I’ve been a hustler my whole life. I took my first paid job at 15 years old, and in fact, I don’t know of a time when I didn’t work at least two jobs—even when one of them was full-time. I never really knew what it was like to not “go-go-go,” to not have a paycheck, or to-do lists.
There’s been a learning curve for each job I’ve ever worked, and if I’ve discovered one thing since accepting the job of full-time SAHM/work-at-home caregiver to our kids, it’s that there’s a learning curve to this one too.
Like, a big one.
I’m still learning on the job, every day. If my situation sounds familiar to you, I’ll share with you a few of the most important things I’ve picked up so far since I’ve decided to be at home full-time with the kids.
1. You have to Accept a Whole New To-Do List
There are days when I collapse into a heap and think, “but I don’t even know if I did anything of value today!” because everything in my home looks the same or worse than it did when I woke up. In actuality, I did things. I did a whole lot of things. So will you. Just not the kinds of things that you are used to, those which are completed by meetings and emails and checking off boxes.
There’s a reason why people give a huge portion of their paychecks to daycares and child care, and that’s because (say it with me): It’s a job. Yes, even if they are your own children, you better believe you’ll be hustlin’ all day long. It’s manual labor. It’s taxing on every level. It’s where the bulk of your time is spent, where you work very hard, and where you sometimes hide in the bathroom because you’ve had enough of your coworkers. But make no mistake, when you’re a SAHM, you are doing all the things.
2. Become a Student
Many times, if I look up and open my eyes and my heart to my daughter, in all her chubby-fingered, joy-filled glory, I can really see her. I see her seeing this world as if it is brand-spankin’ new, and I learn things from her—how to slow down; patience; forgiveness; bits of myself, my husband, members of our family, and pieces of her that are all her own. I learn how to see a familiar object in a whole new light, thanks to watching her explore it. It’s beautiful.
And sometimes, if I look up and open my eyes and my heart to my daughter, I see that she’s emptied all of my kitchen cabinets and reset my answering machine to a mode I never knew it had, nor will I ever figure out how to change. I quickly learned to never take my eyes off of her again. The teacher becomes the student. Don’t fall asleep in class.
3. You’re Entitled to Fuck-Ups
Several months ago, I broke my daughter’s maraca, intentionally. She was throwing a tantrum, stomping and crying so that I’d drop everything and give it to her immediately, but it was dirty, and—oh, it doesn’t matter. The point is, I hit a breaking point and slammed it down with the fury of a Sumo wrestler, and it shattered like a piñata. Who breaks a maraca on purpose—a fucking maraca, practically the mascot of fun and dancing and Mexican sunsets?
I had an out-of-body experience where I floated up and looked down at this total jerk who was in my home watching my daughter, because clearly it wasn’t me. Then I headed down the rabbit hole of guilt, doubt of my ability to be cut out for this job, and self-loathing. And you know what? In the midst of this maraca meltdown going on in my mind, I looked over at her, and she’d totally forgiven and forgotten the whole episode. If they can forgive you, you can forgive yourself. In this business of being a SAHM, you have to get comfortable with having “bad days,” learn from your own mistakes, and move on. Every parent makes mistakes, and if they tell you otherwise, know that they are lying liars or completely delusional.
4. Value Yourself
It can sometimes be easy to slump into that zone where you feel like you are disconnected from everyone and the world wouldn’t notice if a giant sinkhole opened up in your living room and swallowed you whole. They would. You have value. What you are doing matters. You are raising humans, the same way someone raised and nurtured CEOs of companies and the people who operate our mass transit systems and teachers and doctors and everyone in between. All of these individuals once had someone who cared for them, changed their diapers, and shaped them into the person they are today. And for anyone who doubts the value in what you are doing, ask them to watch your kids for an hour or two. They’ll gain a whole new level of respect by the time you return.
Also, be kind to yourself. There are people who feel that because you are lucky enough to be home with your children you aren’t allowed to ever have a bad day, or be sad, or talk about the parts of it that are challenging. Screw them. My favorite friends are the ones who have told me that as much as they love their little ones, they look forward to Monday mornings when they get to take a break from them, head back into the office and switch gears. You are human, and you can simultaneously be grateful for and acknowledging of the fact that you have feelings, and simply put, this shit is hard.
5. Make Time for the Things You Love
What fills your cup? Maybe it’s yoga, the gym, time to read your favorite book, or work on a project you are passionate about. For me, it’s writing. Whatever it is, make a set time each day or a few times per week to do something you enjoy. Find pockets of time when your spouse is in charge of the kids or find someone you trust to leave your kids with for a set amount of time, then go do you. Staying at home with your kids is no small job, and because you don’t get to “punch out” or go off the clock, you have to make it a point to take a break. It can wear on your psyche if you don’t take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself also shows your children that you are valuable and that you value yourself, the same way you want them to value themselves. It’s funny how that works.
6. Make Your Home a ‘Home’
It’s where you spend most of your time, and it’s not going to make you feel good if it is cluttered, messy, disorganized or chaotic. Sure it is going to feel this way much of the time, mainly because you have small humans running around and wrecking it, or because you’re so busy keeping their fingers out of light sockets that you haven’t had time to keep it in order. But it’s important to find small, simple things that make it cozy, like a comfy reading nook with soft blankets, or a decorative storage bin that hides all the toys, or even something as small as a favorite mug that makes you smile. Set things up so that you have easy access to things you use and love the most.
Also, purge things. Seriously. Make Konmari your bitch.
7. Make a ‘Shift Change’
Since I started this new SAHM gig, I never know what day it is. My sister thought this was great: “No Monday! No need for TGIF!” Until I explained to her that it’s because every day is Monday. If you’re spending most of your time at home with the kids and/or working from home, the days blend together and you start to go bananas in your own space.
It wasn’t long before I realized what I needed: a “shift change.” This is a ritual you do once the kids are in bed, to change the space over from “kid chaos” to “relaxation mode”—just a five minute “turn-down service.” It can be a favorite scented candle you light, a storage bench you can toss loose toys into at the end of the night, a chapter of a favorite book you read each night, a two-minute body stretch, or a glass of wine. Or maybe you strip down naked, hold hands with your spouse, and do a gratitude dance to the gods who created Netflix and frozen pizza. You get the idea. These little things matter. Our “shift change” once kids are in bed re-energizes our space and gives me a bit of a refresher, change of scenery, and separation between our current modes of life.
8. See Beyond This Period
This is both happy and sad. I look to parents of older children and see that one day, these little legs and fingers and toes in my arms will be self-sufficient and will be able to take themselves to the bathroom—that I will be given a taste of freedom that I don’t have right now. When your kids are small, and especially if you are at home with them regularly, this can be hard to see. You feel like you’ll be here forever and that they will wear you down and you will grow old this way. You won’t. We won’t. We’re in the trenches now, but it will pass. Just because we haven’t experienced that phase yet doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge that it will happen, and that alone is sometimes enough to help take a deep breath, soften and gain perspective in the midst of this beautiful chaos.
Lastly, have fun. It’s very easy to get caught up in a cycle of “doing,” especially when you’re in your own home and the dishwasher and unorganized closets and washer and dryer are in your face at all times, and there’s just so much to do. But we can’t forget to put the life into living. There are times I feel like I’m killing it at this parenting thing, and other times when I catch myself looking around waiting for the adult in charge to swoop in and remedy this shit-show. But then I realize: It’s me, in charge of the good, the bad and the ugly. That it’s going to fly by, and I need to keep having fun. That it’s as much rewarding as it is exhausting. And that’s something that warrants employee of the year, in my book.