Finding My Balance: Staying Home Full-Time with Four Young Children
This is the hardest post of the balance series for me to write. The thing is, this isn’t exactly how I thought this part of my parenting career would turn out. When Sadie was born, the twins were 17 months, and Jack just turned six. I was traveling a lot for work and knew it wasn’t sustainable. I took my maternity leave thinking I might be able to go back part-time, but a few months in, I knew that I needed to be home full-time. If I thought I was in survival mode after the twins were born, this redefined “survival.”
At first, it wasn’t too bad. Sadie was a newborn. She was an easy-going baby, and she slept a lot. The girls were containable. Jack was in school for a solid chunk of the day, so I could definitely manage things.
Sadie was born in the fall. By summer, life had changed quite a bit. Sadie was moving, the twins just turned two, and Jack was home for the summer. It. Got. Hard. The hardest part wasn’t just that I was home with four kids during the day, but that I never sat down, and the list of things/requests/demands/cries were endless. Weekdays bled into weekends. Weekends bled into weekdays. I tried to make the most of it, but I wasn’t getting much of a break (we didn’t have any help at this point, and we rarely went out without the kids...getting a sitter for four kids, three of whom were two and under, is a real feat).
The hard part of this is that this chapter of my parenting career was not the lovely, quality time with my kids I had imagined when working full time. See, the thing is, as a working mom, I always had this idea in the back of my head that if I chose to stay home that it would be nice. I knew there would be hard days, but I thought that I would relish it. What I realized is that I needed something else beyond my kids. That realization alone is hard.
I know there are people who are close to me who are reading this thinking, um, yeah, we knew that about you. But I needed to learn it for myself. I am still figuring it all out, which is the point of this balance series...I am still finding my balance. I don’t have it solved.
I recently heard comedian Michelle Wolf in her brilliant “Nice Lady” standup special talk about the idea of having it all. I can’t stop thinking about this quote:
"I know there’s a lot of people out there that are like, “But, Michelle, you don’t have to choose. You can have it all. Women can have it all.” Yeah, stop saying that. You act like “all” is good. “All” does not mean good. You’ve never left an all-you-can-eat buffet and thought, “I feel really good about myself… Mm, that crab and pudding is sitting really well together. I sure am glad I went back for spare ribs. “All” is not good. And even if we do try to have it all, even if a woman out there definitely wants it all, we’ve put up too many obstacles in your way to make it possible. It’s like, “Oh, congratulations, you’re having a baby? Great. Couple things… We’re gonna need you to get that car accident of a body back to work as soon as possible, because this is America and we don’t think you need time to recover. Also, you should breastfeed. It’s what’s best for the baby. But don’t do it in public, you pig. Do it in the old janitor’s closet underneath the bridge with the rest of the breastfeeding trolls. And don’t ask to take time off from work when your kids are sick. We’ll think you’re not dedicated. Also, why are you such a bad mom? By the way, your salary is just enough to cover the cost of childcare. And we know you’re exhausted and you don’t really know who you are anymore, and you’re trying to balance your old life and your new life, but, quick, go have sex with your husband! He’s about to leave! He doesn’t understand what you’re going through! Quick, go now! And, sweetie, smile!” [cheering and applause] I don’t want it. Men don’t try to have it all. They’re just like, “I got a job and a sandwich. I’m good."
So, I am figuring out that I can’t have it all and still trying to find my balance. Here’s how I managed things with four young kids staying home full time.
Maternity Leave and Returning to Work
Before I left for my maternity leave, I had honest conversations with my boss and team about my leave. I knew that the career I had was not sustainable, so my return would be in a different capacity. Thankfully, they were very open to this conversation. After a few months, I decided to stay home full-time.
We kept our nanny on part-time for the first couple months to help out with the transition to four. After that, I was home with the kids full-time on my own. Any occasional help was in the form of a babysitter, and infrequent.
I woke up before the kids to shower and get ready. After that, Jack’s school schedule dictated our day. We would walk to school to drop him off in the mornings and return in the afternoons to pick him up. In between, I aimed to find some consistency. Typically, on good days, I would put Sadie down for a morning nap and the do some kind of structured activity with the twins. When Sadie would wake, we would either run an errand or go to the park. Lunch. Then, naps. I regularly had to wake up all three girls to get Jack from school. We would come home as a five-some and then have snacks. Zach typically arrived home from work in the mid-afternoon (thank goodness for his East Coast schedule!) and the afternoon craziness would begin. Then, and still, 3 - 6 pm tends to be the hardest part of the day. Zach and I were basically putting out fires, while trying to cook some kind of dinner. We would eat together as a family around 5:30/6, and then start the bedtime routines around 6:30.
Zach has been amazing in trying to find ways for me to have alone time. Running remained a personal outlet for me, just as it was when I had just one baby. Initially, I tried to bring one of the kids with me in the jogger to help relieve Zach a bit while I was gone, but I realized that this was my personal time, and I needed to be alone. He has also given me the chance to go out and take a few hours for myself, but I would often use it to run errands. I have learned that a trip to the grocery store (even if it is alone) doesn’t really qualify as “me time.” So, this is a long-winded way of saying that neither one of us really got much personal time.
I thought I would love the flexibility with the kids and the freedom that it provided, but I found myself on the other end of an extreme: 100% dedication to the kids without much help or time to myself. I am very grateful to be able to have had the chance to be home with the kids full-time, and I wouldn’t trade it in, but similar to having a full-time demanding career, this was not sustainable for me in the long-run. So I continued to find ways to achieve more of a balance.