My decision to quit my full-time job to stay home with Jack was mainly based on two things: his refusal to drink pumped milk from a bottle when I wasn’t home, and my recognition that Jack would be my only baby. Working part-time from home (and full-time as a SAHM!) meant Jack would always be nourished and I would not miss any of my one child’s special firsts.
I’m so thankful to be home with my son in his early years, but I’d be lying if I said being a SAHM is always nursery rhymes and photo ops. There are many, many hard things about my new job, and, like anything else, some downsides.
After twenty years working in the “real world,” it was not entirely easy for me to give up my career. My new career has no pay, no insurance plan, no time off, and a constant 24 hour shift. Mommyhood can be isolating, and when you’re used to working, talking, and lunching with adults everyday, you get lonely at home. Taking care of the house is also harder when you’re there all day messing it up and when you have a baby who does not allow you to spend three hours scrubbing floors and toilets. I’m lucky if I can sneak away to the bathroom for five minutes! (I see you nodding, Mommies!)
So I’ve done some personal inventory of what helps me manage these SAHM hurdles. Here’s my top five ways I’ve learned to keep my sanity when it’s challenged by the hardest job in the world:
- Routine. Routines are so important for babies and children, but I’ve found they’re equally comforting for Mommy! When I first stopped working, I felt like I didn’t even know what to do with myself everyday besides the obvious like changing diapers and nursing my son. But then I realized, I was only comfortable in that working life because I was used to my routine. So I tried to set up a new routine for me and Jack… Mondays are Mommy & Me yoga, Tuesdays are for food shopping, Thursdays are Little Gym classes, Mon/Wed/Fri I do the dreaded laundry… and so on. It helps us both to know what’s on tap for our week ahead.
- Lunch or Dinner Dates. I used to love to cook. I mean, I loved it so much I’d come home from work at 9pm and still prepare a gourmet meal with all the trimmings. And while I still enjoy cooking sometimes, having a baby has brought out the survival mode in me! (If we’re clean, clothed, hydrated and nourished, that’s all that matters!) I make Jack’s balanced nutrition a top priority (and try to make mine as well) so I enjoy preparing well-balanced breakfasts for him while he plays in the family room. But I’ve found that also slaving away for lunch and dinner in the same uncomfortable kitchen I’ve been staring at all morning does not make me a happy mama! So I try, within a reasonable budget, to eat one meal out a few days a week. Now that Jack is a toddler, this means we get to have a special lunch date in between errands or after one of his classes, and picnic with it at the park on really nice days. And it doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice his nutrition. My top picks for healthy quick service with kids are Panera (Jack loves a little of the real mac & cheese, small pieces of the inside of a whole grain sandwich, or chicken and veggie soup with organic blueberry yogurt or fresh fruit cup, and I love that they share all their natural ingredients online), Smashburger (pieces of a grilled cheese with an unsweetened applesauce pouch and organic milk), and Qdoba (kids’ quesadilla, beans, applesauce and milk). When I’m really lucky, the hubs will meet us for an early dinner one night every other week at a toddler-friendly family restaurant in town (there are some comfy chains with healthy options too… we like Brio, Maggiano’s and Bahama Breeze). Jack loves eating out and the social experience of being in a restaurant (no matter how casual) is great for kids. And there’s something about being served a meal you don’t have to clean up that makes a Stay at Home Mom feel human again!
- Plan Social Visits. While the company of my tiny best friend is wonderful, adults need adult time just like kids need kid time. I’ve found it so helpful to plan visits and play dates with my friends and their little ones. And even if my friends don’t have kids, I pack up some of Jack’s favorites snacks and toys and he still enjoys the social visit. It’s really rejuvenating to see an old friend and enjoy some adult conversation, and I try to regularly incorporate these outings into our schedule.
- Get Out and Get Active. Having my son in the fall followed by one of the coldest, snowiest winters made me a total outdoors person. I’ve never appreciated how healing it is to be in the sunshine until I felt trapped in my house with a newborn. Now I make it a point to get outside as much as possible. I also find light exercise or any kind of physical movement keeps my mood up, while being super healthy for baby. We walk, play in the park, have picnics, and plan special outdoor activities like trips to the local zoo. And if the weather isn’t great, I still feel better moving my body inside. Even if that just means busting a move to Mr. Grouper’s “outside” rap during an episode of Bubble Guppies while my son looks at me like I’m crazy.
- Go Easy on Yourself. I’ve especially learned how important it is to be gentle with yourself as a SAHM. Sometimes this means not doing the laundry to spend time relaxing with your kids, or reevaluating other priorities to reduce your stress. Remember, being a SAHM is the hardest job in the world, and as long as you give your kids the best of yourself, that’s all that matters. Even if the rest of the world and your overbearing relatives think you’re not “doing it right,” treat yourself with love and be proud of the wonderful job you’re doing as a loving, nurturing, reliable everyday presence in your children’s lives.
Drawing by Marilena Perilli for Bonnie Marcus