“I don’t want to put my baby in daycare, but I’m worried that I will go crazy if I stay home all day. ” How is it possible to stay home with your baby and not end up in the loony bin? Below I list the strategies that helped me the most. I believe they can be helpful for employed mothers, and fathers too. They are ways of coping with the intense demands of parenting,and balancing your needs with the needs of your family.
When my oldest was born I decided to stay home with him, because I believed it to be the best thing for my him. And I set out to make it the best thing for me too. Here are some things that I did:
Find a community. I looked for friends with babies as soon as mine was born. You won’t always find friends with children close to yours in age, but the community is more for you than your baby. Keep looking. If you can’t find a mother-baby group, start your own. And you don’t have to limit your circle to stay-at-home mothers, or even to mothers. Having been in school for so long we are used to having a large group of friends at our own age and stage. This is a good time to expand your horizons. You can learn a lot from the perspective of an experienced grandmother.
Avoid activities requiring you to be somewhere at a particular time. I chose to stay home with my kids to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle for me and my children. (We’ll leave aside the temper tantrums, breakage, and harrowing escapes.) For me this meant delaying preschool, choosing volunteer and social commitments wisely, and avoiding carpools.
Have a routine, but be flexible. Getting up and going to sleep at the same time is important. So is scheduling time for household chores. Vary activities. Have time for quiet, play, art, music, stories, outdoor activities, etc. It’s not necessary to do every activity every day, but over time kids should have opportunity for all of these. Too many days in a row either staying home, meeting the same friends, or going on long excursions can get frazzling, too.
Plan the best time of day for the activities that you enjoy. It might be when the toddler naps, when two children are playing happily together, or even early in the morning while everyone is asleep. When things finally settle down after a crazy day, choose a calming activity instead of rushing to do a project. Expect to be interrupted. You will have more time at some stages than at others. The newborn and toddler stages are especially intense, but they pass and you can look forward to smoother times ahead.
Keep a gauge on your moods. When you feel overwhelmed get out of the house or call a friend. If you are in the middle of something important and your kids start getting out of control, stop what you are doing and focus on them for a few minutes or as long as necessary. This is not spoiling–this is attending to their genuine needs. If they feel you are available when they need you they won’t be bothering you “all the time.” If you are never available they will just work harder to get your attention, and ultimately become resistant to cooperating with you. This doesn’t mean you need to jump up to do their bidding every minute. Sometimes if you tell them that you will help them in a minute they figure out how to do things themselves.
Sometimes you need to invest money to stay sane. Just because you are not working doesn’t mean that you should never hire a babysitter, get cleaning help, join a parenting group, or see a private therapist, depending on your budget. If you or your kids aren’t ready for separation, inviting a young teenager to play with the kids while you are right there or in another room might be enough to give you the break you need. Sometimes what you need most is someone coherent to talk with.
Volunteering. Volunteering is great because you can choose what skills you want to donate and have human interaction that is not all about your kids, with a lower level of commitment than with a paying job. And you can cite your volunteer experience on your resume later on. It is still a commitment, though, and it’s important to pick the right organization and position for your temperament and situation. I chose breastfeeding counseling because my kids are always welcome at functions, I get to connect with lots of mothers, and I can develop my knowledge base and my writing, counseling, and group-leading skills.
Choose activities with your child that you both love. I enjoy reading out loud to my kids, but I regularly purge our home library of books I find irritating. It doesn’t matter that your neighbour is teaching her kids fractions or to play the piano, your kids can learn baking or folk-dancing. Share your interests with your children on their level. And as you learn what they like, you will develop new interests too. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy a wide range of activities.
Involve your partner as an equal. Even though you do more of the day-to-day care, your husband is also a parent and should be involved in long-term decisions. He also needs the opportunity to develop a relationship with each child and with the family as a whole. Nurture your own relationship as well. Contrary to conventional wisdom this doesn’t have to mean vacationing without the kids. Take the opportunities as they come and schedule them if you need to. Strive for full and open communication.
The identity question. One of the hardest things for me when I became a “stay-at-home mother” was the label itself, and the stereotypes that went along with it. Yet some mothers are empowered by belonging to a group. Everything depends on your attitude. Do you see staying home as something negative–not earning, not developing your career? Or is it a chance to focus on nurturing and educating your children, growing both as a mother and as a person, without the pressures of pleasing a boss? Whatever you choose, it does not have to be for a lifetime.