Tag Archive | stay at home mom

Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Step into your dreams!

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Image: Some rights reserved by Grand Canyon NPS

by Chris Little

In my last few posts I’ve been exploring adapting to the empty(ing) nest, that dicey time when you’re transitioning from being a mother with kids at home to a mother whose kids are off at college or otherwise on their own. I’ve written about the importance of reconnecting with your own dreams and desires, and about how volunteer work can help you engage meaningfully in your community outside your home, about how you might want to consider investing more in your work as your kids are home less and less. Now I’d like to explore the possibility that this transition time can be the time to start a new career entirely!

As your kids have grown older and begun to stretch their wings, of course you’ve grown into an older, wiser woman, too. Over the years you’ve learned some things about yourself, about what you need and what you love. But maybe you’ve had to set some of your dreams on the back burner so you could attend fully to the kids. Sometimes those dreams have evolved and changed over the years, as we’ve grown and matured.

Either way, now is the time to begin thinking about what you might do with your life, if you could do anything. What do you love to do? Can you begin to take steps to make that love your life’s work?

Liz trained to be a biology teacher in college. When she started her family she stayed home with the kids and got involved in volunteering for their schools. In her free time she stayed in shape by taking yoga classes, and she found she loved the way yoga made her body and mind feel. So as her kids have gotten older Liz has taken some teacher training classes and now teaches a few yoga classes each week. It’s not full-time, but it’s something she loves and looks forward to expanding into as the kids leave the house.

Deb did some freelance writing when her kids were at home, and picked up an adjunct position teaching English as a Second Language at the local community college when they were at high school. She found she loved working with her students, so after the kids moved out she went back to school for her master’s degree, and now she’s teaching full-time.

As moms who are “off the merry go round” we can find ourselves in a unique position as our kids leave the nest—we really have the opportunity to start a brand-new chapter in our lives. Sure, we may be a little sad about closing the chapter where we were home with the kids. But we can also be excited about writing this next chapter. Here’s how:

1. Look at your dreams.

Maybe you have a dream for what you’ll do in this next phase of your life. Or maybe the seeds of that dream are in hidden in your life right now. So take some time to think about who you’ve become over the years. What’s important to you? What do you love to do? What activity would you (or do you) do for free?

2. Lay out a plan for making them a reality.

This may take some time and energy, but you owe it to yourself (and your children and your spouse!) to put some thought into making this next phase of your life as rewarding as your child-rearing years have been. Ashley is taking classes so that when the kids leave home she can start a career as a counselor. Susan went back to school to learn massage therapy. Rebecca translated her love for cosmetics into a career as a Mary Kay rep. All are still available to their families. All continue to struggle to maintain good work-life balance. But all are negotiating this sometimes sad, sometimes surprisingly exciting time with optimism toward the future.

3. Step into it!

Remember, our goal is to raise independent kids who can manage their own lives, so if the kids don’t seem to need you any more, congratulate yourself on a job well done. But remain available for the times they stumble and need your help. And take a few steps toward making the rest of your life as rewarding and fulfilling as the last eighteen or so years have been!

So, what are your dreams for your empty(ing) nest years? What are you looking forward to getting into after the kids are out of the house?

 

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Coping with the Empty(ing) Nest Inquire Within

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Image by Stephane D’Alu, via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris Little

As mothers who have stepped “off the merry go round,” we’ve made the deliberate decision to set aside a hard-core career for a while so that we could spend more time with our young families. I stopped working full-time right after my first child was born, and while I’ll admit that sometimes I miss having a career to impress people with at parties, I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to spend so much time getting to know my two kids, and that I’ve been able to make sure my family has a calm, well-ordered home—at least some of the time! I think it’s been good for them, and it’s certainly been good for me.

