Great Expectations
By Natalie Rose York

From the time I gave birth to my first child, I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. It wasn't until after the birth of my second child and an unexpected loss of my job that the dream became a reality. I had been dreaming of the day for four years, so I was thrilled beyond belief when my dream came true. And I stayed thrilled for a few months. Then one day I sat down and cried out, ³This job sucks.² I think this revelation happened after cleaning up the third Kool-Aid spill of the day,
vacuuming up crumbs for the second time and folding my fifth load of laundry. Not to mention breaking up fights, stepping on toys and trying to potty train an incorrigible two-year-old on four hours sleep. I kicked myself for these feelings. I thought I must be a horrible parent because I didn't enjoy being with my children 24 hours a day.

I never truly realized until that day what a thankless job being a stay-at-home parent is. I guess I thought I would be June Cleaver fixing cookies for Wally and Beav instead of Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond. In fact, I expected there to be a series of ³Hallmark² moments. Picture the scene -- gingham curtains blowing in the breeze, the smell of freshly baked Tollhouse cookies in the air, the children quietly reading a book or doing a puzzle. Of course, I would be dressed to the nines in my snazzy jogging outfit and my hair would be perfectly coifed. What a laugh. My expectations were largely out of sync with my reality.

I expected my house to be spotless.
I expected my children to be a joy to be around.
I expected to have plenty of time to bathe, exercise, read and write.
I expected to always be well-rested.

The reality was, I found the quote by Phyllis Diller to be oh so true -- "Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing." The housework was never done and constantly being undone.

The reality was my children got on my nerves.
The reality was that if I wasn't doing dishes, folding laundry or fishing a roll of toilet paper out of the toilet, I was too exhausted to do anything else.
The reality was that my children never seemed to sleep, therefore I couldn't afford to sleep either.

Where did these unrealistic expectations come from? Was I the only one who had been deceived? I talked to some other stay-at-home parents and found out I wasn't. Here are some of their responses:

- "I always thought that if I was a stay-at-home mum, I would have time to be an 'almost perfect' mother. Instead, I find I just feel guilty about not having everything the way I want."

- "I thought I'd have beautiful, lilting days with my daughter, full of enriching, educational play and singing."

- "I really, really missed adult interaction, and having someone to talk to who could actually talk back in sentences that included verbs."

- "Daily, in the trenches, it's a rat race."

- "My youngest is now almost two. He is always pulling things down. I can't leave him for a minute. So much for having a whole day to do housework! I'm lucky if I can squeeze in time for the bare necessities. I get lonely, I get bored, I get frustrated. I can't even leave my child with someone else for two hours because he cries the whole time."

- "Being a stay-at-home mom is harder than working."

- "In the beginning, it really wasn't that bad. The job doesn't get harder until the kiddies start getting older. Then you can forget about keeping a spotless house, I don't care who you are! (Unless, that is, you can afford maid service five days a week!)"

Erma Bombeck likens motherhood (parenthood) to stringing beads on a string. We go about our days, stringing one wooden knob after another, assuming we are accomplishing so much. At the end of the day we look down and discover there is no knot and we have to start all over!

So how do we reconcile our great expectations with harsh reality? Here are some things that helped me immensely:

1. Lower Your Expectations

The perfectionist in me hated this step. If I do something, I want to do it right. But I bit my tongue and relaxed my standards. I set realistic goals for myself daily. And I reconciled myself to ³failure.² I made sure I tried to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. My to-do list became my friend rather than an enemy.

2. Get Organized

Then I came up with a plan. I am not domestically inclined. I dream of having a maid to do the housework for me not because I can't do it, but because I don't want or know how to do it. So having a plan helped me greatly. I set a realistic number of chores to do a day. I have what I call my daily dozen -- 12 things that I have to do every day to keep things running relatively smooth. They aren't always big things, but they help.

3. Go With the Flow

I had to become willing to bend a little, become flexible. I started viewing my children as children rather than little adults. I had to realize that kids make messes. If a day got out of hand, I also became willing to let that to-do list go. There is always tomorrow. That laundry isn't going anywhere. Trust me. It isn't going to clean itself. It will be waiting for me -- every day.

4. Get Support

Talking to other stay-at-home parents will help you realize that you are not alone. I live in a semi-rural community, so play dates are hard to come by. My husband works long hours so I can stay at home. I started feeling like I couldn't carry on a conversation with another adult without using the words potty or di-di. That is where the Internet came in for me. I found endless forums, bulletin boards and groups of parents who felt just like me. The sky's the limit here. I was even able to find
a group of artistic stay-at-home parents who love to read and write as much as I do. Their support has been invaluable to me. Sometimes they are the only adults I converse with in a day or even a week. So get online and start searching.

If you don't have access to the Internet, check out your local library, church or YMCA for programs of interest where you can get some adult interaction. There are even ones with childcare. I'd almost be willing to go to something that didn't interest me if it had childcare. Because there I could pin a live adult down for some conversation and I refuse to say potty more than once.

5. Seize the Day

I also had to realize that this is just a stage, a phase. My kids won't be young forever and ³Hallmark² moments are ripe for the picking. My children are still young, only three and five. So much of their lives are an unwritten book. I need to grab those golden moments when I can. I gave myself permission to put down the dishcloth and read Love You Forever for the tenth time today. I rediscovered the art of coloring. I go on nature walks and collect pine cones, leaving the laundry behind. I rediscovered my childhood. It is really true. Life is fleeting. Enjoy it while you can.

6. Take Care of Yourself

Last but not least, put yourself on the top of that to-do list or at least not at the bottom. Do something for you every day. Some days I wake up early and read for half an hour. Or I drink a cup of tea and do nothing more than contemplate the color of the liquid. Or I watch the early news. Or I pray. Whatever works for you. That time is also good for a shower that never seems to happen once the family is up and active. If your children are young enough, there are nap times. Don't fold the laundry while they are napping; pop in an exercise tape, read a book, sleep -- whatever makes you feel good. If that doesn't work, aim for after the family is in bed. Run that hot bubble bath, light some candles and put in your favorite music. It is important to take care of yourself. You are what keeps the family running. If you aren't working at full capacity, everyone else will suffer.

I'll admit that there are still days when I wonder if I am cut out for this job. There are days when survival is my only goal. There are days when hearing ³Mommy² repeated over and over makes my skin crawl. There are days when I dream of taking a shower. But now I try to embrace those days. I tell myself that tomorrow is a new day. Today it is okay if I never make it out of my pajamas. Today it is okay if I get nothing done. Today it is okay if all I do is lie on the couch and watch Sesame Street
with my kids. Because today I am home with my kids and that in and of itself is...great.

Natalie is a stay-at-home mom to two, a freelance writer and avid reader. She has been published at, , and She is the Stay-at-Home Articles Editor here at Busy Parents Online.


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