Sanity saving tips for stay-at-home moms

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At the time of writing this, I have four children aged 11, 9, 5, and 2, which means I have been a mom for over a decade – and during all this time, I have been at home with my children, whether “just” a stay-at-home mom (more than a full-time occupation in itself!) or, in recent years, also a freelancer juggling writing and editing jobs and publishing her own books.

I have home educated and done crafts, started a garden and changed a gazillion diapers, milked goats and potty trained, nursed four babies and broke up countless fights, treated children and chickens for lice, kissed boo-boos and wiped noses. Now that I have preteens, I constantly find myself having conversations with kids who are convinced they are infinitely smarter than I am.

It has not always been easy. There were (and are) days when I just wanted to get away for a bit. There are frumpy days, dragging days, tear-my-hair-out days.

But I still wouldn’t trade it for anything, and with time and the gift of perspective that comes with it, I have learned to lean on a few strategies that help me keep (somewhat) sane.

1. Be realistic. I know that there are going to be all kinds of days. Sometimes we are all sitting in peace and harmony around the table and I’m doing fractions with the older girls while the little ones are coloring. Sometimes my kids are doing their best to get the house demolished. Sometimes I have plenty of energy; sometimes I’m down with a stomach bug or just feel blah. But whatever happens, you get to have a fresh start the next day.

2. Focus on the basics and prioritize. I used to iron. I never do that anymore. I don’t do labor-intensive recipes and I don’t wash my windows from the outside. I know that I do a staggering amount of work each day and I refuse to feel guilty about not cramming in more.

3. Don’t let things pile up. If at all possible, wash those dishes before you go to bed. In the morning, you’ll be glad you did. The longer you leave things to pile up, the harder they are to tackle eventually. I keep laundry manageable by sticking to throwing in a load every other day and having it folded and put away before the next load is due to wash. I do a tidy-up several times a day and try to clean messes (such as a dirty stove) as soon as they pop up. I don’t do it because I love to clean (ha!), but because I hate being overwhelmed.

4. Delegate! There is absolutely no reason your children should expect you to do things for them which they can do for themselves. Insist that everyone picks up after themselves, serves themselves, and helps out with age-appropriate chores. Very young children can learn to pick up after themselves, keep their play area tidy, and wash their glass after they have a drink. No, it isn’t always easy, and yes, I struggle with this, but I refuse to raise little entitled layabouts who expect full room service.

Don’t forget to enlist your spouse if possible – just because you are the one who stays home, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. You are always on duty and deserve a break (more on that in a bit).

5. Don’t compare yourself to others. We all have that friend with the immaculate living room and the kids who all play cello. But guess what? We are all different. Be kind to yourself. Think about what would happen if you stopped, for just one day, doing all the myriad of “nothings” that accumulate during each 24 hours – mopping up spills, keeping everyone clean and fed, tackling the garbage and all those little “insignificant” jobs your family only learns to appreciate when you happen to fall sick. Yeah, you see my point. Don’t judge by performance – evaluate by work performed, and you’ll likely see you’re already doing awesome.

6. Take some time off and break the routine. When was the last time you read a good book? Spent time on a hobby? Took an unplanned hike? Called a friend? Got enough hours of sleep? Had a bath without someone banging on the door? Be honest, and you’ll see that you deserve some pampering.

While it isn’t always possible to get time alone, you can also be refreshed by having a break from routine with your children – a picnic, watching a movie together, putting your feet up while little ones play in the pool, even just curling on the rug as you read side by side with them.

Don’t feel guilty – there is always more work to be done, and life is too short. So do what you can to grab that portion of joy and beauty in your day.

On the Purim-Pesach highway

Purim is in two days, which officially marks the beginning of my least favorite time of the year: the weeks between Purim and Pesach.

I always say that all the Pesach prep is probably meant to really help us get into the shoes of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt. It’s more than just spring cleaning, which many people around the world do. It’s practically overhauling one’s whole house. It’s getting obsessively neurotic over every crumb and every trace of leavened bread. It’s packing and unpacking dishes, cookware, and practically all the kitchenware – twice in the span of a week.

