Being a stay at home mom has been the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life. When I was a working mom for two years, going to work actually felt like a break. I had a scheduled lunch time, I was given challenging tasks and completed them, and I got to interact with other adults. As a stay at home mom, I am working (or on call) 24 hours a day, I am constantly multitasking and busy doing a thousand things at once, and I am in a sea of children. All. The. Time.
BUT, I am truly and deeply happier than I ever thought possible. Being with my children during these formative years is not only rewarding for me, it is deeply beneficial for my children too. I get to be there to see every smile and to soothe every frown, I get to nurse on demand and see first steps, I get to see what goes in and what comes out of them all day long, and I get to just BE with them. They are my favorite little people in the whole world, and words cannot express the joy that I feel upon seeing them every day in my role as a stay at home mom.
But it hasn’t always been peaches and cream. We had to really think about our lives differently in order to make everything “fit” around me being a stay at home mom. When we just had one child, we could easily cart her around and make her a part of our former lives. But when we had two, and then three, and then four, we had to let go of our old lives and start living a new normal. These 13 tips are what have helped me to battle some of the low points and find a happiness greater than anything I thought I was capable of experiencing.
Also, let me be very clear in that I am NOT saying, “Follow these 13 tips and you will find happiness!” I am saying, “These are the 13 things that have helped ME to find happiness.” I believe that we are each on our own journey and we each have to decide what things actually DO make us happy versus things that we feel like we are “supposed” to do for x number of reasons. You, dear reader, might actually be happier working, or unschooling, or living in another country…who knows! The important thing is for each of us to support each other in this wonderful journey of motherhood.
1. I Found a Way to Make It Happen
When we had our first daughter Ruby, I wanted more than anything to just keep staying with her after my 3 month maternity leave, but I just didn’t think it was possible. We were upside down in our condo, both working full time, and barely making ends meet. When I expressed my desire to stay at home with my daughter, a very well meaning grandmother (who actually adopted her daughter’s son who was in my class) said to me, “You never get that time back.” I just threw up my hands in exasperation and said, “I make twice my husband’s income, I don’t have any choice but to work.”
But I did have a choice, I just didn’t see it at the time. It took having another child, trying to juggle two different child care providers for my two children (that’s a whole other story), and spending a summer vacation at home with my two little angels (Elliot was 6 months old and Ruby was 21 months old at the time) to make it happen. I don’t know how I ever managed going back to work when Elliot was only 4 weeks old or how we managed to be apart until he was 5 months old, but after spending the summer with him attached to my boob, I couldn’t imagine him ever making it without me nearby. Not to mention that I was crazy in love with my daughter Ruby and enjoying spending every minute with her as well.
So we decided to go for broke. We made some radical decisions that led to us both quitting our jobs, doing a short sale on our condo, and moving 1,200 miles away to live with my parents for 8 months while we sorted things out. Now, flash forward four years later, and we own our own home on an acre of land with a fenced in yard minutes away from my husband’s amazing job that provides very nicely for our family of six (even though he makes about what I did when I was working). A blog that will be coming soon: How Our Family of Six Makes It On One Modest Income.
If you really want to be a stay at home mom, you can find a way to make it work. You may have to really think about your choices from an “outside of the box” perspective, but sometimes those crazy hair-brained ideas that you think will never in a million years work, well they just might be the best ideas you ever had.
2. Finding My Identity
When I chose to stay home, I was riding high on cloud nine at first, but then after the routine set in, I felt lost. I felt like I had lost a part of myself when I quit working, like I had lost my identity. Taking care of my children was an amazing honor, and I cherished every moment that I was there to cuddle them and love them, yet for so long I had worked towards my career, and it kind of felt like I had just thrown it all away. More than once, I fell into some pretty serious bouts of depression as I struggled to find my new normal.
I knew that I needed something just for me that was separate from the kids, but I couldn’t seem to find what that could be short of finding a part time (or even full time) job. But, it wasn’t about needing money, it was about finding something for me…something that I could work on, something that I was passionate about, something that would stimulate my mind, something that I could accomplish, and something that would make me feel whole.
