The parenting challenges of stay at home mom survival are well beyond our wildest delusions of rainbows, butterflies, and blissful momdom. When your schedule includes cleaning an ungodly amount of sputtered baby food, peeling off crusty abandoned play dough, and imagining a warm sunny beach vacation while changing the most explosive diaper you’ve ever seen in your life…those joyous dreams of stay at home mom life are long forgotten. No amount of mom or parenting advice prepared you for this. Frustration, anger, and hopeless can soon creep in or worse…detonate.
The scary realization that I NEEDED to make some changes ASAP in my stay at home mom life came one innocent, sunny Tuesday morning while cleaning the kitchen…
I had put our little one down to sleep for her first nap and I started cleaning. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. Soon, I had everything off of every single countertop in the kitchen and every item and drawer from the refrigerator in the living room. And when I say everything, I mean everything.
“If I could just get this one more thing cleaned…”
“One more thing.”
“One more thing…”
After an hour and a half, I started to feel breathless. A deep and heavy overwhelm began to clutch me tighter and tighter. Drowning slowly in the mounting tide of fear, the reality of air and surface faded as I reached dark, tight mental depths.
No matter how hard I tried…no matter how hard I scrubbed and sanitized, that kitchen was not clean enough. It wasn’t pristine…it wasn’t perfect. There was still more to clean…more and more.
No matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough.
Then, I felt the same way about being a new mom. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. I was not good enough. What had we been thinking?
The lights all seemed to go out at once.
Mae starting crying in her room and light suddenly seemed available again. I immediately fumbled about shakily for a phone and called my significant other. Thank God he threw on his cape and flew home with the speed of a thousand awesome husbands.
A few counseling sessions later and some DRAMATIC action steps, I learned a thing or two about what had happened and why. I learned exactly what steps to take to avoid major mom burnout.
Most of all, I learned how to avoid falling into that dark, lonely anxiety-ridden pit.
I’ve written out the ULTIMATE advice that has helped me and others. These simple but foundational tips are from my counselor and other moms who have gone through the same thing, survived and learned.
25 Crucial Survival Tips For Stay At Home Moms
1. Prepare the night before for the next day
Don’t decide last minute what you are doing – you may never get out of the house. Slice and dice kids foods, set out your clothes. Pack the perfect diaper bag and don’t stress out about it. After a year of obsessive diaper bag packing, I found the ultimate essentials (this includes breastfeeding or formula and disposable diapers or cloth). Check out the list here and head out the door, worry-free: Best Diaper Bag Checklist.
2. Get out of the house
It can be ridiculously hard to WANT to put on clothes for public viewing and throw your hair up in a semi-presentable way just to go out of the house when you realllly just want to stay home. I found this was the #1 suggested solution to the mom blues. Even gliding down the aisles of Target with a Starbucks helped tremendously. You don’t want to, but do it anyway. Try to get out of the house once a day or every other day.
3. Make sure to check into local and free events
Get a membership to the zoo, science museum and/or children’s museum. Take your kids! Before we invested in memberships, I felt like everywhere just cost money (especially in the winter). So, for birthdays and Christmas, when people asked, we mentioned memberships. Best decision ever. There are other free and fun events like going to the park and to your local library story times.
4. Make mom friends
When you run into a mom and a few words are exchanged, ask her “Do you come here often?” or “Are you guys from around here?” to continue the conversation. You may absolutely just want to duck and cover from socialization but I promise you, mom friends help SO much. It’s worth it! Introduce yourself if she responds positively and then ask if they’d like to go on a playdate sometime. Most moms love this! If you get a rejection, don’t sweat it. Mean moms aren’t worth your time. I promise if you do this, you will have so many playdates and new awesome friendships will develop.
5. Understand measurable markers of success v motherhood
In the job world and in our education, we receive tangible (measurable) points of success. These things help you feel valuable, important and successful. Every person craves this vital justification. This comes in the form of grades, awards, paychecks, incentives, and evaluations. In your job, a boss gives you a job well done, a coworker thanks you for all your help, you are rewarded with a raise or a new title…there are so many examples. Motherhood is not so blatantly measurable. There are no gold stars, A+s, pay raises or promotions even when your baby takes her first steps, can say every color, behaves in the restaurant, puts on her own clothes, helps with the laundry, shares at a playdate or learns how to potty on their own. These were all milestones in which you were instrumental. Each day, you helped little-by-little because you love and care. Just know, each day matters. What you are doing, matters.
