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Posts Tagged ‘stay-at-home moms’

S.A.H.M.

I’m so excited for this week’s focus on childcare.  The options can be mind-boggling and are accompanied by lots of hard choices, so I am really glad we’re showcasing the many different kinds of arrangements even just amongst our contributors.

I pretty much always knew I’d be a stay-at-home-mom.  My husband, M, and I discussed it long before we got pregnant.  It was something we both wanted, and something we prepared for pretty much as soon as we got married.  For background, it’s important to know that there is/was a major wage discrepancy between the two of us.  I worked in secondary and post-secondary education, so not a big paycheck there.  M works in technology, so he fares significantly better.

Anyways, we started prepping for our one-income family right away.  When we got married and got our joint bank accounts settled, we switched my salary to direct-deposit straight into savings (and maxed out my retirement contributions).  This made for a gentle adjustment, since “my” money was always readily transferable in the savings account, but we got used to seeing a particular amount of money in checking.  While neither of us is an avid budgeter, we have always seemed to manage to live within our means, so this worked out great.  And had the added benefit of padding our savings account pretty painlessly. By the time I left my job, we were already used to paying all of our bills from one paycheck.

Gymnastics

I’ve been home full-time with my kids since they were born, so 20 months and counting.  The major up-sides to being their sole childcare provider are, of course, that I get to be there for all of the firsts and all of the fun stuff.  I also have complete control (or, well, as much control as one can have…) over their environment, schedule, activities, and the like.  I decide what’s happening, I make it happen.  No worrying about communicating my wishes to a third party, no worrying about conflicting philosophies, etc.  And you know what? Maybe I’m setting myself up for a visit from What Not to Wear, but I rather like the casual life.  I only own one pair of pants that aren’t denim.  There are no uncomfortable shoes in my world.  I can spend rainy days in my pajamas.

There are negatives, to be sure.  The very hardest part is this:  THERE IS NO VACATION OR SICK TIME.  It’s a 24/7/365 job. There are no holidays, no days off.  It can be incredibly hard to carve out time for yourself, because your whole day revolves around the kids and their needs. You don’t really get to leave and forget about it until the next morning.  Weekends don’t have nearly the same appeal as they did in my child-free working days, as my kids are entirely too young to understand the joys of sleeping in.  In their world, one day is pretty much the same as the next.

Klubhouse

The key to survival as a SAHM, I have found, is to NOT stay at home.  Get out, get out!  Playdates, classes, storytimes and the like are key to our sanity.  Spending all day cooped up in our living room, or especially more than two days in a row, is a recipe for disaster.  Social isolation was my biggest fear when I left the world of paid employment, and, it has thankfully not really come to pass. But that’s because I made a very concerted effort to combat it by taking lots of classes with the kids and spending time with other moms.

And if there’s one thing I really need to improve upon?  I need to convince myself that a babysitter is a necessity, not an undeserved luxury.  We moms can be martyrs for the cause.  If I’m a full-time mom, then I should be a full-time mom! But when it comes right down to it, we still need breaks.  Whether a childcare swap with some friends, finding a neighborhood high school student, or paying through the nose for a professional nanny who has mornings free…  Got to find a few hours to myself.  I haven’t had that for the last year, and with two draining toddlers, I’m really starting to feel the effects of never being off-duty.

Playground

As draining as this gig can be, I have no intention of changing our arrangement anytime soon (except for the aforementioned babysitter).  I want to be the one participating full-time in this part of my kids’ life.  I want to spend this time with them, I want to watch it happen and teach them the things I want to teach them.  Do I miss my old job? You bet. Do I miss it enough to spend an hour commuting each way, having to rush to get the kids ready in the morning, and only barely catching them before bedtime each night, only to give my entire salary to someone else? All that, so that I can spend my afternoon with college students instead of taking my kids to the playground? No.  No, I do not.

Anyways, that’s what has worked out in my house.  Other SAHMs out there, what are your tricks to maintaining sanity?  What has been your single biggest challenge?

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This week’s Ask the Moms question/inspiration comes from a somewhat unlikely source: a dad of two singletons!  Still, though, some things are near-universal when it comes to parenting, and we couldn’t not address his concerns.  Dear readers, please feel free to chime in with your suggestions in the comments.  Here’s Chris’s comment on an earlier post:

I think I’m the only guy to post here and I’m sure glad I found a site where other parents feel the same pain. I resigned from work due to stress; unable to put in all the hours and give adequate time to my 2 1/2 year old and 9-month old.