But now my son is 18 and a senior in high school—he’ll head off to college this fall. My daughter, at 15 and a sophomore, isn’t far behind. These days they’re in after-school sports and other activities—typically they don’t get home before 5:30 p.m. The kids just aren’t around as much as they used to be, and I know that over the next few years I’ll see them even less!

So I’m adjusting to the fact that my career as a stay-home mom is drawing to an end, and just as a company man facing retirement naturally takes stock of his past and his future, I’m finding that I’m doing a lot of thinking about who I am and who I’ll be when the kids are fully out of the house. I wonder how other moms have managed this same transition. How do you go about stepping into this next phase of your life?

To find out, I gave my friend Rose Maturo a call—she’s a counselor with a practice not far from here. “I would compare it to a midlife crisis,” she told me. “For a stay-home mom, it’s been all about the kids, but now you have reshape your identity.”

Makes sense, right? We’ve loved being home with the kids, but stepping away from our careers can mean stepping away from our more independent selves, the people we are apart from our roles as parent and spouse. So when the kids, who’ve been so central to our lives and identities, pack up and leave for college, we can be left feeling a bit adrift.

“It’s a process of redefining yourself and your life,” Rose said. “In some cases, it’s getting to know yourself again, your likes and dislikes and dreams and hopes and wishes.”

But how to go about doing all that redefining and rediscovering? “It’s a journey inward,” Rose told me. “Journaling is really helpful because when you get past all the day-to-day stuff you can get to a deeper level with yourself. The same is true with meditation and reflection, anything from taking a walk to doing something on an artistic level.”

Rose suggested a few books that can also help along the journey:

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard N. Bolles
Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, by Gail Sheehy

But even more important than reading is talking, Rose told me. Talk with your friends about your feelings, talk with your spouse (who may have strong feelings of his own as the kids move on). But just as importantly, talk with your kids. “The relationship with your kids isn’t going to end,” she said. “A lot of moms think ‘my kids don’t need me anymore.’ But they do, it’s just in a different way. You can’t stop being a mom. And keeping in touch with your kids and keeping interested in their lives can ease the transition.”

A caveat: While many women embrace the freedom and opportunities this new phase of life presents, Rose warns that it’s not unheard of for women to fall into depression as the kids leave home. So certainly, if you find yourself stuck in a dark place, talk with someone about getting help.

But for most of us, this can be an exciting (though sometimes bittersweet) phase of life. I like the idea of taking some time to redefine myself and my life as I move into these empty(ing)-nest years and prepare for a less child-focused existence. In my next post I’ll explore another strategy: Expanding your circle of concern to include your community through volunteer work!

In the meantime, how are you going about preparing for “retirement,” that is, your life after kids-at-home?

Working Mothers Unite, Look at the Positives

By Jen Ashenfelter

Some decisions are based on a want. Do I want to be a stay-at-home or a working mother? Sometimes there’s no choice in the matter—maybe going to work is a financial need. I’ve experienced all three.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother so I stopped working after my first son was born. Eventually our financial situation changed, so I needed to be a working mother. For many years I really enjoyed my job in real estate—until it started consuming the time I wanted to give my family. A career in real estate cost me more than I was making; once again, I made the decision to get off the merry-go-round and be a stay-at-home mother. I loved it—time for the kids, the household and myself—to sip coffee or have lunch with friends, read books, attend a class and take on some freelance writing projects.

My days at home weren't quite as glamorous and dramatic as those of the Real Housewives of NJ, so I got a second job.

My days at home weren’t quite as dramatic and well-paying as those of the Real Housewives of NJ, so I got a different job.

However, I figured my days of living like one of the Housewives were quickly nearing the final episode, especially since I was not getting compensated for this reality show where “getting nickeled and dimed” actually costs Jacksons and Bens in this economy. With college tuition looming large over the horizon, going back to work was part of my long-range plan but the bank account couldn’t wait that long.Whether you want to work or you need to work, well, it’s still work. However, there are advantages to being a working mother. Here’s my spin on what can be gained—besides money in the checking account—from being a working mother.

