My first day on the job was terrifying. My boss was extremely temperamental, I showed up having gotten zero sleep the night before, I had basically no idea what I was doing, and I was required to work alone all day.
I didn’t realize things would turn out that way when I signed up to be a stay-at-home mom. No, I envisioned my days would be spent leisurely bonding with my baby, basking in the peaceful aura of her newness and, of course, in my triumph as a mom who really had her sh!t together.
I had NO IDEA how monumentally far apart a person’s articles of sh!t could be until I took this job.
The first mistake I made as as a parent was not realizing that the amount of effort required to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) is a LOT more than the amount of effort required to do stereoytypical mom-type-things (like laundry or whatever) at home. The job is at times physically draining and sure, that’s hard. But the psychological weight of being trapped in the same four walls with a smaller, less verbal, more dictatorial version of yourself is what I found truly crushing.
Don’t get me wrong: I adore my daughter and I love being a SAHM. But I also have to be honest. I had to put some things in place in my life before I got to the point where my days at home no longer involved crying in the shower. Here are 10 tips you might find helpful:
Be Advised: A certain amount of crying in the shower is a cathartic, probably inevitable mom experience. But there does come a point where feelings of sadness and anxiety after giving birth are indicative of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Click here to learn more about these conditions and locate help in your area.
HOW TO STAY SANE AS A STAY-AT-HOME MOM
1) ASK WHY AND SET GOALS
As a SAHM, it’s easy to become so overwhelmed with the details of your to-do list that you become blind to the big picture. It’s easy to feel that you are just flitting from one mess or meltdown to another until your days blur together. It’s easy to lose your sense of the why behind it all.
To thrive as a SAHM, you must define your purpose. What do you want out of your time at home? Once you narrow that down, ask yourself: What kinds of goals should I create to help me fulfill the purpose I laid out for myself? And how can I frame each day to be a stepping stone toward doing so?
I became a SAHM because I wanted to be the best wife and mom I could be for my family. That was my purpose (bearing in mind, of course, that the home isn’t where all moms are called to be for their families). Once I started focusing more on that and less on how slowly the second hand on our clock moved, I was able to start feeling things come together.
I channeled my need to achieve into my day at home: I found things I hated doing (like anything in the kitchen) and made it my goal to do them better and more efficiently. I set out to learn creative ways to jazz up my meals and become healthier in the kitchen. I planned activities for my daughter. My days went from feeling scattered and aimless to being focused and intentional.
2) BE YOUR DEFINITION OF PRODUCTIVE
Studies in the workplace have shown that happy employees are more productive. And personally, I’ve found the reverse to also be true. When I was more productive at home, I felt happier and more satisfied with my day. It just feels go to know I’ve gotten crap done!
I’m a list maker. I feel frazzled when I have a lot that I want to get done and no clear organized plan of attach. So I knew that in order to maximize my productivity, I would need a way to keep organized. In the past, I’ve used the Erin Condren Life Planner, but recently I’ve fallen in love with the Happy Planner. I use it to meal plan, record my workouts, keep track of activities I’m trying to make habitual, stay on top of my cleaning schedule, and take note of my daughter’s milestones and memorable experiences—in addition to the normal things you’d use a planner for, like writing down appointments and keeping track of bills that need to be paid.
Using a planner helps me be productive, but more importantly it helps me be productive in meaningful ways. I’m able to use it to forge connection with others (like scheduling calls to friends I haven’t spoken to in a while) and to help me be a more positive person (“write down 3 things you’re grateful for today”), both of which serve to preserve my sanity.
One caveat: Sometimes a to-do list can feel burdensome, so start slowly to avoid stretching yourself too thin. If you have a really young baby at home, activities like cleaning and making dinner might not realistically be possible. That’s okay! You define your own level of productivity.
3) GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
While you’re busy getting sh!t done, make a point to leave your house. Even if you step outside with your baby in tow just long enough to breathe air that’s not the same air inside your house.
For my first 14 months as a SAHM, we only had one car that my husband used to commute to work every day. Since my daughter was born via c-section, I wasn’t keen on being out and about for a while. Additionally, breastfeeding a constantly hungry, tongue-tied baby with a nipple shield was a struggle I wasn’t ready to have in public for a few months. By the time I was finally ready to step outside, I was smacked in the face by 115 degree Arizona summer heat. Needless to say we didn’t get out much for a long time.
I was fortunate to live within walking distance of Target, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Marshall’s, JCPenney, and a natural foods grocery store (jackpot #amiright) so when the weather finally started to cool down that fall I made it a point to get out and go somewhere at least once a day.
What a difference it made on my mood! And I’m sure the endorphins from the walking probably helped too.
4) REPLENISH YOUR WILLPOWER
Before last year, I never thought of willpower as something that could be depleted. I thought shortcomings in willpower were simply a function of not having enough of it! But it turns out that’s not the case. There are lots of things that deplete your willpower, including monitoring, decisions making, emotion regulation, and resisting temptation. Even just doing the same task for a while will drain your willpower reserves, leaving you vulnerable to becoming quickly irritated by things you can normally tolerate. And since low levels of willpower aren’t always accompanied by a bad mood, it can be hard to even recognize you’ve entered this vulnerable state.
