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A how-to for stay-at-home mothers

The Baltimore Sun

Melissa Stanton runs a vacuum over the carpet where one of her 5-year-old twins has left a trail of cereal, slices a watermelon for the other and swipes the kitchen counter with a sponge. Even with her 10-year-old son, Jack, at day camp, Stanton has her hands full.

Between lunchtime spills and Nickelodeon thrills, the former high-level magazine editor, now a stay-at-home mom, has written what she calls a "support group in a book": The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-Tested Strategies for Staying Smart, Sane, and Connected While Caring for Your Kids, released last month.

It's a compilation of surveys from mothers across the country and research conducted with experts on maintaining friendships, handling family finances and finding time for intimacy with an equally pooped-out partner.

"There's so many women out there whose experiences need to be heard," Stanton says.

Stanton, 43, once lived a very different life. She had a successful career in journalism as a senior editor at Life and People magazines. She and her college sweetheart and husband, Brian, worked in the hustle of New York City and commuted home to a congested community in New Jersey.

After they had their son, Stanton and her husband found themselves relying on a nanny up to 12 hours a day. Stanton remembers sneaking out of the newsroom at 6 p.m. to see her son just an hour before bedtime, only to continue her work from home after he was asleep.

One morning in September 2001, Brian went into work late to help see Jack off to his first day of preschool. Walking to the office, Brian watched his building crumble to the ground.

Shortly after Sept. 11, Melissa Stanton came to a realization.

"I decided, 'I'm not gonna live like this anymore,'" she says.

Though fear was not a driving force, the terrorist attacks were a catalyst for change, driven, as she says, by "logistics and love." Stanton abandoned 90-minute commutes and 12-hour days for life as a stay-at-home mother. The transition was difficult.

"I didn't know how I quite fit in anymore," Stanton says. "I felt like a major league baseball player who had put themselves on the bench."

Her husband took a new job in Baltimore, spending the week in Maryland while she remained in New Jersey. She was bedridden and sick from her pregnancy with the twins, struggling to take of her young son. She felt alone - though she now realizes her situation was not unique.

Stanton now lives in Davidsonville with her family. She says it feels like the country home the family always wanted, especially compared with the cramped conditions of their previous life.

After settling into her new home and new life, Stanton realized she needed to find an identity beyond motherhood.

She sent out proposals for a book to help career women transition to stay-at-home motherhood. She received numerous rejections, but just before she abandoned hope, Laura Mazer, an editor at Seal Press and a former stay-at-home mom herself, contacted Stanton. Mazer realized there was a substantial audience ignored by other parenting books.

"I think there is so much emphasis on how to do it right," Mazer says. "There is all this pressure to do mothering a certain way, and little focus on the radical life change of motherhood."

Stanton started locally, e-mailing friends a 40-question short-answer survey and asked them to share it with mothers who had left a career. The survey passed through blogs and mommy Web sites, and to Stanton's surprise, 65 women returned completed surveys.

Jennifer Duquemin, 36, a former senior manager at an accounting firm and mother of two young children in Sunnyvale, Calif., said the survey allowed her a chance to reflect on the transformation from career woman to mother.

"It gave me an opportunity to take an hour and really think about what my life had become," she says.

After the surveys trickled in over six weeks, Stanton began her manuscript. Stanton wrote a few pages at a cafe while the girls were in preschool, a paragraph in her kitchen during a brief lull, a passage or two in the minivan on the side of the road. The majority of her writing was done at night while her house was quiet.

Stanton says the result is not just an emotional or psychological self-help book. It also provides tangible assistance, like her money chapter, for which she collaborated with a lawyer and financial planner.

Stanton's book "really examines the experience of motherhood in a proactive and supportive way," Mazer says.

In her book, Stanton encourages moms to regard their position as a job. She particularly distinguished from "working moms" and "employed moms" because stay-at-home moms work. Stanton says if you recognize it as a job, you can escape from the guilt of wanting to get away.

As her two youngest plan to start school in the fall, Stanton realizes she will have more time on her hands. She plans to continue freelance writing, which will allow her a more flexible schedule and the ability to stay at home if necessary. She says she has had the successful and demanding career, the life as the 24-7 caretaker and now looks forward to the next stage of her life.

"I don't think the male model of a traditional work life really works for women," she said. "Why do one thing your entire life?"


Stanton will sign copies of her book from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. July 13 at Hard Bean Coffee & BookSellers, 36 Market Space, Annapolis, and read excerpts and sign copies at 11 a.m. July 31 at the Barnes & Noble in Annapolis Harbor Center.

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