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High-mileage moms

| Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Suzanne Alexander, of O'Hara, left her human-resources job to be a "stay-at-home mom," but her new job title is misleading.

Alexander directed the intensive energy she used in her career to her domestic duties. Along with caring for her two children, Abby, 5, and Patrick, 3, and taking them to preschool, story times and the like, she has put more energy into her own hobbies, such as gardening and participating in a book club. She also serves on the board of directors for the Boyd Community Center and Lauri Ann West Library in O'Hara.

"The pace that I was using to keep up in the corporate world -- I kept going at that pace when I quit, and I just re-directed that energy into more fulfilling things," says Alexander, 39.

The tag of "stay-at-home mom" is the "biggest misnomer applied to motherhood," says Sarah Zeldman. She is a life and home business coach, and runs the Web site called www.solutionsforbusymoms.com.

Many women who leave their out-of-home careers find themselves just as busy, or even more so, than before. With children's activities, housekeeping and cooking, and the mother's newfound personal activities -- such as volunteering or hobbies they couldn't pursue while they worked -- the new life of the stay-at-home mom brings a whole new chaos, Zeldman says.

Even if the kids aren't old enough to be involved in activities, the domestic scene is enough of a workload, she says. And many moms, regardless of their children's ages, want to take their kids out as much as possible for enriching activities, such as visits to the zoo.

"The list of stuff you have to do can be enormous," says Zeldman, a Long Island, N.Y., native who lives in Toronto. "Some mothers do stay at home a lot, but that doesn't mean they're at home, sitting alone and eating bonbons. ... It can be quite chaotic."

Mothers who leave the corporate world for the domestic world also often find themselves surrounded by a myth that now, they have a lot of time on their hands. Then, they become in high demand among friends and neighbors seeking favors, says Christine Conners, the mother of four and the author of "From High Heels to Bunny Slippers: Surviving the Transition from Career to Home."

When the former psychotherapist left her career 11 years ago, a friend asked her to make 150 calls to fellow church members. When Conners said she would do half of them, her friend's response was, "Oh, are you busy?"

"People do perceive you as not being busy when you're at home," says Conners, of Statesboro, Ga.

Many mothers, therefore, feel pressured to over-schedule themselves or their children, and to defend their choice to leave their jobs, she says.

"They feel as though they have to justify their existence," Conners says. "They have to do all these things in order to validate themselves. ... That's kind of sad."

Betsy Brown, of Ligonier, can relate. She left her clerking job in May 2005 to stay at home with her three children: Aurora, 8; Starling, 7; and James, 2. Yet, with driving back and forth from school and softball practice, cooking and cleaning, and Brown's Bible study, she has little free time, even though some people might think otherwise.

"I'm the type that I have to keep myself busy; I can't just sit around and do nothing," says Brown, 32. "I am busy, but it's more of a controlled busy than when I worked."

That's the way it is, too, for Tracy Miller, of Harrison. The former retail manager who has four children, Nicholas, 17; Joseph, 14; Dalton, 12; and Hope, 8, left her job when her first son was 15 months old. But is she simply a stay-at-home mom, with lots of leisure time?

"Uh-uh," says Miller, 42. "I am so busy. My kids are involved, and just running the house and taking care of four kids is a full-time job. If I worked on top of this, I don't know how I'd get done what I want to get done here."

Becky Parker, of Hempfield in Westmoreland County, says she felt overwhelmed when her first child was born, and she was a full-time social worker.

"I was thinking I would have more time, but as I quit my job, you get involved in so many other things that I actually feel like I work three full-time jobs," says Parker, 43. She stays at home -- well, sort of -- with her two children, Hayla, 9, and Samuel, 4.

Parker is involved with many volunteer activities, such as being president of the parent-teacher organization at Maxwell Elementary School, and co-chair of the education department at church.

"Being at home is really difficult," she says. "I thought that I would have more time to do things, but I don't. When I get up in the morning, I don't sit down, literally, until 9:30 to 10 at night. ... I feel like sometimes I'm treading water with my mouth sticking out of the water."

The stay-at-home myth also applies to fathers who take on nontraditional roles, such as Lou Rocco of Greensburg. The former aircraft mechanic for US Airways, who was laid off after 9/11, takes care of his three children, Joey, 7; Nick, 2; and Rebecca, 1, while his wife, Karen, is at work, and he enjoys his new role. Is Rocco as busy as he was when working as a mechanic?

"Oh, God no -- more so," says Rocco, 36. "There's not a moment that somebody, whether it's a kid or a baby or a dog, isn't in need of something. Somebody constantly needs something from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed to the middle of the night.

"Before, it was eight hours of work, come home, and I was done for a day," he says. "But this -- it never stops. It literally never ends."

Things at the Welch household in Upper St. Clair seldom are quiet, and family members never lack for things to do, says Cheryl Welch. Meaghan, 11, takes karate lessons, and Connor, 8, has football practice. Madeline, 6, has dance and horseback-riding lessons, while her toddler brother, Christopher, 3, needs constant supervision.

The former elementary school teacher, who became a stay-at-home mom when her first child was born, seldom is at home, with all of the running-around she does with her kids. By the end of the day, she says, "you just kind of collapse."

"As each new child comes along, you're more and more busy, especially during the elementary school years," says Welch, 44. Her husband, Mark, travels frequently for his management career. "You can really be as busy as you want to with the kids' activities, and there's always volunteer opportunities at school."


Managing time

If you are a stay-at-home mom and find yourself overwhelmed, consider these tiime-management tips.

* Set clear priorities, even though everything might seem like a priority. With a little introspection, you can learn to let go of unnecessary tasks. Make a list of what is important to you, in order of priority, and monitor how you spend your time every day. You might find that you're spending too much time on unimportant tasks and commitments.

* When you make a to-do list, don't make it too long, because it will be overwhelming. Focus on only immediate, small tasks, rather than long-term projects.

* Spend time getting your home organized, so you don't waste time cleaning clutter and locating lost stuff.

* Don't be a lone ranger. Learn to delegate and ask for support -- from family, friends and mother groups.

* Plan your meals. Write down breakfasts, lunches and dinner for each day.

* Seize opportunities for quick power naps when you can.

* Take the time to nurture yourself.

* Savor free moments, rather than rushing to find something to do.

* Don't worry about what you "should" be doing. Examine your and your family's unique needs.

* Perfection and parenting always are in conflict. Don't push yourself too hard or try to be supermom.

Source: Sarah Zeldman and author Christine onners.

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