Friday, September 30, 2016

A case for staying home

I'm tempted sometimes to be busy.

Are you? It seems like a common problem. In my case, my temptation to be busy involves signing the kids up for a bunch of stuff, going to more exercise classes, and in general to find more reasons to be out of the house.

But, I can't do it. I'm not naturally a "schedule" person, so maybe that's why I can't fathom saying "yes" all the time.

I might be built differently than you, but I thought these ideas were worth sharing. Maybe it will help you think a little deeper about your regular routine, and reflect on why you do what you do.

Why be involved at all?

I think there's a lot to be gained by being involved. There's also a lot of happiness that flows into your life from interacting with others, and a high that comes from doing something you love. I can't make a case for not being involved in at least few things.

But, I do think every decision to add another "something" to your life should be done with much forethought, and a chance to consider what you are losing. Don't take lightly what it means to give many hours of your life over to somebody else's schedule. And the gift of your attention is precious, and should be guarded wisely. Take advantage of your title as a stay-at-home mother-- and stay home! Do you know how many people would love to be in your shoes, where the calendar is blank, the commitments few, and you are the master of what color you're going to paint the canvas that day? As a stay-at-home mother, that is your privilege! It really is your choice to make.

Being involved is an important part of my day-to-day, and most days we've got something out of the house we have to do. However, as a stay-at-home mom with three pre-school companions, we usually have at least one day each week where we go absolutely nowhere.

What can you say "no" to?

-I've been tempted to sign Cheyenne up for softball ("she doesn't know how to play, so it'd be good for her" "If I decide to sign her up next year, she'll be behind because she didn't play this year")

-I've been tempted to put Delaney is swimming lessons all the time ("the more she practices, the faster she'll learn"), dance classes ("she'd be so CUTE! And she'd love it.")

-I've been tempted to go to more exercise classes, or go more consistently ("my instructor/other class members will be disappointed if I don't show up" "I'm not getting enough exercise if I don't go to the gym five days a week")

-I've been tempted to add storytime to our schedule, even though it's not convenient ("my kids would love it" "how will my kids learn to read/love reading if we don't spend more time at the library?")

This is just my list, and the things that I've considered this fall. It seems like with every season comes another opportunity to add something to your schedule. And why not? Your kids love it, you love seeing them happy, and it keeps you from killing each other at home, so maybe you should strive to keep busy? I disagree.

Why should you scale back?

It was actually totally normal a generation ago. For some reason we've convinced ourselves that we need to be busy or we'll die. Or that if we don't sign our kids up for stuff, we're not a "good parent." I don't ever actually remember going anywhere when I was a kid. Do you? We turned out just fine. And we did lots of fun stuff at home.

There's something really special that happens when you stay home unscheduled. My kids play especially well on Tuesdays when they know we are not going anywhere. It seems like there's more imagination that happens. They play for longer because the day is a blank canvas. They aren't expecting to go anywhere, because they know that's what Tuesdays are like.

You don't need to constantly entertain your kids, and it's good for your kids to be bored. 

Kids need downtime. I think about this a lot for Cheyenne, a sweet little five-year-old who's already at school all day long. It makes her less grouchy. She gets more sleep. She feels more settled because she is more often in a loving, peaceful environment. I think those things are worth the "sacrifice" of having her be "behind" in sports! I'm not anti-sports, but I sure do wish our society could figure out a more balanced way to let kids play, have fun, and not have it consume their lives.

Your kids will get to spend more time with someone who loves them. I don't think coaches are bad, and I've seen a lot of great teachers. I believe the girls who run the gym child watch are nice people and good with kids. But who cares the very most about my kids? Me. The time before you send your kids off to school is precious, and then when you do send them off, their evenings are precious. They want you, and you can give that to them by saying "no" to some things.

Unscheduled time leads to innovation. You might have heard of Google's once-famous "20% time" that produced some of their best products. I also know of a study that showed world-class volinists don't actually practice more than others, but they make relaxing an important part of their regimen. I have found this to be true of my Tuesdays and free weeknights. When I make it possible to have less to think about, I'm more likely to find solutions to my problems, or think of good ideas for my favorite hobbies.

Be still, and know that I am God. It's telling that God hopes for us to "be still." Often, quiet, unscheduled moments are when we feel the closest to Him, and are reminded of our eternal nature as a child of God. That is not something you want to give up for more "fun" activities!

A few tips for making home a place you want to be

How can I ensure I don't go crazy? I think one of the reasons people schedule so many things into their day is because the kids fight when they're home. Or they're bored. Or you get cabin fever (this one is me, for sure). I guess that's part of why I advocate being involved on some level, it ensures that we won't be at each other's throats all the time. But I think you can be calculated about being home, intentionally structuring your schedule so that you know you'll be home at certain times, rather than simply deciding to skip out on stuff you are signed up for.

