by Shawna Gamache
So you want to be a stay-at-home mom (or dad)
Whether you’ve planned it forever, or are shocked to find yourself here, becoming a full-time parent is a big deal. It’s certainly the road less travelled by, and that can make it hard to find your way at first.
I’m one of the millions of moms who spent my maternity leave in a never-ending inner “should I stay or should I go” debate. More accurately, I found myself wanting to stay with my baby, and trying to talk myself out of it.
Staying home was never part of my plan. I loved my job. I loved my boss. The hours were reasonable and somewhat flexible, very rare in the newspaper world.
So I hired a nanny, squeezed myself into my stretchiest business clothes and crawled back. But after eight weeks of sitting dazed at my desk, closing the front door to a sobbing baby every morning, and pumping in the bathroom during my lunch break, I finally quit and gave myself over to a strange new future.
I didn’t know then how much I would love it. I just felt like I didn’t really have a choice, and my income wasn’t much more than childcare anyway. Eventually I learned not only how to be a mother, but how to run a household, how to accept my new identity and how to reclaim space for myself.
Four years later, I’m still here with my four- and two-year old daughters, and while I still sometimes count down the seconds ‘til bedtime, I really love my life. I wish I’d had a primer four years ago, and I hope this one helps you get started.
Get out of your head
Not just your head. Get out of everyone else’s too. Looking back, I regret how much time I wasted worrying about what other people thought. About my choice to stay home. About my parenting style. About my daughter wearing mismatched socks every day.
In the first year, I did a lot of apologizing when I introduced myself. A lot of “I’m just doing this temporarily” and “right now I’m…” I dreaded the moment when people’s eyes would glaze over. But shockingly enough, they never did. The reality is that most people don’t give that much thought to what other people do for a living. The fundamentals of who you are haven’t changed. Just your job.
As for the way you parent, you are not going to find anyone who does it just like you. Seeking approval for your choices will not get you far. You might start out thinking you are a certain type of parent, but you’ll shift and turn all the time as you adjust to what your child needs.
It’s nearly impossible to find someone who will always make the same choices you do. What you really need are the friends you can be honest with and who will listen to you and support you, even as they make different choices for their own very different children.
Build your support network
You probably have some great friends and family who you’ve already leaned on during your maternity leave. But do you have friends who are home with their kids all day? Any within walking distance? With kids right around the same age? Who make you feel supported?
It’s amazing how myopic early parenthood can be. As a parent of a six-month-old, you can likely still find common ground with a parent of a one-year-old or of a newborn, but much further than that and you won’t really be able to comprehend each other’s detailed tales of feeding, sleeping or pooping. My youngest is only two and I honestly have no idea when I stopped swaddling her, when she first rolled over or how many teeth she had at eight months.
You also need some friends in your neighborhood. The effort of getting babies, toddlers and even little kids out the door can sometimes feel overwhelming. You need a few friends that are just a stroller or Ergo walk away, where you don’t have to pack a bulging diaper bag because they have all the same stuff at their house.
So how do you find people? Check out the sidebar “Where the moms are” for some ideas. I met several of my best mommy friends in PEPS, Beyond Birth seminars, baby yoga classes at Seattle Holistic Center and Whole Life, at local kids consignment shops and parks and even in the Nordstrom ladies lounge (those couches make for great baby feeding spots). Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation and make a playdate!
Find your rhythm
Not only do wee ones thrive on rhythm and routine, we do too. It gives us comfort, helps us plan and lets us be more present in the moment with our children.
On a daily basis, this could mean a (relatively) set time for meals, naps and sleep, or at least a predictable order for activities. It could mean mom always takes baby during the night but dad takes her in the early morning. Maybe you’d like to start your day with a walk and end it with a bath with your baby? Maybe you want morning to be a time for activity and playdates, while afternoon is a time to sit and play at home.
On a weekly basis, it could mean Monday mornings are set for library storytime, Tuesday morning is grocery shopping and Wednesday morning is laundry day. It could mean Thursday is soup night and Friday is taco night. Predictability and routine will help ground your days and make meal and household planning much easier.
Rhythm also refers to the seasons. Now that you have children, you will be amazed how much more connected you are to the natural world. Embracing that connection can enrich your days. It’s nice to have a set place where you and your toddler can place outside treasures, like seashells in the summer, leaves in the fall and pinecones and branches in the winter. Even little babies love digging in the dirt with their parents, so consider caring for a small garden together.
