Whether it’s Christmas break and you’re suddenly having a huge appreciation for your children’s teachers or it’s your gig all year round, staying at home with your kids can be rough. It’s an especially difficult transition for moms used to a fast paced workplace where you leave at the end of the day feeling accomplished and possibly appreciated by at least one person. Staying at home doesn’t often elicit those feelings.
I think the biggest complaints from stay-at-home moms would have to be either that their kids rely on them so much to entertain/supervise them that they can’t get anything done around the house or that they are lonely/stressed out/overwhelmed with being the sole parent all day long. When you’re a stay-at-home mom, eight hours can feel like a lifetime, and by the time your spouse comes home, you may feel full of resentment and frustration that he/she has been gone all day while you have been dealing with “THIS” (insert any number of large or small battles here). It takes a while to find your rhythm and a few tricks to manage the day to day with a little less yelling (or crying), and while there’s no real guide to successful stay at home parenting that will fit all families, here are my top survival tips for staying-at-home:
Lower you expectations for your to-do list.
If you’re anything like me, you have this list of things you need to get done in your head in order to feel accomplished for that day. Dishes, laundry, filing paperwork in the office, cleaning out your kid’s dresser and putting too-small clothes away (sob), grocery shopping, going to the post office, getting your hair cut: whatever your list may consist of, you’re going to have to realize that accomplishing a huge list of chores is often impossible with a toddler and nearly impossible with a tiny baby (unless you wear him). Remember that making smaller goals is more realistic and will stress you out less not only in the process but in the end, since you will feel more accomplished finishing a short list than failing to tackle half of a long list. Break up your list and spread it out over the week. Most of all, remember that you probably decided to stay home to have more time with your kiddo. Embrace that time as much as you can.
I had this Pinterest inspired vision that every day would be organized to a T, where each day would consist of a special snack (that maybe we made together!), a craft, reading time together, and a wonderful tot school lesson where mommy reveals the magic of science through a well thought out sensory activity…that every meal would be balanced and healthy and eaten with gratitude and cleanliness…that every nap would happen on schedule and without fuss. Okay, you can stop laughing now. I eventually realized how unrealistic that was for one parent to manage with a tiny person who doesn’t even know how to control his own bladder. Not every day will be wonderful. In fact, a lot of days might not be, but regardless of how things went, at the end of the day you have to remember that your presence is appreciated.
I know there are going to be days where all we do is run errands in between meals and nap time, and I try to get as much done as possible (within reason) when I am home because otherwise, I feel guilty. However, it often leaves me having to say “later” to my kid when asked, “Momma, play with me?” That not only breaks his heart, but it breaks mine. I know it’s not my job to entertain my kid 24/7, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about giving him the attention and interaction with me that he needs each day without it being half-hearted or distracted. So how can we find a happy medium? Figure out a small thing you can do together that day and let him/her know in the morning that you will do that at X time. Then, follow through. It will allow you to focus on whatever chores you want to accomplish before that time and then to focus only on being present with your kid when it is time to play. Plus, it can serve as a carrot when they are getting a little impatient, and it encourages them to learn how to read the clock/recognize numbers in a practical application. For example, at breakfast I might say, “Lucas, Mommy needs to do the dishes and get your diaper laundry started and then we can decorate Christmas cookies today, okay? When the little clock hand is pointing to 10, then we can decorate. Can you go play in the living room while I get my chores done, and then we will decorate cookies?” I also try to thank him for his patience when it is time to do our activity. Telling him upfront doesn’t always quell his “can we color cookies yet?” but it has been helping him learn to exercise patience (as well as a 2 year old can). Obviously, each kid is different. If it helps to tell your child only five minutes before the activity, then do that. Whatever works for you!
Get out of your house.
While sometimes leaving the house feels more stressful than staying home, when you’re getting stir crazy, get out. Even just going through the drive through for a milkshake (or Starbucks for a coffee) can save your sanity some days. Plus, there are plenty of free things you can do, especially around major holidays. If you’re not sure what events are happening, contact the children’s department of your local library or look on your city’s website or Facebook page. Generally, they post when free events are happening for kids. Go to the mall and let the kids play in the play area (you know, the one you swore you’d never let your children use before you had children). Go to the library and let your kid pick out a book or sit and read with him or play with the toys/puppets/whatever they may have available in the children’s area. Contact your local nursing home and see what activities they host for children to join in and introduce your child to the concept of giving back to their community. Go to your local children’s museum or zoo or aquarium or whatever you have around (asking for yearly passes to these kinds of places for Christmas from the grandparents is always an excellent use of a Christmas wish). Go to the park and play. Your kid won’t mind if it’s cold or hot- just dress them appropriately and send them off to wear themselves out for nap time. Speaking of which…
Embrace nap time.
