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The best time to be a stay-at-home parent isn’t what you think…

Being home with your children when they are babies is full of cuddles and cuteness. It can be a great experience for mom and child. But, if you are forced to choose a time in your child’s life to be home with them, or even to cut hours at work to be more available, it’s not when they are babies. 

I hear the shock and awe—and maybe even anger—at that statement but before you get all hot and bothered at the idea that I am recommending you skip the extra cuddles and kisses, hear me out. Yes, when our children are babies it is a beautiful, wonderful time in their lives and if you are able to be home with them that can be a wonderful gift. But, when it comes to your child’s needs, safety, and your mental sanity, the best time to be home with them is the middle and high school years. 

Middle and high school is a rough age. There is a lot going on with your child’s body, socially, and mentally. They need you more. They are becoming teenagers, daring kids. They are breaking boundaries, stepping outside of comfort zones, and defying your wishes. You are likely beginning to worry quite a bit about what they are up to. You are concerned about their health and their behaviors. The reason to stay home with your child in middle/high school is to protect them. 

Babies are adorable. They are cute. They are cuddly, and yes I encourage you to soak all that up. Cherish those moments. But, if you are a forced to choose a time to be home more, think about what might impact them more as adults, think about all the realities they are being faced with as teenagers and choose to be there for them. These are crucial years in your child’s life. They are likely feeling a lot of uncertainty and confusion. They are trying to fit in with their peers, be the “cool” kid, and they think they are smarter and more mature than they really are. It is a fantastic time to be on top of them. To teach them valuable life lessons. To make sure they are sticking to their word. And, to show them you support them, you love them, and you just want the very best for them. They may not engage with you fully, the way they did as a kid, but be present with them and catch them when they fall.

Let me be clear—if you don’t need to make the choice about when to be home, then great, and if you have no choice but to work, that is ok too. Don’t kick yourself if you can’t stay home, and if you don’t want to give up your career entirely you definitely do not need to be home full-time. There is nothing that says you have to be home with your child but regardless try to be present with them as much as possible. 

Ask Mabel: ‘I feel guilty for leaving home’

Letter from concerned client: I decided to leave my hometown and move to accomplish my career goals, and now I really miss my family. My parents are getting old and they don’t understand why I decided to leave and not stay with them. My mom has always told me to ‘live simple’ and despite not agreeing with my decision to move she still supports me. It makes me feel even more guilty, like I am letting them down.

Mabel: I understand your desire to make your parents proud. You said your mom wanted you to ‘live simple’ but still supports you in your goal, however hard it may be to attain that goal. It is a little like how I wanted my kids to enjoy playing music but instead, their interests are art and tennis. Even though art and tennis are not my desires, at the end of the day seeing my children enjoying and working towards their own goals makes me profoundly happy. For them, learning to master these things frustrates them a lot of the time but that is part of life and reaching a goal. You decided to move because it is important to you in the reaching of your goals, and it isn’t always easy. The process of living in a new place and working can be very frustrating. Your mother has a desire for you to live a simple and happy life because that is what she knows of happiness. Most of us mothers have our own desires, however, supporting our children in their own dream is a lesson in parenting. A lesson that it’s not about us but about the child. It is about learning how to love someone, and how to see the world beyond us. It is an important lesson for all us parents. My dream is for my children to soar in whatever they choose to do, even if I have little understanding of it. If guilt is something that weighs them down, like most mothers, I would love to take that weight off their shoulders so they can fly more freely. I am not sure if this is how your mother feels, but my hypothesis is that most mothers share these similar sentiments.