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.
“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.
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.