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Staying Home

Finding a Routine

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 3, May-June 2007, pp. 128-131

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I'm planning to stay home after my baby is born in a few months. Up until now, I've been employed, so I'm a little uncertain about being on my own! I've always been on a workday schedule, and I'm not sure how to create a routine for my days at home. How do stay-at-home moms structure their time? I know there aren't any rules, but I'd like to hear what works for others.

Mother's Response

I used to work full-time, but my husband and I decided that we would take the financial hit so that I could stay home with our son indefinitely. We both felt that this was the best move for our family. My son, Lucas, is now 10 months old, so we're still finding our way. In my experience so far, I've gone through different phases as a stay-at-home mom.

The first phase was when Lucas was a newborn. I was really frustrated that I couldn't seem to get anything done. I just couldn't find the time or the energy to do things that seemed entirely reasonable. I couldn't do as good of a job as I felt I should do, even if it was just simple household work. I learned that I had to reframe my expectations of what I "should" be able to do and focus on one achievable goal a day: make dinner, do the laundry (folding it takes another day), or sweep the living room. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, but babies settle into a more predictable pattern as they get older. If nothing else, remind yourself that you and your baby are alive and well at the end of another day -- that's the most important accomplishment in itself!

The second phase was when Lucas was napping more regularly and I had time to get more done. Although I advise any mom to nap when her baby is napping, I'm not very good at that myself, so I use that time to do chores or read email.

The third phase was when I realized that my house was cleaner, but I was really bored and not feeling very challenged or engaged by my daily routine. Lucas is a sweetheart, and I know that the work I do in caring for him and for my family is valuable, but I wasn't getting a lot of external validation as a stay-at-home mother. I found that rediscovering things that make me feel like me helped. I read books while he nurses, or when he's asleep, and I try to find the time to exercise or go on walks with another "mother friend."

Babies are surprisingly good company, but they can't meet all of your socializing needs. I've gotten involved with various groups and I try to get out of the house with Lucas regularly. I attempt to stay connected to my pre-baby friends, although it's admittedly been easier with new "mother friends" because they understand the time constraints of naps and how babies make every plan provisional.

Willow Benavides
Austin TX USA

Mother's Response

Adjusting to a new schedule with a new baby can be trying, but that's because we're so used to schedules from work. With babies and small children at home, I find that flexible routines work much better than strict schedules.

My son, now age six, didn't really have a schedule or even a routine until he was about two years old and outgrew daytime napping. I often felt overtired and overstressed. Part of this was his personality, and part of this was me getting used to being a new mother and learning that breastfeeding on cue was best (and easier on both of us than scheduling). With my daughter, now three months old, I can already see a basic routine that she likes, especially in her nighttime and morning routines, but every day is different in the number and length of naps and amount of awake time.

For me, a loose, flexible routine works best. It was hard to let go of the office routine of 8 am to 4 pm and adjust to the fact that I didn't get a set number of hours to sleep at night, or a certain amount of time to myself. Over time, I came to realize that on some days, I can get a great deal done and I feel great. On other days, my children need me more, and I get what feels like nothing done and I'm a walking zombie. This is okay and a natural part of motherhood. It's also okay if the "nothing" days outweigh the "get things done" days for a while. I also realized that if I try to relax and let myself close my eyes during the day while my daughter is napping and my son is safely occupied, I am a more patient, more pleasant mother.

Wearing my children definitely has helped, especially with nap times. When my daughter is starting to get tired or has fallen asleep, I tuck her in a sling (nursing or not) and can usually go about many of my daily activities with her right there with me. When she's awake, I often wear her in the sling facing forward so that she can have a bird's-eye view of what I'm doing around the house.

If I keep my expectations flexible, then I am not so jarred or stressed when my children change their routines. These changes are simply brought about by day-to-day shifts in mood, as well as by developmental changes. Babies go through so many changes, so it's important to be able to adjust, sit back, and see what's coming next!

Janell Robisch
Luray VA USA

Mother's Response

Making the switch from employed woman to stay-at-home mother is as much about a change in identity as a change in routine. It's good you're thinking about this transition ahead of time! Some women find that this change is too big; they feel as if they are losing themselves, or at the very least a part of themselves. Consider that you are taking on a new role, and are therefore now a more well-rounded person! You are still you -- you're just adding another "layer" to yourself. An onion grows from the inside out, growing new layers at its heart; so it is when you become a mother!

