Whenever I tell people I have just met that I am a stay-at-home-mum to my two young boys (aged 18 months and 3 years), I frequently get comments ranging from “That must be so stressful! How do you manage?” to “Wow, so nice that you don’t have to work! What do you do all day?”
You may laugh, but it’s true! Most people, fellow parents included, have a distorted picture of SAHM life that is normally contrary to reality – in my experience, at least. Some picture a disheveled, constantly exhausted and weary-looking, still-in-pyjamas-at-lunchtime mess of a mum who spends the whole day picking up toys, scolding the kids, cleaning up messes and collapsing on the sofa when the kids nap.
Others conjure up the image of a perfectly coiffed lady who runs her household like a well-oiled machine, who whips up 4-course meals, walks the dog, and regularly meets up with her girlfriends for coffee, shopping and the latest gossip.
I am none of those things – well not every day at least! My typical day looks like this…
The alarm goes off at 6:30am.
I wake up, quickly wash up and brush my teeth, then wake both boys. They are relatively “good wakers”, ie not grumpy when I wake them up. Brush their teeth. Then it’s time for breakfast. I make breakfast for all four of us, just nutella or butter on toast (and just plain bread for my younger boy).
After breakfast, it’s time for baths. By now, hubby is up and helps me to get the boys ready so that we are out the door by 740am. I drop off my older boy at nursery – no 2 comes along for the ride. By the time we get back, hubby has cleaned up our rabbit’s cage and is just about to leave the house. We say bye bye, then read some books or do some blocks, and then it’s time for his short morning nap (usually 30-40min). This gives me time to catch up on my emails, do the laundry, and sometimes squeeze in a bit of scrapbooking!
When my boy is up from his nap, it’s play time in his room. Usually I try to let him choose whatever he wants to play with, but some days I’ll do an organized craft or paint with him. Once a week, I bring him out for a mini-date at a park or playground. Then it’s time to pick up kor kor from school, so off we go!
The boys get about 20min of television time while I rustle up our lunch. After lunch, we have play time again, and the boys are usually happy to chase each other up and down the house or play with ‘masak masak’ while I wash up the lunch things. Then it’s more books before nap time.
Thankfully, both boys have been able to take their afternoon nap together for a while now. (This took a lot of engineering on our parts during recent months though!) So I have about 1-2 hours of time all to myself. Usually I spend it working on my writing assignments, scrapbooking, reading the Bible and sometimes taking a quick 20 min siesta. Once they’re up, i’’s time for tea! Simple stuff – just biscuits or a home-made muffin, milk and cheese.
Then I try to do an activity with them
Either a Bible-based lesson or an artsy craft or an educational session. After that it’s more play time until daddy gets home from work. I’m beyond thankful that my husband is able to get home by 6-630pm most weekdays, because his office is just 10min down the road!
They talk to daddy and/or watch some TV while I prepare dinner. Dinner times are family times round the table, catching up on each other’s day and talking about the next day’s events. After dinner, daddy takes over doing crazy stuff with the boys (like horsey rides!) while I wash up the crockery and tidy up the place a little. Then it’s baths for the boys, and some reading before bedtime. They go to sleep at 9pm.
After my own bath, I settle some housework (button-sewing, ironing, table-wiping etc) and do a bit more writing. Meanwhile hubby often has conference calls and such during this time. Bedtime for us is about 1130pm, and we fall asleep pretty quick!
The challenging times for me are definitely meal times with the boys.
My older boy is quite selective in his eating, while the younger one spends most of the meal trying to climb out of his high chair – and sometimes succeeding. Cue major heart attacks. Self-feeding is very much in progress, so the floor after each meal is quite a mess, not to mention the kitchen awaiting my clean-up!
I am quite a stickler for routine and structure and this has definitely helped me a lot in coping with the day-to-day looking after the kids and the home. Along the way, I’ve definitely had to learn to be more flexible too, because life with children always comes with a fair share of unpredictability!
Increasingly, my older boy has been fighting his nap on some days, so that’s also been a test of my patience when it happens. I am clinging on to their afternoon naps with all my might because it is the only window of time during the day when I can really be alone with my thoughts for an hour or more, to chill, check my emails, spend quiet moments with God and write articles like this!
On those days when he flatly refuses to nap, I have purposed not to force him, but to roll with the punches. Very often, I’ve realized it’s really more of an issue of my feeling out of control than it is about his defiance.
And yet, in the midst of such ‘trials’, there is so much joy, that more than outweighs any of the frustration, disappointment and guilt that overshadow some of these trying moments.
Like watching the boys entertaining each other with nonsensical words, belly-aching laughs and crazy actions. Like seeing the way they enjoy each other and play together (when they’re not fighting!). Like holding them close after they’ve had a fall to kiss away the pain and help them feel safe. Like sitting in their room while they fall asleep, watching their eyelids droop, and just staying there in moments caught in time to gaze at their sleeping forms. And like all the many times we’ve both said ‘I’m sorry’ and enveloped each other in a bear hug.
These are such precious times. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything, really.
Which is why I am really glad that I am able to be a SAHM. I don’t think it’s for everyone, and I have nothing against working mothers, but I really love having the privileged to be with my kids 24/7. To watch them grow up, reach milestones, make mistakes, learn obedience, fall down and get up again, smile, laugh, cry, whine, mess things up, and pick up their toys. Time is so fleeting, and every day I seek to cherish all the moments that are ‘now’, knowing that in the blink of an eye, they will be past this phase.
Do I ever intend to go back to work? Well, right now I am earning a supplementary income during freelance writing and scrapbook projects. I also plan to continue my Masters in Counselling when my no 2 goes to nursery. But as to when I will actually return to the workforce, I am really not sure yet.
Perhaps, when my boys are in primary school, I might begin to work part-time during their school hours, as I don’t want to put them in childcare. Will I ever go back to work full-time? Probably not.
To some, it might seem like such a waste of my degree. But no, I don’t see it as that. I believe that whatever we learn, whatever we take away, has bearing on all of life as we live it. And so, whatever I have gained from my school days, I believe has shaped the person that I am today – the mum that I am today.
Nothing is wasted, and so I have no regrets.
By Dorothea Chow
Read more of Dorothea’s musings at A Pancake Princess.
This article was first published in The New Age Parents Apr / May 2014 e-magazine
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