By the end of that time, I’m just left with my tongue hanging out, desperate to have my life back.

But there is a silver lining. This period is also the absolute best time of the year to acquire various roadside finds, as people are going through their houses and closets and throw away things, often in excellent condition. You know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A big part of our furniture consists of such timely finds that have been serving us for long years now.

While I’m generally a big fan of saving space and getting rid of stuff, sometimes you just happen to be in need of something, and then you’re actually driving by and it stares you right in the face – like for example this good-as-new bed frame we had hauled home last week. After a thorough treatment with furniture polish, I can already envision how it will shine in its intended spot. Naturally, I don’t buy furniture polish – I’m currently experimenting with a few homemade, eco-friendly versions.

Happy cleaning, everyone. Remember not to work too hard and just enjoy this beautiful time of year when the earth seems to be stirring awake.

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“Should be” vs. “Is”, or the Kitchen Sink Saga

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Last week, I discovered a massive leak under one of our kitchen sinks (yes, we’re lucky enough to have two). After mopping up the mess and emptying the cabinet under the sink, I did what any reasonable woman would do: asked my husband to fix it.

Unfortunately, my husband declared that he’s too busy in the next few days, and that I can just use the other sink in the meantime.

Now, the second sink was OK as an emergency backup, but I have always used the first for my meat dishes and didn’t want to mix them up.

So basically, I had two choices here:

I could stomp my foot and get angry, and rave about how inconsiderate my husband was and what’s the point of having a man in the house if not for such emergencies?!

… Or I could roll up my sleeves and get the job done myself.

(There’s also the option of paying someone else to do it, of course, but it’s kind of out of our budget right now).

I swung by the hardware store, bought a piece of piping after consulting the nice man behind the counter, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and dug in.

Did I do the job perfectly? No.

Did I accidentally poke myself in the face with the loose piping, split my bottom lip, dribble blood all over my front and, for the next few days, look like a poster girl for a battered women’s shelter? (I wish I were joking).

Um, never mind.

But is the sink usable again now?? Yes!!

And every time I wash the dishes, I experience this warm glow of satisfaction: I did something that I thought I was incapable of. And you bet it feels a whole lot better than sitting around and grumbling about how unfair it is and how I’m not supposed to also work as a plumber while taking care of four children, running a household, and doing my best to pay the bills.

This little kitchen sink episode illustrates a truth that had taken years and years to penetrate through my thick skull: it’s so much better and healthier to take a deep breath and deal with how things are, rather than keep getting hung up on how they “should be”.

And this, my friends, is – in a nutshell – the difference between the younger me and the me of today. I spend less time thinking about the discrepancies between ideal and real, and more time rolling up my sleeves and getting things done to the best of my ability.

In case any of you Freejinger ladies are reading this (you know who you are!), that’s the process that has brought me to the point where I am today.

I have heard a lovely metaphor, that life treats us like sea glass: the waves, sand and rocks create constant abrasions that smoothe out our sharp edges, tone us down, and shape us into something new and beautiful, and much more pleasant to handle than prickly glass shards.

For me, this process has included internalizing that dreams, ideals and self-appointed rules sometimes don’t match reality, and you have two choices: roll with the waves and become a piece of sea glass, or…

Shatter on the rocks.

I’ll bet you can guess which choice I’m making every day.

Finding the balance: working from home with your kids around

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Stay-at-home moms are on call all the time. There’s always something to do at home – it’s more than a full time job! Between settling sibling fights and washing another never-ending stacks of dishes, it’s no wonder most moms of little ones are ready to collapse at the end of the day.

If you throw in home education and extracurricular activities, you get an even busier life.

And if you are also trying to set up a home business or establish yourself as a freelancer? While it may seem (and is often true) that working from home is a family friendly option, enabling parents to still be there to take care of their kids and save time and money on commute, it does come with challenges of its own.