Maybe one reason we can feel lost is that mothering a newborn is such an all-consuming and exhausting task. If you've never learned to accept or ask for help, now is the time. If someone offers to bring you a meal or help with other tasks, say yes. Talk with your husband about how your job will now be taking care of your baby, and all other tasks will need to be shared between the two of you.

Also, if you let go of the idea that your house must be in perfect order before having guests, you can avoid making your feeling of isolation worse than it might be otherwise. For a thoughtful look at how life changes when you become a mother, I recommend the affirming and validating book What Mothers Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen. It's my current favorite baby gift!

To answer your question more directly, here's what I do. Throughout each day, I run the words "laundry, dishes, mail, email," through my head. With a newborn, I try to get just one of those done. In six weeks or so, you might be able to get more done -- in three months, even more. Give it time!

Whenever I have a "free" moment, I check in with that list and move those things along, for example, moving the laundry from the washer to the laundry line, putting dishes in the sink to soak, catching up on paying bills, or checking email. Email can be a lifesaver for a stay-at-home mother. Your friends are only a click away!

Cheryl Peachey Stoner
Hesston KS USA

Mother's Response

I worked full-time until the day before my second son was born. In that whirlwind time after his birth, I experienced a multitude of transitions: I became a stay-at-home mother, a parent to two children, and I moved halfway across the country for my husband's job. Although it had always been my dream to stay home and parent full-time, it was a much tougher transition than I expected it to be. You specifically asked for suggestions on structuring your time, but I wanted to comment on the emotional aspect of the transition from employment to home. When I began staying home, I was surprised to find that I really missed some aspects of employment that I took for granted. I missed the easy access to the company of other adults. I missed the little conversations that added up to a lot of support and camaraderie. I missed having people regularly compliment me on my competence and performance. And most of all, I missed the ability to focus on a task, get it done, and cross it off my list. I'm sure moving to a new state where I had no support network magnified my feelings, but looking back, I think there was a lot I could have done to make this a less distressing time.

First, I think if someone told me that it was unreasonable to expect to be able to focus on tasks without interruption, it would have helped. It seems obvious now that I have three children and have been a stay-at-home mom for three-and-a-half years, but this little piece of wisdom plus some concrete tips on how to effectively multitask would probably have helped me a lot. Next, my husband and I had several conversations about how caring for our children and managing our home were now my profession. I explained to him that I needed encouragement, feedback, and kudos, just as he would give to a co-worker at his job. For me, it was easy to fall into feeling as though I was never going to get everything done, that the house was never going to be completely clean (and stay that way), and that I was never going feel as competent in my new role as I had in my former role as an executive. My husband was a little surprised at his formerly independent wife's new need for support, but he was able to step up and provide me with what I needed.

My next bit of hindsight is to really focus on making connections. When I worked full-time, I never had the time or energy for mothers' groups, play dates, and "mommy and me" classes, so it didn't occur to me to seek out these sorts of things. Also, a lot of my friends were from my professional life rather than people I had a personal connection to. I suggest actively looking for ways to make connections in your new role. Continue to attend La Leche League meetings and consider getting more involved by taking on an LLL Group job or becoming a Leader.

Many areas have clubs or social groups that focus on the needs of new mothers. Seek out opportunities to be with other mothers and children at a place of worship, a playgroup, or a baby-friendly class. You don't have to be busy all the time, but you'll find that having connections with other mothers who are in the trenches can be very beneficial.

Expect there to be a learning curve. You wouldn't expect a new employee to come in on the first day and know the job -- you shouldn't expect the same thing of yourself as a new stay-at-home mom. I fell into the trap of thinking that, because I had already been a mom for almost two years, becoming a stay-at-home mom would be easy. My experience with mothering one child and working full-time was different from my experience with mothering two children and staying home. In a number of ways, I had to learn how to mother all over again.

Three-and-a-half years later, I feel strongly connected, reasonably competent, and generally happy to be at home. I've also learned that I don't have to have a spotless home, a gourmet dinner every night, and perfectly behaved children to see myself as competent and successful. In the same way that a few crummy days at the office didn't cause me to see my whole career as a bust, some less than stellar days at home don't qualify me as a bad mother.

