A friend of mine recently became a mother for the first time. Home on maternity leave for the next few months, she’s lining up visits with friends and trips to the local café to keep her busy throughout the day while her newborn son is still in the sleep and tote phase. “You’re always so busy,” she observed a few days ago when I, yet again, couldn’t make plans for coffee. Yep, that’s pretty much the life of a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom of a two-year-old: Busy. Only 19 percent of us actually devote 100 percent of our time to motherhood. Most of us have side-hustles, paid or volunteer work we do alongside our roles as mothers, wives and chief engineers of house and home. But, just because our days are packed doesn’t mean they’re easy.
There are plenty of SAHMs out there bemoaning their inability to make friends and the general isolation associated with having a babbling baby as your best and only companion throughout the day. These moms often make working moms on leave either angry, jealous, or grateful that they’ll be returning to work in a few months. Watching my friend freshly navigate new motherhood reminded me of how much I’ve learned over the past couple of years when it comes to surviving the challenges of becoming a mom. Lessons, mind you, that apply to mothers everywhere, whether they’re at home full-time or not.
Be your own best friend. Stop trying to make friends everywhere you go. And don’t put the burden of best friendship on your child, either. Life isn’t a Gilmore Girls fanfiction. If you can’t be your own best advocate and cheerleader then what good are you to yourself, let alone anyone else? Be the Patsy to your Edina, look yourself in the eye, tell yourself you’re fabulous and mean it.
Be happy for others. Don’t be the mother who competes, judges, or shames. “You do you,” one of my mom friends once said wisely. It’s so much easier to just be happier for another mom, or offer her the help you can when she needs it, instead of resorting to jealousy or judgment. But, that’s sometimes easier said than done, especially when someone else’s bad parenting choices impact your child. This is where Rule #1 kicks in: Trust your judgment and stand your ground.
Take long potty breaks alone. Yes, your beloved children follow you everywhere. Do what you need to do to get a few moments of sanity, even if that means developing a bathroom scrolling habit or simply crying on the toilet in total exhaustion. Just because you’re fabulous doesn’t mean you’re perfect, or perfectly happy all the time.
Use television as your ally. I’m strictly against exposing my son to computer technology, including smartphone apps, at this point in his development. But, I’m not Victorian. He has his favorite shows and I’m fine with him watching an hour or two of television throughout the day if that means I can get phone calls made, take care of laundry in the basement, or do something as luxurious as getting dressed without an audience. The key to healthy screen time is to make the television your ally. Only permit shows you know will be a benefit to your child (we all loved and learned from Mister Rogers) at times that benefit you.
Ditch the mom ponytail. Yes, SAHMs are especially associated with a frumpy style. And yes, we all have those times when we resort to the comfort of dayjamas to get us through a state of mental or physical exhaustion. But, don’t let your self-image be defined by a messy ponytail that screams confused college co-ed instead of Mom-In-Charge. If looking fabulous means getting a ‘do you can manage in 10 minutes or less, do it. This isn’t Victorian England. Your hair isn’t your crown and glory. Your sanity is.
Replace fear with fabulous. So much of motherhood these days is governed by fear. Scores of experts love to tell us they know how to mother better than we do. The reality is that they know how to market books, classes and therapy sessions by playing on our worst fear: That we’ll screw up our kids. They especially love targeting SAHMs because, at least in contemporary terms, our children are our career. Put down the book and start seeing the “Toddler STEM” program for what it is: counting beans and sticking magnets together for a half-hour at the library. And realize that the only thing that will prevent your child from growing and learning is your fear over whether or not he’s doing it according to popular norms. You are fabulous, therefore your ability to mother your child is fabulous. No bean-counting required.