I feel the need to preface this advice by admitting that I do not always enjoy spending time with my kids. Building relationships with your children and creating a home environment that helps those relationships flourish takes a constant effort, and I fail at it. Frequently. Sometimes, there is nothing I want more than to get away from them.
But it IS possible to have mostly good days, and to make your home a refuge that your family wants to spend time in. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves about being a stay-at-home mom is that we could never spend that much time with our kids; we would drive each other crazy. Not true. The whole point of having kids is to spend time with them. If you don’t spend time with them, you won’t know them. If you don’t know them, you can’t have meaningful relationships with them. If you don’t have meaningful relationships with them, you can’t guide or influence or “parent” them, because they won’t care what you want think.
You can enjoy your kids. It might take some work, especially at first. But being at home with them can be every bit as fulfilling and stimulating and amazing as even the best job in the world. (And you’re the boss! Even better!)
If you’re feeling doubtful right now, I can relate. For the first ten years of my life as a mom, I worked a full time job, and I just knew that I could never stay home with my kids. But the bottom line is this: your time with your kids is what YOU make it. You are in control. If you want it, and you exercise a little bit of self-discipline, you can stay home with your kids all day and love it. So here’s all you need to know to get started: my top five tips – born of trial and error (lots of error) – for truly enjoying time with your kids.
- Be aware of, and in control of, your mood. I have learned over the years that the atmosphere at home is almost totally dependent on me and my attitude. There’s definitely something to the old adage that “if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” For better or worse, it’s almost totally up to me whether we all have a good day and enjoy each other, or we have a miserable day that just seems to get worse and worse. My main problem is that I can recognize a bad mood, but I struggle to change it. Or to even want to change it (don’t you just love to wallow in a bad mood once in a while?). Here’s how I get over it: first, I take a 15 minute break somewhere away from the kids. If you can’t actually leave the property, go sit in your car, or in the yard, or in a closet, or anywhere that the kids are not. Next, say a prayer. Ask God to help you change your outlook. Say the Morning Offering (even if it’s not morning). Remind yourself that there are people who would do anything to have the kids, the home, even the chores that you have. When I’m in a bad mood, it’s usually because I’m feeling sorry for myself, so it helps to think about how much God has given me and how little I deserve it.
- Avoid being in a hurry. Start getting ready for appointments and other outings way, way earlier than you think you need to. I give myself 30 minutes to get everyone’s shoes on and get into the car, and that’s almost never too much time. Plan out your meals a day or more in advance, so you’re not rushing around at night trying to pull something together. If you’re homeschooling, have at least a vague idea of what you want to get done the next day, and avoid the temptation to squeeze in too much. Don’t try to get anything time-sensitive done while you’re alone with your kids. If you have an email that has to get sent or a bill that has to get paid or anything important that has to get done, do it early, and do it while your husband or someone else can be in charge of the kids. Hurry is the enemy of peace.
- Avoid unrealistic expectations. Toddlers are going to act like toddlers. You cannot put them in a room with some toys and expect them to entertain themselves all morning while you get stuff done. Teens are teens. They are not going to leap out of bed at 6 am ready to help you unload the dishwasher. It’s good to have expectations, but they need to take into consideration your child’s age and temperament, as well as your own. If you find yourself constantly battling with one of your children over a particular issue or behavior, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if I just let this go?” You have to strike a balance between maintaining order and discipline and allowing everyone to relax and be themselves in their own home. Home should be a haven where you feel accepted for who you are, and overly ambitious expectations can make kids feel like they can’t ever please you or do enough to earn your love.
- Establish a routine. You don’t need to schedule every minute of the day (although if you’re a very structured person, you should read Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life for some great ideas). However, the more you try to do the same things in the same order at approximately the same time every day, the more peaceful your household will be. Everyone should know what time (or between which times) they need to get up, eat meals and snacks, do schoolwork and chores, and go to bed. The great thing about eating and sleeping routines is that they actually train your body to be hungry or tired at the same time each day, so the more consistent you are, the easier it is to get kids to eat and sleep according to your schedule. If you can keep your kids well-rested and well-fed, a lot of behavior problems and power struggles will just resolve themselves.
- Don’t compare your family to others. For one thing, you’re never going to see how things really are when you’re not around. We’re all on our best behavior when we’re with someone else, even our closest friends. If you’re like me, and you like to compare yourself to the people you watch on YouTube, the difference is even more dramatic. No one films their kids having a meltdown, or the nights when they pick up 30 chicken nuggets at the drive through for dinner. For another thing, when we compare, we tend to pick out another mom’s or child’s best quality and dwell on how much better they are at that particular thing than we are. How can we possibly expect to have all of the best qualities of everyone we know? Remember that everyone has strengths AND weaknesses, and we are all a work in progress. In fact, we should actually be grateful for our weaknesses. They keep us humble and dependent on God rather than ourselves.
And if everything goes wrong (it will, sometimes), and you have a terrible day, try to keep it in perspective. Tomorrow is always a fresh start. Forgive yourself. Forgive your children. Take a few minutes at the end of the day to honestly assess what you did well and what you did wrong, and resolve to do better next time. Remember that God is with always with you, cheering you on, drawing you and your children closer to himself, even during those terrible moments where nothing seems to be going the way you planned. A wonderful tool you can use to reflect back on the day and find God in it is the Ignatian Examen. He IS there, and he wants to help you!
What advice do you have for enjoying time at home with your kids? Share with us in the comments!