Start thinking about what kinds of holidays you want for your children and what kinds of things you want to celebrate on regular days. Maybe you want to bake muffins and sip cider on cold mornings. Maybe you want to explore tidepools all summer long. Maybe you want to take a walk together before dinner, rain or shine.
A set rhythm can also make it possible for you to squeeze in more of the things you want to do and avoid the things you don’t. Early parenthood can feel so rushed, but the more you work to be deliberate and present, the easier it will be for you to make choices that won’t leave you feeling frazzled.
Take time to think about which things you need in your life and what you’ve been missing since you became a parent. Are you reinvigorated by being outdoors? Do you need to make time to read the paper or listen to the news? Could a basket of special toys near the tub let you get a shower in the late morning? Especially if it follows a long cuddle after breakfast?
Get on kid time
Kids know how to live in the present. They have no concept of time, and this can be especially maddening when you are trying to get them out the door to a fun activity that you know they’ll love. But don’t forget that a sense of timelessness is one of the most magical aspects of childhood. You just need to find a balance between kid time and mommy’s needs.
There will be many times when your kiddo is happy to just play on the floor while you’re just itching to get out the door. There will be other times when you’ve set up a certain playdate and feel like you NEED to get them out the door. So how do you deal?
First, make sure there is lots of unscheduled playtime in your wee one’s day. Make sure you have at least one “home day” a week. Make sure you have lots of time every day where you are on the floor playing with your child and you have no idea what time it is and no real agenda.
Think carefully about your own needs. How much do you need to get out in order to keep yourself sane? How much downtime do YOU need to not feel frazzled? Honor your needs!
Then, take a close look at your schedule. Are there activities that are constantly difficult to get to? Playdates that always end in tears? Maybe your toddler hates gymnastics but you really like the parents in his class. Consider dropping the class and making playdates instead, or walking in the park with those parents while your toddlers nap in the stroller.
Finally, start planning for better transitions. If your typical get-out-the-door routine involves 20 minutes in the Exersaucer while you rush to pack the diaper bag, your babe isn’t likely to be very receptive to being scooped up and raced out the door before she gets some time with mama.
Googling “baby teething five months” for hours a night will not likely bring you much relief from what ails you. Use that time instead to plan and prepare for the next day, so transitions can be quick and easy. Are there things that can be packed the night before? Items (like diapers, a change of clothes and snacks) that could always stay in the car or stroller? Anything you could delegate to the working parent to pack in the evenings or early mornings?
Plan to spend quality time with your kiddos before you get them out the door and then give them ample warning before go time. When it’s time to go, you could just pick them up and head for the door. Shoes, coats and hats can be done in the car or stroller if need be. Older toddlers and children will want to do it themselves and should be encouraged to do that, so maybe you could have a set staging area where they could get ready so they understand that they’ve already made the transition away from home time.
Rethink your chores
Unfortunately, becoming a stay-at-home mom or dad is not just about childrearing. It’s also about running a household. For some, this is a pleasant task that comes naturally. For others, it’s sheer misery. Most of us fall in the middle, but the addition of a needy baby in our midst can make even the easiest chores seem insurmountable. And it really doesn’t get THAT much easier until they start school.
The first thing you need to do is declutter as much as you can. Plan to make lots of trips to Goodwill when your in-laws are in town (or send them, if you aren’t comfortable leaving baby yet). Sort baby clothes often so that what’s out fits and is seasonal. Keeping a mend pile right now will likely just mean more clutter. Keeping baby in onesies and all-in-ones as much as possible reduces the number of laundry items you have to fold and put away. Try to halt the constant flow of baby clothes and toys by letting friends and family members know what you really need and encouraging them to buy in bigger sizes to be used down the road when baby isn’t shifting sizes every three months.
Get creative with your organization. A file folder box near your entryway lets you easily put medical records, preschool tour info and receipts right in their place. Keeping pretty (and big) bins in every room gives you a place to stash things you don’t have time to properly put away, or that need to be taken to other rooms at the end of the day. Consider keeping a laundry hamper in the kitchen or living room and another in the bathroom, so you aren’t constantly having to walk to baby’s room to deposit dirty clothes. Maybe a chest of drawers could be moved to the living room or entryway to hold baby’s socks and hats, receiving blankets and any other stuff you’re always finding lying around the room in piles at the end of the day. Maybe feeding supplies could be kept in the dining room instead of the kitchen.