It’s my paid vacation

I didn’t want to leave my toddler and infant every other weekend when I started working at the real estate office. I didn’t want to be away several nights a week when I worked at the tax preparation office from January through April. As fun as those jobs ended up being, they were a need and not a want. There were plenty of responsibilities in the job descriptions but there were also no diapers, no endless questions, no bickering, no whining and no SpongeBob! All that and a paycheck too—put your hands in the air and give me woot woot?! There’s no downside when you look at the bright side. Discover the positives when you have to work and create some fun.

Dust off the jewelry and heels

Being at home with two boys left little opportunity to dress up, but I’m still a girl at heart. Wearing sweatpants and sneakers are comfortable and convenient for kicking around the house, but some days I was a prime target for a style ambush where obnoxious TV hosts go through your closet and drawers and heave every piece of clothing you own into a giant garbage bag. I’m all for casual, cozy clothing, but I have a new appreciation for business attire. Buy a new outfit and blow the dust off the jewelry and heels, then add some mascara and lip gloss—the feeling is amazing!

Break the OCD housecleaning habit

My name is Jennifer. I’m a clean freak. What’s that on the floor…why are there crumbs on the counter? I don’t care what your house looks like; I care what my house looks like…a lot. If that makes me a little OCD, then I guess I’m guilty as charged. However, I’m learning to deal with my obsession, but only because I have to! Sadly, I don’t have as much free time to dust and scrub and vacuum anymore. So to all you clean-home haters, forgive me. I’m a changed woman and I want to be a part of your club.

Give the kids something to do

Ok, I’m not completely cured of my clean-house obsession. Isn’t that why we have children so that eventually they can take over all the chores? (No need to call Social Services—my two are definitely old enough…and it’s about time too.) The boys are learning that their clean clothes and a bathroom that doesn’t feel like a public restroom don’t just happen. There’s just not enough time in my day to do it all. Working has made me realize that they live here too and the free ride is over. This working woman may not be awarded Mother-of-the-Year for making the boys do more housework, but some day my daughters-in-law will thank me.

When I'm belting out a tune, this is what I see looking through my windshield.

When I’m belting out a tune, this is what I see looking through my windshield.

In the car, you are a ROCK STAR           

Whether it is five minutes or one hour, embrace the commute. The time and space belong to you! It could be the quietest time of your day or the loudest. Personally, I prefer the daily rock concert. I don’t sing in the shower—someone in the house might hear me, and I’m fairly sure my American Idol audition would produce goose bumps—more of the fear-inducing than the awe-inspiring kind. But in the car—with the speakers thumping—I am Kelly Clarkson…no, Carrie Underwood…wait, a little Jennifer Hudson. Ok, in reality maybe more like William Hung, but it’s my moment on the stage. Rock on!

And more important, surround yourself with really smart and creative people

What’s the saying…too much of a good thing is too much…or something like that? It’s true! Most days I enjoyed being at home with my boys. I loved watching them play and learn and grow. It was fun for them but not always fun for me. It was all about Legos and Matchbox cars and tool sets and playing in the dirt—don’t get me wrong, they are all very cool things. But some days I longed for a mountain of Barbie dolls with fabulous outfits and little shoes. Or I wanted to just sit and read a book. Try reading any Harry Potter book at 5 minute intervals with 10,000 interruptions—not going to happen. Let’s just say that exercising my mind, finding adult conversation, and keeping my writing skills fresh were challenging at times.

Now that the boys are in school, working part time allows me to concentrate on learning and growing too. Never stop learning. Do yourself a favor and surround yourself with people who are smarter and more creative than you, but who are encouraging and patient. Don’t feel intimidated. It feels great being part of a team, to be working with people who are really passionate about what they do, and accomplishing positive things every day. Our children receive our wisdom, guidance and encouragement to learn and grow. Even as adults, why can we not give that to ourselves?