6. Take care of yourself
You may have a morning where brushing your teeth just seems so trivial. Do it anyway. With all the exhaustion of demanding mom life, we can forget to take care of ourselves. Make a point to carry around a water bottle. Try to add fruits and veggies to your shopping list, eat healthily and take a solid multi-vitamin with something at breakfast. Ask your significant other to take the kids so you can go get a manicure or go shopping.
7. Get good sleep and sleep train your kids so you can rest
Eight hours a night may sound like an unachievable, absurd number – at least, I think so most of the time. Try to get 6-7 if you can regularly (unless you have a newborn!). Sleep training, in my opinion, is VITAL to mommy survival. We sleep trained our little one and at three months old she was sleeping in her crib, on her own, through the night. She has done this ever since and is almost two. People tell me, “Well, you’re just lucky.” Nuh uh, momma! We were given a magical miracle book from my husband’s boss (who has multiple kids). He said, “Read this, it will save your life.” It did. It’s called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Read it. Sleep through the night.
This can be a hard thing to squeeze in but when you can, go for a walk or get up thirty minutes before the kids are up. I love Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide. You can see her website here. She has a downloadable app too that is amazing. The workouts are challenging but I started this routine about eight weeks postpartum and got in serious shape!
9. Plan regular kid-free date nights
Make a list of great babysitters. I use the Sitter app and I’ve heard great things about care.com though I find referrals are the best. Make sure you are spending quality time with your significant other. Buy them a gift, do your hair and put on something nice. Make it special.
10. Hang out with the girlfriends for an evening out (minus the kiddos)
Ask those mom friends for a night out. Grab dinner, dress nice and swap mom stories over a glass of wine. I found in the early days of mommyhood, this was SO important! We moved to a big city, knowing no one, so I really had to reach out. I’m a SUPER introvert too but I knew the significant initial discomfort would pay off.
11. Learn to control your attitude.
You can’t control a toddler’s kicking and screaming but you CAN control your reaction. Don’t spend most of the precious time you have with your kids being angry. An experienced mom told me once not to spend my days feeling depressed or angry. These days are so precious and soon our little ones will be out of the house. Focus on the good, cherish the snuggles, be slow to anger and cherish this time.
12. Add independent play to your schedule daily.
Letting kids learn how to play independently for a span of time helps with self reliance and creativity. It also gives you time to breath. This can be in the form of tummy time, playing with building blocks, playdough, coloring, putting together puzzles, playing with toys, looking through books and so much more. Teach them slowly and be within eyesight and reach.
13. Be okay with out-of-the-box chaos and kid vision
Splashing water all over the bathroom floor, wanting to wear pjs all day long and eating ice cream is not what adults do (most of the time!) but be okay with letting your kids enjoy their childhood. Try not to want everything in a precise and perfect way. Have fun and laugh with them about the soapy mess all over the bathroom floor. Then, show them (with music blaring and dancing) how to clean it up.
14. The cooking and cleaning can wait
Read that storybook your toddler is asking you to read with big cute eyes saying, “buu, buu.” (book, book) Play hide and go seek instead of putting the laundry in the wash. When you are overwhelmed with all the cleaning, go ahead and do it but try to stress less and play more. Be the kid friend sometimes that your little ones desperately want to play with.
15. Don’t be so hard on yourself
If you are transitioning from a job to being a SAHM, you have a vast chasm of uncharted territory set before you. In your job, you knew what to do. As a SAHM, you are starting from square ONE. Don’t expect the same perfection here. There’s a lot of learning to do, so be easy on yourself. You’ll figure this thing out!
16. Find a hobby while your little one/s nap
Instead of reaching for the remote, take up some kind of tangible activity. These hobbies could also make you some awesome side income. (Related: How To Work From Home And Make Money On The Side As A Stay At Home Mom). My number one pick would be take up blogging. I started this blogging during my baby’s naptime and now earn a full-time income. You can check out my advice on blogging here: Blogging For Beginners, How To Start Your Own Blog. Also, be sure to check out my free 7-day blogging email course if you are interested: How to Start a Successful Blog. Other fun hobbies are sewing, crocheting, cooking, scrapbooking, painting or drawing and maybe learning an instrument (if it’s not too loud). Check out how to sell your crafts on Etsy. Outside of naptime, there’s a whole slew of options like workout classes, volunteering, dinner swaps, playdates, and more.
