Sabbatical and the Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM)

I used to joke that I was doing sabbatical backwards–work for one year, take seven years off. That was a long time ago. At this point, if that were legit, I owe several working years. I’ve been an SAHM for the entire lifetime of my motherhood.

In fact, I was an SAH before I ever added the M. It wasn’t kids that changed my plans; it was my husband’s move into military life, which I confess I entered (was dragged) into with a decided lack of grace and a rather large chip on my shoulder. (I’m better now.) (Usually.)

In any case, we’ve made it to a Milestone Year as a military family. At the same time I had a rather Big Birthday last month, and the coming year is going to be one of challenge and change, culminating with yet another relocation. It all has me thinking about the one thing M’s don’t always put at the top of the list: that is, Me.

The kids are older, past the point of needing me to be the Entertainment Committee, Line Cook, Hygienist, and Groomer. My role as Chauffeur is manageable.

So it seems like a good time for me to take a sabbatical.

It’s time to rethink my sense of self and my sense of calling. It’s time to back off, to breathe, and to stop beating myself up for the past two decades of things I could/would/should have done, but didn’t. It’s time to open up to what the next phase of my–and our–life will be, and I need to remove all the coulds/woulds/shoulds that my high-achiever instinct already wants to put in place (all the things I will never do and will then feel guilty and defeated for not having done).

But what does a sabbatical look like when you’re taking a sabbatical from—NOT working?


Many people choose a “word of the year” around the New Year. My friend Pamela Hernandez (at says September is the new January, and I totally agree–my life has always revolved around a school-year calendar! And with the milestones of our life between this month and September 2020, I’m choosing my word of the year now: it is NOURISH.

My sabbatical is going to look, above all, like nourishment. Physically, emotionally, intellectually–I need to be fed. I’m choosing to enter into this year intentionally: as much as possible, everything I do is going to “feed” into this. Everything I do is going to feed into ME.

I have been re-reading the devotionals I’ve been reposting on this blog every week–reflections that I originally wrote in 2016. One day I thought, “There is just no way I could write like that today. I don’t have it in me.” I need nourishment.

All For Nothing

The key to this nourishing sabbatical is to remove the “for” from my plans. I rarely (never?) do something “just because”–I tend to think everything needs to be “for” something. Eating right and exercise are “for” weight loss. Writing is “for” an assignment. Crafting is “for” making a gift, or selling in the Etsy shop, or supplementing my wardrobe.

But nourishment is different. Nourishment is not for some imagined outcome, a payoff or a prize. Here are some of the ways I plan to practice nourishment “for nothing” this year:

Working through The Artist’s Way. I started this book about 20 years ago and never made it past chapter 1. Recently I’ve felt drawn again to artistic fields of study and work–a summons I have always felt, though it has taken different forms and I’ve never really followed it to see how it might play out. I want to see what might enter in if I allow that door to crack open.

Working through Intuitive Eating. I should have started this book 20 years ago! A little late to the party, but I am ready to be done Capital-D-O-N-E with diet culture and with feeling badly about myself for never managing to “win” at losing weight. In nourishment terms–I am ready to start treating my body as a friend, to eat and move because it feels good and right, not because I’m trying to conquer myself and score some non-existent prize at the end of losing pounds.

Taking Masterclasses. Yes, after months of resisting the tempting Facebook ads, I finally caved. It was Billy Collins and Itzhak Perlman that got me–poetry and violin–an old love of mine, and a new one. If that’s not nourishing, I don’t know what is. Eventually I will do many of the other writing classes, but if I start with prose classes I know I will want to turn them into Shoulds.

Reading–and Knitting–Leaves of Grass. This year was both Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday and the 30th anniversary of the Movie That Changed Teenaged Me, Dead Poets Society. I would really like to Read Leaves Through In a Year, but I’m not sure that’s realistic–it feels a bit too Should-y. But I intend to read some of it daily–maybe even out loud?–and I have an idea of using it as central text for my own poetry writing this year. Along the way I’m going to knit the Leaves of Grass shawl by Jared Flood–a project I’ve been wanting to make for ages but couldn’t justify what I would knit it FOR.

Living Old Dreams

I’ve wanted to play the violin since I was in middle school, 30-some-odd years ago, since the day they brought the band instruments into the music classroom and let us test them out. At the time our family had a new piano–which I can only imagine was a HUGE financial decision for my parents, and that was that. I remember being disappointed, but not heartbroken; still, buying an instrument and beginning to learn violin this year has been a joy. (Though perhaps less joyful for my husband and kids; I try to practice when the house is empty!) There are some other old dreams I’ve been harboring, waiting to be in the “right place at the right time”–a state that is often elusive in our moving-around life.

Taking Spiritual Direction. I’m excited and nervous finally to meet with a spiritual director. I thought I needed it before; but facing the year ahead, I can’t imagine a more important moment than this to be the right place and time.

Learning T’ai Chi. I have loved practicing yoga at home (thanks, and beginning to explore mindfulness practices (thanks, For a long time I’ve wanted to link mindfulness and movement, so when I saw a beginner class at a local botanical garden, I signed up. I’m not much of a joiner–I joked, not really joking, to my son that even signing up took a lot of mental energy! So I’m a little apprehensive, but nourishing does not mean unchallenging.

Staying Open

Another of my longtime quirks is the compulsion to do All The Things. When I made New Year’s Resolutions as a kid, the list could literally go into multiple pages. If I’m honest, this sabbatical “plan” is in definite danger of being too much.

I’m reminding myself that it’s simple, really:

  • Choose nourishment.
  • Lose the “for.”
  • Follow some old dreams.

And then:

  • Stay open to new dreams. Stay open to seeing things in new ways, stay open to the possibility that things are not what you always thought–that YOU are not what you always thought. And especially, stay open to the option of letting things go, if it’s not working, if it’s not nourishing, or if it’s just time to move on.

The You That You Were

Several months ago I was listening to Alan Alda’s wonderful podcast Clear + Vivid, and in talking to his guest (who was–I don’t remember) he said the phrase “the you that you were when you were eight years old.” I don’t remember the context, but the comment brought tears to my eyes. As I think about this sabbatical year, this nourishing year, this is my hope: that I might rediscover–reinvigorate–the me that I was, my most me self. When I look at the plan I envision for these months ahead, I see her ghost in it, that kid who loved making things, writing poems, learning something new, the dreamed-of violin… and who understood it all as part of God’s good work in her.

I’ve changed a lot in what I believe, but I still believe in that good work. I still believe in that girl, that maker, poet, musician. I still believe in the God who called–calls–her. I still believe in listening.

And maybe that’s what sabbatical is for.

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