Many work-at-home parents still have hired childcare, which basically makes it no different from any other job – they do have set office hours, it’s just that their office happens to be right where they live. But if you, like me, choose to work from home so that you don’t need to hand your children over to anyone else, your hours become very fluid. You may find yourself locked up in the upstairs bathroom having a video call with a client because that’s the only place where you can be sure of privacy and you really, desperately need those three minutes right NOW.

It may seem extremely difficult, next to impossible, to find time when you seemingly don’t have any, and I’ve had to become very disciplined. I don’t remember the last time I have watched a movie. I only read for pleasure on Shabbat (as a copyeditor, I basically read for a living during the week). My friends (the ones I have left) often complain that I don’t return calls. I often get up early and go to bed late, and I still have to struggle with guilt for having to do some things during the day when my children are awake and need me.

I have implemented early bedtime, even for Shira who will soon be 11, and have also gotten my kids used to the idea that I’m not always available for whatever it is. We have a home office, but I don’t use it because I can’t leave little ones unsupervised during the day. So if I do have work to complete during daytime hours, I settle with my laptop in the living room and my children know that I’m there for any emergency, but not for fixing sandwiches, reading stories or helping them make beaded bracelets – not for the next hour or two, anyway.

The older kids are encouraged to have quiet time while the baby is napping so that I can work. This includes both my own books and my paid job, though my books often find myself having to wait as I focus on a deadline for a paid project.

I still think I have got a pretty good deal. I am there when a child is sick and needs extra care. I choose my own hours and decide how much work I can take up (the more I do, the more I get paid, but one can only do so much). I run errands whenever it is convenient, I have no commute, and I can always take time off for family occasions.

A few insights:

1. Simplify. Opt for less stuff, less commitments, and simpler meals. Clutter is your enemy, especially when the whole family is home every day and all day long.

2. Avail yourself of any help with kids and/or housework you can get. If you live near family that is willing to help, so much the better for you. Don’t worry, no matter what you do, there will still be more than enough work left over for you.

3. Avoid the guilt loop. While my husband walks into our home office to take care of his stuff and make phone calls without interruption, I have often felt guilty for saying no to sitting on the carpet and coloring because I’m working to a deadline. At other times, I’ve felt guilty for neglecting the deadline and sitting down to color.

You can only do your best. If I find myself struggling with feeling I have not done enough, I look back at the end of the day on all the things I’ve done for my family – from cooking meals to giving baths, from wiping noses to paying bills, and earning the money to pay those bills, too – versus the “me time” (usually a stolen 20 minutes to work on a book, some crochet at the playground, and texting a friend for a bit) and I realize I have absolutely no reason to feel guilty. In fact, I even can and should become my own cheerleading team, applauding all my efforts and appreciating what has been achieved.

Strategies for minimizing mold

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Ever had a mold problem? It’s one of the biggest challenges we’re dealing with in our current house, and though it’s an ongoing battle, I’m happy to say we’re gradually getting the situation under control. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Mold isn’t just unsightly and nasty-smelling. It can have potentially serious health consequences such as respiratory problems or symptoms akin to allergy and asthma. Treat it promptly and uncompromisingly as you would a dangerous enemy.”

I’m telling you, in the first weeks of moving here it was like battling some malicious, purposeful enemy rather than colonies of fungus. Every spot that wasn’t completely dry, toasty and thoroughly aired would be covered with ugly black mold dots within days. Persistent airing and copious amounts of bleach made these attacks recede somewhat, but we still have to be extra diligent when it comes to maintenance.

By the way, when we first came to see the house, it was impossible to know there was a mold problem at all. The place was spotless! Which is something I always keep in mind whenever I feel challenged. It’s definitely doable.

I’m ready to try methods other than bleach, because I hate the way it smells. Vinegar and baking soda did not make an iota of difference. Anyone has any good tips?

Image source: Wikipedia

When you’re buried in housework

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I have come across a truly eye-opening post about why we are really overwhelmed by housework. It’s kind of oldish, but trust me, it’s a real gem!

