I hadn’t planned to be a stay-at-home (SAH) mom. I actually intended to return to work. My husband and I met at work, and I had worked at the same company for roughly ten years. I met some of my best friends through work, and I loved my job. I got my degree late in life, and I was rewarded with my dream job. I got to travel. I got to work with really great people, from whom I could learn a lot about marketing. Unfortunately, our company was purchased by a competitor right about the time I discovered that I was pregnant. I spent the next nine months working long hours. The competitor was located across town, and I often had to drive three hours a day, sometimes three days a week. By the time my son was born, I was completely exhausted. I had two choices. I could return to work and continue to fight for my job. If I did return to work, I’d have to consider moving across town. I’d have to keep putting in some pretty hellacious hours and sacrifice the first year with my son. Or, I could quit. I decided on the second option. The people in my department weren’t simply coworkers. They were cherished friends. I thought I might be giving one of them an opportunity to keep his or her job by volunteering my own head on the chopping block. I also didn’t want to give up that time with my son, particularly if I was going to get laid off down the road.
Being a stay-at-home mom came easily…at first. Later, I found myself missing work. I remember walking into my husband’s office and running into former colleagues. One of them said, “Isn’t it so rewarding?” I said, “Yes. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” Being a stay-at-home mom is really challenging. I’ve never worked this hard. The work isn’t technically difficult, but it can feel mundane. I am constantly awakened early by my son. I am constantly cleaning up one mess or another. I am constantly tired. Oh so tired. Probably the most difficult part of working inside the home is the isolation. Over the last three years, I’ve developed a few techniques to overcome some of the full-time motherhood pitfalls. Consider this your SAH motherhood how-to guide.
- Get dressed. During the first year after my son was born, I wore sweatpants. I wore sweatpants a lot. I judged the success of my day by whether or not I still had morning breath at lunch. True story. I don’t mean to sound like a total slob. I had postpartum depression and a son who didn’t sleep. I was completely and utterly exhausted all the time. Taking a shower and putting on makeup were not high on my list of priorities. I felt so bad for my husband because he had to look at me. I could pass a mirror in my house and avoid looking directly at it. He didn’t have that luxury. Whenever I did take the time to shower and look presentable, I felt somewhat better. Falling into the I’m-not-going-anywhere-today-so-why-get-dressed trap is easy. Break the cycle now. Otherwise, you’ll go through your old photos and wonder when you turned into a hobo.
- Get out. This goes hand-in-hand with the first tip. Again during the first year, I often didn’t see the light of day, but daylight is good. Daylight is actually beneficial to your circadian rhythm. Daylight will also help your baby establish his sleep cycle. Take a walk. Go to the grocery store. I know that getting out of the house with an infant can feel like a real task. Between the the diaper bag that weighs fifty pounds and the car seat you have to put in the cart, leaving the house almost doesn’t seem worth the trouble. If you don’t leave the house, you’ll start to feel like a hostage. I began to look at my house like a tomb. One day, I’d just fall over dead. Someone would discover me bent over the stove with a washrag in my hand because all I ever did was clean. This brings me to my next point…
- Stop cleaning so damn much. I clean and clean…and I clean some more. The next day, my son will have all my best efforts wasted. I had very little energy, and I spent the little energy I did have on the house. I’m not saying let your house turn into a cesspool. Just realize that you need to incorporate some fun into your life.
- Join a gym. Gyms are awesome. My gym offers two hours of free child care a day. Nothing gets my ass in gear like the promise of free child care. Remember when I said that you need to get dressed? My workout takes an hour. Then, I hit the showers and spend some time getting ready. I put on makeup without having to hear “Mommy, Mommy” every five minutes. The first eighteen months will be tough. A gym employee may have to grab you because your baby won’t stop crying. Your kid might be sick every other week, and you won’t see yourself losing weight. Losing weight isn’t the point. The point is getting time for yourself. I bring a book, get on a recumbent bike, and read. Now, my son loves to go to the gym. He’ll even ask to go. He gets to play with their toys and other kids. I get a break and some much needed sanity. I’ve been sick and dropped him in the childcare center to do…nothing. And, guess what. I’m not the only mother who’s done this. I’ve seen other mothers do nothing too.
- Find a group. In my grandmother’s era, most women stayed home. They had entire networks of friends who met for social activities. They had bridge clubs. They had church groups. Everyone got together and socialized. Today, many women work and finding other SAH mothers can be challenging. You can find them. You just have to know where to look. Our area has some really great meet-ups for mothers. HikeItBaby combines socializing and exercise. A group of mothers meet in different parts of Houston and walk with their babies in strollers. I found a great group of mothers through my church. We meet twice a month for Bible study, and (this is the best part) the church has free child care. Sometimes, we meet in each other’s homes to let our kids play together. NextDoor is a great phone app that connects you with your neighbors. One mother posted a note to other mothers for playdates. Now, we get together once a week.
- Get a membership. We bought a family membership to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and History. My son loves seeing the dinosaurs, and going to the museum is a fun AND educational way to spend the day. I try to go at least twice a month. The membership pays for itself after two visits. We also get discounts on the special exhibits and parking. One of my dearest friends has a zoo membership. She can get me and my son into the zoo for free, so we alternate activities. Sometimes, she meets us at the museum. Sometimes, we meet her at the zoo. You and another mom can get a different membership and share.
- Enroll your kid in a Mother’s Day Out Program. My son’s MDO program has been a gift from God. He goes twice a week for five and a half hours each day. For those five hours, I can do whatever I want. I can schedule a hair appointment. I can pursue my favorite hobby. He gets a great introduction to school, and I get a break.
I use these tricks of the motherhood trade to stay sane, and they work. I’m quite sane most of the time.