When I last left you on this topic, dear reader, I as waxing thoughtful on the Me-Last mentality of SAHMs (or dads, I know you’re out there as well guys)*. It often means isolation and boredom – a major lifestyle shift that has the potential for leading you down a path to depression. If you’ve chosen to stay at home you may often wonder: how can my dream job be dissatisfying?
It can be tough escaping the pitfalls of remaining an intelligent and successful adult when your days are dominated by cartoons, four-page board books, limited vocabulary, and primary colors. It requires effort and planning but pays major dividends in adult interaction and a chance to reconnect with the world as you – not just as mommy.
I know there are others out there who have shared this challenge. My mom’s group often discusses it. Having them in my life has saved me so many times, in so many ways. [Inserting appropriate shout-out here: Thanks MA’s! You know who you are.] I’ve come up with four basic categories for stress in the SAHM’s daily life that lead to the struggle, and some solutions. I’m no doctor or counselor but I am an expert in living it, so take it or leave it as it applies to you. I hope that it helps!
Fatigue – You are herding cats. Your child has seemingly limitless energy, goes in all directions at once and has endless demands and questions. Little Suzy or Johnnie requires your attention, input and protection at all times.
Isolation – You are cut-off from adults the majority of your days. There’s just no time left over for you at the end of the day. You believe that your child’s needs come before yours.
Routine – Routine is important for younger children. It builds a sense of structure in their lives and gives them confidence. Naptimes actually help build brains! But that being said, the days blend into each other and begin to feel overwhelming in their monotony.
Finances – You feel strapped for cash. The strain of operating under one paycheck where there used to be two can cause a lot of strain on a marriage. There’s the worry about being able to provide well for your child, as well as the denial that the parents’ must endure where they used to indulge (e.g., date nights, new clothes, dinners out, vacations…). And priorities again shift from you to other needs – the car needs servicing before you can justify a vacation, and don’t forget to save for your retirement. Ugh! You’re last again.
Fatigue – Little Suzy or Johnnie’s downtime is yours too. Resist the temptation to clean the house, wash the dishes, pay bills. Take a nap, paint your toenails, read a magazine or a book (not child-related, remember that this is about you!). Don’t you dare feel guilty about it. Recharging your batteries is the key to being a better parent, spouse and a happier person. Think of it as an airplane and put your airmask on first before assisting others. In the evening feel free to go to bed early if you need it, or make a deal with your spouse that they get the child in the morning so that you can “sleep in” an extra half hour. My how our definitions of luxury have changed!
Isolation – This one takes a little effort and planning but it’s absolutely necessary to your sanity. Set up social activities outside your home. Get out of the house. Set up playdates at playgrounds, others’ homes, museums, child-friendly coffee shops. You’ll make friends similar to you that can relate to you, and that you can help in return. You’ll have adult conversations about topics other than children – you’ll rediscover that you are still, in fact, hip. You’ll build a support structure of friends to help you through trying times. Oh yeah, and they’ll bring their own children who will distract your child from you for a short time. Also, bribe your spouse or a babysitter to watch Little Suzy or Johnnie for a while and get out on your own as an independent adult. There’s more to you than just a mommy! Remember how cool you were pre-child? You were and you are still. Volunteer, work part-time, or just do something that you enjoy – anything that’s about you and for you.
Routine – Switch it up a little! Introduce variety around the mainstays of your day (i.e., meals, naps). Make a gameplan at the beginning of the week so that you have variety and events to look forward to. Even mundane grocery shopping can be more interesting if you get the kids involved in retrieving items for you (sing for your supper children, if you will). When the weather cooperates plan special activities like trips to the pool or new parks, check out places you’ve always meant to see. Kids love exploring and can be perfectly happy in environments that aren’t designed specifically for them but allow them to run and see. If the weather doesn’t cooperate try museums or the mall. You don’t have to buy – just look around and talk about what you see. If finances allow, have the grandparents come to town, leave Little Suzy or Johnnie with them and get away for a few days to touch base with your spouse sans-child.
Finances – Analyze your financial situation. Distinguish between your wants and your needs. Plan a family budget with your spouse and determine ways to save money (i.e., coupons, buying only the groceries that you need for your planned menus, price comparing, using fewer utilities – also good for the environment!, finding free activities in your area, consignment shopping…) or redistribute priorities. If money is still tight, you may consider downsizing for the short term to make life less stressful or consider a part-time job with flexible hours to help make ends meet. I also came across a great dad’s blog that offered ideas for ways to make a little extra $$$.
There you have it. My best effort. It has worked for me and I hope that it will work for you! So I leave you with the inspirational words of Braveheart’s William Wallace: “It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.” (…be sure to shout it and use a Scottish accent)
* So stay-at-home-parents would be SAHPs – saps? No, that’s just too pathetic. So for the sake of succinctness I’ll default to SAHM to designate all stay at home parents.