My first year at home with my daughter was hard. In retrospect I battled postpartum depression (PPD), on top of feeling like I lost my identity after I stopped working. I was in a new town with no family and few friends, my husband and I shared a car (which he took most days), and I lived far out of the center of our town, basically trapped in an apartment complex. The complex was loud and outside noise kept my daughter awake most days, resulting in her becoming chronically overtired. If that wasn’t enough, my town (which I have nicknamed Mogadishu) has some issues with basic services. Losing power or water isn’t uncommon. After water main breaks (which occur several times a year) it’s normal to be on a boil water advisory for days at a time.
So when I say I understand what it’s like to go crazy staying at home with a baby, I really mean it. I almost lost my mind that year. Perhaps that temporary insanity led me to get pregnant again when my daughter was 8 months old (joking!!) but soon, I started to come out of my funk. When my second child was born I didn’t make nearly as many mistakes and found ways to keep sane while adjusting to my new life as a stay-at-home mom. Here are some of my tricks:
1. Mothering as a job.
For better or for worse, I treat mothering as a full-time job. I do research, reading books on child development and constantly striving to have an educational and engaging environment for our kids. I’ve fallen in love with the Montessori model and try to create a classroom-like atmosphere in our home.
2. Know your limitations.
I’m a full-time mom, not a cleaning lady. My apartment is a mess. I’m fairly unapologetic about it. I spend as much time cleaning during the day as my working mom friends. They are busy working at their offices, and I’m busy doing the mom thing at mine. It just so happens my “office” is also my home. But it wouldn’t be fun for anyone if I spent my days mopping instead of reading and playing puzzles. While my kids are awake that’s generally their time.
3. Stay busy.
There’s a whole host of ways to do this, but I recommend having something on your calendar every day. We take music classes (Music Together is a great nationwide option), go to the library or bookstores for story time, go picking at nearby farms in summer or and museums in winter. We do hikes year round (another great nationwide group is called Hike It Baby). We also try to schedule playdates around naps.
4. Surround yourself with positivity.
This is a hard one for me. I see people who are miserable at home, like I once was, and try to evangelize to them. I now love being a stay-at-home mom and want others to share in it. I’ve tried to do less of this, too. Debbie Downers, are, well, downers. For my own mental health I try to steer clear. If they are meant to be happy they will be, but I can’t make anyone love their new job.
5. Get dressed and get outside.
Even if it’s for a quick walk to the library or the mailbox, breathe fresh air. Get your kids out, too. Fresh air is good for them.
6. Keep the TV off.
It’s so easy to get sucked in. It’s a built-in babysitter and a way to get a few minutes to yourself. When I was pregnant I used it as a crutch a great deal. But I found if I turned on the television, the temper tantrum that erupted when I turned it off was almost more than I could handle. As a result, it was on the majority of the day. After my son was born we went cold turkey. It took a week but soon, my daughter completely forgot it was there. We go weeks without ever turning it on during daylight hours. It’s not just bad for kids developmentally, but also a total time-waster when there are puzzles to be figured out and food pantries to tear apart.
7. Make it special.
Have a few special traditions with your kid(s) that you both love and look forward to. We take baths together and sometimes I’ll climb into my toddler’s crib at bedtime to talk about our day. I have the time to do these sorts of things on a regular basis and I never take them for granted.
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This never fails to impress. Two years old and cracking eggs. This is another thing my dad used to do with me. I remember when I was 3 or 4, one of my first memories of him, he bought two dozen eggs and we sat together and he taught me how to crack an egg one handed. People see me do it as an adult and marvel. I had no idea it was a big deal. Teaching her how to crack an egg was weirdly a super high priority in a weird ass way to honor my dad.
8. Involve your kids.
One of the biggest benefits to stay-at-home motherhood is the 1-on-1 time kids get with an intelligent adult. Take advantage of it! Talk, all the time. Involve them in everything you do as they get older. If you’re cooking, ask them to pour flour into the bowl or stir ingredients. It’s amazing what kids can do when they are trusted and given size-appropriate tools with which to work. My 2-year-old can even crack raw eggs into a glass with nary a shell (that’s why it’s cracked into a glass, to check for shells). As you’re involving them physically, talk about what you’re doing. Narrate your day, even to a newborn. You have the benefit of talking to stay sane, and they hear your voice all day, adding to their repertoire of vocabulary words.
9. Make friends.
This is the MOST important thing new stay-at-home moms must do, and also the hardest. It’s difficult to form a new social circle and takes a good long time before you’ve found your momma tribe. Making friends makes the experience rewarding and meaningful. Be pushy when you click with another mom you meet at a play date, the park or library. Get their number and text them a few days later and set up a playdate. Make an effort to get to know the mom, don’t just have the playdate be about the kids. My daughter’s best friend’s mom is, thank God, also my favorite mom friend.