Let me be honest with you – being a stay at home mum was not something I’d ever planned to be. Having two children in two years also wasn’t something I had planned on doing. But life happened that way, and before I knew it, I had a new born baby and a 19 month old to care for – 24/7. I’d always felt like a maternal person; I nurtured my friends in need, loved a lot and felt directed towards a caring profession. But I hadn’t really had much hands-on experience with children, or babies. I always knew that I wanted to have a family of my own someday, but I hadn’t really thought much further than that. I guess what I’m trying to say is, there was an element of shock towards the situation that I found myself in when I realised that I had two very young children to raise at home. I found the transition from single-person to mother-of-two, both extremely rewarding and gratifying, yet desperately difficult and confining. I found myself completely driven to care for the children at home by myself, no matter how hard I found it. It felt like a very strange catch to be in. I wanted to do it all by myself – yet at times I doubted my ability (or wish to) to actually do ‘the job at hand’. The days felt very long and I felt very much on survival mode for weeks after Orion was born. One day, I remember a kind of light bulb moment occurring, when after many weeks of complaining about how hard it was to look after two children all day, and wondering how I was going to cope for the long duration ahead – it suddenly hit me that this was now my job. And my job was to be a Mother. It was a job, like people had – like a real job with responsibilities and deadlines and goals and perks ….. and lousy workmates(!) It just seemed to clarify for me exactly what I needed to do, and it validated the seeming non-achievments of my previous days. I remember saying to Owen; “As long as the boys are entertained, fed and rested – that’s good enough. I’ve done my job. Anything else achieved in a day is a bonus”. And that’s just what I did, one day at a time – and it has got easier. After three and a half years of being a full time Mum, I’m feeling pretty well practised now! I enjoy what I do, I feel validated by my role as a Mother and I’m developing a balance between giving up myself to the children, and giving time to myself. A lot of my friends ask me how I cope with being a stay at home mum to two young boys – so I had a think, and I feel about ready to share some of my survival techniques for taking on motherhood at home, one day at a time.
1 / PLAN … BUT NOT TOO MUCH
I remember life at home with the boys slotting more in to place when I began to treat monday to friday like a working week – and I started to create a schedule that the boys and I could follow. It made getting up and getting out of the house easier, and it boosted my sense of achievement throughout the week. Since then we always have a morning activity planned; be it a series of paid and pre-booked groups like baby sign, dance classes or gardening group – or more casual things like local stay and play groups or gymnastics – for every morning of the week. Most of the time this is great; the boys respond well to a routine, I feel like we all know what we’re doing, we have a plan to stick to and we all enjoy getting out and about – no matter how tired we are. Sometimes, things go wrong and for whatever reason, we don’t make it to the place we’d planned to be at – or a better offer comes along and we go elsewhere. I guess the key is staying flexible, and not give yourself a hard time if your original plans don’t pan out.
2/ BREAK YOUR DAY IN TO MANAGABLE SECTIONS
The days (and weeks!) can feel very long when you have children to look after and keep entertained. I’ve always found it easier to work our day out around the children’s nap times – the short period of the day that can recharge their batteries and mine – and a time I have come to depend on! These breaks have changed quite considerably over the last year as we went from juggling three nap times for Orion (and one for Omi) down to just one current nap for Orion and no naps for Omi (I’m still coming to terms with this!). Ori needs a nap around midday, so we head out by 9am and take a packed lunch, and aim to head back in the car just before nap time. Whilst Ori is napping upstairs, Omi has his quiet time and watches a film whilst I catch up on things around the house, and try and squeeze in a little cuddle time with him on the sofa. Although returning home for this nap time can sometimes feel restrictive – any doubts I have over it are fast outweighed by the quiet break in the day that we have all come to rely on so much. By 3pm Ori is awake and we are ready to face the afternoon – where we never stray too far from home – perhaps the park, or we do some baking or painting until it’s time to get dinner ready.
