As I’m writing this (it’s publishing about a month later), it’s my three-year-old’s last day at the daycare he’s attended since he was 14 months old.
It is the same daycare his older sister attended since she was his same age. I’m feeling all of the emotions about saying goodbye and ending this chapter of my family’s life.
At the same time, I’ve felt for a while that it’s time for a change. So, he’ll be home with me for the next 8 months until he attends a new preschool in the fall.
It wasn’t an easy decision (it was what I was wrestling with when I wrote this post) to make. But I think it’ll be a positive thing for our family. Me, however — I’m less sure about how I’ll handle this period.
What I worry about with staying at home
I am, frankly, pretty nervous about this. It’s a big change to have my son at home with me all day. And as I wrote in a previous post, working has been what I’ve wanted as a mom… and I’m worried about how to make staying at home (SAH) work for me.
So I figured I’d write it all out as a way to organize my strategies and make a plan to get through it. Hence, more of a freewheeling, stream-of-thought life update than usual.
Staying at home isn’t my jam
This won’t be the first time, or even the longest period, thet I’ve had a child at home with me with me as the primary caregiver.
I’ve tried my hand at the stay-at-home (actually, mostly work-at-home-with-kids) thing enough that I know what to expect. And to know that it’s not for me.
I managed to eek out some productivity and get business taken care of even when it was just me at home for five hours of the day. But with a kid around making messes and needing attention, it’s so much harder to get to other important tasks.
So I know getting through this is going to require a lot of me. I’ll really need to beef up my planning, scheduling, managing muscles — and there’s bound to be some soreness, aches, and pains at the start.
Toddlers are impossible
When I’ve had a kid at home with me before, it has been when they were younger — babies. Needing more attention but honestly, easier to entertain and contain.
Less likely to disappear into the kitchen and sneak chocolate chips or sprinkles out of the baking cupboard. Less tempting to stick in front of a movie to just get some peace and quiet. Won’t immediately dump out the bin of toys after I spent an hour cleaning the family room. Can actually be counted on to take a nap.
So that’s one big change: I don’t know how to be at home with a three-year-old. It could be easier in some ways, but more challenging and demanding in others.
I don’t want to sideline personal projects
Then there’s work. I’ve kept my freelancing workload fairly low on purpose already. But now, I worry about what the tradeoffs might be for staying at home.
Specifically, I worry about Brave Saver. How or if it’s even possible to balance paid work and my blog while living the stay-at-home-parent life during these eight months. A little terrified that if something has to go, it will be this corner of the internet I’ve been building.
My mental health might suffer
I also worry about how having my son at home will impact how I’m managing stress and my mental health.
First, there’s the isolation. As an extrovert, even working from home has always been tough for me. But now, I am tethered to a tiny human. No more heading to a coffee shop to work a little and soak up human interaction by osmosis. No more midday lunch dates to catch up with friends.
Already I’m struggling with setting unrealistic expectations for myself. I’ve locked into an overly-optimistic fantasy of how my days will go. A beautiful schedule perfectly followed. Well-behaved children and an unending well of patience on my part.
And when things don’t meet that standard, it can get ugly. You know, the usual cocktail of failure, misery, self-recrimination, and so on. I’m so much further along with my coping skills, and can get myself out of a toxic shame spiral more quickly these days. But it can still hurt.
I might fail
Most of all, I’m afraid of failing. Of failing my three-year-old son by being distracted, or impatient, or not providing enough engagement. Of failing my husband by not managing this situation well and turning into a stressed-out and miserable spouse.
And of failing myself. That this manageable shift in our lifestyle will mean I’m less happy, less fulfilled, and take me further from achieving my personal goals and aims.
What if I treat child care like baking?
All of this worry stems, I think, from knowing I’m about to dive into something I’m don’t always enjoy, am not best-suited for, with a potentially high likelihood of failure.
But, I mean, that combination could also describe me doing just about anything in my life. Like, say, baking.
See, I’m a great cook but a poor baker — and I know this about myself. But let’s say I was asked to bake something for like a school bake sale. And not just bake something, I have to bake all the things.
I would say, “Sure, ok, I can bake brownies. And I can make cupcakes. I *can* do those things but I have some VERY SPECIFIC CONDITIONS.”
Like: plenty of notice, and some help buying ingredients, possibly some volunteers to help with the labor, and so on. And the most important condition is that whatever comes out the other side of my baking process has to be acceptable. It won’t be professional level baking, but what did you expect, I’M NOT A PROFESSIONAL BAKER.
I’m not a pro baker or a pro caregiver
And honestly, I’m not a professional caregiver to children either. And it’s okay if I need a little extra support if I’m taking on these extra duties. It’s okay if what comes out the other side is a little runny, or hasn’t totally set all the way. It’ll be edible and that’s what matters.
By that I mean, the baked goods as a metaphor for my child, not my actual child. My child is not edible*. But he’ll survive and be fine in the way that my baked goods will also be fine and edible, even if I forgot to add the salt. You follow.
*Please do not test this claim.
I’ll try not to torture this analogy any further. What I’m getting at is that if I can be honest about my baking skills, I can also be honest about my parenting skills and capacities.
I can bear the truth I’m not someone who has an unlimited capacity to care for kids. That I sometimes have to consciously decide to enjoy my kids to find time with them fun.
Doing what I can to make SAHing work for me
So yes, I’m worried about what eight months of staying at home will mean for me, my career, even my finances. I’m not totally, 100% confident I’ll be able to avoid or deal with the above concerns. But at this point, the kid is home with me and I don’t have much of a choice. So here are some things I’m going to try.
And I can set up strategies and expectations in line with all these things I know about myself:
Stay on top of our budget
The cost of daycare tuition is gone, but so is a lot of time I would have used to work. I’m not totally sure how this will impact out income vs. costs, so I want to make sure I’m tracking that to avoid unnecessary money stress and make adjustments as needed.
Spend a little more in some areas
I want to give myself the space to spend a little if it will make the days at home easier or more enjoyable. Like an outing to the zoo or a pass to a rec center with a pool.
I can accept that this time might mean more sacrifice, a messier house, and less income from my paid work. And I can remember that the bar of “good enough” is one I can clear, and if I’m doing so that’s good enough.
Roll with the bad days
They will come, and they will pass. I don’t need to beat myself up over them or get worked up and try to fix and overhaul my life to make sure a bad day never happens again.
Stay flexible and reiterate
I don’t need to put huge pressure on myself to get it right from day one, and every day thereafter. This is a bit of experiment and I’m allowed to learn and improve as I go, and to be flexible enough to roll with what life’s throwing at me.
Take time for myself
I’ll still be freelancing part-time and working on Brave Saver, and I’ll need time for that. And I’ll also need time to just exist without owing anything to anyone.
I’ve already arranged with my family to have a standing evening and weekend morning to myself every week, and I’ll ask for more time if I need it.
Ask for support
While I’ll be at home with the kid, my husband and I still share responsibility for him. Making my stay-at-home period a success is a joint effort, and we can support each other. And I can also ask for support from friends and family if I need it.
Let it be
These months of staying at home will be what they will be, and I don’t want to spend the whole time stressing over finances, or fretting about the schedule, or stressed about my parenting or freelancing duties. I want to accept it as it is and maybe even find a little something to enjoy each day.
So that’s my general plan, but I’m interested to hear from readers who stay at home or work from home with kids: what strategies have worked best for you? How have you accounted for this arrangement in your budget? Comment and let me know.