Seven stay-at-home parents share what they love about their work and the biggest challenges they face.
“Today I understand vocation quite differently – not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received.” Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
With Labor Day upon us, Americans are about to take that final summer vacation, host their annual BBQ, and toast to the amazing gift of work we get to do everyday to keep our country thriving. Maybe you are fulfilled in your career and could not even imagine leaving. Maybe you are searching for a new field or purpose, or are feeling burned out. Or maybe you are a recent parent and wondering what it would be like to stay home with your child or children?
I want to tell you that the field of stay-at-home parenting is a vocation worth being received, worth planning for, and worth opening yourself to. That it is possible to have a fulfilling life that does not involve a paycheck. “But how is that possible?”, you may ask.
Think about it: the field of stay-at-home parenting might just be the oldest field of work. Women and men have been raising children since the beginning of time. Yet the calling of being a stay-at-home parent is now quietly chosen by fewer and fewer people. We are told to “Lean in” no matter what. But for what reason? Financially, more families need both incomes. But it also feels that staying at home is not encouraged anymore in this day and age, and not always acknowledged.
In May 2015, Family Circle magazine interviewed the “20 Most Influential Moms” for their Mother’s Day issue, and not one of these women was a stay-at-home parent. And I started thinking that what I do all day takes heart. It takes energy. It takes finding the confidence you didn’t even know you had. I was certain that there have to be other stay-at-home parents who feel the same way. Inspired by the Family Circle article, I’ve realized that I need to share the story of the stay-at-home parent. I interviewed a handful of stay-at-home moms and dads, many of whom I’d met through my twin club, my son’s preschool, at local parks and libraries, and a long time friend, who I think are just as influential in their own way.
I discovered that each one of us became stay-at-home parents at points in our life where we weren’t expecting it. That it became a vocation worth receiving. Worth making happen. For some, staying at home made more sense financially, for others is was something that they always knew they’d want to do and the timing worked out.
If at one point in your life you do become a stay-at-home parent (or you know it is something you would like to try for a period of time), I hope that their answers will give you some insight into what we go through, what we love about it, and how lucky we feel.
Ann Graham, 42
Role: Mother, Household Manager, Youth Group Volunteer Leader
Mother of: Teanca (20), Alex (18), Daren & Jason (18 mo)
A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: like to call my career path: the long and winding road. I began my college career studying theater but then switched to English and got my BA in English. Through crazy twists of fate, I ended up in administrative and managerial positions in several non-profit organizations, including a museum, two universities, an endangered species recovery program, and an educational technology company. About 10 years ago, I went back to my real love and got my teaching credential. This time I started out in English and then switched to theater arts. Before I had the twins I was working part-time managing an art studio and part-time teaching theater, music, and dance. Long and winding… but fun!
What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? I love teaching! People ask me why on earth I had more children when my older two were almost out of the house. I tell them I was either going to start my own company, or have more children. I’m the kind of person that has to stay busy! And what greater use of my time than to teach children to be happy, productive human beings? I love spending my time teaching and exploring and watching the children learn new information and skills. I love planning adventures where we get to learn and I love grabbing unexpected teaching moments. That (and all the hugs) makes being a full-time mom worth all the exhaustion!
What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? My biggest challenge has turned out to be a good kind of challenge! I struggle with the monotony of seemingly menial tasks (i.e. laundry) and getting bored! But what I’ve done to combat that boredom and monotony is to take the years of managerial experience I have and turn it toward the running of our home. I find it an exciting challenge to develop systems that will streamline the running of the household. I also make sure that I am taking the time to learn things for myself. I take a class or take on a project to give me a creative outlet that is for my own development. These usually happen during naps or after the twins go to bed.
How has motherhood changed you? I’m not sure it has. I am the oldest of 5 children and I’ve always been “motherly”. I think I got my teaching credential for the same reason – I’m drawn to teaching, mentoring, and guiding children. I don’t feel any different as a mother, just more of who I authentically am.
Which three words would your children use to describe you? Creative, Organized, Giving.
Maria Rey, 31
Role: Stay at home mom and baker/cake decorator
Mother of: Francisco, 5 and Sophia, 2
A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: I was looking for a job back home in Uruguay when we got married and my husband got transferred here. I studied interior design for 2 years. He had a work visa but I didn’t so I couldn’t legally work. We got our green card last year so I would be able to work now, but I will still be a stay at home parent for now. I work at home as a baker/cake decorator so I still have a small extra income and so far it’s working for us.
