Stay-at-home parents: how to structure a hundred-hour day.
By the time she turned 34, Pat Schildknecht of Winnetka, Illinois had an unusual resume. She had taught English and drama in American Samoa. She had spent 2 1/2 years circumnavigating the world in a catamaran. She had worked as an editor and produced a movie on sexual stereotypes.
Just before she gave birth to a daughter, her employer offered her a year's unpaid maternity leave. Schildknecht grabbed the leave. She had done everything else, it was time to cM babies. Six months later, she wondered about full-time parenthood, "How do people do this? How come they like it when I don't?"
Sixteen million mothers, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics stay home with their children or work part-time. This is more than half of mothers with children under the age of 18. A million fathers are home with children. In 1990, the latest year for which census figures are available, 20 percent of preschoolers with working mothers were home with Dad, up from 15 percent in 1988.
Raising children challenges all parents. But those who leave the workplace for child care enter a world very different from the one that they knew. Their dark secret is that it can take years, not months, to adjust. In the anguish of adjustment, many make a journey of spirit.
At home, parents trip over life issues that they have never considered. How do I structure a hundred-hour day? How do I give to needy children without becoming spent? Why was being a lawyer, or a personnel director, or an administrative assistant easier than being a full-time parent? How come I bristle when a sales clerk asks me, "Work number?" Will I ever find friends?
Tina Bimbaum, a social worker, specializes in family issues. For years she directed Parenthesis, a parent resource center in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. There, full-time mothers and fathers could drop in for an hour or two of respite while child-care workers watched their children. Over and over again parents asked Bimbaum the same question, "Why is this job so hard when it ought to be so easy, so automatic, so instinctive?"
Birnbaum thinks that unrealistic expectations are part of the problem. Raising children 24 hours a day is just plain hard. Used to performance reviews, parents even grade themselves. They report to Birnbaum, "I had a C day." To normalize expectations, Birnbaum gets parents talking to each other in groups. They judge each other much less harshly than they judge themselves. They discover that the job is easy for no one. And the talking overcomes loneliness.
It was loneliness that had tackled Schildknecht. When she circumnavigated the globe, three companions accompanied her. At home she had trouble meeting people. She forgot how to find friends. She met mothers half a generation younger than herself.
After 18 months, Schildknecht volunteered her time at Parenthesis. As a bonus, she found fast friends among the other volunteers. They took their children to the zoo together. They watched them swing or paint fences with buckets of water. Schildknecht's days were not perfect. But, she says, "Once I found friends, it made all of the difference."
If mothers have difficulty finding friends at home, fathers find the pickings even slimmer. At work, Greg Shram (not his real name), a former human-resources executive, spent two full years firing people. His head hurt; his stomach hurt. He woke up tired. He knew how oncologists must feel telling people that they had cancer. When his wife's two years of maternity leave expired just after she had their second child, Schram agreed to abandon pink slips for babies.
People had been Schram's job, so he knew that he would need adult companionship."early on I decided that in order to survive this we all needed to get out once a day. Activities have kept this interesting and helpful for the kids."
But when Schram tried to include other parents in his outings, they rebuffed him. "At play group, I'd say,' Let's do something.' A parent would respond, 'Call me when you go.' I'd call, and they'd say, 'I'm busy today, but keep calling.' I found that I was doing a lot of the calling." Schram felt left out when he over-heard mothers remembering their joint activities with their children.
Schram tried another tactic: his men's group, men he had known for 11 years. One group member worked flexible hours and had raised his own children and made time for Schram during the day. Eventually Schram also found a few mothers who felt comfortable in his company.
Companions willing to share life thoughts are an unexpected benefit to parents at home. For most they are a hard-won benefit.
Schram found a progression to his home adjustment. At first he felt as if he were on a honeymoon. One month he delivered bad news to ashen faces, the next he could take his children to the park any day of the week. He enjoyed so much freedom.
But as day piled on day, Schram discovered that he missed the structure of the work day as much as anything. At work he knew what to expect next. Now he slogged through squishy Jell-O-days. And at the end of those days, he found it hard to remember what he had done.
