My son and I had just spent a solid 15 minutes progressing only a few feet into what I was hoping would be a walk around the block. If you’ve ever walked with a toddler, you will understand that they rarely walk in a straight line and are anything but efficient travelers. My son may take two steps in one direction, then will back where we came from. He might stop to take off a shoe, discover an acorn, and ultimately decide he is ready to go inside before we even get anywhere.
When I first made the decision to stay home with him full time, situations like this would drive me crazy. We were supposed to go on a walk, not meander back and forth on our driveway—this is not what “going on a walk” looks like! But by the smile on his face, it’s obvious he couldn’t care less about the destination or how long it might take us to get there. He was just happy to be outside. It turns out I was the one who needed to learn a thing or two.
As a driven, overachiever (and former New Yorker), I walk fast, always have a full schedule, and pride myself on my productivity. In contrast, I’ve discovered that to succeed in my new stay-at-home life, it is much less about what I am doing hour-by-hour and more about simply being.
Being able to slow down, being able to embrace hours without an agenda, and most importantly being present and patient with my son as he learns about the world.
The role of a stay-at-home parent runs in opposition to so much of what the world has told me is important. We live in a world where we are defined and rewarded by what we do, a society where being busy is viewed as success, and a culture where speed, efficiency, and multitasking are simply a way of life.
But in my new job, some of the most important things I do are slow, monotonous, and wildly inefficient. Such as holding my son up to a hallway light switch for ten minutes so he can turn it on and off as he figures out cause and effect, or reading the same book over and over again to him so he can learn through repetition, or even something as simple as having him help me load the clothes in the dryer one sock at a time. If I give him the time and space to follow his curiosity, these are the moments when he learns how the world works.
In my former life, I never imagined that it could take so long just to put on a tiny pair of shoes and get out of the house. But, as I teach my son to become independent and do these things on his own, these once seemingly simple tasks have become less about how quickly we get them done and more about creating a loving environment where he can have new experiences.
As I’ve settled into my new role, I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that it doesn’t matter if we go on an actual walk around the block or if we just putter on the sidewalk for an hour. No longer is my success measured based on my accomplishments, perfection, or the ability to be super productive. I’m learning what matters is to be patient, shift my expectations for what determines a meaningful day, and let go of trying to keep up with the “hustle” culture I once thrived in.
To find purpose, value, and meaning in my work as a stay-at-home parent, I’m continually challenged to unlearn much of what I’ve strived for throughout my professional career. In turn, I’m discovering beauty in a life where simply being present in the small moments of each day is what really matters.