I’ve been home for 3 months now and am just going absolutely crazy. I don’t know what to do to make myself feel better. I feel guilty turning on the TV so I don’t do that often — I basically just try to stick it out until my wife gets home to provide a hand.

Since I never leave the home I feel like I work a double-home shift until the kids sleep with at that point I’m fully exhausted with no energy to read a book or go to the gym. I don’t know if there’s a solution; perhaps it must be this way until they’re older.

My family is my top priority and I love my wife and kids but I’m slowly going crazy and am probably a bit depressed. I sure am glad though that I was able to read other folks’ comments and stories.

So very many things we want to address, I’ll just jump right in.  Being a stay-at-home parent can be great, fun, and rewarding. But it can also be incredibly frustrating, stressful, and isolating.

The thing that jumped out at all of us right away was “since I never leave the home.”  We have two words for you: Get. Out.   Get the hell out of your house.  Every single day.  I’ve said it many times, but staying inside with two babies/kids all day is the shortest road to crazy town.  And it’s no good for your kids, either.  All three of you need fresh air and different things to look at and explore.  The easiest way to do that is to take a walk.  Sometimes it can be a go-go-go walk where you need to exercise out some frustration. Give the kids some snacks and hit the pavement. Sometimes it’s pure entertainment, so let the toddler stop and check everything out.  Other free-and-easy options include the library (let the toddler browse the books while the baby is along for the ride, or enjoy the library’s story time together), the park, the mall playground, Barnes & Noble (they often have a train table in the kids’ section).  Sometimes I’ll just put the kids in the car and go for a drive, or hit the Starbucks drive-thru.  Go out for a snack or a meal together, or even go to the grocery store. In my world, that totally counts as an outing.  Heck, go to the gym and make use of the childcare room if they have one!

Whether you’re going out or spending a whole day at home, I find the key for lots of days is to have a plan.  A real one.  Before lunch we’re going to do x, and after the afternoon nap, we’re going to do y.  Even if the activity is just sitting on a blanket in the front yard, I feel much more in control if I have a plan.  Don’t set yourself up for disaster by insisting on doing to many things at precise times, but know what you hope to do that day.  It won’t always go perfectly, but it’s a place to start.

To whatever extent you can, we also wholeheartedly recommend coordinating naps as much as possible.  Very true with same-age kids, equally important with a baby and a toddler.  In all likelihood, the toddler is doing one afternoon nap, and the 9-month-old is doing a morning and afternoon nap.  Try to put them down at the same time in the afternoon so that you at least get some kind of a break.  And you may want to push the 2-to-1 nap transition when the younger child is just over a year, in the hopes of true nap coordination.  Of course, it may be that your toddler wants to drop the nap entirely.  We’re all about still enforcing a quiet “siesta” time, even if he/she doesn’t want to sleep.  2.5 is old enough to understand and to spend an hour quietly in their room.

Social support is also a major component here.  As I said, being a stay-at-home-parent can be really isolating, and I think that’s especially true of the less-common stay-at-home-dads.  Reach out and find a network in your area.  Even a virtual community is a good start (look at all of us bloggers!).  Some links include the At-Home Dad Newsletter, Meetup.com, and one of my favorite full-time-dad blogs, Looky, Daddy! For our main MOT audience, we’re all about Moms of Twins clubs, mom/baby/toddler classes, and the like.  The point being that you’re not the only one doing what you’re doing, and there’s nothing better than getting together with like-minded folks.

Finally, make some time for yourself as a person, not just a parent.  Go for a run or a yoga class when the kids are in bed.  Find a babysitter a few times a week so that you can get out of the house by yourself.  Heck, even get a neighborhood middle-schooler to play with the kids in the yard while you sit quietly with a book and a cup of coffee (or, in my case, with the sewing machine… whatever it is you enjoy).  Moms and dads are not endless wells of giving.  You have to recharge yourself if you’re going to have anything left to give.  Sometimes that means letting the kids hang out in a safe, childproofed space in your house while you take a hot shower.  Sometimes it even means letting them watch a few minutes of Baby Einstein so you can gather your thoughts.  If that’s what you need to regroup, do it.

Being a stay-at-home parent is hard work.  We all have rough days when the world seems to conspire against us.  Illness, crabbiness, never-ending bad weather.  There are days when I practically throw both of my children at my husband the moment he walks in the door.  But it can also be wonderful and fun and rewarding.  It’s all about finding the strategies to make it that way.  The really rough days can and should be the exception, not the rule.