If you’re a working mother, what do you feel you’ve gained by going to work? How do you make your time at work fun and rewarding?  

 

Hate to Cook? Me too!

By Ruth Topper

Does the thought of putting a meal on the table create stress for you?  Well – me too.  Cooking has never been one of my favorite activities.  In fact, I would rate my personal satisfaction of cooking pretty low on a scale of 1 to 10.  I would trade off doing lots of dishes – including pots & pans – every night in lieu of cooking.   In fact, while dating my husband, Gary,  I told him straight up that if he was looking for someone who would put a meal on the table every night for him – then he wasn’t looking at the right girl.  (Fortunately he must have seen other qualities and stuck with me)!

I felt added pressure when I stepped off the full time Merry-Go-Round after the birth of my daughter more than 15 years ago.  Gary was always home from work before me, so for more than 7 years of marriage, he had dinner already started by the time I got home.  Now that I was a “stay at home” mom I felt the pressure to start making dinner every night.  I certainly couldn’t be home all day with the kids and then have him come home & make dinner.   So – I made Gary write down (for the first time) the recipes for some of our favorite meals.  Slowly I started to put together a repertoire of a few dishes I could make on my own.  Although to get to that place – I can’t tell you the number of times I called him at work that first year to clarify instructions to make a particular dish.

So why is cooking such a chore to me (and maybe you)?  Here are some of my theories:

1.  Deciding what to make each day for dinner.  There are so many options to consider and what is an option that everyone, including all the kids, will eat?  Is it relatively healthy?  If your family is anything like mine there are many times that you can’t sit down together for a meal due to sports & activities.  What do you make that won’t seem like a “leftover” three hours later?

2.    Figuring out the timing of all the components (meat, potato, vegetable, etc.) of the meal  so that everything is hot & ready at the same time.    This is truly a science that I have yet to figure out!  All I can say is don’t ever put me in charge of Thanksgiving Dinner!  At my house – I go run the “Turkey Trot” early on Thanksgiving morning while Gary makes the filling & stuffs the turkey!  I’m very good at making the rolls the day before and jumping in at the last minute to help put the various items in serving dishes and/or to stir the gravy – but do not put me in charge of making sure everything is done at the same time!

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“Spices to taste?” What does that mean?! Help!

3.   Measurements for ingredients included in a main dish recipe are often not precise.   Let’s take soup as an example.  Gary is a “Soup Nazi.”   I see him pulling spices out of the cupboard & just sprinkling a little of this & a little of that into the pot or adding vegetables, meat, cheese, etc. without even thinking about measuring them out!  How in the green earth does this “mish mash” end up tasting so good?   We recently purchased a quart jar containing “Seven Bean Soup”  from  our church.  The jar contains a variety of dry beans and the recipe to make the soup.  The last “ingredient” on the recipe is “spices to taste.”  How is someone, like me, ever to figure out what these “spices to taste” are!

In spite of my great dislike for cooking I do manage a few times a week to put something edible on the table for my family.  I learned early on that you need to develop a few “go to” recipes that just don’t fail for you.  One of these recipes in our family is meatloaf.  It is a comfort food, something that everyone likes, warms up nicely or is great the next day cold in a sandwich too.

Meatloaf:
1 ½ lbs. ground beef
1 egg
¾ cup of milk
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup onion, chopped
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 ½ Tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon salt

Topping:
½ cup catsup
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon mustard

Mix all ingredients together – except  the topping.  Place in a shallow baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.  Drain any grease off meatloaf.  Add topping and bake an additional 10 minutes.   Enjoy!

Mmmmm... Meatloaf

Mmmmm… Meatloaf

So – are you challenged in the kitchen (like me) or is cooking something you love to do?  We would love to hear from any of you who have “survival” tips?  Do you have any favorite, easy meals that are your stand-bys?  Please share!

The Importance of Girlfriend Getaways

Reunion brunch with high school girlfriends.

