I've received a lot of emails from women who are considering staying home. Women who are like I was - struggling with the balance between work and family in a stressful job, but who never considered or planned on becoming a stay at home mom. These women aren't crafty. Aren't good cooks. Really have no desire to clean a house or do laundry or become a room parent. But they, like I did, are considering throwing in the towel on a career nonetheless.
These women are nervous. They ask me questions like, what do you do all day? Does it get boring? How do you keep from feeling completely isolated? How do you meet people? Do you still shower daily? Am I about to make a huge mistake?
I am by no means a pro at this. But after a year plus, I have learned some things. So here is the post where I impart my survival techniques onto you:
SAHM Survival Tip #1 - Download "Words with Friends"
To answer one of the above questions, yes, it does get boring sometimes. Very! Days are long. Yes, I play with the kids. I engage. But a person can only do so much for so long. So what can one do to pass the time?
Words with Friends, people. It has changed my life. Just when I think I can't take another five minutes of listening to my kids fight over a matchbox car, I reach for my Iphone and there it is. I have multiple games going at once, so there is always a play to be made. It is the perfect distraction. And it keeps the mind sharp, just like legal research!
SAHM Survival Tip #2 - Ignore your kids sometimes.
When I was working, I remember coming home once and being annoyed that the nanny had put Braden in his crib so she could clean up the kitchen. How dare someone relegate my 1 year old to an empty room, to an empty crib, when it isn't nap time? He must be entertained! Engaged! Constantly stimulated!
Okay, former self, chill out. I have learned the art of ignoring my kids, and it is essential to getting through the day. For a while I was doing all of my self care and household chores during nap time, so as not to interfere with my time with the kids. Guess what? That meant I had no time to myself. ZERO. So now, I do the dishes and the laundry while the kids play by themselves downstairs. I chat on the phone with friends during snack time. And in full circle fashion, I put Casey in his crib in the morning while I shower. And you know what? My kids are fine and will be all the better for it.
SAHM Survival Tip #3 - Get out of the house.
This may seem obvious, but it's HUGE. When you have a newborn and it's cold out and you're tired and looking like crap, it's easy just to hang inside all day. BIG MISTAKE. I learned this the hard way. Now, no matter what, I get out. If it's raining and dark and miserable and Braden has no school and we have no plans, I go to the grocery store. To the post office. To the (gasp!) mall. I'll make errands for myself. Hmmmm, I really feel like a Diet Dr. Pepper. Perhaps I will drive to the Harris Teeter (approximately 20 minutes away) to purchase one?
Must. get. out. Everyday.
SAHM Survival Tip #4 - Don't be afraid to annoy others.
When I first had kids I was very cognizant of what restaurants I took them to. I didn't want to annoy other people with "kid noise" when it wasn't appropriate. I stuck to fast food type establishments where I could get in and out quickly.
I've let that go, to a reasonable degree. Kids cry. They throw stuff. They can be irritating. But my philosophy is, if I am at a restaurant before 6pm, then anything goes. Other patrons must come at their own risk. And lets face it, I'm not going to fine dining establishments anyway, but you get my point. I like to eat out. It's always been something I look forward to. And after a long day with two kids, I reward myself with that sometimes. My apologies in advance.
SAHM Survival Tip #5 - Embrace McDonalds
Speaking of fast food, I used to be all about organic food for my kids. And that's still what I buy. But I have to say, there's just something about McDonalds.... Kids love it. The fries. The nuggets. The apple slices. The stupid toy. Meals at McDonalds last longer than any other meal my kids eat. They relish every moment. So why deny them of this happiness? (Or myself, for that matter?)
I limit it to once a week for lunch. It breaks up the day, and it won't kill them.
(And also, along these lines, please also embrace Velveeta Shells and Cheese).
SAHM Survival Tip #6 - Embrace Nick Jr.
Another rule I had for the nanny - no TV! I think there is some rule decreed by some people somewhere that you shouldn't let your kids watch TV until they are 2.
Look, I don't spend my days gallivanting about the house while my kids are hypnotized by the television. But, there are times that things need to be done. Meals need to be made. Laundry needs to be done. Sanity needs to be restored. Every once in a while, I, and the kids, just need a breather.
My rule is never more than 2 hours per day total. I break that rule sometimes, depending on circumstances (illness, federal holiday, mental breakdown, etc.). Some days they don't watch any. But I don't have guilt about it anymore. Besides, have you seen Yo Gabba Gabba? Or heard the Mickey Mouse Hot Dog song? Fabulous!
SAHM Survival Tip #7 - Get a Babysitter
Why, oh why did it take me so long to take my own advice? When I first started staying home, I had a shitload of guilt about getting a babysitter during the weekdays. I mean, come on, I had just quit my job. Meaning, I was not making ANY MONEY. Where did I get off hiring someone to come relieve me from my new job?
Then, when some freelance work started coming in, I got a regular babysitter to come for a couple of hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that I could do work. Now the work is drying up, and guess what - I am keeping the babysitter! At the end of the day, I think nothing about eating out once or twice a week, or going to a movie. Why not forgo a meal out and give myself an hour or two of free time once or twice a week? It does wonders for my sanity. And the kids love our babysitter, Joey. (Yes, a guy. He's awesome).
SAHM Survival Tip #8- Lose your pride.
As a SAHM, it is crucial to keep an active social calendar. Not for your kids - for you. Otherwise, you will be starved of adult interaction and find yourself talking just a bit too long to Starbucks barristers.
How do you find friends for such a social calendar? Become shameless.
I have been known to approach random women at Barnes & Noble and ask for their phone number. It's a crazy thing, the whole SAHM dating thing. But you've got to put yourself out there. Risk rejection. Take a chance. And for me, it's paid off with some good friends (oh yeah, for the kids too).
SAHM Survival Tip #9 - Become a wine-o.
Self explanatory. With a couple of rules:
1) Only to be enjoyed after the kids go to bed (with a few exceptions).
2) Try to limit it to one weeknight per week (and have it to look forward to).
3) Weekends are no holds barred (weekends have to mean something).
SAHM Survival Tip #10 - Enjoy it.
Staying home with the kids is hard work. (I've written about it extensively, so I won't belabor the point). But I chose this. I wanted this. And despite the challenges, I still think it's the best job in the world. It is a job that, by its nature, is meant to be enjoyed.
But just make sure you follow tips 1-9. That makes the enjoyment come a bit easier.