Brenda Carroll
Shawnee KS USA

Mother's Response

Going from the employment world to the world of full-time motherhood can be a difficult adjustment. It's good that you're thinking about it in advance. There isn't an easy way to structure your time with a newborn. As nap times start to solidify, you will be able to plan around your child, but that won't happen right away. I found it helpful to have regular outings with other mothers. I attended La Leche League meetings every month, and I joined a few other mothers' groups in my area. While your baby is still young, you can also take advantage of activities that you can do for yourself, such as visiting the library or a museum. Wearing a sling, you can take your baby just about anywhere!

At work, you're probably used to accomplishing tasks: start a task or project, work on it for a while, and finish it. As a stay-at-home mother, you won't have that luxury anymore. By the end of the day, it may seem as though you didn't get anything done.

One thing you can do is break down tasks into five-minute increments. For example, instead of trying to make an entire dinner at once, take a few minutes to prepare dinner throughout the day. If you break projects down into smaller tasks, you will have a greater sense of accomplishment and feel less over-whelmed at all the things to do.

Another issue I dealt with during the transition was feeling like I wasn't contributing anything valuable to the household or society, even though I firmly believe that raising children is one of the most important things we can do! At the time, it didn't seem like the work I was doing was very important. It's helpful to remember that your baby is learning from you, and that your new job will have long-lasting rewards for years and years to come.

Jillian Ehrenberg
Malta NY USA

Mother's Response

In the first few weeks, spend your time recovering from the birth and learning about your new baby. Once you have established breastfeeding, learned your baby's cues, and have a good bond, then you can start thinking about everything else.

I found using a calendar for important dates very helpful. This kept everyone in the household aware of certain events, such as doctor's appointments and La Leche League meetings. From there, I expanded my calendar to reflect daily tasks that I'd like to accomplish. I started slowly -- laundry, dishes, bathroom. I've slowly added more to it, and now keep it in a binder for easy access.

Making your friends a priority is important, too, as you need the adult companionship. Libraries, playgrounds, community centers, and La Leche League meetings are all ways to make new friends. If you are keeping in contact with friends from work, offer to meet them for lunch sometimes. Pick a restaurant that you can take your baby to -- one you've been to before and are already comfortable in.

I learned my calendar techniques from a wonderful free Web site, www.flylady.net, and the accompanying book Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley. Her guidance has helped me find my way as I made the change from employed woman to stay-at-home mother.

Shannon Rittenhouse
Sterling VA USA

Mother's Response

My husband loves to talk about how human beings organize their time, and it's rubbed off on me. I create a spreadsheet every few months so that I know what I would like to be doing every hour of the day. With a newborn, the lines of your schedule need to be a lot more fluid, but you can still have a schedule.

To start, I suggest making two separate lists of all the things each member of your family needs and wants to do each day. Thankfully, for the first few months, your baby's needs and wants are pretty simple: sleep, nurse, cuddle, and eliminate. Once you've made your list, write down the approximate amount of time each activity requires. When you add them all up and discover that you need 36 hours in a day, you'll see that you need to be selective and prioritize!

Put sleep at the top of your list and make sure you get enough of it. Then start placing your activities into what feels like a logical order. For example, you might dress, nurse, eat breakfast, nurse, pay bills, nurse, read, exercise, nurse, lunch, nap, nurse, play, and have dinner. As you can see, for the first few months your "schedule" will revolve around when your baby needs to nurse. Be patient and flexible during this time. Toddlerhood comes quickly and you'll miss the rhythm of these early days.

Cara Virostko
Billings MT USA

Mother's Response

I gave up my career and moved to another state while I was pregnant, so when my son was born, I truly felt isolated and at loose ends. Eventually, I hit on a solution that has carried me through these past 19 months. I have a weekly "schedule" of activities. I try to get a different task done each day.

It goes something like this: Monday, housecleaning; Tuesday, sewing or gardening; Wednesday, correspondence (perhaps returning calls or emails); Thursday, household accounting; Friday, baking. This gave me small daily goals. I had to learn not to beat myself up if my son was too needy to allow a "workday." Some weeks allow tasks to get finished in order, and some weeks become a big jumble. But I can start fresh the next week and do things incrementally. Dusting on a Monday may be that day's success.

I think that one of the hardest things about the shift from workplace to home is the transition away from a goal-oriented environment. By providing myself with small goals, I managed to bring some of what is good about that environment to the home.

Lisa Craig
Surry VA USA

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