3 / ALWAYS HAVE A BACK UP OF IDEAS
Like I said before, things don’t always go to plan and even with the best intentions -some days just feel more difficult than others. I like to have a little back-up of activities or ideas to pull out when the children need distracting, or for those days when you just want to laze around the house. My favourite things at the moment are; threading cheerios onto strawberry laces, dipping pretzels into melted chocolate and decorating them with chopped nuts, building forts, hide & seek, an endless back up of good children’s films, making & icing mini muffins, building train tracks, painting, water play, play-doh, making towers, reading books, popping to pets at home to see the rabbits, feeding the fish at the garden centre, feeding the ducks at the canal a trip to the post office, and food shopping (enticed with treats along the way). It’s always handy to have a back up of ideas, as it’s not always easy to think up activities on the spot for restless children.
4 / BREAK THE RULES NOW & AGAIN
You are in charge after all! Schedules and plans are all great, and keep a sense of structure to a stay at home parent’s week – but you don’t always have to stick to them. Sometimes we just blow the routine; let the kids nap where they can, camp out at my Mum’s house for the day, stay in our pyjamas, eat cereal for lunch and shut the world out for a day. These are my sick days, my bank holidays, my time in lieu and my holidays! You don’t always have to be doing the perfect job looking after your children – and I find that the boys always appreciate these little rest days when we have them.
5 / SEE OTHER PARENTS
Being a stay at home parent can feel very lonely and isolating at times, especially if you are not getting out and about enough. My first stint of maternity leave was luckily in-sync with several friends also having babies at the same time, and we got to spend lots of time together mulling over the newness of parenthood and generally keeping ourselves company. Over the following year many of my friends returned to work and I found that I had began to really rely on time around other families to keep me feeling connected. It’s not always easy to meet other parents who you will instantly find a genuine connection with – although it’s definitely not worth ruling out. I always try to keep an open mind whenever we are. It’s always great to feel united with other parents; as long as they make you feel supported, understood and good about yourself.
6 / TREAT YOURSELF
There’s not often a lot of time for yourself when you are caring for children all day. It’s important for me to feel rewarded for all my hard work – and although time is most certainly of the essence, I choose little gifts to myself that are quick fixes to keep my spirits lifted. Things like new music, a new book or a new bit of make-up are just enough for me to feel treated and act as a form of self-appreciation for having so much of my time focussed around the children.
7 / DON’T FEEL GUILTY
However you choose to parent your children at home, one day can feel like a lot of hours to fill – and it is! I try not to feel guilty about the days where we watch too much youtube or films, or for zoning out on my phone, or for wishing I was somewhere else. Some days I feel like super woman; dashing from place to place, getting loads done with happy children in tow…. and other days we seem to drag ourselves out of bed, nobody wants to do anything and everybody cries at least once over the course of the day! The experience of a stay at home parent can feel like a complete roller coaster – and that is no understatement. Try to be kind to yourself; you can’t be a super-parent every day.
8 / BE HONEST WITH YOUR CHILDREN
When times are difficult with children at home, it can be hard to take a step out of the situation to catch a breather and regroup your head. My children seem like little emotional sponges and I’m sure when I’m feeling most stressed, they become even more needy and demanding, as if to say “c’mon mummy keep it together! we need you!”. Unfortunately they’ve not yet developed an understanding that this can just make everything feel a whole lot worse! My way of dealing with difficult times now, is to be more honest with the children. After all, they are part of the team whilst we are at home – and although I will ultimately always be in charge – I’ve found it useful to be more upfront with the kids when it comes to explaining my feelings. Even something as simple as saying; “mummy’s really tired right now and I just need you to sit quietly for a minute whilst I figure out what we’re going to do next”, seems to really work. I want the children to understand that, although I will always hold responsibility for them, I am not always perfect and that adults do struggle sometimes too. Teaching the children to develop a sense of compassion for others is really important to me – and as a stay at home parent – it’s sometimes what we need the most.
9 / DANCE
We have a good boogie in the kitchen at least once a day. I often wonder if the neighbours have spotted us yet. I really miss the time to listen to my own music, so I put on something that I love, and encourage the children to dance along. It’s a chance to let our hair down, get our hearts pounding – and its always a great distraction from any tears and tantrums.
10 / ENJOY IT WHILE IT LASTS
And it won’t last forever, that’s for sure. It can be very tough, tiring and demanding – and you can feel stretched and strung out and selfless. But these early years certainly do fly by, and I remind myself of this every day.