My alarm goes off at 5:45 every morning. If I don’t run in the morning, I hit snooze until 6:15. When I do get out of bed, I put on my yoga pants and a clean t-shirt and go downstairs and get ready for the day. I wake our four kids up at 7:00, get everyone ready for school, and get them out the door, hopefully before my first daycare child arrives. (That rarely happens.) I work all day managing my in-home daycare. I spend my days playing with other parents’ kids, breaking up fights, changing dirty diapers, greeting kids coming back from preschool, feeding kids lunch, kissing boo-boos, feeding snacks, helping clean up toys, and sending them home.
Once they’re all out of my house, I start what I refer to as “The Evening Job.” I help my kids with homework, make supper, do the dishes, give baths, and try to get our kids in bed at a reasonable hour so I can go for a quick run if I didn’t do it in the morning. After I run and all the kids are tucked into bed, I work on my children’s ministry job for our church, finish cleaning the house, and fold the laundry while watching an episode of “Fixer Upper” before crawling into bed, fully knowing that my alarm will be going off quite early again the next morning.
If you would have asked me 15-20 years ago if I thought this was what my day would look like, I would have laughed at you. When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always gave a “career” answer, but I confess that deep down inside all I really wanted to be was a stay-at-home-mom. I dreamed of having two biological children and adopting a few more children internationally. I wanted to marry someone who wasn’t rich, but made enough money to provide for our family while I stayed at home and raised our children. I had visions of being a MOPS leader, going to all of the public library programs with my kids, and spending my summer afternoons at the local pool. I would make wholesome fresh meals for my family at night, all while greeting my husband with a smile and a kiss when he arrived home from work each day.
Well, life takes some twists and turns, and things didn’t work out exactly as I had envisioned. I got married after finishing college, and after fertility testing we ended up having four biological children in five years. I have had a job, sometimes multiple jobs, since I was 15 years old. My husband is a wonderful provider and works very hard; however, when we made the decision to send our four kids to school through Christian education, it meant that for the next 18-20 years we would be paying school tuition and I wouldn’t just “stay at home.” I would work – which means juggling work life and family life. Instead of every meal made from scratch, cereal, sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and frozen pizza frequent our menu. Our kids have rarely gone to story hour at the library because the daycare kids usually nap during that time. The only time I go to the pool in the summer is on the weekends. And more days than I care to admit, I don’t greet my husband with a smile. Instead, he gets “Your son is fighting with his sisters again. Can you please take care of it?” when he walks in the door.
Sometimes the balance of work life and family life is hard. I want to be the kind of person who can be everything to everybody. I want to be the supermom who can be at every party and activity and can squeeze just one more priority onto an already busy plate. I want to be the super-housewife who can always have my house sparkling and organized, ready for people to come over at a moment’s notice. (I also value my sleep and know that I can’t do everything and be everything to everyone all the time.)
Instead of doing a whole house clean every Saturday, I have a cleaning schedule where I clean a little bit every day. I attend as many school activities as possible, but at times I simply can’t be there. So I do what I can by sending paper products and treats along with my kids. I try to take time for myself and run at least four times a week, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. I live and die by my Google Calendar. (In our household, if it’s not on the calendar, it probably doesn’t happen in our lives.)
I realize I don’t always do this all perfectly. There are times I overcommit myself or my family is overcommitted, too. This is where we ask for grace, put our heads down, and get through the busy season.
In the midst of the schedules, activities, and school events, our family has scheduled one night a week as family night. Yes, it is even on the Google Calendar. I know that as our kids get older, the day and time might change, but for now on Friday nights we make homemade pizza and we watch a movie or play games together. This is an important night for us — for all six of us — to be together as a family. It is a priority.
I have been a working mom for a decade now. Along the way I’ve learned that my kids are watching me and how I manage my life — working or not. If we purposefully live balanced lives and strive to prioritize, our kids will see, experience, and emulate that without even knowing it’s happening. And as they get older, I see the importance of setting a good example for them. If we live the way we want our kids to live, there’s a good chance they’ll pick up on it.
My life might not look exactly like what I had dreamed it to be 15 years ago — spending my days breaking up fights, changing other parents’ kids’ dirty diapers, running after my own kids are asleep in bed — but when I step back and reflect, the life God has given me hasn’t turned out too badly, even if it means a 5:45 wake-up call.
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Thank you for giving the love and cuddles to the little ones that you watch. You play a VERY important role in the lives of the parents that entrust you with their children. Finding a loving day care provider was one of the biggest stresses I had as a working mom, but as usual, the Lord was faithful and my children were in a very loving and nourishing place.
It case it helps, Sarah, your neighbors down the block are getting up at 5:30 or 5:45 each morning, too. Thanks for the precious work you do each day for sharing this reflection on that work.
I can’t thank you enough for caring for young children. The work that you do is often underappreciated and undervalued. Healthy, protective, and nurturing caregivers are incredibly important for those little ones and their future. Thanks for sharing your story!
And I have been blessed to teach all of the lovely Kuiper children and many of those day care children you lovingly care for! You and Dave are wonderful parents and you are a wonderful care giver! Thanks for sharing!