Her early days at home also frazzled Barbara Perry, a former labor attorney in Houston. She had left work to feel more connected to her child, and to life. After her son's birth, Perry felt encapsulated as she sped to work in a bullet of a train, and, from her corporate glass tower, watched people purchasing a Christmas tree or licking a summer ice-cream cone.
When her son turned 15 months, Perry left her job for a life that seemed more real to her. Besides her son, she cared for other children to supplement her husband's medical-student income.
During Perry's first days at home, she would plan the morning, and the morning would replan itself. At the end of the day, she pounced on her husband for orderly, intellectual conversation. Perry did not like this dependence. "You have to learn to balance your life all over again," she says. "It took my husband saying 'I cannot make you happy, you have to make yourself happy' to help me realize that I had to make my own day."
Perry consciously scheduled time for herself into her week. She felt selfish at first but came to see that time as benefiting everyone. Perry and her husband now have five children. She returned of work for a few years during her husband's residency but then came home again after the birth of their third child.
She cares for her children because she wants to, because she feels that her life is richer that way. And she sees the impact of her work extending far into the future. But it took her years to know that what she does is valuable.
As an attorney, Perry took pleasure in writing a good brief--and her salary acknowledged the worth of her work. However, when her work shifted to her home, who cared about how well she wiped a nose or executed a square corner on a sheet? For years Perry worried about what she would do with the rest of her life.
Parenthood's lack of standards also tripped up Peggy Ulrich-Nims of Newtown, Connecticut. Ulrich-Nims had spent so much energy trying to decide whether or not to leave her job as a university director of planning that she gave little thought to what life at home would be like.
"At the workplace, I had been used to criteria. There were no criteria for what a good mother was. And there were few adult-type rewards. My strength had to come from within."
Ulrich-Nims had left work because she wanted more quality in her life. As a working mother, she felt so besieged by demands that everything felt mediocre--such as the way she did her job, her relationship with her husband and children, and her friendships. Yet, when she quit her job, out of habit she crammed her home life as full as her work life had been. When she rose in the morning, she would sit down and make out a list of 15 goals for the day. And at the end of the day, she'd cross three or four goals off her list and become frustrated.
Reading David Elkind's book, Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk (Knopf, 1987), convinced her to slow down and observe her children. She vented her emotions in a journal to help her figure things out. And she sought support from friends, made time to exercise, and when the children yelled and she felt crazy, she'd take a deep breath, step outside, and walk around the yard.
But it is not just lack of standards that batters parents' egos, it is also the low value that society places on their work. In the 1960s, sociologists Robert Hodge, Paul Siegel, and Peter Rossi of the National Opinion Research Center began collecting data on the social standing Americans ascribed to different occupations--for example, a college professor earned a score of 78; a legal secretary, 46; a hairdresser, 33; and a child-care worker, 23.
Mary Ziegler of Oak Park, Illinois discovered that she had absorbed these societal views more than she wished.
Ziegler taught high-school English and edited an educational magazine before she quit to stay home with the first of her four children. She found it jolting to move from a situation where she felt good at what she did to one where she had no experience and someone's life depended on her. Yet, for Ziegler, giving up her job required more adjustment than caring for a newborn.
The day Ziegler gave birth to her daughter, Ziegler's neighbor, who had spent 11 years as a social worker, left her own job. The next day, the neighbor also had a baby girl. But Zeigler did not immediately strike up a friendship with her neighbor. She confesses that "I resisted becoming friends with her for a while because she was a housewife. Isn't that sad? She'd had more of a career than I." Sixteen years later, the neighbor is back at work, Ziegler is back in school, and the two are now friends.
Demands of the job
Parents constantly in their children's company are unprepared for the intensity of feeling that they have for their children--positive and negative--and the physical demands of child care.
A former nurse at a major teaching hospital used to deal with sick children and families in crisis. Now, while at home with her children, she can't believe the joy that her children bring her. But she also can't believe the other side: "Maybe because my job doesn't end; at the end of a bad day, I'm a hundred times more exhausted than I was at work."
Fathers at home feel similar pressures. One stay-at-home father and ex-teacher expressed it this way, "My wife works such long hours and is under such stress. My sense is that she doesn't appreciate what I do at home. This makes our marriage more difficult."
