When Dan and I decided I would quit my job to stay at home with Kate, I envisioned she would play quietly and entertain herself while I blogged, made dinner, cleaned, organized, talked on the phone.
That is not how it happened.
Instead, I found out babies require a lot of attention. There is no such thing that looks like independent play in Casa Bagley. If I’m not watching Kate at all times, she would be jumping off the end of the couch, naked, with a mixing bowl on her head and a fistful of permanent markers.
Toddlers. I wish I could bottle their energy and mix it into my morning coffee. Think how productive I’d be!
Anyway, it took a good long time for me to accept that this new gig of stay-at-home-mom would not allow for me to accomplish all that I want to do in a given day. That some days I might only be able to make the bed or throw together a dinner but that might be all I accomplish. Also, I didn’t know it at the time, but I got a lot better at accomplishing things as I became a more experienced mom. Stuff that used to wig me out and take 20 minutes or more now take a mere 5 minutes now that I know what I’m doing. Except for leaving the house on time. For some reason, Kate and I can’t seem to get that one under control. Baby steps.
Since I struggled as a new mom trying desperately to find a routine for this stay-at-home-mom thing and to feel good about myself at the end of the day, I put together a couple tips for new moms. These are strategies that worked for me. Feel free to accept, modify, reject. You’re in charge!
+Come up with a schedule that works for you. This will get a lot easier once you’re out of that newborn-eats-sleeps-cries cycle. If that’s your current state, relax, watch all six hours of the Today Show, read The Help, tweet. I did not get out much for the first three months. I knew so much about what was going on in the world that CNN tried to hire me as a news anchor. Okay, that didn’t actually happen. But don’t feel bad if you and your newborn have become one with the couch. Give it a couple months.
Okay, so sometime after three months, I started planning my weeks to include activities and errands that got us out of the house. I’d plan to attend a mom’s group meet up one day, head to the grocery the next, meet up with another mom, walk, take Kate to some free kid’s concert. (Don’t feel silly taking your three month old to these free kid events. It tires them out, taking in all the toddlers running around screaming. Plus, this is a great way to pick up mommy friends. Everyone will want to coo over your new baby, so hello, instant new friends!). Planning a morning out each day really helped me get back on my feet and feel in control of the days. Sure, I missed Matt Laurer, but I found I felt better about myself when I got out and about.
+Reduce expectations. Okay, this pill is still hard for me to swallow. Because I keep telling myself, I’m home, how can I not get these things done? Here’s why. Kate likes to play this fun game where she hangs on my legs while I try to organize the linen closet or pick up toys or vacuum. Lugging around a 28 pound toddler has done wonders for my thighs. But I can’t move that quick or efficiently with her dangling from my legs. Thus, everything takes roughly 100x as long as it would take someone who doesn’t have a toddler wailing from their lower half.
I find so many stay-at-home-moms (and moms in general) try to be this cross between an Inspector Gadget and Super Woman who can use her go-go-gadget extender arms and Super Woman muscles to clean her house while making dinner and folding laundry at the same time. I know because I’ve tried. And all I end up with is a giant mess and a screaming toddler. One thing at a time.
It helps me to make a list of just a few things (Okay, I see you, adding 20 items to your list. I said a few! Like maybe three. And that’s pushing it.) to my To Do list. Make them manageable. Totally do able. Don’t set yourself up. And, most importantly, don’t feel bad because you think you haven’t done enough in one day.
Is your kid (or kids) still breathing? Did you feed your kid today? Give hugs and kisses and pretend to eat plastic food? Then, congrats mom because you did a great job today. I’m serious. It takes effort, ingenuity, bravery, and strength to entertain your kids all day.
+Take a break. When I decided to become a stay-at-home-mom, I took that quite literally. That I was to stay at home with Kate all day, every day, and never be alone or pursue my own interests. That was a bad idea.
It took me a good long time before I refound myself and what I wanted to do. I use nap time to the fullest. I don’t fold laundry or clean sippy cups. I sit down and write blog posts. I read. I call my best friend. I work on a scrapbooking project. I watch The Bachelor. I do whatever I want because these moments of alone time are few and far between. Just because I stay home doesn’t mean I’m some sort of chore-mobile who should be on her feet all day cleaning. Look, when other people go to a job, do they slave away the entire day and never take a minute to go to the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee, share a laugh with a colleague at the water cooler, take a quick walk, read blog posts? When I worked in cubicle land, I sure did. So, stay-at-home-moms need a break, too. You are not lazy if you use nap time to recharge. In fact, I’d argue that recharging is the single most important thing you can do because you’ve got to rest up for Round Two: the long afternoon before dada gets home. Take a break, soldier. You’ve earned it.
+Find an outlet. I found the transition from working 40+ hours a week in a cubicle performing analytical tasks on spreadsheets to solitarily wiping butts and breastfeeding a shock to my system. I knew Excel. I didn’t know much about mothering an infant.
I found I did better as a mother when I had something else going on in addition to The Itsy Bitsy Spider. I needed an outlet where I was Sarah, not Kate’s mom. I worked it out with Dan, so I could get back to my morning group fitness classes. I got more into blogging and connecting online. I explored the idea of part time work on my schedule. I did things that made me feel good about myself, outside of motherhood.
Finding your outlet might be an ongoing process. And that’s okay. Take your time. Try this and that. Explore. And once you find that thing or things that work for you, give you energy, make you feel fulfilled, carve out time for those things, ferociously protect your time for those activities. Do what makes you feel whole.
The biggest thing I remember is that raising my happy, healthy, well-adjusted little girl is an accomplishment in and of itself. So, no, I didn’t solve world hunger or contribute to a presentation or maybe even put on makeup today and for the second day in a row my family ate sandwiches for dinner. But my Kate talks a blue streak, pretends she’s a mama and gives her babies hugs and kisses (oh, and brushes their teeth), says please and thank you. I taught her those things. I tell her she’s enough. I give her what she needs while giving myself what I need. And that’s an accomplishment.