Winter Timbrel :: Balanced Living :: Stina Kielsmeier-Cook

Finding My Bearings: Balance as a Stay-at-Home Mom

A few months ago, a friend approached me during our church’s fellowship hour. As I kept one eye on my toddler who was running in circles around the church basement, she asked me: “So, what’s keeping you busy these days? Where are you working?”

My hands started to sweat; I hate this question. What do I do? Well, everything and anything, I wanted to say. I read nursery rhymes over and over again; I go grocery shopping. I manage our finances and make meal plans. I teach my child how to sip out of a cup and put on her pajamas.

“Oh, I’m home full-time,” I said, a forced cheeriness in my voice.

Pause.

“I am also taking a writing class. And I volunteer with refugees,” I said, rushing to fill the void.

“Oh,” she said, nodding. “That’s great. I don’t think I could do what you do all day. It would drive me crazy.”

I smiled and nodded, feeling the weight of her words.

Writing about “how I balance my life” feels a little like this conversation: it’s awkward and uncomfortable. It stirs up mixed feelings about my self-worth and vocational calling. It also makes me feel undervalued and a little defensive.

Becoming a stay-at-home mom was like getting sucked in the undertow of an unfamiliar ocean. My entire mode of existence shifted from my own agenda to how-can-I-make-this-baby-stop-crying? As my daughter grew more independent and started sleeping and laughing, I relaxed enough to take a few deep breaths and look around. I saw how far I had drifted out to sea. I examined the shoreline for familiar landmarks, anything to remind me of who I was apart from keeping this small person alive.

Achieving balance has meant a relentless search to regain my bearings. I daily reweigh my dual identities as both mother and as person-with-interests-beyond-sleep-schedules-and-potty-training. Balance also means using other parts of myself—my gift for writing, my passion for God’s justice, my love for cross-cultural interactions—to intertwine with mothering.

I love my little family. I love spending time with my zany two-year-old daughter. But, without some balance, I am not engaged with her. I find myself counting down the hours until bedtime or checking my email every 15 minutes. I can’t tune in and I begin to doubt myself. I wonder: Am I doing enough? Am I enough? What about those other mothers who balance so much, who work AND parent AND serve in their communities? Every parent is different in this regard: we all have different equilibriums, not to mention financial realities that might make choices for us. I am learning to value my home life, as well as accept my need to find fulfillment in other ways.

So, what does balance look like in this season of my life? It looks like staying home all afternoon with my child, playing with puzzles, reading books, and making popcorn. It is reading good writing or meeting up with a friend without my kid in tow. Balance looks like going on a date with my husband, or sitting in the pews at church while my child is in the nursery. It is when somebody else cooks dinner, or does the dishes, or cleans the bathroom. Balance is trading book suggestions with friends. It is helping new parents navigate their own waters by bringing over a meal or commiserating over fatigue.

For those reading this who are struggling full-time caregivers, take a breath. Look around. Find your bearings. Unearth something, anything, that helps you know who you are and what you want or need. For me, it has been writing every morning. Writing to remind myself of who I am, to sort through my thoughts, to access my own mind. That has been the single most important way I’ve found balance lately.

Writing is also a devotional experience: it connects me to my Creator and reminds me that, whether I am a CEO or a housewife, I am loved. I am whole. And that identity can never be taken away, regardless of what unfamiliar oceans I journey through.

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Stina Kielsmeier-Cook is a writer with over seven years of work experience with refugee populations. She has a B.A. in Political Science from Wheaton College and a graduate degree in Forced Migration and Refugee Studies from The American University in Cairo. She is an active member of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she lives with her husband and feisty two-year-old daughter.

19 thoughts on “Winter Timbrel :: Balanced Living :: Stina Kielsmeier-Cook

  1. Marian Egli on said:

    I’m 68 and work part-time in a Child Care Center. I know some of the energy that both comes and is drained from you when caring for young children. I support you in staying at home with your child. Child Care Centers can give good care. But when a child is at home receiving care from Mommy – that is good. Keep on writing – this is a well-written article and an important subject for women to discuss.

  2. Catherine on said:

    Wonderful perspective, Stina. These special days with your little one are guaranteed to pass more quickly than you may realize. (I remember!) Glad you’ve found writing to minister to your spirit! You are good at it, so keep sharing that gift with others. Blessings!

  3. Margaret Janzen on said:

    I appreciated your open and honest article. It brought back many of the memories & feelings I had as a stay-at-home mom. At the time, it’s often difficult to fully take in what a gift it is for the child to be able to spend this time with you. I’ve never regretted that I did it & was grateful that I had the opportunity. The kids’ teachers in elementary school commented on various occasions that they could often tell which kids had a stay-at-home parent. Your article will very likely be comforting & thought-provoking to other parents as well.

    • Stina Kielsmeier-Cook on said:

      It IS a gift to have this time. I find that I most likely to forget this truth when I haven’t been able to have outlets for other parts of my identity. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Margo Hutchison on said:

    Stina,
    You write with such honesty. I appreciate it so much. Your writing reminds me of Anne Lamott. You have put into words what so many women experience. Thanks for acknowledging this most vital, yet difficult, tight rope walk between our needs and our families needs.
    Keep writing… keep blogging. We need to hear from one another.

  5. Wonderful piece, Stina. Yes you are whole, in fact you are a CEO –of a home. And next time you can say “I WORK at home full time.” Period. Bless you in your work at the most important job in the world.

  6. Kathy Sammartano on said:

    Stina, the last time I saw you, I was the stay-at-home mom, and you were a young girl with an amazing penchant for running around the basement of our church. It is such a blessing to see who you have become, a thoughtful, gifted woman who takes seriously her call from God. I know the difficulty of finding balance, but what you are doing is a great work, not because of the approval of others or even because of what you are able to attain, but because it is obedience. Blessings on you and your family.

  7. Fama Lo on said:

    Great article Stina. I enjoyed reading it. You are such an amazing woman and I salute your choice. Staying home and raising your children is the toughest full time job out there and only so many of us can do it. Bless your heart. Looking forward to reading some more from you. Hello to the Kielsmeiers! Take care!!

  8. Rebekah Good Charles on said:

    Thank you. I’m still working on finding my balance and feel a little frustrated by how hard it seems to be to put the pieces in place. Not only do I need to figure out how to balance my needs but how that works with the financial needs and child care needs of our family. Good words- and hopeful.

  9. Nan S Garber on said:

    Thanks for your sharing, and for your thoughtfulness. Now from the good side of 50, I am heartened to see young moms thinking critically about life and choices. As for me, I bounced around all those 18 or so stay-at-home-and-homeschool mom years and never did feel like I found “my balance”. It could be crazy-making, or it could teach me to to live life more responsive and less in control. Less rattled by the awkward responses and weird looks and sense of misfit. Perhaps what I gained was not balance, but was self-assurance, inner security, and the ability to value myself in spite of whatever. Very formational years for myself, to say nothing of the benefit to my children. Do it again? Yep, but I’d find more support, and take myself less seriously.

    • Stina Kielsmeier-Cook on said:

      Ah, these are good words for me to read. That inner security is hard one, isn’t it? I am almost 30 and am declaring the decade ahead one of “more confidence!” Here’s to aging. And take myself less seriously, yes yes yes.

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