‘Sometimes in my life I have not been overwhelmed by housework so much as just overwhelmed. Sometimes life sends stuff at us that is just hard. Sometimes we might not even want to acknowledge that stuff, even to ourselves, so we look around at the mess we are in, at the housework that is not getting done because we are so consumed by other hard stuff, and think, ‘If I can just get the house sorted and clean and pretty like every single other person in the world seems to be able to do, then maybe all this other misery will go away and we can be the Brady Bunch, and every area of my life will be Pinterest worthy, and then I will be happy.’

I have never stopped to think about any aspect of this except having babies and small children in the house, which obviously makes one slower. However, I did not often stop to consider that many of the times I was overwhelmed and frustrated supposedly with housework were not really about the housework at all.

Lately, I’ve felt I’m really struggling, chasing my tail and not really getting much done. I was too busy and tired to stop and think that it’s not really about the number of loads of laundry I have to do each week, but about some adjustments I’ve failed to make.

One is having my husband at home full time. He freelances, which means he often strolls into the kitchen for a drink or snacks or just hangs around. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one who absolutely hates doing any sort of housework beyond bare maintenance when there are people around. I need space and quiet and can’t handle having to shoo people away while I’m cleaning. So I often find myself waiting for my husband to get out of the house to really get into gear, and it just doesn’t happen all that often. Now I tell myself, don’t wait for the perfect time to do whatever it is I should be doing, just jump in with both feet and get it done!

Another factor is living, for the first time in my life, in a house with stairs. Our previous house had a compact shoebox shape, and getting from one room to another took about half a second. Now I find myself wasting a lot of time running up and down the stairs whenever I need something or forget something. I’m slowly teaching myself to group my tasks so that I spend a chunk of time upstairs working on things that need to be done there, and then go downstairs for other tasks. I also keep some things I need on hand, like diapers, both upstairs and downstairs.

Finally, I’ve taken an extra commitment at the beginning of this year when I started working from home as a copyeditor. I love the financial perk and am grateful for the fact that I work with one company rather than having to hunt for new freelance gigs each month, but work is work and nothing gets done by magic. So some things just had to go, like ironing. It’s a delicate balance, and we all just have to keep at it, doing the best we can with what we have.

Clutter: the perennial problem

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A few short months after we were married, I already saw the clutter beginning to accumulate. It has the most sinister ways to creep in. Old newspapers and bills, empty plastic bags, a few items that were lovingly given to us, but are of little use… it takes a time to sort through it all!

In addition, I soon discovered a slight difference of attitudes between my husband and myself when it comes to stuff. I see anything that isn’t useful or beautiful as superfluous, and will gladly throw or give it away. My husband will stick to anything he thinks we might ever use, someday, somehow In a house with very little storage space, this usually means piles of clutter.

Here’s what happened one night shortly after we were married. My husband came from work, holding two unrecognizable metal objects in his hands.

“Aren’t they nice?”  he asked enthusiastically.
“What are these?”
“Well, I don’t actually know. But aren’t they cool?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I have a creative and resourceful husband who can take what others would label as “junk”, make a few tweaks here and there, and produce excellent and useful items. Our very first living room table was found abandoned on the curb, and restored just a few days before our wedding.

Most of our furniture was either found and repaired, or we got it used. It saved us a good deal of money, and is very useful. However, we also have much (too much, in my opinion) stuff that gathers dust on our shelves, taking up limited storage space. Not that I think having more storage space is a solution! Rather, it tempts you to hoard more and more stuff if you have such a tendency.

All our house moves were seen by me as opportunities to get rid of unnecessary clutter. Moving is the perfect time to do that, because you are forced to go through all your things and decide what is important enough to be wrapped, put into a box, and taken with you to your new home. Often, you will find things you even forgot you had – and ironically, even though you hadn’t used them for years and didn’t miss them at all, once you see them you are unable to say goodbye.

There is a certain box that has been sitting with us, unpacked, through two house moves. I figure that if we could live without thinking about its contents for four years, we aren’t likely to ever need it. My husband begs to differ. I have learned to let some things slide, however.

I think that once in a while, I will just pretend we are moving again, and simply let go. Let go of unnecessary items and simplify our life. It feels good.