My stay-at-home mom journey started about a year ago. It feels like yesterday that I left my empty end of year classroom for the last time. I had already packed everything up and hauled it out. My baby was 3 months old and I was just there to finish up the year and say my goodbyes. The summer loomed ahead of me and I was both dreading and excited for it.
After having been a parent for three months I knew that parenting was harder than I had anticipated. I distinctly recall thinking that it would be so nice when I didn’t have to wake up at 7:00 and go to work. For some reason, I had it in my head that I would be able to sleep in and play with my cute baby at my leisure. . . I was clueless.
After three months of maternity leave, I knew that being a parent was harder than being a teacher (and teaching is mentally and emotionally exhausting). In fact, being a full-time, stay-at-home mom was hands down the most difficult job that I had ever had. Breastfeeding was awful (see my story here), I was never off the clock, I hadn’t slept for more than four consecutive hours in months, I felt like nothing ever got accomplished anymore, my cute little baby wouldn’t play at all (let alone at my leisure), and I felt like I was disappearing.
Teaching included a lot of 10 hour days, extra meetings, planning, preparation, and pressure from everyone (students, parents, administration, legislature, etc.) . . . but it gave me sense of purpose. It was also easy to look at a day of teaching and see what had been accomplished. Furthermore, I got to sleep at night. For me, sleep seemed to be key to my well-being.
As I closed the door to my classroom that last time, I wondered if my new job was going to kill me. Going from full-time teacher to full-time mom permanently had suddenly become a very daunting task.
The Secrets to Success
Success is defined by many people in many ways. My definition of success coincides closely with my family’s health and happiness. That includes me. I have been home for over a year now and through a lot of trial and error (and exhaustion, and tears, and loneliness) I have figured out five things that keep me sane, make me happy, and leave me feeling successful.
1. Take Care of Yourself
This is a difficult task physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is often physically difficult to leave your baby if you are breastfeeding and most of your free-time tends to go towards things like sleeping, eating and showering. Mentally the days and nights blur together and it’s hard to think outside of the necessities. Emotionally, it’s easy to feel guilty for even thinking about putting something you want or need to do above something your baby or family needs.
It wasn’t until about four months in that I realized I needed to do something that was genuinely for me. Hiking was what I missed the most, so asked my mother-in-law to babysit so I could go to my mountains. IT WAS REJUVENATING. When I got back after the two or three hours, I was ready to be the mom again. I missed my baby, I suddenly had some energy to spare, and I was happy.
The saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”, is so very true. It’s okay to leave your baby somewhere safe and take care of yourself sometimes. My mother-in-law graciously offered to watch my son at the same time every week. My husband agreed to go to work early every Thursday. Both, so that I could do what I needed to do for me (hike). I look forward to those four hours all week and boy can I tell if I don’t get them. I know that I am a better mom and wife when I take some time to do the things I love.
2. Create a Schedule (But be Ready to be Flexible)
The combination of not having to get up and be somewhere at a specific time every day and a tiny human who does whatever he wants whenever he wants can really throw a person off. A few weeks into Mommyhood, I sat down and wrote out a very ambitious weekly schedule for myself. It was a very teacher-y thing to do. I had my days planned down to the hour and more goals than I probably could have accomplished in a month at that stage. I realized fairly quickly that that wouldn’t work and came up with a simpler system. I have one BIG goal each day and two to-do lists.
My big goals repeat weekly so that we both have consistency. My first to-do list is full of things that I need to do each day. The second to-do list is full of things I would like to do if I manage to find some time. I keep all three lists in the same app on my phone and check them off as I go.
I love a good checklist. Something about watching an item disappear when I check the box gives me a sense of accomplishment. Some of the things I check off each day are fairly basic. BUT I STILL DID THEM.
Some days are super successful and I make it several items into my second to-do list. Some days I throw everything to the wind and do something spontaneous (there are some perks to being a stay-at-home parent). Other days I can’t even accomplish my one big goal. Regardless of the daily success or lack thereof, the lists and basic schedule help me use the time I do have to do the things I want to do.
3. See Other People
After my husband went back to work, the loneliness set in quickly. It was just me and this tiny guy who didn’t do much of anything for hours and hours and hours. Most of my friends were at work and I felt really alone. I spent a lot of time waiting for five to roll around and my husband to be home.
Eventually, I decided that I needed to find ways to get out and find people to talk to. (so what if the people I was most comfortable with were still working a nine to five?) I started by visiting my parents and in-laws. Next, I planned play dates with my friends who did have kids. Then, I started going to library storytimes and group activities. Later, I started my own play group and found some community service to participate in. It has taken time and effort, but I have found that finding ways to be around people is super important for my mental health.
4. Listen Politely to the (crazy) Advice that You Get . . . Then Decide What Works for Your Family
I have heard a lot of different advice. Some of it has kept me up nights because it made me feel like I was parenting wrong. Some of it was exactly what I needed to hear. People tend to mean well and assume that what worked for them will work for you. That may or may not be true. Only you can figure that out.
Remember that regardless of what your best friend’s sister or second cousin insists upon, you have to do what works for your family. That will probably take some guessing, research, and more than one attempt but you will figure it out. There is no perfect way to be a stay-at-home mom.
5. Don’t Ever Forget the Reason that You Decided to Stay Home in the First Place
It is terribly easy to get caught up in the day-to-day craziness that is the life of a stay-at-home parent. It is also easy to become disenchanted with the monotony of the everyday routine. Do yourself a favor and take time each day to remember why you are home.
For me, that reason was that I wanted the opportunity to be the one who raised my son. I wanted to be his teacher and his exploring partner and his soft place to land. When I take the time to think about my original goals, the hard parts of staying home suddenly seem worth it.
What are your reasons for becoming a stay-at-home parent? Or, what is your best advice for a new stay-at-home mom?