But no one prepares parents for the underbelly of parenthood. In birth-preparation classes, parents see wonderful slides and practice breathing techniques, says Birnbaum, but "it's a shame that no one ever tells them, when a 2 1/2-year-old bites you, you feel like biting him back, or that toddlers follow you everywhere, even into the bathroom.
"But the discomforts of parenthood open people up to change. As we watch our kids struggle, we reexperience our own parenting and have empathy with our own struggles. Mothers and dads have the chance to complete their unfinished tasks of maturation. The challenges to personal growth are enormous."
Chris Paglia and her husband, Don, codirect the Family Life Office of the Hartford, Connecticut archdiocese. Like Bimbaum, Paglia believes that it helps parents to share the realities of their lives. Pagha advocates gatherings that empower parents rather than teach them. "So often we have experts come and present to parents a system. for dealing with their children. Parents can leave feeling more depressed than when they came. They think, 'Maybe if I go to one more lesson I'll be okay.'"
To Paglia, good programs help parents identify what they do well. They encourage them to take care of themselves and connect parents with each other--so that they can discover if they expect too much of themselves or their kids, or even that parenting is difficult work. "To me," says Paglia, "one of the church's primary responsibilities is to offer affirmation and support to people who are doing a good parenting job--not just to tap them for other jobs like the church bazaar or bingo or to teach CCD."
At 9:30 on Wednesday mornings, the group Parents of Young Children gathers in the Donnelly Parish Center at St. Rita's in Hamden, Connecticut. Baby-sitters care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers while parents talk baby massage or "Follow the Way of Love"--a statement by the National Conference of catholic Bishops on family. Christine Gillooly and her 2-year-old daughter, Liza, joined the group last year to meet people, but, she says, "It developed into so much more."
Gillooly had taught special-education classes to children in New Haven. But when she left her teaching job to care for Liza, she left all of her friends. "I remember feeling lost. I was thinking that I wasn't doing anything. But this group gave me focus spiritually," she says. "A priest told me, 'You are doing an important job feeding your own child.'"
Gillooly made friends through St. Rita's parent group, but she also uses the group to reconnect with the community. On behalf of St. Rita's, Gillooly sends out a welcoming packet to parents when a child is baptized. And she sends a second packet as the child reaches 3 months, a third when the child turns 6 months, and one every six months until the child's third birthday. The packets, developed by Our Sunday Visitor, contain growth charts, music on tape, ideas of things to do with children, and spiritual readings for parents. Gillooly feels that these packets remind parents of the concern the St. Rita's community has for them and their children.
Concern extends beyond parish and age boundaries. When the parent group threw a party for their children, they also sent invitations to kids in a residential treatment center in New Haven. Gillooly saw some of her old students dancing, creating artwork, and just laughing. On another day, these parents picked up homebound people on the St. Rita's roster and served them lunch while kindergartners performed for them.
Parents of Young Children grew in the 1980s from a handful of mothers who didn't want their Renew Group to end. At any one time, about 25 members make up the parents' group. St. Rita's subsidizes the costs, but the group also raises its own money.
When they join a group to find friends, parents can rediscover a lost door to the church. Barbara Cohen joined Parents of Young Children in 1989. "Before I had children--when I worked 8-million hours a week--I didn't even know what color my house was," says Cohen. "Then, aR of a sudden, I was home in it full-time. I needed companionship, and my child needed companionship."
Cohen found this camaraderie she sought and confronted an old friend--her faith. Cohen had grown up in St. Rita's; she had made her First Communion and her Confirmation there. "But when I was working, I wasn't involved in church at all. My life got in the way."
But Cohen came back to St. Rita's to baptize her son. And when her son turned 1, she walked into Donnelly Hall to meet other parents. "I thought, 'I can't do this. These people have been together for years.' But it was a safe place."
The parents group not only nourishes families but also the parish, Cohen says, and "once people know faces, they feel comfortable volunteering in other areas of the church. They know people and are not walking into a room full of strangers."
The group also helps identify a parent who might need community support. Parents whose spouses travel constantly can be particularly vulnerable. When Cohen hasn't seen a mother at the group for a few weeks, she will call and let her know that she is missed. She sometimes discovers that there is illness and the parent needs meals brought in or baby-sitting support.
