Sometimes, as parents, we look at our day-to-day activities and wonder: Could I be doing more? The simple answer is “Yes!” We can always do more.
But the real question to ask is this: SHOULD I be doing more?
I have been a stay-at-home parent to twins for almost four years — saving us money that would be going toward a nanny or daycare, maybe a cleaning service or takeout food not to mention gas and tolls for commuting to work. But those kinds of doubts about the need to do more come easily to me because I don’t have a “paying job.” This is even after many mornings of doing multiple loads of laundry, some light yard work, and setting up the slow cooker for dinner all before 11 a.m.
Could I be doing more? Maybe I could squeeze in a quick cleaning of the garage? I could pull out the vacuum and take care of the basement rug before I prepare lunch. Because after that, I have to try to get the twins ready for their nap, which may or may not happen, before I clean myself up so I can go pick up my eldest from kindergarten by 3 p.m. And should I take the stroller and walk or drive to pickup? I could use the exercise but will the twins be asleep? Do I bring snacks or hope they won’t be hungry? Wait — is today movie day at the library? That means they will be given a snack there. Potty stop now or after pick up?
And so on and so on.
Don’t diminish all you do get done
This is how easy it is for me, as it is for many other busy moms and dads — whether at-home or in the work force — to get into our own heads. I am not listing all these things I do or think need to be done to impress you (but feel free to be impressed any way), but to help folks understand that while you could always be doing more, it does not necessarily mean you should be doing more.
Think hard about your state of mental health. Do you feel overwhelmed about being overwhelmed? Do you diminish all the things you do because you don’t think they are really that important? Too often, we as parents sacrifice our own needs for the sake of our kids. But remember: if your own mental fitness is out of shape, it is much more difficult to be helpful to others or even be the best you that you can be for yourself and your family.
Another at-home dad, Jonathan “JO” Oliver, told me recently that he starts each day by making his bed. That way, even if nothing else on his “to do” list gets done, he can say with confidence he did that. Sometimes, even one or two simple tasks, like making a bed or unloading the dishwasher can go a long way toward helping you feel fulfilled and like you are contributing even if you can’t put a monetary value on it.
Everything you do has value
But, one could argue, isn’t having dinner ready when your partner comes home or the laundry done trivial? Everyone has to eat and needs clean clothes, right?
Having a hot dinner and clean clothes means your family is fed and clothed. If you were not home to do it, you would have to pay for it to be done. Taking care of those types of tasks contributes to a healthy family life and, hopefully, a healthier state of mind. That is paycheck worthy even if your take home pay is simply a smile or “thank you.”
And, finally, remember that recognizing a person’s value goes both ways. The breadwinner of the family needs you and you need them. As much as you might want and likely deserve a pat on the back for a crazy day of child care, laundry, errands and more, your partner deserves an equal amount of encouragement and praise. Your partner is sacrificing, willingly missing out on some key moments with you and the kids, so the family can have a steady income. Maybe you can take a few extra pictures with your phone of all the things you did with the kids that day then share them with your partner after your delicious slow-cooked rib dinner. That might help them feel more included in some of those moments they missed while grinding away at their 9-5.
Whether at home or at work full time, we all have our days where we think we could have gotten one more thing done if had just pushed ourselves a little harder. But remember sometimes we need a mental health day. We need to clear our minds and just veg out without feeling guilty. If that means binge watching a few episodes on Netflix or going to gym will result in a bit of extra laundry tomorrow, so be it. Even a tiny break can help us feel better physically and mentally and, hopefully, make us better spouses and parents in the end.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vernon D. Gibbs II is a stay-at-home dad living in New Jersey with his wife and three children. He has an architecture degree from Columbia University, and had worked for a variety of companies including the NBA and his alma mater. Gibbs writes for Families of Multiples, The Good Men Project and his own blog, Cool Minivan Dad and was published in the Washington Post. He is an unhappy Giants fan, a weary Knicks fan and chooses Marvel over DC any day of the week.