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Staying Home

Healthy Daily Routines

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21, No. 6 November - December 2004 pp. 218-220

"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 am new to the experience of staying home. I decided not to return to work after my third baby was born. We are having a harder time adjusting to the change than I expected, and I suspect the problem is related to routine. We’re used to set schedules at work and day care, but now we’re on our own. Food seems to be at the center of many of our struggles. The children want to eat all the time and I try to limit eating to the "right times." Help! How do other mothers at home keep to a healthy routine, especially where it concerns eating?

Mother's Response

It can definitely be challenging for any mother, new or experienced, to make the transition to being at home all the time. I’ve discovered that all the lessons I learned breastfeeding my children still apply as they grow older and move on to solid foods. When my children were still nursing, I responded to their cues when they were hungry. I think they learned how to feed themselves in just the right way. Now that they are bigger, I still trust that my children naturally know when they are hungry, and when they are not. They have always followed their own bodies’ cues, something I sometimes wish I were able to do better!

It can be trying to prepare gourmet meals on demand, though, so it does take a little bit of planning to make it work for me, too. When my children were toddlers, I kept a plate with little compartments on the table filled with finger foods they enjoyed including fruit, veggies, beans, whole wheat bread, and crackers. This way, they could get the snacks themselves when they were hungry.

Now that they are a bit older, I put things on the bottom shelf of the fridge that are okay for them to eat whenever they want. I know that they may not eat on my time schedule, but they usually get a varied and nutritious diet that isn’t a big struggle for me.

Rachel Smith
Westminster CO USA

Mother's Response

The transition from working outside the home to mothering full-time at home can seem like a blissful ideal, but in reality the transition is quite a challenge. Your colleagues without children or full-time home experience may truly not be able to understand what your days are like. Although we love being able to be with our children full-time, at first it can seem like stepping off a cliff into free-fall, especially when we are used to the orderly routines of work or institutions.

I had to explore my expectations of my children. Sometimes I found I expected them to behave in ways I had seen in the media or from my own imagination, which my children quickly set to flames. Take a look at those expectations. What is the "right time" for eating? And who knows best what his/her body needs? Our children are still growing. Research suggests that frequent meals are very healthy. As long as the food choices you set before them are whole foods they might benefit from "grazing" more frequently than you realize. They may choose only one favorite for a while, but with time they will likely try new choices. We found in our family that when tummies are rumbly, moods are stormy, too, and the quickest way to calm a fussy child was often to check if they were hungry, thirsty, or needed to use the bathroom.

With time and patience you will find a routine that works for you. Instead of building the day’s foundation around activities, I try to build around food and naps. On a hard day, we go back to basics -- food and naps and lots of cuddling -- until we are feeling ourselves again. And even though sometimes it takes a lot of effort, at the end of the day keep your focus on what you are accomplishing without comparing your home to either an office or a day care center.

Dawn Lamping
Aspen CO USA

Mother's Response

You’ll gradually come up with some routines that work for your family, whether it’s, "Monday morning we go to the library," or, "After breakfast we do some tidying and then go for a walk." Routines you develop yourself are great because they give your days the amount of structure and predictability you all need, while at the same time being flexible enough to allow for spontaneity. (That walk could last 10 minutes or two hours!) Now that my children are in school, I miss that freedom.

As for food, it might help to ask others about their schedules and experiment on your own. In my family, it works well to have five official mealtimes: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and supper. The snacks aren’t midway between the big meals—they’re about an hour before the next big meal. They help prevent or cure most of the squabbles and meltdowns.

Whether snacks are scheduled or on the go, it’s important that they consist of food you are happy to have your children eating. I think a lot of the arguments we have with children over whether it’s time to eat are really about what is being eaten. If snacks are wholesome fresh foods, then you can be confident that snack time is not only giving everyone a welcome break but is feeding them what their bodies need. And if they had a bunch of raw veggies at 11 am, you can relax more when they refuse the cooked ones in the evening!

Elise Morse-Gagne

Mother's Response

Transitioning from work and day care to a stay-at-home situation certainly can be challenging! One thing I learned to do with two young children at home is to prepare a snack bag early in the day. It is accessible to them whenever they would like something to eat between meals. Everything in the snack bag is prepared for self-service in small tubs or sealed sandwich bags. Younger children may be able to open the plastic bags with actual "zippers" on them.