If you want to find yourself in a place where you aren’t so easily prone to snapping at your kids or finding your spouse unusually annoying, you need to make replenishing your willpower a regular habit.
So what does this look like? There are many ways to go about it: Getting sufficient sleep, getting social support, prayer or meditation, and practicing gratitude more often are all ways to replenish willpower. Learning to effectively manage stress and getting good exercise and nutrition will also make you less susceptible to the forces of willpower depletion, so consider incorporating these things in your day as much as possible. Even something as simple as starting your morning by sharing with your kids three things you’re grateful for can have a powerful impact on the rest of your day (in addition to being an excellent way to model gratitude!).
5) HAVE A ROUTINE (OR DON’T)
I have to rely on a routine to maximize my productivity. Putting a system on place adds predictability to my day; without routines, I would be overwhelmed. Establishing a routine that works for you is a process that may take time and some trial and error.
I set up my routine by taking inventory of the things I needed to accomplish in a given week and sketching out when I would need to set aside time to be exclusively available for my daughter (no multitasking!). She eats and naps at predictable times, so her schedule functioned as the structure I planned my day around.
A huge part of establishing a daily routine involved creating a cleaning schedule and figuring out how to efficiently use my time. When my daughter eats breakfast, for example, I prep dinner, and when it’s time for her to eat lunch I clean up the morning kitchen mess. By the time we’re ready to eat dinner, the kitchen is already clean. Of course, how efficient your routine can be will depend on the number of kids you have and their ages, but you get the idea.
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That said, not everyone thrives on routine, and sometimes schedules are so crazy routine becomes impossible. If trying to set up and stick to a routine brings you more stress than peace, that’s okay. Do what you need to do to maximize your sanity.
6) PLAN AHEAD
This was such a game changer for me and became an absolute necessity when I needed to quit eating dairy. Since a lot of boxed snack foods and fast food were off limits, I started meal planning with a vengeance.
Being one step ahead in the kitchen in particular has saved me loads of time, which in turn saves me from overwhelm and headache. Knowing what would be on the menu meant knowing what parts of dinner I could prep in advance, which sped up my time in the kitchen exponentially. It got me into freezer and crock pot meals that can be made in advance. It saved us money since we wasted less and fell back on eat out less often!
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7) SCHEDULE TIME OFF (WHEN POSSIBLE)
We all know a mother’s work day is never over, but that doesn’t mean mom can’t schedule some time “off-the-clock” once in a while. If you have family in your area, see if they would be willing to take the kids for a few hours each week so you can have time to just do person stuff. If you don’t have family or the extra funds for a babysitter, see if any mom friends in the area would be willing to join forces with you and trade off babysitting—they watch your kids and, in exchange, you watch theirs. You both get time off—win win!
But what if you don’t have any trusted friends in your area? You may need to get creative. You can go to your local library or church to meet and get to know other moms or, worst case scenario, you could design a weekly schedule that has your “me time” built in. Perhaps instead of folding laundry when baby naps, you use that time to get your creative juices flowing or enjoy a cup of coffee in peace. Schedule the laundry folding (or what have you) for later in the week. Recently, in order to have more time to myself, I’ve started scheduling long showers and simply waking up earlier. Sometimes my sanity is more important than my sleep!
8) BE ENGAGED
When you’re not elbows deep in dishes or taking some time out for yourself, focus on being present. It’s easy to become so focused on being productive and maximizing your efficiency that you become less engaged with your spouse/significant other and your kids, even when you actually have some uninterrupted time to give to them.
I realized I struggled with this when my mom started watching my daughter for a few hours on Sundays. I got so caught up in getting ahead of the upcoming week (meal prepping, cleaning, errand running—oh my!) that I spent less time connecting one-on-one with my husband, and our relationship suffered for it. Not only that, but I soon found that the joy of getting things done could never make up for the satisfaction spending quality time with my husband brings.
On top of all this, your undivided attention is an important tool in your belt as a parent. Studies have shown that parental attention is extremely positively reinforcing for children, and children who feel connected with their parents are less likely to act out or be aggressive.
9) FIND A HOBBY
Something that you enjoy. An activity you can call your own. For me, that’s blogging and photography. Blogging can be a lot of work, but it’s something I can get lost in. I spend a lot of my week focused on my family and my home, and despite the fact that I often blog about these things, Mom Makes Joy is how I take a break from their demand on my attention. Do you have an escape?
10) FIND BALANCE
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking “Well gee, Gabby, it sounds like you’re saying that in order to find sanity I have to be supermom! I have to be hyper-productive and crazy efficient, a schedule slave intimately involved in the lives of my spouse and kids but also just detached enough to cultivate a hobby in my spare time? What?
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to save your sanity at home is find balance. You can’t do everything, but you can learn to do the things that are most important to you well. If having a spotless house stresses you out more than it brings you joy, take it off your to-do list. If it’s more important at this crazy time in your life that your family is just fed, put down the raw, organic non-gmo whatever and step away from the cutting board. Prioritize what’s important to you right now and just do those things as best you can. Wherever your personal best lies, there lies success also.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t give more than you have. Trying to do these things is, guaranteed, the fastest way to lose your sanity.
So take a breath. You’re a good mom, sane or not.
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