It took many years of trial and error until I established what this blog is now (even though I still feel like I am at the beginning). I knew that I was passionate about learning new things, discovering the best health options for our family, cooking healthy food, learning about the science behind health topics, educating our children, being a mom, and writing. It just took me awhile to put all of those things together and find my voice at Embracing Motherhood.
I don’t write this blog with any intention of making money, I just do it because it completes me. I love finding time to write when all of the kids are happily playing independently or sleeping. I love having a voice and a platform to learn new things and record them. I love sharing what I’m learning with others. I love having something to talk to other adults about besides just surface level topics. This blog has helped me to find my identity and give me purpose. It is also a great bonus that everything I’m learning and writing about also benefits our family.
If you are reading this and wondering what your passions are and what your identity could be beyond being a mother (which might just be enough for you, and that’s ok too), then I encourage you to think about what it is that you enjoy doing that makes you really really happy. What do you enjoy learning about? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What completes you? If you can find a little bit of time every day to work towards figuring out what you are truly passionate about, it can actually be the most liberating thing ever. So many times, we fill our time with what can make us money, and to be a mother and not only be able to spend time with your precious angels but to also look into the deepest regions of your soul and figure out who you are without the burden of earning an income, well, it is truly a blessing. (If you’re interested in doing a guest post on my blog, contact me!)
3. Owning It In the Kitchen!
When I read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, it changed my life. I realized that everything that I thought I knew about health and nutrition was wrong, and I made it my new mission to learn everything I could about Weston Price and what a healthy diet meant for our family. I’m still learning more and tweaking our diet as our health continuously improves, but this journey and this knowledge have really given me confidence in the kitchen. It really helps that Scott has been learning right beside me and is totally on board with everything I’m doing.
After I learned what our family needed to eat, I had to learn how to cook it! I’ve had fun sharing my recipes that give my family healthy nourishing meals that they enjoy eating. It seems like each child has a certain list of foods that they will or will not eat and that list is constantly changing. By planning ahead and having the fridge stocked with things like my sourdough waffles, whole wheat pancakes, steel cut oats, homemade cereal or healthy oatmeal cookies it makes the day much more manageable.
Even though we eat mostly organic foods and pastured animal products, we are still able to stick to a pretty good budget because I am always planning ahead and buying in bulk. Country Life Natural Foods is one of my favorite places to order dry goods in bulk and we live near many Amish farms where we get our raw milk and pastured eggs and grass fed beef all at reasonable prices. I also save us money by making my own laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, and more!
We are also not crazy obsessed about eating the “perfect diet”. We try to eat mostly good most of the time, and we don’t worry about eating a little birthday cake or fast food every now and then. We just try to make the things that are routine pretty consistently healthy.
4. Creating a Morning Routine
The rest of the day is always different depending on what we need to do or how everyone is feeling, but our mornings are always pretty much the same. During the summer, when I have all four kids at home, we get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and then do three activities before they are allowed any screen time. Having this routine in the morning takes the guess work out of the beginning of our day, and it allows us all to sort of run on autopilot as we wake up.
Now, that being said, there are many days (like today) where I’ve been up with 7 month Julian multiple times in the night, and all I want to do is sleep in. When the kids (Ruby – 5 and Elliot – 4) wake up, they know where their iPads are and how to turn on the TV and find their favorite shows, so I have no problem at all when they do this and let me sleep in a bit. We have have food like apples and my healthy oatmeal cookies within easy reach, and the kids will often get themselves snacks when they need them.
5. Filling Their Tanks First
Throughout the day, I take turns giving each child as much attention as I can. Sometimes they want to do something, like coloring with us sitting side by side and other times they want to tickle, wrestle, fight, and get as much physical contact as possible. Whatever it is that they need, I give it to them until their tanks are full. Once their bellies are full of food and their tanks are full of love, they are able to go off and play on their own, and THEN I get some time for me. 🙂
6. Finding Time for Me
There are little pockets of time throughout the day when I’m caught up on food preparation, cleaning, and all of the children are either playing independently or sleeping. Sometimes this happens multiple times a day for extended periods, and sometimes it happens less often and for short durations, but when that time comes, I seize it!
When I do get this time, this is what I like to do:
- Take a shower
- Work out (When I had one child, I would do these deep medatative yoga videos for an hour and a half, but now I do a 10 minute yoga video and an 8 minute core workout when I can.)
