Conquering the "At Home" Blues: My Top 4 Stay-at-Home-Parent Skills

Friday, July 31, 2015

I am a stay at home mom. I have, more or less, chosen to be since our son was born right after my college graduation. Now, three years into this journey, I can start to look back and see where I started to get the hang of this.

So how long did it take?

I think it was somewhere between a year and eighteen months in. Seriously.

Now on my second kid, I think I can safely say that time span was determined more by my lack of staying home skills than about the baby's age.

There are true skills to staying home that have little to nothing to do with the practical how-tos of raising a baby and keeping the house clean. I'm the oldest of five daughters and I actually had a lot of those skills down already (or at least knew where to look.) Here are my top four skills that I think are needed to be an at home parent:

1. Learn how to have a social life without built in friends.

This was a toughie for me. I thought for a long time that I was more of an introvert. Come to find out, I'm a lot more extroverted than I thought, I've just never had to work for friendships and daytime interaction before.

I grew up in a big family. There were people everywhere. Then I went to an all women's college where living in the dorms was basically like summer camp with homework. It was work NOT to interact with people.

But upon graduation it was a little like getting kicked out of the social nest. Most of my friends were moving off to far flung places to have adventures, and I had moved far from home to attend college. John was born just a few weeks after graduation so I was suddenly adrift without a real friend base of my own. With a baby.
Evidence that I was super duper pregnant at graduation!

When you are home, there are no co-workers. Most of my neighbors are gone at school or work. It's me and the kids for about ten hours a day, five days a week. That's a significant portion of my waking hours!

Solution: First, leave the house! You have no idea who is around if you don't look.

I used to hang out with baby John in the cemetery up the street a lot, and all of the people who were home were doing their walks there too. It wasn't weird at all.
Though, for me, picking up mom friends is so much worse than dating ever was. I might see a seemingly cool mom at the park, say hi, ask a few questions to see if we hit it off. Maybe we'll exchange numbers or emails, say "see you around sometime." Then someone might work up the courage to ask the other one for coffee. Seriously, I'm already married, why must this dance continue?!

But I digress.

Secondly, join stuff. Any stuff. We are heavily involved in our parish young adult group. That is normally Catholic code for "singles dating club", but I like to plan stuff and bring babies. People seem ok with it so far. It creates so much Catholic flirting with people holding the babies just to be like "look what a great parent I would be!" My kids think it's the best thing ever.

Having a brunch with the young adults + babies. Bacon was had, everyone was happy! For the record, Katie is just awesome with Therese, not flirting.

2. Make a schedule for yourself

Everyone knows kids like routine (I don't think you truely know that until you try to deviate from routine with a two year old. They act like you just suggested they jump off a cliff.), but what about a routine for mom?

I know sometimes people in school or working from home think they are in charge of their own schedules, but you often don't notice how much structure already comes prepackaged. When you are the at home parent that structure must be created from scratch, by you, if you want it to happen at all.

I am a big fan of knowing, generally, what needs to be done when. Then I can see when I have time and energy for other fun things. I made a plan for myself and started doing it. After about two or three days the kids just started following suit like little ducklings.

John likes to put the quarters in the laundry machines for me. Therese was about six weeks old here.

Come to find out they LIKE knowing what comes next. Suddenly, sleeping and eating time is less of a battle of transitions and more actual sleeping and eating. The house can be generally tidy, laundry in the dressers, dishes clean, and food that tastes good and still warm!

Routines are magical.

3. Decide with your spouse what you NEED to do this

I can't function without sleep. Bad bad things happen in my brain and the world becomes a dark and sad place. I take a long time to fall asleep and I do not get back to sleep easily at all. I also hate being touched while I sleep. I never knew how much I was not a nighttime cuddler until I had babies.

We worked it out together that Matt would start doing the nighttime parenting. He gets up with the baby. He cuddles and falls asleep with her on the couch. He comforts the toddler when he has nightmares. He is basically nighttime superman.

Matt can fall asleep VERY quickly, and pretty much doesn't care where. Many nights he would have zero memory of getting up, getting the baby, changing her, giving her milk, and falling asleep with her. He just wakes up in the morning like "Huh. There's a baby on my chest. That's nice."

Exhibit A for anywhere anytime sleeping

Now I can sleep in bed and do whatever I need to do to fall asleep. I can wake up and start my day with enough rest to deal with the challenges that day will bring.