What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at -home parent)? Even though it’s exhausting sometimes I consider myself very lucky to be able to stay home with my kids. I love being able to experience new things with them, do fun outings, take them to school and extra activities, to the park, etc.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? I think the biggest challenge is trying to juggle being a parent and a home maker. Trying to find the balance and the time to do house chores and taking care of you kids when you don’t have any extra help. Sometimes people don’t realize how much you do everyday.
How has motherhood changed you? Motherhood has changed me so much. I could have never predicted how I would have been as a parent before I had kids even though we all say “ when I’m a parent I will do/ never do this and that”. I am more relaxed with things I couldn’t have imagined, like letting my kids get really dirty when playing or eating.
Which three words would your children use to describe you? Awesome, funny, happy (said by my 5 year old).
Chad Scherbarth, 32
Role: Stay-at-home dad/homemaker/dual child-wrangler
Father to: Alexander and Charlotte, 2.
A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: I was working at an Architecture startup in San Francisco as an Office Administrator. I quit around when Elsa became pregnant to try and establish myself as a freelance graphic designer with only some success. When the kids were born I quickly realized I didn’t have time or energy for side-work at home.
What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? Being a stay-at-home dad plays very well into my strengths which in itself is satisfying. I’m good at facilitating things, operations, and organizing. I’ve always done well with kids for as long as I can remember. I’m also a homebody, so I don’t get cabin fever often. Most importantly I have the opportunity to spend every day with my kids. I try to be very mindful of how lucky I am to have the support and means to do what I do.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? It took some time to adjusting to the idea that I couldn’t schedule the day and fit them into it. The opposite approach is needed. Every time I feel like I have a handle of things, they grow up and present new challenges. I’m in a constant state of pain and exhaustion not to mention the general emotional drainage. There is no weekend or vacation from this. Sounds terrible but I absolutely love it. I’ve always loved hard work.
How has fatherhood changed you? Fatherhood has been affirming and confidence building for me, largely out of necessity. I have to be confident and trust my instincts. I’ve also learned to be less selfish and more selfless. With having kids in the world, your worldview and everything you do is filtered through the idea of being a parent and doing what’s best for your children.
Which three words would your children use to describe you? I will quote them directly “daddy’s funny” “daddy cuddles” “daddy’s a boy” Can’t disagree with their assessment.
Erin Geary, 34
Role: My main role is stay-at-home parent. That is a 24/7 job. But on top of that, I work part-time as a communications coordinator for a wildlife photographer, and before my son was born, I worked half-time as a grant-writer for Okizu, a nonprofit supporting the pediatric cancer community.
Mother of: Evelyn, 5 and Calvin, 2
A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: Before becoming a mother, I earned two degrees — a B.A. in Sociology and a M.S. in Journalism/Mass Communications. I worked as a freelance journalist, as a nonprofit communications manager, and as a grant-writer. I had many hobbies including rock climbing, backpacking, writing, and cycling … many of which I’ve had to put on hold as I raise my small children.
What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? The hugs and kisses. Seriously. They are the best! And I love that, if I have the energy and optimism, we can have really fun adventures whenever we choose.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? For me, the hardest part of being home all the time with kids is the isolation and the monotony. No one truly understands what my day was like. I have no coworkers to kvetch to; this is why moms complain so much when we get together! We need that camaraderie. The other major challenge is finding the motivation to feed and clean nonstop all day every day and still have patience, even when I haven’t eaten or had a moment to sit and breathe. So I guess there’s one more challenge; finding “me” time so that I can better appreciate my children and be the best mom I can be for them.
How has motherhood changed you? It has given me wrinkles! The weight of motherhood and the constancy of it is unimaginable until you are in it. Even when I am away from my babies, I think of them. The weight and concern never leaves. I can’t escape it. It truly is like your heart is walking around outside your body. I love having breaks from them but the lightness I felt before motherhood is gone. Perhaps it will return when they have grown, I don’t know. But becoming a mother has also made me feel connected to this amazing sisterhood that I never had before. I have something in common with millions of people I don’t know; I can see a mother on the street dragging her children up the block — she sees me doing the same, and even if we don’t speak the same language, we can share a glance, a wink, a nod that we are in this together and that we support each other. It’s really beautiful. Also, after having my second child, I learned a lot of humility. I am much less judgmental than I once was, because I know this is HARD and have had so many experiences that have taught me that the way my children are often has little to do with my parenting. They are their own little beings, so unique, and we are all just DOING OUR BEST. I feel that I am more gentle with other people. Also, I have learned how deeply people can love one another … and how deeply my parents love me. I don’t think I could have ever known that without having children. It’s an intense, mad kind of love. I would do insane things to keep my babies safe from harm.
Which three words would your children use to describe you? Silly, ticklish, and squishy.
