I’ve been a work-outside-the-home mom, a part-time working mom, a work-at-home mom, a stay-at-home mom and several variations of those combined. Any way I choose to spend my days, parenting small children is hard work. It’s exhausting, yet so rewarding at the same time.
Babies are wonderful, but besides the adorable smiles and snuggles, it’s pretty much a one-way relationship with moms putting in all of the effort. Sometime around 12 months when my first baby was starting to communicate, I began to reap the rewards of my mothering efforts with high fives, hugs and kisses.
As she gets older, I find the reward of motherhood in other ways like when I see her comfort a crying friend or help her brother when he is in need. Preschoolers are lovely little people with ideas and goals of their own, but still watching and learning from those around them.
I love the concept that we are not raising children, we are raising adults. I think this age is so eye-opening and provides a glimpse into the kind of adults they will become.
I quit working in an office when my first baby was about eight months old. I took my job as a “stay-at-home mom” very seriously and dove headfirst into playgroups, story time at the library, MOPS, Spanish playdates- anything to get out of the house.
At the time, getting out of the house was exactly what we both needed. I had only a handful of friends with children, and nobody especially close that could relate so meeting other moms was invaluable. It was also pretty boring to be at home alone with a baby. I gave up having the TV on as background noise in favor of classical music when Gabriella was born, but with just the two of us in the house during the day, it was always quiet and felt a bit lonely.
Somewhere along my journey, I’ve experienced a shift. With a three year old and a nine month old, our house is rarely quiet and there is always something to do. Between my husband’s demanding work schedule, going to the gym, keeping up our garden, cooking from scratch for a family of four, homeschooling and cleaning the house, our plates are full.
I find that instead of being drawn to playdates and field trips and getting out of the house, what we really need is more time at home. A few months ago, I decided to cut back our social activities and make a commitment to be an actual stay-at-home mom. You know, one that actually stays at home unless there are obligations we can’t avoid outside of the home.
I’ve noticed tremendous benefits for the whole family with this new approach and have four reasons I think all moms could be better parents by intentionally creating free time at home:
1. Staying at home fosters a child’s creative spirit through free play.
When we spend unstructured time at home, I am amazed at the creative play that takes place. Without the distractions from TV or electronics, my 3.5 year old lets her imagination run wild. In one afternoon she can take a trip to Boston, cook up a delicious meal at a restaurant, simultaneously put 12 babies down for a nap and hide in a cave with bears.
Studies show that play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. By over-scheduling our lives, we are taking away opportunities for child-driven play where children are free to be themselves, explore with minimal rules and let their imagination and creativity flow.
The benefits of play:
Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time and effort to provide opportunities for play either through playdates with friends, child-friendly activities at local attractions and with educational toys and activities at home. While there is a place for all of those things in our lives, I believe unstructured play at home should play the biggest role in my preschooler’s free time.
2. Staying at home allows for less stress from household duties.
Simply being a mom is a full-time job and adding in household responsibilities can be stressful. When we’ve been gone all day, cooking and cleaning often get pushed to the back burner. I have an amazing husband who gladly helps out with the dishes, washing diapers and tidying up toys at the end of the night, but after working a full day himself, he deserves a break too.
As a working mom, evenings and weekends can fill easily with errands and family activities which means time at home can be minimal and requires productivity to ensure everything gets done. The moms I know who work outside the home rarely enjoy down time at home because there is just too much to be done.
When my husband spends time with our children, he often marvels at the fact that I can spend my days with the kids and still manage to cook and clean. The truth is that I don’t focus on playing with them 100 percent like he does.
There is a strong case for encouraging children to play independently, and I find that once my preschooler is “in the zone” of playing she doesn’t need or want my interruptions. This allows me to focus on my own priorities for a while and allows her the freedom to be the ruler of her kingdom through play.
I don’t ignore my children and certainly the baby needs more tending than the preschooler, but for the most part I let them play on their own at home. My daughter will sometimes narrate her playtime for me, “I’m getting on the airplane. Bye!” and sometimes she does want me to participate, which I gladly do as a follower and not a leader.
I have found that when we stay home more, I am able to accomplish more on my to-do list which means we can relax and spend time as a family when daddy gets home instead of rushing to get everything done.
3. Staying at home saves money.
I don’t have any large-scale research efforts to back this point up, but my bank account is evidence enough for me! Since we have made an effort to stay at home more, I spend less money on frequent trips to the grocery store, on kid-friendly activities and attractions, and we spend less on eating at restaurants.
One of my favorite books, Simplicity Parenting, has a whole chapter devoted to the rhythms of simple everydays. While it is sometimes fun to go visit the zoo or get a new toy, those are not the things our children will remember and are not the things that will shape their character into who we want them to be.
“In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trips to Disneyland, but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes.”
― Kim John Payne
4. Staying at home encourages attachment.
Most of us recognize the importance of bonding with a new baby and ensuring a deep connection with a caregiver, but I have found it is harder to intentionally nourish a strong attachment as the baby grows into a child. Especially when we’re running from one place to the next or trying to hurry out the door and now that I have a second child, moments where I can focus one-on-one with my preschooler are increasingly more difficult.
When we spend more time at home, I feel more available to play with my children and give them my undivided attention. Many of the challenges parents of toddlers and preschoolers face can be positively impacted by focusing on nurturing the parent-child relationship. Filling my three year old’s emotional tank with love and connection throughout the day results in less tears and fewer struggles.
Seek out your child’s company (when she isn’t demanding it) with an invitation to do something unexpected like playing a game of checkers or heading to the park. When you generously seek one-on-one time with your youngster, she feels liked, cherished and nourished.”
We spent six months doing weekly play therapy sessions, and one of the biggest lessons I learned is that play is the language of childhood. I like to compare it to my Spanish-speaking abilities. I know a lot of Spanish words and I can communicate on a basic level, but I am uncomfortable doing so. I probably can get the gist of the message across, but I know a native speaker is probably giggling a bit inside when I talk.
There is so much about that communication that happens in the little nuances of language and at three or four years old, preschoolers are not capable of understanding and using spoken language the way adults are. My daughter has been speaking in sentences since about 14 months old so this has nothing to do with their verbal abilities, it’s strictly emotional.
Our play therapists always said that when children play, we are peeking through a window into their hearts. Through play, I can love, understand and connect with my daughter in ways that could never happen through our words.