You’ll also need to evaluate how much mess you can stand. A cluttered space isn’t great for childhood development, but dirty dishes stacked on the counter or a huge pile of laundry probably aren’t going to bug your baby at all. But if you get itchy just looking at a dirty plate, you’ll need to prioritize cleaning. That may mean you’ll spend every free second cleaning. If you can lower your standards for a few years, life will be much easier for you. That and asking for professional house cleaning gift certificates for every birthday, mother’s day and other holiday you can think of….
But don’t lose heart. Your house doesn’t need to be filthy. Start the habit of cleaning and decluttering throughout your day as much as possible. Keep rags and spray bottles filled with water and vinegar in every bathroom and the kitchen. Get used to cleaning the sink or toilet while your toddler gets her bath or brushes her teeth. Get in the habit of putting toys away before every meal. Your toddler will delight in knowing where things go and helping you put them away (and dumping them out, so move quickly to the next activity!). Wee ones will also love helping you clean. Get them their own little cleaning bucket or bag, with a spray bottle (filled with water) and a small rag or wash cloth. Have them wipe down tables or the floor alongside you. You’ll thank yourself later when your kids don’t think cleaning is just for mom.
Sites like Pinterest can be great to help you find organizational ideas and systems. The mommy binder seems to be really popular with the Pinterest set. But use carefully. If you find inspiration looking through pictures of perfectly organized entryways, alphabetized and labeled dry goods and Pottery Barn-worthy nurseries, that’s great. If they make you feel inferior, you need to find a different outlet.
I could write a whole book on meal-planning. Maybe someday I will :). But for now, let me just say that breakfast is easiest when it’s the same every day (oatmeal, fruit and scrambled eggs are our go-to), lunch should be leftovers, and dinner will be easiest when you chop it up the night before and can hit the start button on your rice cooker or crockpot mid-morning. Toddlers and kids love to eat finger food out of ice cube trays and spouses should be trained to love stews or bring home takeout :).
Try to cut out chaos wherever you can, lower your expectations where that’s appropriate and notice daily all the good you’re doing. These days will be gone before we know it, so savor what you love and let the rest go.
Where the moms (and dads!) are:
Consider Baby Peppers (ages 5-12 months) or Little Peppers, for 2 or more children (ages 3 and under) to meet primarily stay-at-home moms. A daytime PEPS group is a great place to meet other parents who live near you and have babies the same age. Evening Newborn PEPS groups are great for couples, but many of those parents will return to work after maternity leave.
There are also several neighborhood branches of Mom’s Club in Seattle. For a small annual fee, you get access to weekly playdates by age and other fun get-togethers.
MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) is another national group with several chapters in Seattle. Moms meet bimonthly at a local church for a lecture or craft, and there’s free care for the kiddos.
Some other places to make friends:
- Several area coffee shops have kiddo areas, including Firehouse in Ballard, Mosaic in Wallingford, Cloud City Coffee in Maple Leaf, Red Cup Espresso in West Seattle and Serendipity in Magnolia. Explore the cafes in your neighborhood, avoiding the ones crammed with laptop warriors.
- Most community centers have toddler rooms and toddler playtimes. Gymboree and the Little Gym also have age-specific classes starting with infants. Several Seattle library branches offer special weekly storytimes for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. They are usually held in dedicated spaces and parents hang out afterwards.
- Many local yoga studios offer “mommy and me” classes. Some mom and baby classes are just for infants while others welcome toddlers. There are also local family classes where kids of all ages can get their cobra on. Some to check out: Seattle Holistic Center in Greenlake, and Whole Life Yoga and 8 Limbs yoga both have branches in several neighborhoods. Several area YMCAs also offer family and baby yoga classes.
- Out and About with your PEPS Group – more ideas from PEPS groups on places to meet and have fun
- Seattle Activities, Eastside Activities and Snohomish County Activities – PEPS lists places to meet and have fun
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and just launched a new blog Critical Playdate. She is mama to Ruby, 5, Quinn, 7, and Nora, 2. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, reading and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.