A lot of my working mommy friends often ask me how I manage to spend all day with my kids without going crazy. They say that weekends or vacations are hard and that my job at home is tougher than their job at work. While I don’t think that is true – and I’m not interested in a Mommy War or a “Which job is harder” conversation – staying at home with small toddlers can be trying for even the most patient person (and I am definitely not that person).
The reason why it’s so hard for my working mommy friends on weekends, sick days, or days off (let’s be real, until your kids are older, it’s definitely not a vacation, at least not in my understanding of the word) is because it is not something they do every day. As a result, they have no built in survival skills (unless you count TV or an iPhone). If I had to work at a “real” job every weekend or vacation, I would have a tough time, too. After all, I wouldn’t have years of recent working experience to know how to navigate my day, tasks, schedules, meetings, etc. It’s a completely different skill set and you’re mostly in survival mode until Monday and that really isn’t enough time to sit down and think about how to approach your day.
Here then are some of my tips to making it through the day with your kids without going insane. (Of course, YMMV.)
1) Have a plan. There is something about a day clear of anything on the schedule that strikes terror into my heart. Nothing makes a normal 14 hour “work” day feel like a 100 hour day like nothing!
I try to have activities planned in the mornings since Gamera naps in the afternoon (sadly, Cookie Monster hasn’t napped since he was 2.5). Afternoons I may or may not have a play date or run errands. I try to schedule activities that are fluid because nap times are pretty fluid at our house. I also count going to the grocery store as an activity. If you’ve ever taken kids to go grocery shopping, you know it can be quite an ordeal, but for sure it breaks up the day.
I also enjoy having things that require driving time. Nothing easily kills an hour or so like commuting somewhere fun! Besides, being bored in the car is a skill set that every kid needs. Otherwise road trips are a nightmare.
2) Have a schedule. It’s similar to having a plan, but slightly different. Because I’m anal retentive, I like repeated events and know that a Monday means X-type activities and a Tuesday means Y-type activities.
For example, right now, Cookie Monster has preschool in the mornings twice a week. On one of those days, I try to schedule a play date with a friend who has a kid around the same age as Gamera. On the other, I try to take her to the park (with Glow Worm in the Ergo baby carrier). One morning a week, I have a Mandarin Language Playgroup at my house. On another morning, all three kids and I take a Mandarin Mommy and Me class. The last day is usually kept free for appointments, impromptu play dates, and general flexibility. Occasionally, I have a play date scheduled in the afternoon after Gamera’s nap.
Again, you’ll note that most of my planned activities are scheduled for the 9am-2pm window. I find that by the late afternoon, I’m too tired or harried and thinking about dinner and the closeness of Hapa Papa coming home or my mother visiting that I rarely schedule anything.
3) Sign up for a class. It doesn’t have to be a fancy/expensive Mommy and Me class or anything. Local libraries and many businesses (Pottery Barn, Barnes and Nobles, etc.) have story times. Cities have less expensive programming through their Parks and Recreation departments.
4) Join a mommy/parent group. Meetup.com is a good resource for finding local parenting groups – as is Google. The key to this is to make sure you join a group that has a consistent meeting time with a few key people committed to going every week. If you do join a weekly group, commit to going every week. Consider that time sacrosanct and do your best to avoid scheduling other activities during that time. It’s hard enough to make friends – let alone when chasing after babies. So, the more time you spend with the same group of people the better. Plus, if people sense that few people are consistently coming, they drop off and then instead of a thriving group, you have a group of flakes.
When I first ventured out to meet new mommies, I joined two groups. One of them, I consistently went to every Thursday morning. The other one was at a time that was a little harder for me so I went maybe once every few months. The first group thrived well until the kids started preschool and disbanded because scheduling was much harder to coordinate. The second group had perhaps twice as many members but the group leader had such a difficult time getting people to show up. It was a lot of work for her and even though she planned a lot of fun activities, because people (including myself) did not prioritize attendance, the group fizzled out.
Remember, you get what you give. The more you involve yourself, the more you will get out of it. Friendships with other parents takes effort and your children won’t have a good time until they get comfortable with the other kids. That won’t happen unless you do the work and provide the necessary amount of time for your babies to get to know the other ones.
5) Know your local parks and recreational activities. Most areas have dedicated kid-centric activity sites/newsletters. Avail yourself of them. Integrate a few that you really enjoy into the regular part of your routine. Make note of the things you can do at a moment’s notice that don’t require planning. (eg: feeding ducks at a local plaza/pond; visiting pet stores; going to a favorite park)
6) Have a few friends you can regularly meet with for play dates. Nothing kills time like being with good friends. When the mommies are eating and hanging out, the kiddos are playing, too. That’s why I liked babysitting one of my friend’s daughters. Built in play dates!! I barely had to pay attention to the four toddlers/preschoolers because they entertained each other and time flew by. Plus, they’re easier to watch when there are more parents – as well as more kids. Sounds counter-intuitive, but let’s just say that if there are other children around to amuse yours, you don’t have to!
7) Have a few friends on speed dial/text. Being a SAHP can be very isolating. When you can’t physically be with friends, texting and internet enabled smartphones are life-savers. You feel less alone and lonely. The best part, you can gripe about your husband or kids and have pretty much guaranteed sympathy. Support and compassionate friends are super helpful – especially during the witching hours of the late afternoon when your kids are tired and hungry.
8) Be flexible. It goes without saying that unexpected (as well as unwelcome!) things happen all the time. The happiest SAHPs I’ve encountered are people who go with the flow and recognize that life is prone to mishaps. The more flexible you are when the inevitable shit happens (sometimes, literally) and the more able you are to laugh at yourself (even in hindsight), the happier you will be.
9) Get enough sleep. I suppose that is the case for all situations, but it is vital. Time moves like molasses when you’re tired. Plus, being sleep deprived makes you cranky and short-tempered, and increases the likelihood of mistakes. It took me over three years to figure this out. Once I started sleeping when the kids did, my life was transformed. Yes, it does cut into your “feeling like a grown up” time, but it’s that or be Hulk Smash all the time. I have found that if I go to sleep earlier a few nights a week, I can stay up later the other nights and not have it hit me too hard.
10) Don’t over-schedule/commit yourself or your child. I try to schedule at most one thing in the morning and one thing in the afternoon. Any more than that, I feel harried, hurried, and cranky. I don’t end up enjoying myself as much, and because I’m not as happy, I yell more and as a result, my kids are unhappy.
11) Build enough time around activities. Similar to #9, when I feel rushed or pressed for time, I start yelling and screaming at them to hurry up. That makes everyone feel better, right? For some reason, I used to have an aversion to getting somewhere early so I would try to time things just right and get somewhere exactly on time. Trouble is, I always overestimated my ability to drive quickly, underestimated how long it would take me to get somewhere, and was always late. Hapa Papa used to joke that I spoke English and Time spoke Spanish so we never understood each other.
Now, I build in at least an extra half hour to leave the house. This will account for most last minute poopy diapers, potty breaks, and general mishaps that eat through those thirty minutes like you wouldn’t believe. I’m also more on time now than I ever was before children. Additionally, I don’t have to speed and put my kids (and car insurance premiums) at risk!
Clearly, I don’t have the monopoly on how to be a SAHP. These tips are just what works well for me and have worked well for me in the past. Who knows what the future will bring – especially when Cookie Monster starts kindergarten.
What do my parent readers think? Whether working or staying at home, is there anything you would add? Disagree with? Would like some advice on? (Not necessarily from me, but from other readers.) Post your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to reading them!