As I awaited the arrival of my first child, I had no concrete plans for the years ahead. Honestly, I was most focused on making it through labor, which basically terrified me. Beyond that, I knew I was going to take at least one semester off from my college teaching job. But I had no real plans after that.
And then he came: the most beautiful, intense, delightful, all-consuming creature I’d ever met. Even after the first few months, he nursed every second and throughout the night. He was impossible to settle into sleep. No one could do it but me, my husband, or my boobs. Looking back, I’m sure he would have eventually accepted care from someone besides us, but as a new mom, I simply couldn’t imagine how that would work.
Besides that, going back to work didn’t make sense financially. Between my commute, salary, and the astronomical cost of child care in my area, I would only break even, if that. So, I basically fell into the whole SAHM thing, both out of necessity and because that’s where my heart led me.
The years flew by. Five years in, I had another kid. I found part-time work I could do around my husband’s work schedule. But for all these years, I’ve been the one at home. I’ve been the one in charge from the crack of dawn till my husband comes home each evening. Often, I do this on very little sleep, or sleep broken up by nursing babies, sick children, or worried mom thoughts.
Let me tell you, it’s damn hard. I love it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But being a stay-at-home mom is work (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!). It tests your limits in every way, but it also allows you to tap into strength you didn’t know existed. It’s an opportunity for your most badass self to shine through.
My second child will be starting half-day pre-K in the fall, and so I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (and believe me, the tears are already starting too). But I know that all those years ago, when I first started out as a SAHM, I really had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how I would make it through each long, long day.
So, to all you new moms just starting out, here’s some quick advice, some pearls of wisdom to ease you into this crazy, beautiful ride of stay-at-home mommyhood:
1. It’s OK to vent.
It’s actually necessary and healthy. Just because you complain sometimes doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids or wouldn’t move mountains for them. It’s just that they can make you feel so freaking stressed and tired you want to scratch your eyes out sometimes. That’s normal. Complaining about it helps.
2. It’s OK to ask for help.
This is one I’m trying to get better at myself. When the baby is sick, and so are you, it’s OK to ask your partner to take a day off to help. It’s OK to ask your neighbor to walk your big kid to school if your toddler is having a tantrum about pants. It takes a village, truly. Don’t try to be a martyr all the time. You’ll break from all the pressure.
3. Don’t compare yourself to other SAHMs.
Even the moms who seem to have it together really don’t. We all struggle to be organized and patient on a daily basis. We all struggle with worry and fatigue. It’s part of the job. So are yoga pants with holes, and no showers for days on end.
4. Try to get out of the house when you can. You need to talk to other adults.
Listen, I know how impossible it can feel to get out with kids. No one will get dressed, everyone is hungry at the wrong time, you have no clean underwear, and the dishes are piled up to the ceiling. But just put your jacket on over your pj’s, scoop up your kids, and take a walk around the block. Even striking up a conversation with the mailman will help break up the monotony of it all.
5. Throw the guilt in the trash, where it belongs.
I struggled for years with my identity as a stay-at-home mom. Shouldn’t I be doing something more prestigious, something using my college degree? I felt racked with guilt because I wasn’t contributing to our household salary. It’s all bullshit. Careers can be picked up later. Some of us find that motherhood bring gifts to our careers we didn’t expect. And as for the no-income thing? Think about how much you could cost if you hired yourself. See that? You’d break the bank.
6. Take time for yourself.
Here’s another one I’m still working on. And I know it feels impossible to do, especially when your kids are little. But you must do it. If you don’t fill yourself up, you’ll have nothing left to give. Take a 15-minute bath. Take your dinner to your bedroom so you can eat in peace for 10 minutes. Do anything that reminds you of who you are outside the role of mother.
It can be enormously fatiguing and overwhelming to be the sole caretaker for young children. It can be lonely, isolating, and just downright boring. But it’s also beautiful. There are moments I have experienced with my children that are pure magic. I know that however hard it is, I will look back on the whole thing fondly and wish I could relive it all over again.
So, to the brand new SAHMs: It’s hard. It’s supposed to be. But you are doing it. You’re making memories. And you might not see it yet, but you’re kicking some serious ass. So cut yourself a little slack and bask in the awesomeness of doing some of the most important work on earth.