.
Staying home has made it painfully clear that we are not the machines our corporate mentality would have us think we are. We have limits, and it takes time to adjust from thinking of life purely in terms of production and output. As a line from a commercial once noted, we are human beings, not human doings.
As you adjust to this new reality with all of its uncertainty, remember that taking time for yourself – and allowing others in your home to do the same – is not selfish. It is a necessary part of keeping love at the heart of your home.