- Work in the garden
- Take a nap
- Blog (This is what I usually end of doing!)
7. Making It Fun…For Me!
Do you like schedules? Do like organized activities? Do you like spontaneity? Do you like playing outdoors? Do you like go to museums and learning new things? Are you a homebody? Do you enjoy gardening? Whatever it is you like to do…if you can get in touch with your deepest passions and find things to do with your children that makes your heart sing, then everyone will be happy.
There’s no such thing as the perfect routine or the perfect way to raise your children. It’s so completely important to be happy and enjoy what you do. That is what matters, and that is what your children will remember when they’re grown and on their own. They will remember the happiness, and it will comfort them and give them confidence at the same time.
8. Learning Goals for the Kids
I like to set learning goals for each of my children so that I can be aware of what their needs are. I like to keep it simple and stay in their zone of proximal development. For example, Julian, who is 7 months old, is ready to start building a relationship with reading, so we watch Your Baby Can Read videos (which sadly went out of business, so we created our own video here) and read the same books over and over. Ophelia, who is 2, is reading single words and simple sentences, so we’re doing lots of flashcards and repetitive reading of her favorite books. Elliot, who is 4, is developing his reading skills and working on math concepts, so we play a lot of online math games and spend lots of time cuddling and reading his favorite books. Ruby, who is 5, is already a voracious reader, so now we are working on her writing skills by writing lots of stories, letters, and books together. (Here are some videos of our kids reading over the years.)
When you have really little ones, it can seem like you are spending all of your time wiping butts, making food, and cuddling, but by setting aside a little time every day for learning activities, you will be so pleased with the results in the long run. You don’t need to spend six hours a day or really any set amount of time, just wait for teachable moments and do it for as long as you both are interested.
To learn more about setting learning goals and creating activities, check out my blog: How to Set Up a Summer Routine That Keeps Kids Productive.
9. Creating a Stimulating Environment
When I’ve got a crying baby in one hand, a screaming toddler in the other, and two young-ins who are looking for something to do, I’ve got to have some things ready to go at a moment’s notice. I spend a lot of time creating play and learning stations that will keep my children engaged in independent and self directed play for extended periods of time. Read more about how I do this in my blog: How to Create an Environment That Encourages Creative Play and Learning.
10. Educational Screen Time
When people see our 2 year old reading and hear that I used to be a teacher, I think that they assume that I spend hours doing elaborate lesson plans, but the reality is that while I do spend a lot of time with children on my lap reading books and such, I rely on a lot of educational screen time supplements to help me teach the basics. (To learn why we DO allow our children under 2 to have screen time, check out my blog: Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time for Children Under 2.)
The important this is to have a balance. I find that the older kids do really well with these limits that we have in place. (Of course, the limits wouldn’t work if we didn’t have a good management system in place.) I love putting on these educational YouTube Playlists with my little ones (and the older ones love them too!) to teach them letters, numbers, vocabulary, nursery rhymes, and more! I also have loved using these educational apps to teach my young children the fundamentals.
Instead of having cable TV, we’ve connected our TV to a computer so that we are very purposeful about what we watch. Using Netflix, YouTube, Network websites, and DVDs, we watch programs like Dora, Super Why, Little Einsteins, Preschool Prep videos, Your Baby Can Read videos, and Leapfrog videos that are all great learning tools.
By having these educational screen time options set up, I am able to use them as a babysitter if I need to put the baby down, make some food, cuddle a crying toddler, or whatever other “emergency” that might pop up. This definitely saves my sanity.
11. Living Close to Scott’s Work
The best thing we ever did was move really really close to where Scott works. And I’m not talking close like 15 minutes away, I’m talking like two minutes away. 15 minutes away means a 30 minute trip home and back and so lunchtime visits will be out of the question. 2 minutes away means that he can pop home whenever he can without wasting any time in the car.
We have lived together for many many years where Scott had over an hour commute each way, and that in comparison to this was horrendous. Now, the time he is away from us, he is earning money, not just sitting in a car. We also have more time together in the mornings and evenings, and he can get me something from the grocery store if I need it without too much hassle.