Invest in fun stuff for your home. Of course kids can have fun without anything "extra" and I usually fall on the "don't buy it" end of the scale. Because of that we haven't really bought any big-ticket super fun items for our kids. It's something I regret somewhat, and now we are saving to purchase a few things. I think calculated, intentional purchases for your kids is an important part of enjoying being at home. Some ideas I've thought of: a trampoline, a swing set, a sandbox, play house, things your kids can do together. My sister has a second-hand bounce house that's been a real hit at their house (I'm still trying to convince Ben on this one!).

"Unstructured time" does not mean "doing nothing." I think some of us don't like staying home because... there's nothing to do or the "to do" is "sit in front of the t.v." (especially when the weather is bad). One suggestion I have for making days that you stay home fun rather than a day that you want to rip all your hair out is to make it a day without t.v. T.V. is great... except when you want to turn it off. At least with the ages/temperaments of my kids, they get pretty grouchy after watching t.v. at home or just zone out like zombies and I have a hard time pulling them away. My kids know there's a certain time they're allowed to watch stuff (it's always after lunch and on certain days), so the days where we don't go anywhere aren't "watch t.v. all day" days. It makes us all a lot happier when we know ahead of time it's a day for playing, and aren't expecting to just veg out. I'm all for vegging out, but if you're trying to make your home a place where you want to be, you've got to find ways to spend unstructured time with those you love, and not just "doing nothing" together.

Take activities you wish your kids could do and bring them home. Many of those activities I want to do, or I want my kids to do, we can do at home. For instance, in an effort to spend less time at the gym, a few days out of the week I opt to take a walk with my kids instead. I may not be a world class athlete or the most in shape person (because I'm not pushing myself super hard at the gym), but I do exercise! (Of course I could always get up early and exercise... I'm not there yet.) Other ideas include: Simply go to the library, you don't have to wait for storytime, or buy some of your favorite books and read them over and over again (neither of these are earth-shattering... but we don't often think about what we could do instead). Play sports as a family rather than being on a team, do family "plays" rather than doing a dance class (a favorite at our house).

Find a home-based hobby. Ben and I have talked a lot about hobbies and traveling. Traveling is a very "in vogue" hobby and sometimes I feel like we're missing out because we don't travel that often. But Ben's hobby is woodworking, so a lot of weekends he would rather be at home working on a project rather than finding a reason to be out of the house. Everybody is different, and I am grateful for Ben's home-based hobby. One thing I love about Ben's hobby is it's something he can do everyday. We don't have to wait for the weekend or worry about saving up a big chunk of change, it's something he can do daily that adds joy to our life, and keeps us at home together. Home hobbies aren't just sitting in front of the tv... what can you do at home that can bring joy to your life?

Staying at home can mean family togetherness, and building relationships. Not always, but sometimes being involved in more activities can mean your family is segmented and not together. That means less time building relationships with those you love. Home is, in my mind, a safe place where kids aren't put down and parents are willing to say sorry for their mistakes. It's a refuge from the storm, and should be treated with such sanctity. When you make home not only a place you want to be, but people you want to be with, it becomes a lot easier to enjoy being home together.


  1. I agree! Being at home together and being the main influence in my children's life right now is one reason we've decided to Homeschool our children for the time being. We have a play set in our backyard and it has been a source of hours of entertainment for our children. We've also invested in a strider bike and bikes for our children. They enjoy doing that together as well. And I've recently made going to storytime a priority (since we don't have any other scheduled activities) and I let each child pick out 5 books and I pick 5 and I work to read all 20 before the next week. I now see my children spending more time looking at books than I did before. I have also like you started letting/ limiting tv time to right after lunch. Predictability is key with tv time. I also read that until around age 8 it really doesn't help your child to be in sports/lessons... I have been tempted by dance as well. �� Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your blog and contemplating what you write about!

    1. These are great Rebecca! We love bikes too. Our current house has a gravel driveway so we can't ride them outside, but when we lived in Provo we had a lot of fun at home on bikes (they actually ride them in our unfinished basement now).

      Good for you doing homeschooling. I haven't felt compelled to do that right now, although I have two sisters who have done it before and had a really great experience. My sister likes to say, "My kids now thrive in public school not in spite of the four years we homeschooled, but because of it." I'm glad you can give that to your kids!

      If you ever find a link, I'd love to read more about sports not being effective until age 8. That sounds super interesting.