Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stay at Home Survival

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.


  1. thanks for the tips. I think they apply for dads too, I'll use them when I'm on paternity leave

  2. Thank you for the wonderful tips, I know I will be needing them one day! And FYI, my mom was a SAHM, and she let us watch TV all the time, and we all turned out pretty well. I also think denying kids TV makes a bigger deal out of it that makes them want to watch it more. When we were growing up, TV just wasn't a big deal to us, and we were just as happy to play outside or build forts or do art projects.

  3. thanks for all these great tips! I am one of the women who has emailed you actually. I knew some of these points from talking to friends but its great to get affirmation that i wont have to spend every waking moment with my kids. I do worry it will be too much of a good thing speaking all day w them but will be worth it, as you say.
    #8 especially touches on a fear. Need to figure out my "dating" strategy on that one. I know I"ll need the social outlet or will lose my mind!

  4. Great post! And agreed on TV. This generation does seem to have a totally different view on it than when I was growing up. And not even that long ago TV was not "a necessary evil", hence the fairly recent developments of Baby Einstein, and the Your Baby Can Read system (which if you have an overly involved grandma who shells out the 100 bucks on this for your 2 month old like I do, you will see calls for watching their DVD 3x per day). All research Ive found about the Tv affects seem to be about verbal development. Personally, my now 19mo daughter has over 100 words in her vocabulary, creates 2-4 word sentences daily and talks constantly - even throughout Go Diego Go. So yes, Nick Jr will be on for her sparatically throughout the day, and I will stop all guilt at the door.

  5. Thanks for the tips! Love em and keep em coming if you think of any later. Especially love the tip about getting a babysitter. LOVE THAT! Now...can you write some tips about how to get some kind of paid work while being an ex-lawyer SAHM? Pretty please?

  6. As a SAHM, I definitely agree with tip #2. I have some special toys on hand that only come out when I need to get something done. I have also been known to use "free babysitting" by letting my toddler skype with Grandma while I make dinner. It is a win-win!

    The other thing I have found helpful to make sure we get out of the house is that each weekend I make a schedule for the coming week. I arbitrarily pick an outing for each day I don't already have plans. I feel better knowing that I have something planned for each day - big or small.

  7. Great list! I laughed right along with you at the "no tv until 2" rule. Do childless people make up these crazy rules?

    I have one more tip- join a gym with childcare. It has literally been the best money I have ever spent. A great way to stay healthy and sane; plus, we always have a fallback for a rainy day. Our gym even has a monthly free parent's night out- can't beat it!

  8. I second Alice's comment. (Though i'm not an ex-lawyer.) How do you find flexible/ contract work?

  9. @ Alice and 2:13 - I don't have any really good tips, actually! I have found a few things through contacts with my old job. And I've actually gotten a few writing gigs from this blog. And one job through Craigslist! But it's nothing steady.

  10. Is it wrong that my reaction to this, as a working lawyer mom (who stayed at home 10 months during deferment (and then maternity leave with my second), is that I actually feel better that I'm not missing that much, and that a good nanny or childcare situation is not any worse for the kid than I'd be at home playing WWF and running errands? not to say that you shouldn't do those things, whatever keep you sane and happy, but just to say that staying at home seems to be about the Mom's sanity (a good goal) more so than the kids welfare in the abstract.

  11. Love these tips--and the idea that you were gallivanting around the house while your kids watched tv made me giggle. Was great to meet you last night (albeit briefly) at the Shot@Life event. Hope to see you again soon!

  12. I agree with PP 3:23, this post made me feel better about working. Not to say I wouldn;t be using your same survival tips if I stayed at home. But the fact that my kids have a nanny who arrives everyday at 9am fresh after a good night's sleep and who was not woken up at 6am to the sound of two screaming toddlers maybe isn't so bad. And since I don't ask my nanny to do much in the way of household chores, she doesn't have to distract my kids with the TV. Anyhow, I hope this doesn't come off as a judgmental post - if a little TV and WWF keeps you sane then you are a better mom (and your kids are better of) for it! it was just a good reminder that even though I fantasize about quitting my job and spending all day doing enrichment activities with my kids, that isn't exactly realistic!!!!

  13. What great advice! Being a stay at home mom can be really hard, thanks for all of the advice. The most important advice that I'm taking away with this is "get out of the house". It sounds so obvious to others, but it is absolutely essential if one wants to retain an ounce of sanity.

  14. I love your post! I think the most important advice you have given in this blog is to get out of the house! It is so easy to just stay home because you think it's easier, but it will drive you absolutely bananas if you are not careful. Thanks for all of the good advice.


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