An added bonus is that he’s able to come home for lunch every day. How can spending time with co-workers compare with that? Not only am I able to make him a nutritious lunch every day, but he’s able to pitch in and give me a hand while he’s here. We also enjoy napping together from time to time. 😉 What could be better than that?
12. Dealing with the Boredom
It’s a weird juxtaposition because when I was working full time and had two little ones, I never had enough time, and now, here I am, still very busy, but also, well…bored (sometimes). It’s a crazy feeling to be bored when you’re not used to it. When I was working, I was so used to scheduling and filling all of my time, and then when I became a stay at home mom, I felt like there was this pressure to go to play groups, get involved in activities, sign up my kids up for things, and cart them around to avoid the boredom.
I tried this for a little while, and it didn’t work for me. The kids just do better (the little ones especially) when we can stay home. When we’re here, I don’t need to worry about what food they are going to eat, and they can nap in their beds whenever they need to (rather than falling asleep in their car seats). So yes, rather than feeling stressed, I sometimes feel bored, and honestly…I LOVE it! I mean, are you kidding me? I can just lay on a bed for an hour playing mouth bubble games with Julian, spend time cuddled on the couch reading books with Ophelia, really focus on building towers with Elliot, and get really creative doing art projects with Ruby…um, yes please!
I know that these days are passing by quick and that I don’t need to have everything in my life balanced all the time (i.e. 25% of my time for me, 25% of my time for work, 25% of my time for my husband, and 25% of my time for the kids). I know that while they are little, children demand an insane amount of attention, and so I balance out time for everything else after that. I know that someday I’m going to be an old lady remembering these as the “good old days” and I will have more than enough time “just for me”. (Which is also why I love taking tons of pictures and movies and keeping memory books!)
13. Find Ways to Relax
There is certainly nothing wrong with cracking a beer or having a glass of wine from time to time (if that suits you), but if this is the only way that you can “unwind” or “relax” after a long day, you’re asking for trouble. See, kids don’t take time off for you to drink, and as soon as you crack a beer because you finally got them to sleep, you just know that they will wake up in half an hour to nurse or need to use the potty. Plus, when we put the kids to bed, that is the time when my husband likes to work on his programming or music side projects, and I like to work on blogging. We’re not just looking to veg out and deaden our minds…ok, sometimes we are (Game of Thrones anyone?).
Here are some of the things that I do that help me to relax:
- Kombucha: Not only is kombucha good for helping to build a healthy gut flora, but it can help to relax you too. There’s about as much alcohol in a kombucha as a non-alcoholic beer, but unlike drinking beer, the euphoric “high” I get from drinking a kombucha is nothing like the buzz I get from drinking a beer. It feels uplifting, invigorating, and relaxing all at the same time. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon states that it’s even more hydrating than water. Check out my kombucha recipe to learn how to make your own.
- Bath: We inherited this crazy sit down Jacuzzi tub from the previous owners of our house, and we all just love it! At times, you can find either Scott or I piled in there with three kids. But I really love getting the water as hot as possible, putting in some bath salts, putting my Enya mix on, dimming the lights, closing my eyes, and enjoying a good soak.
- Massage: Sometimes a quick shoulder rub or a foot massage can just make the problems of the world melt away. My husband is always so generous to give me the attention of his hands when I need it, and I like to do the same for him.
- Alone Time: After a long day cooped inside with the kids, sometimes I just need a half an hour to myself. I might go out and weed the garden or hop in the car to go drop some books off at the library. Just having a few moments to catch my breath without anyone needing me is all I need to reset my clock.
- Being Intimate: Sometimes we get so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs that we forget to make time for us. Enjoying a good cuddle on the couch wrapped up in each other’s arms is a very good way to relax.
My husband encounters a lot of older women at his job who tell him how amazing it is that I’m able to stay at home with the kids and how they wish they could have done that with their little ones too. But he’s never once met anyone who has said that they stayed home to raise their little ones and have then regretted it ever since. (Can you imagine?)
Personally, I don’t think that staying at home with the kids is something that I will ever regret. In fact, I think that it is one of the greatest things that I have ever done. I can’t imagine being a grandmother forty years from now saying, “The one regret I have is putting my career on hold while I raised my children”. All I can say is that after much soul searching, self reflection, and following these steps, I love my life, I am completely happy, and I feel like every day is a gift.