The most important advice I could give to a stay-at-home-parent

You know, there is no such thing as a full-time stay-at-home mom. It just sounds like a tidier answer to those who work outside the home full-time. For the woman or man who makes that choice to leave full-time employment, the answer changes, the act now is one of a full-time gift.

With little children, the days begin earlier. For spasms of time, it will feel more hectic, then calmer, then hectic. Not preparing little ones for daycare or school or yourself for work or your husband for his day slows things down considerably. We are busy, but the pace is different.

My husband imagined the perfect wife and perfect life with many children and that wife doting on him as she wears heels and a tea-length skirt with a lacey apron. We tried keeping me at home until finances dictated otherwise. The off to work I went.

To and from the workplace I went after child, after child, after child. The financial need rekindled in me how I loved to work. The back and forth allowed me time to find how much work worked for our growing family.

When I began to expand with our fourth child, it was time for the tables to turn. My husband’s side gig was now the main hustle, so without the heels, without the tea-length skirt, without the apron, I headed to the kitchen.

The full-time stay-at-home life was not for me. I started my own business.

Then came a diagnosis. A hospital visit. 15 more hospital visits. Another diagnosis.

I closed the business.

I stayed-at-home.

I wept.

In my grief, I saw the world up before me. “The world will be saved by beauty” and beauty saved me.

I took a watercolor workshop, a calligraphy workshop, a macramé workshop.

Poetry became my favorite subject with my daughter.

I wrote like I was running out of time.

Even now, when things are calm, I know what I need to do, and this is what I encourage you to do.

Write or read or create…do something.

Do it for your home.

Learn to sew a straight line and make curtains. Finagle thrift store rejects into Halloween costumes. You have time for this type of work now. Create artwork for your home, whether photographs, paintings, repurposed fabric or farm tools, put the energy you have saved from commuting into making your home an enriching environment, not in the preschool way, but in a human way.

Photo of living room

Do it for yourself.

Self-care is actually self-preservation when matched against a gaggle of children under the age of reason. Look hard for the routine you need, whether morning or night, to make yourself as put together as necessary so you do not feel like garbage. You may not leave the house, but you are still a person, and whatever level of investment that means in your looks, I encourage you to make it.

Photo of at home bathroom countertop

Do it for your spouse.

This might be my weakest area. I hope you like cooking. I hope you like cleaning. I do not mind cleaning, but I still do not succeed in serving my husband from the kitchen. It is a nice surprise when it does happen.

Photo of toddler girl at home reaching for a stack of miniature pancakes.

Do it for your soul.

Read. Read books. Spiritual books, art books, great literature. Read at naptime or before bed. It opens you to the whole wide world and imagination and helps your thoughts to continue processing long after the noise of beautiful children have numbed it into submission. Read real print books. Go to the library.

Rely on routine. Rely on a schedule of chores. Set goals. Adjust goals. Every day is a work in progress. As soon as you get the hang of things, it will change. The name of the game is flexibility, everything in your life is flexible now, except your income, which may be tighter than ever.

Above all, stay inspired. Whether your home or side job or crafts motivate your activity, always be working on something, hopefully, your soul, but if not for a time, then greeting cards are a good, albeit temporary substitute.

And when the kids are older, volunteer. Your community needs you.

Advice on writing from one still learning

Henriette Browne, ‘A Girl Writing’

In fifth grade, a classmate wrote a poem and read it to the class. She received a lot of attention for this endeavor. Eager for attention, I began writing poetry, too.

In sixth grade, I began writing stories. In my mind, a “novel” was at least 100 pages. The stories ran on and on in order to reach that mark. I wrote many “novels” this way.

In 7th grade, I stayed up late at a friend’s house discussing with her brother the question of what it means to be observant. My writing matured after that conversation.

Writing became an escape, an adventure, an ambition, a best friend. It was lonely stuff living out in the country for this little extrovert. Writing created beautiful worlds full of stories that work out, dreams achieved, relationships formed, love returned.

I wanted to be a great writer. I wanted to be published. I applied myself to every opportunity to write and sought to master every style of writing. I believed flexibility in style meant true mastery. Although my fiction days were over at age 20, I still sought to grow in skill. Writing again through this blog has been a great joy for me, getting back into it, rediscovering my voice, trying to learn and improve. It proves a good medium for the busy life of motherhood.

A friend told me she has a “hard time finding a voice.” She wrote her “job is so formal and my previous writing was so informal, I have a hard time finding a middle ground.”

I responded by saying, “perhaps if you intentionally tried to write in different styles, like James Joyce one week, Jane Austin another, a favorite blogger another, things like that, than you’ll find your own voice.” I think of Forrester directing the young man in Finding Forrester to copy the openings of the old man’s essays until his own voice takes over.

There are other obstacles that come up as we seek to express through written word. Another friend writes, “when I start, I feel like I have nothing to say or write about, or that my writing is poor and doesn’t flow…Sometimes I think I let the ‘perfect be the enemy of the good’ because I am so nervous that my product will be bad, that I don’t even begin!”

We can’t begin by writing for an audience. If we do, we’ll merely be performing and that is no way to find one’s voice. I started by recycling old work, my story A Girl and Her King, or writing reflections on moving books. Now I’m finding the thoughts flowing more, inspiration arriving more frequently.

As to the production, I have two different methods. First method is to jot down notes and save. I return to them and write a lot. Then I edit down.

Second is when the Spirit is on and it all just overflows, but I don’t have any control of when that happens.

It took me a long time to find this voice. I didn’t realize I had it until a few people commented on it recently. I’m rather scared to think I have it now; scared to think I’m better than I actually am.

Lastly, I’ve also found, in helping others, that some times when you have someone else read your stuff a little advice can go a long way. There might be one rock we continue to stumble over in each project.

In the end, writing is not a product, it’s an expression.

Good luck!