Cohen's son is now 8, and her daughter will enter kindergarten next year. She feels saddened as she eases out of the group: "There is a big gap between the young parent group and the elderly ministry."
On the other side of the country in Federal Way, Washington, a parent support group meets in a split-level home as part of St. Vincent De Paul Parish. By the fall of 1990, Robin Lamoria, the parish family-life minister, had received dozens of calls from people asking, "Is there anything like a mothers' group at your church?" Lamoria, with pastor Father Tom Vandenberg's help, made sure that she could answer yes to that question.
She looked for a facility with both child-care and meeting space and advertised for child-care workers. This was quite a task because the state of Washington sets rigorous standards for both caretakers and children's physical environments. When it turned out that the lower floor of the rectory offered the best child-oriented space, Vandenberg supported the group and sought new quarters. (Vandenberg moved to a condominium and relinquished his home to Mothers and Others and the parish youth programs.)
St. Vincent's opened Mothers and Others to the whole Federal Way community. The group meets on Thursday mornings and sets its own agenda, which may range from disciplining children to spiritual growth.
Loretta Brown, mother of an 11-, 9-, and a 6-year-old, also sought companionship and joined Mothers and Others when it first began. "I joined the group with a hunger for making connections," says Brown. "It brings life to our church. It draws people to have their children baptized who might not have otherwise. People have asked to have their marriages blessed and have gone through RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] because of the group."
There are about 60 people on the Mothers and Others roster--30 may come to any one meeting. Although most participants are mothers, the group draws the occasional father at home, or even a grandmother or two. Vandenberg notes that women have found a community of people that gives them a support beyond meeting time. There is a peer ministry. The husbands have also developed friendships."
Through peer ministry, group members have brought each other through complicated pregnancies, infant deaths, and illness with prayers, cooking, cleaning, and baby-sitting. Brown says, "It's the big picture of a faith connection."
Brown saw so much spiritual growth in the Mothers and Others group that she and Family Life Minister LaMoria organized a one-day Women's Convention to spread the word. With the help of volunteers, they contacted 130 area parishes and ask@b them whether or not they had a parents group. Few did. One hundred and fifty people from 300 parishes attended the Women's Convention. Out of this convention came a parent network.
St. Vincent's is incorporating working parents into the network. The Mothers and Others group has worked so well for parents at home that the parish has started a second group for working parents in the evenings because, Vandenberg says, "the needs are different."
Because working parents feel so much more pressed by time than do parents at home, the evening Mothers and Others group discusses a number of time issues.
They explore how to connect with church and community and still have time for family. They examine time-constrained spirituality. They share ideas about how to spend more child-centered hours. Instead of meeting formally every week, they meet biweekly, leaving off weeks for social and family gatherings. The group also provides a place for single parents to support each other.
Between Federal Way, Washington and Hamden, Connecticut, the Archdiocese of Chicago takes a different approach to offering parent support,. When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1991 released their family policy statement, "Putting Children and Families First," the archdiocese debated exactly just how to do this. One answer: establish a string of family resource centers. The archdiocese set up six satellite centers in parishes around a hub center. "The centers offer a sense of community," reports Deborah Young, the resource centers' coordinator. "They are a safe environment. Parents can go there to take a break. They can meet and share ideas. Kids can go there as a safety net from gangs on the street.
"Each of the centers is unique. At the main center we have a variety of resource materials--books, videos, and curricula--for children of different ages and for parents on conflict resolution, grieving, preventing sexual abuse, and other topics. All of the centers have books, videos, and a place for parents and children to gather. Some have ongoing programs, and some occasional workshops."
The Academy of St. Benedict the African center schedules programs for every day of the week. Friday night is family night, when children and parents can come in and watch a video together. On Monday through Friday the center's staff watches children after school and gives classes in gymnastics, tumbling, or drug education.
Kathleen Otto coordinates the resource center at Our Lady of Good Counsel, which, like all of the Chicago centers, is open to the general community. "We have parent rap sessions during school hours where we use a video to start a conversation about a certain aspect of child rearing. But the best thing that we did this year was a workshop called Raising Right-side-up Kids in an Upside-Down World. We sent fliers home through the school and advertised in the library and a "round the neighborhood. Over 150 people came to hear the speaker."