Choices to include in the snack bag include apple slices, hard-boiled eggs, grapes cut in half, thinly sliced carrot sticks, celery with cream cheese, pretzels, quartered sandwiches, honey straws, grated cheese, rolled-up turkey or ham, pistachios, plain popcorn, and other healthy, child-friendly, quick to prepare goodies. I purchased inexpensive plastic drink bottles for water and marked each with each child’s name. If I include a couple of toddler-sized forks, they’ll eat practically anything because the forks are fun for them to eat with.

The minutes I spend each morning preparing the snack bag are well worth the payoff! I know my children have a healthy day’s worth of snacking that they can pretty much handle on their own. It allows me to prepare scheduled meals while still being flexible to their needs. Also, I’ve noticed that having readily available snacks they can manage themselves has helped my children to learn to recognize their hunger and respond to it before it becomes unmanageable. An added bonus is that you can grab the bag whenever you need to leave the house quickly. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you won’t have to spend a nickel on junk food when the "hungries" hit.

Sue Counselman
St. Thomas Virgin Islands

Mother's Response

The experience of staying home can be challenging whether you have done it with your first child or decided to start with your third. It takes time and devotion to listen to your children’s and your own needs to find the perfect routine for your family. And then guess what? They change it on you!

After being at home with my four-year-old and two-year-old, I have found that the best survival technique is to have a flexible routine. Most children need routines. It helps them feel comfortable to know what to expect and when to expect it. I also have learned that this requires flexibility from me.

Food seems to be the focal point in a toddler’s and young child’s life. I find if my children go more than an hour and a half without eating, their mood and behavior change significantly. In trying to balance their needs as around-the-clock, food-burning machines with my need to not be a waitress all day, I have come up with simple rules. When it is time for a meal, we sit at the table to enjoy it together. Morning and afternoon snacks are a little more flexible and, depending on what is served, are sometimes at the table, at the park, or picnic-style on the living room floor.

In our family room, there is a small children’s table where I keep a variety of healthy snacks available for self-service throughout the day. When the children were smaller and eating smaller portions, I would use an ice cube tray and put something different in each compartment (e.g. raisins, fruit, vegetables, crackers). This way they could help themselves and graze, which seemed to suit their little bellies better. I also have a low cabinet in the kitchen that is devoted to their snacks so they can help themselves.

As parents, we play an important role in establishing healthy eating habits. It works for my husband and me to let our children eat when they are hungry and not just because it is time to eat. Good luck finding your own routine, and continued success with staying at home.

Danielle Brenner
Lumberton NJ USA

Mother's Response

Your question sounds as though it might have come from me 20 months ago. While on maternity leave after delivering my third child, my husband and I acted on our desire for me to stay at home. Prior to that, my husband stayed home with my two girls (now five and six years old), and they definitely had specific routines.

Regarding eating, my children have always eaten six times a day: three meals and three snacks. I would suggest you buy clear, disposable plastic boxes. These are perfect for having do-it-yourself snacks around. Fill with apple slices, cereal, carrot sticks, and grapes, depending on the age of your children.

Sometimes, if my hands are full, I have one of my older daughters bring me a jar of peanut butter and two spoons while I nurse my baby. I feed them peanut butter on a spoon without missing a beat! We also have a water cooler so my daughters can get water for themselves during the day.

For us, eating small portions frequently has worked very well and I believe it helps my children to eat only when they are hungry.

I found it incredibly hard making the transition to staying home with my children. I have a wonderful mentor, also a stay-at-home mother, who was a great source of support for me. I asked her once, "When am I going to feel like I’m really a stay-at-home mother?" She was very frank and said two years. It sounds like a long time, but it is really true. I am finally feeling as though I am really a stay-at-home mother! My last big hurdle is remembering that I have to work at having friends. I’m no longer in an office surrounded by people for 50 hours a week. I have to pick up a phone and call. I’m getting there, and my LLL Group has been a vital resource for me.

A few last thoughts: If there are some things that really make you crazy, adjust them! For me, one of the things I finally did was stop naps for my daughters. They would take late afternoon naps so I would have time with them after work, but when I stayed home, I really needed them to go to bed earlier. That helped me have a little quiet time. Don’t forget to ask your husband for help! I believed that I was supposed to do it all myself. Now I know it’s necessary to ask him to share the load.

And most importantly, the thing I really have to remind myself of often: don’t forget to enjoy your children! You stayed home to be with them, not the washing machine. Buy everybody extra underwear and spend more time with those beautiful kids!

Anne Fullerton
Bella Vista AR USA

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