Nina Vigarino, 37
Role: Stay-at-home mom, Co-Director of Novato Mother’s Club,
Mother of: Genevieve, 4 and Michael, 1.5
A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: My previous career was as an attorney. I most recently worked in legal research and sales. I still occasionally do some consulting in legal research for former colleagues and clients.
What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at -home parent)? I love that I can be a part of every discovery, excitement, and wonderment. Not only do I witness all the firsts of their lives, I see them grow and improve at the little daily tasks. I have the luxury of being present. I love that I am not plagued by the mommy-guilt that affects so many of my friends and former colleagues. I enjoy the confidence of being the best parent I can be. My kids have an awesome mom. Not all days are awesome, but I know that I am all-in on this part of my life.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay at home parenting)? So many challenges! Shifting down to one paycheck was difficult in the beginning, mostly because I was accustomed to making my own money. It was a long time to see the money in our bank account as “ours.” It took some time for me to figure out how to channel the energy of my previously ambitious career into my new role as a stay at home parent. I have found my niche now with volunteering and trying to improve our community through parents making connections. Spending most of my time without adult communication was isolating. I filled the void by reading news and books and listening to NPR as much as I could. Eventually I made the rounds to baby events and tried to find the like minded parents. Enough baby music, story times, swim, and gymnastic classes and I eventually found a few other parents who keep current on world news, events and literature. And of course there is the long term sleep deprivation. The struggle is real!
How has motherhood changed you? Motherhood has changed me. I am a kinder, more compassionate person. I am more tolerant of people in general since I see them all as someone’s kid. I have more compassion for people that struggle through day to day life. I can’t watch thriller movies anymore. The brutality and gore is too much, the fictional victims were someone’s fictional child.
Which three words would your children use to describe you? My mom is very silly, she is my snugger, and she has white hair. And also something about grilled cheese.
Spencer DeWoody, 34
Role: I am a stay-at-home father. My wife does not have a consistent schedule so it makes it difficult to do any part-time work. So I decided I would rather raise my own children than work and pay for other people to raise my children. You only get one childhood, and I remember feeling very loved and taken care of by a wonderful stay-at-home mother of five children. I wanted my children to have a similar experience. I also volunteer for the Marin CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program.
Father to: Eve, 4 and Grant, 2
A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: Before staying at home with the children I was finishing up my graduate studies in social work and working as an intern counselor at a continuation school in Palo Alto.
What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? What I love the most about being a stay-at-home father is the opportunity to see my kids learn and discover new things. Like my daughter very much impresses me with her art (water-color), and her basketball dribbling skills. My son makes me laugh with his hilarious “funny-faces” and I love hearing him sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? The most challenging part of stay at home parenting is keeping your sanity. All day you are stuck with two little humans that don’t really adhere to any sense of logic. Attempting to negotiate or reason with a two and four year old is very challenging. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking that little people think the same way as adults. It can be very frustrating and it is important that you do take care of yourself so you don’t feel overwhelmed. I spend a lot of time at the gym playing basketball.
How has fatherhood changed you? Fatherhood has changed me in a lot of ways. Most importantly it has made me a much less selfish person. For the first time in my life someone else needs me for everything and more often than not that means putting their needs before my own. It has helped me become more patient (how many pairs of shoes can you actually misplace in one day?). It has made me feel young again, seeing things through their eyes. Gives a new fascination and wonder to the world.
Which three words would your children use to describe you? If my kids could describe me in three words it would be: Goofy, Fun, and Patient.
Christine Do, 38
Role: stay-at-home mom
Mother to Nathan, 8 and Danielle, 4
A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: I was the Executive Director of Life Eldercare Meals on Wheels. Then I was the Health Programs Manager in the Central Valley for the American Cancer Society.
What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at -home parent)? What I love most about my role is… being the main influence or influence in my children’s life. We only have about 6 years to be the main influence in their lives before they head to school. Then friends and teachers have the most impact. I need to make those 6 years count. Teaching them what is of value in life and what is not.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay at home parenting)? The biggest challenge to staying at home is my own selfishness. My desire to feel accomplished by the worlds standards, to get praised by coworkers, to earn a great wage and freely spend that wage. Staying at home requires You to put your work self on hold for a while.
How has motherhood changed you? How has motherhood changed me? Motherhood is like a mirror. It reflects both the wonderful qualities you have and the not so pretty features of yourself. I try to focus on the wonderful things it brings out in me and pass that on to my children. As far as the not so pretty features (like patience in my case) I try to work on it. I also ask forgiveness when I fall short. We all fall short and need to ask forgiveness. Another great thing to teach children.
Which three words would your children use to describe you? Nice, fun and helpful.