17. Read parenting blogs & websites
Don’t forgo Google when your kid has a 103 degree fever (or be prepared and read about it here! Baby And Toddler, Cold And Flu Remedies). Wine night with the girlfriends can only prepare us so much when things get overwhelming and you’re not sure what to do. Follow some mom blogs. If you’d like to keep up with A Silver Lined Life, I publish a new post every week (usually Sunday at 1 pm MST) and I send out a newsletter about the new post (usually) every Tuesday morning at 6:30 am MST.
18. Throw away the idea of the “perfect” Pinterest mom
In fact…step away slowly from Pinterest time to time. By this I mean, stop trying to be the perfect mom. If your kid’s pants don’t match her shirt, there’s a GIANT food stain on their clothes, or you feed them mac and cheese all day instead of anything green (because they refuse), it’s OKAY. Stay at home mom life is HARD and CRAZY. Be you. Be messy and accept imperfection.
19. Be okay with saying no
The bake sale, volunteer night, dinner out with the boss, an obligated birthday party…whatever. Say no if you are overwhelmed. On one hand, it is healthy to get out even though you don’t want to, but skip the obligation if you KNOW it does nothing for your goals and/or sanity.
20. Ask for help
Ask mom to come over (or fly her down for a week), tell your significant other you need help with the dishes more often, set a budget for a maid to come in once a week. Usually, a maid service doesn’t cost nearly as much as you’d think. Amazon now has cost-effective cleaning services! You don’t have to do it all even though we FEEL LIKE IT! Even superwoman had help.
21. Be kind to your significant other
Don’t let him come home to an emotional war zone. He’s probably had a hard day at work. Treat him like you would one of your best girlfriends. Listen, encourage and try to be positive. You may have had a hard day but be kind to him. When you unload, try to have a solution. Remember to a best friend takes work, kindness, and appreciation. Don’t forget to be your significant other’s best friend.
22. When you feel the overwhelm, sit down and write it all out on paper
Then prioritize 3 things you *must* do today. Spread all those things out to do that week, next week or by the end of the month. Usually, we get overwhelmed when we have a giant myriad of tasks in our mind, all with the same weight and priority – which is not actually the case!
23. Set a budget for a babysitter, nanny and or maid
You do all the things and sometimes you don’t have to. Some people don’t utilize these things because they think they are too expensive but is your sanity and/or time worth more than $15 an hour? I think so. Take a serious look at hiring help for the mundane tasks and how much you could budget for them each month. Maybe it’s just $100 but that’s hours of your time and sanity back.
24. A limited amount of screen time and non-green food will not kill your kids
Are you exhausted and feel like you can’t take it anymore? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for kids under 18 months, BUT for older kids under an hour of screen time total is fine. So, it’s OKAY if you cuddle with your little ones and watch half an hour of Frozen while you shut your eyes. The same goes for healthy food. I had a friend who was the perfect-mom: her kids ate broccoli, snap peas, carrots and 100% whole wheat pasta for lunch. I tried feeding that to mine like 20 times and the best my toddler did was stick it expertly against the wall. Try to give your babies the right food but be okay with giving them what you have sometimes and what they’ll eat. Don’t stress out about it!
25. Focus on what you can do right now and not all the things that you feel like you should do
Maybe the laundry is resembling Everest, a single clean dish cannot be found and you are feeling under the weather. The to-dos in your head are endless. Do what you can do. Make small, measurable goals. Maybe that’s just sorting the laundry and putting one load in the washer. That’s it! But don’t let the overwhelm take over and win over your day. You deserve more than that! The best thing I’ve found is to make a monthly calendar and make magnets for laundry, simple meals and cleaning. Once a day I do the things on my calendar. Do I get to them all the time? No. But mostly and it has made everything easier. When things get overwhelming, write it all out and prioritize what really needs to get done. We are super moms but that doesn’t mean conquering the world in one day is feasible.
Avoiding the trenches of mom survival aftershock and burnout is a day-to-day initiative that takes some willpower and determination. But we are tough and this is why we are called Mom. Be sure to take action before mom funk sets in. Make a schedule, prepare the night before, take time for yourself and fundamentally, just go easy on yourself, mommy. You are a superhero even when your babies are eating french fries over broccoli and the house is a depth of chaos, mankind has never yet before seen. The fact is, when you take these steps, not only will you avoid mental mom exhaustion, but ultimately those rainbows, butterflies and thoughts of blissful momdom will no longer seem delusional.