In our work-valuing, upside-down culture, a person who retires bites an emotional apple. The person must learn to nourish a self who wonders "Who am I when I am not my work?" A parent who retires for a period of child rearing bites two sides of that apple--learning to sustain both one--self and needy, if beautiful, creatures.
Parents who find support and adapt stretch their spirits. "We got more than we gave," they report. Churches who nourish them speak the same words. "We got more than we gave."
RELATED ARTICLE: Some friendly advice
Parents who have weathered the work-home transition offer the following tips on easing the adjustment:
* If possible, but back to part-time work and adjust to that schedule before you quit cold turkey.
* Try living on one income for a few months before you give notice.
* Realize that you are doing a difficult but important job. Be patient with yourself.
* Lower your expectations of getting things done. One goal a day is plenty.
* Allow yourself to slow down and just observe.
* Schedule time for yourself into each day, even if it is only 15 minutes to kick back and listen to music while the baby naps.
* Schedule an hour or two break for yourself each week. Hire a sitter or exchange baby-sitting with a friend.
* Scrimp on other things to pay for occasional cleaning help.
* Find a support group--a parents group or friends who value what you do.
* Realize that making good friends takes time, months or years, not weeks.
* Allow yourself to mourn your old lifestyle.
* Seek a method of exercise that you enjoy, and stick to it.
* Take long walks.
* Keep a journal.
* Try something new that your have always wanted to do: tap dance, photography, ice-skating, soccer.
* If you volunteer, choose an activity that stimulates you, not one that depletes you.
* Make regular dates with your spouse, with a sitter scheduled in advance.
RELATED ARTICLE: Some family action steps
You might want to check out the following resources for help in the home:
"Follow the Way of Love," Document #677-8: a message from U.S. Catholic bishops to families, with reflection questions and a listing of pastoral documents on family life. "Putting Children and Families First," Document #469-4: the bishops' publication about establishing family-friendly and child-friendly policies, including discussion questions. Each is available in English and Spanish at $1.95 a single copy. Quantity discounts are available. To order call 800-235-USCC.
Preaching with Families in Focus: readings that connect the weekly scripture passages with family issues. Appropriate for homilists or discussion groups. It's published in November each year at $8 a copy. Family Perspectives: a professional journal for family-life ministers and those working with families at $10 annually. Both are available from the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, 513-229-3324.
Parent Letters: a series of seven spiritual letters, directed to parents of young children at regular intervals. Each letter contains a small present--a growth chart, song tape, prayer book. Order from Our Sunday Visitor, 800-348-2440, $16.96 for the seven-letter series (#818); $9.95 for the first three letters (#816); $11.95 for letters four through seven (#817).
Bringing Religion Home: a newsletter for busy parents, written by Mikie Mundy, published by the Claretians, $12 per year for 10 issues. To order call 1-800-328-6515.
The National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers: an organization of diocesan and parish staff, parents, researchers, and publishers. It includes Christian Family Movement, Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter. There are annual and regional meetings. Contact Association President, Joan Wagner, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1445, 513-229-3324.
The Family Resource Coalition, 200 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 1520, Chicago, Illinois 60604, 312-341-0500, offers information and training on establishing family resource centers. It is also an advocacy group for family-oriented public policy.
RELATED ARTICLE: To contact mentioned parent groups...
For more information about Parents of Young Children, contact Carol Twohill, parish secretary, St. Rita Church, 1620 Whitney Avenue, Hamden, Connecticut 06517, 203-248-5513, and ask for the names and phone numbers of parent volunteers.
To hear more about Mothers and Others, call Robin LaMoria, Family Life Minister, St. Vincent De Paul Parish, 30525 Eighth Avenue South, Federal Way, Washington 98003, 206-839-4333.
And Debora Young, coordinator, Parent Resource Centers, 1025 West Fry, Chicago, Illinois 60611, (312) 421-9954, can tell you more about the centers provided by the Chicago archdiocese.
By Joan Flynn Fee, former social scientist who for the past seven years has researched, written, and offered workshops on the transition between work and home.
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|Title Annotation:||includes list of information resources and related article on managing home life and work life|
|Author:||Fee, Joan Flynn|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1996|
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