Don't make things harder than they have to be. If it's some idea of what you should be doing because you read these articles, or your friends say it's best, or that's how you were raised, I'm here to tell you those are not good things unless they actually work for you and your family.

4. Continue your life

I know babies are a lot of work. I know it can feel overwhelming and like you can't possibly find time to do something besides the bare minimum. But I really believe that stay at home parents need to find something that feeds them spiritually and intellectually in order to do their job well.

Decide what it is you really miss about your passions before kids, and find a way to continue them, or re-introduce them, in your life as it is right now.

Love reading? Get a book from the library you can potentially hold with one hand and read over the baby's head while she's eating.

Love museums? Load up the kids and go! Contain them in a stroller or carrier if needed. If you really love something, little ones will tend to match your enthusiasm and love it too.

We went to see the dinosaurs in the UC Berkeley Life Sciences building yesterday. John loves the T-Rex, and I love getting to tell him about fun words like Australopithecus afarensis.

Fun fact: that tiny one on the right is the smallest triceratops skull ever found.

Are you a maker? Find a project that is something that is needed around the house and do it! My first crafting thing after John was born was a hanging planter made out of an old t-shirt because I needed it for my airplane plant. I was so proud of that thing!

This is it! I've had this plant since week 2 of college. Her name is Gwen.

Finally, don't decide you're not cut out for this life too soon.

Maternity leave policies are abysmal in this country (not even touching paternity leave yet). I have heard so many women convinced after their maternity leave that they could never be a stay at home parent. But the time they gave staying home the "trial run" is typically during THE hardest day to day time of a child's life. Those first six weeks or three months are the most sleep deprived, stressed out, high stakes "getting the hang of it" that you may ever do in your life.

The thing is, the rest of the time you are staying home with the kids it is not like that.
You really do get your sea legs eventually. I'm not saying every day you feel like you totally got this and are doing amazing, but it feels a lot less like an impossible sea you can never stop drowning in.

It's not going to stay the same, every kid, every stage will be a little different. But once you figure out how YOU parent and what YOU need to do this job you can focus on the problem and not on the lack of fuel to address the problem.

Do you agree with this list? Anything I should add? Comment below or email me at underthyroof *at* gmail *dot* com.


  1. Hmmmm. I would add "Understand that being home full-time does not mean you will morph into the perfect chef, housekeeper, and caregiver." Although it's noble to strive for perfection, it's exhausting to try to be the best at everything.

    I had to come to the realization that being a SAHM isn't my job. It's my vocation. That distinction was important in my mind. I won't get fired if the laundry doesn't get done. But it is a successful day if my children go to bed feeling loved and secure.

    Thanks for sharing these tidbits of wisdom! :)

  2. Thank you for this Kirby! Here I am month four and on the days that I don't have a planned routine I end up feeling like a failure. Do you have a follow up piece about the basic structure of your week?

    1. Not yet. I've actually been hesitant to write it because I don't want to scare people off! I appreciate that I'm more structured than many (nay, most?) people would prefer. Like to the level of having particular things I do on particular days of the week for laundry, lessons, cooking, cleaning, etc. I'm a little Ma Ingalls that way.

      If that sounds more helpful than scary, I'd be glad to write it!

    2. I found the more structured *I* was, the more neurotic I became about "sticking to the schedule." So, I am a "basic routine" scheduler - thankfully, my children go with the flow. I have set things to do on certain days of the week, but the time is usually flexible. But, that is *my* personality. We have to find our own niche and groove - Killian, I would encourage you to take it easy on yourself, only being on month four! It shakes out, eventually, as Kirby said, it took her a year/year and a half? It took me about a year to figure out my groove, having left the work place to stay at home. So, try different approaches, and go easy on yourself if one way doesn't work!

  3. I chuckled at the night-time parenting! Neither of my children will sleep on their own. They must be touching *someone,* so much so, they fling their hand into you, and if they connect with just a pillow, they are up and looking around frantically. I would *love, love, love* my space and my bed back!! But, I would never get any sleep if I did.

    My kids are just ensuring natural spacing of anymore siblings. 😈

    And, I 100% agree with the "Continue Living Your Life"!! I have always seen children as a means through which to view the world, and there is nothing like going to a museum and seeing it through *their* eyes!! I struggled where we lived last year because of the mentality that "children should be seen and not heard." Whereas, in other communities (parts of the country), children are embraced - I love those areas, and find myself thriving when I can "take my kids with"!

    That said, it is still nice to have down-time, sans children, sometimes, too! 😂