Nap time can either go two ways: you either take that time for yourself (to decompress, to read on your phone, to binge watch your favorite show, to (GASP) take a nap yourself) or you use it as a power hour to try to get all the stuff done you didn’t/couldn’t get done earlier in the day while junior was awake. However you want to spend it it is up to you, but try to find a balance between the two. Some days, you just have to leave that mountain of dishes in the sink and watch three episodes of Friends. Your sanity may depend on it. If your little doesn’t nap or is too old for naps, having some scheduled downtime for everyone each day is helpful, whether that means during that time they are laying on the couch watching a movie or sitting in their favorite spot to read or look at a book (with you or alone). Even big kids need time to relax.
Don’t cut and run when your spouse walks through the door.
I know how tempting it is to book it for solace at Target the moment your significant other gets home, but I promise you that your marriage/relationship will not benefit from it. Yes, you should find some time in the evening that is just for you, but make sure it’s planned with your spouse. For example, my husband plays with Lucas while I make dinner (or visa versa some nights)- break #1 (I enjoy cooking). When it’s time for Lucas to take a bath, my husband is in charge of bath, pjs, brushing teeth, and reading stories- break #2. Then, I take over for singing/story telling and putting Lucas in his bed for the night. We work as a team, and my husband gets quality time with Lucas that he doesn’t get during the weekdays. If I really need out, I’ll wait until Lucas is in bed before leaving the house while my husband studies.
If dinner is a constant battle, try meal planning. If laundry is the bane of your existence (isn’t it everyone’s?) try to schedule two days a week to tackle it. If cleaning is important to you but it feels too overwhelming, create a cleaning schedule and involve your kid on getting things done if possible. If the sink being full of dishes is the thing that sets you on edge each night, make it a priority to tackle that before anything else during nap time or while your kid is eating (bonus if your kid is still in a high chair- you can haul that thing into the kitchen to supervise while you work). Some grocery stores are even allowing for online ordering and school pick-up line style pick up (in our area, Kroger does this). For me, it’s laundry. I hate folding clothes and putting them away, so I try to get it done right after Lucas goes to bed. I put on Friends and fold away and try to put them away in the morning. Breaking up the job usually helps me to actually motivate myself to do it in the first place. Whatever grates at you most, find a way to simplify or schedule it. Or, even better, ask if your significant other would mind taking it on or trading chores with you.
Find and embrace your Momma Tribe.
There is no easier way to revive your day than to hang out with friends while your kids entertain each other. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved: talk therapy, a break from parenting alone, exercise, socialization, engagement for your kid, and an opportunity to talk about something other than Daniel Tiger (unless you want to discuss Dad and Daniel’s lack of pants compared to Mom, then by all means do. I still haven’t figured it out…).
Don’t stress over having tons of toys/craft supplies. The simplest things will do.
My kid played with a piece of yarn tied to a piece of card stock rolled into a cone shape (it was a homemade Christmas tree decoration) for like 35 minutes yesterday, dragging it behind him gleefully as he ran around and around a friend’s kitchen island. He will spend a good hour chasing around a balloon. Play-dough will give me at least half an hour worth of peace, and it costs $3 to make like two pounds of it. Pop in some ear plugs and let them at the pots and pans. Give them a cardboard box and some markers, and they’ll go nuts. The other day, it took us half an hour to make this gingerbread house out of cardboard boxes. He was engaged and excited the entire time and then proceeded to play with the house for the rest of the day. Kids don’t come out with an expectation for things. We ingrain that in them by giving them the things we think they need. While this is especially true at Christmas time, it is also valid all year long. Keep it simple.
Some days, despite your best efforts, everything will still go wrong, and you’ll find yourself job hunting by 4pm. While the above suggestions can’t eliminate those days all together, I hope they limit them to be the rarity rather than the norm. And if you find yourself just not being able to cope no matter what you do, if your kids are just on a break from school, find a sitter and take a long break for a few hours, and if you’re a SAHM, go back to work. Staying at home isn’t for everyone, same as working isn’t for everyone. Either way, it’s okay.