One last thought: depression is a very real thing, and new stay-at-home-parents have any number of risk factors for it (major life changes, lack of social support, lack of sleep, financial strain, etc etc etc…).  If you feel like things are getting overwhelming, get help for yourself.  Call your local hospital for counseling referrals (imagine, an hour a week of one-on-one adult interaction!).  Even if you don’t meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis, you can still get help when it feels like life is a little bit too much to handle.  The better you feel, the better parent you’ll be, and the better your whole family will be for it.  Getting help is not a sign of weakness.  It’s a sign of strength when you get the resources you need.

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Remember that old saying you heard, oh, let’s see … once, maybe twice, maybe a hundred times? Sweet whispers caressed your pillow night after night and they all went something like this:

It will get easier.

I think I remember throwing a flower pot or something very heavy at someone after they said something like that during one of my sleep-deprived dreams.

But, I’m not going to write about how all ages and stages are hard – because they are and we know that already.

Instead, I’m going to share the Top Secret Tip to Ridding Yourself of Twinsanity – EVERY DAY. Disclosure: This does not include days when they just wake up cranky and miserable no matter what you do or when they are vomiting or have a fever. Only chocolate can help you those days.

It does, however, include all ages and stages the rest of the time.

Here’s the Top Secret:

Plan.

When you finally pick yourself up off the floor and dust off from that shocker, I want you to think back – and if your twins are 2 you’ll need to think way back – to your best days. I’m willing to bet you would agree that they were filled to the brim with activity, with perfect pace and degrees of difficulty and creativity.

Our best days around here are the ones that are planned out almost by the minute. They are ordinary, stay-at-home kind of days that offer less time to, say, knock over the living room lamp or rip open a brand new bag of Seattle’s Best Coffee and dump it all over the brand new rug.

One second without an activity and the next thing you know they’re crying, I’m saying things I regret and the day is a lost cause.

Since I became a stay-at-home mom when my daughters were 10 months old, I kept them busy just about daily with planned extra curricular activities (ie: art, music, physical activity).

Recently, I realized I stopped planning and started winging it once they turned 2. I guess I thought since they were older they should be able to entertain themselves better than they actually do. But, they still need me to help teach them how to play and be creative. Or, I need it, I suppose.

Sure enough, as soon as I started planning out our days again, life got easier and happier and, well, more sane. It ain’t perfect, but I’m not asking for perfect. And, so I’m being clear: planned activities like this are more for a mom’s peace of mind than for trying to raise brilliant children. Though, it would be nice if the latter sort of tagged along with the original goal.

No matter the age of your twins, you too can have a relatively peaceful, calm day that includes more learning and laughter and less crying and fighting – even on the ordinary days. Here’s the trick, Mama.

Preparation: Spend a half hour at your computer or with your activity books (don’t have any you say, well then get to the library FAST!) and a notebook. Think about the downtime your kiddos have and consider their attention spans. Most activities for young children last only a few minutes so you’ll need quite a few. Three in the morning and three in the afternoon is best if you’re home alone with multiples all day. But, even just one morning and one evening activity is enough to make for a good start and end to the day. You could easily just write down one activity for each day on a calendar if one is enough for your family – a great time management tip I found through Preschool Mama.

Themes/subjects: Pick a theme for the day or even the week and try to stick to that to help you minimize the activities you could venture into. Keep them simple for yourself, too. If your theme this week is hot weather, then consider activities that will use all five senses for that topic. In our early days together, we always had music, art and physical activity. Need more ideas? Check out Toddler Toddler’s site for fast and easy activities.

Everything is A Big Deal Activity: Sometimes, just knowing what will come next is the best antidote to a crazy life with young twins. Knowing that after just 15 minutes you can all easily move on to the next thing — maybe it’s brushing teeth, maybe it’s cleaning with wipes or maybe it’s painting the next great piece of living room art. It’s all a big deal to a young child if you make it a big deal. The point is to show up, pay attention and be ready for the next great big thing.

Which leads me to my last point:

Stay Open, Be flexible: Some of our best moments have come directly from my failed activities. I thought it would go one way and they took it a totally different way but as long as they are happy, I am (usually) happy, too. So long as I know what’s on deck next when a meltdown ensues.

And, let me say, it’s great to be here. I love writing and I love twins so this is a perfect venue for my thoughts and ramblings. Two years ago, I would have posted about keeping a schedule and desperate ways to get my girls to sleep through the night. A year ago, I would have been posting about how I honestly thought they were the best age ever (and, I was right!). Now, well, they are 2.5 and … what was I talking about? Yeah. That’s about my brain these days. So, let me try and be coherent on all topics near and dear to my heart related to twins — in between verbal arguments and physical dramatics. And, oh, I have another blog, too.

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