By Jen Ashenfelter

When I jumped off the career merry-go-round to stay at home with Nick (and Chris a few years later), I had no idea the level of isolation that would follow. My social calendar—once filled with lunch dates or happy hours and weekend outings—was replaced with keeping baby fed, dry and happy 24/7, grabbing a quick shower whenever possible and catching up on household chores over the weekend…wash, rinse, repeat!

Of course there were play dates and an occasional gathering of friends and family, but always with toddlers, toys and training toilets in tow. Uninterrupted conversations among adults were rare and usually focused on kid stuff. But I really couldn’t complain; I was lucky to be a stay-at-home mom with a completely supportive husband. However, something was missing.

Beach weekend with my sister and two childhood best friends–ready for dinner in Atlantic City.

Where was ME?

Enter Oprah. (Besides watching endless episodes of Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine, that daytime diva was 60-minutes of being connected to another adult female.) I can’t remember the details, but what I took away from one particular show was the importance of taking care of myself and the benefits of having girlfriends.

Research shows the health benefits women reap by having a network of friends: lower levels of stress and depression, improved mood, lower rates of heart disease and diabetes, delayed memory loss, longer life expectancy.

Equal Opportunity Friend Time: Just for the record, I think it’s important for women and men to have strong friendships and spend time with those people outside of work and family responsibilities.

Organizing free time with good friends is necessary. The health benefits are a plus—use those in your favor when telling the significant other you are headed out for the evening or a weekend away—but, for me, the biggest plus is simply the chance to reclaim me. I become Jen again…not “honey,” “mommy” or “ma’am.”

Newsflash: It’s not selfish to take the time to be you. Recharging is necessary to be a good mother, wife and friend. 

Since that ah-ha moment, in between working from home, managing the household, and driving around town to and from soccer and karate, I love to gather with girlfriends. For me, it started with organizing an afternoon with a close circle of girlfriends at a pottery workshop then dinner together afterwards.

My core group of friends has religiously gathered on the first Thursday evening of every other month at the same gal’s house for the past several years. I spend at least one weekend a year with my sister and two close childhood friends. I’ve reconnected with a group of work colleagues who were good friends before kids and new jobs; organized a reunion brunch with girlfriends from high school; and have gathered friends to enjoy special dinner events at a local teahouse.

Tips & Creative Ideas for Spending Time with Girlfriends:

A fun evening with the gals I used to work with.

  • Start with organizing a simple event with just a few friends—lunch and a special museum exhibit, coffee or cocktails at your house, or hosting an in-home-demonstration show.
  • Organize a gathering around different groups of friends–childhood friends, former coworkers, neighborhood moms or friends with a specific interest such as reading, dancing or photography.
  • If you organize it, they will come—go ahead and pick a date, time and activity and then invite friends. Trying to organize a fun time based on coordinating schedules and interests might prove challenging. It’s ok to be in charge of your gathering and coordinate the overall plans before requesting suggestions for the finer details.
  • Be flexible when organizing regular activities like a book club or game night—not everyone will make it all of the time, that’s ok.
  • When you’re ready to plan a weekend away, keep it simple, small and local like visiting the beach or getting pampered at a hotel spa in town. Organizing a weekend trip takes time, research and patience. Discover new places and activities in your own backyard for starters. Use social media, the internet or hotel concierge for sightseeing ideas/tours and dinner reservations.
  • Whether it’s an afternoon, night or weekend away, minimize cost and travel until you know everyone’s comfort level.
  • Don’t call or text home except maybe once a day. My husband and boys create their own Boys’ Night/Weekend when I’m out with girlfriends. Everyone enjoys their special time…and there’s truth to the saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A special evening at a local wine and tea dinner event.

Do you get together with girlfriends regularly or plan yearly getaways? Tell us about a favorite trip you took recently or share your creative ideas for gathering the girls together.