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Three Essential Skills Needed for Having 2+ kids (and everyone getting enough love and attention)
The first day I was home alone with two kids was memorable. (So very horribly memorable.) I remember trying to get my 17 month old down for a nap, and the newborn wanted to nurse as I was sitting in my medium-toned, wood stained oatmeal microfiber glider and ottoman. I had the older one on my lap, and the baby in the bouncy seat screaming her head off. I tried putting the older one in his crib, and picked up the baby. The older one screamed because he wasn't getting his normal naptime routine. The baby wanted to nurse. I started crying, too. I felt pulled in both directions and didn't know what to do.
Going from one child to two was the biggest transition for me so far in motherhood. Not being able to give my oldest my complete attention when my second came along was hard. I felt really guilty about it. Would I ever be so close to my oldest again? Would he resent having to share me? Would I be ruining him for life? (These are actual things I worried about during my second pregnancy.)
How I finally settled my angst was in the thought that I wasn't taking anything away from my oldest by having a second child. I was giving him a gift that no one else could give him - someone to grow up with, know his whole life, complain about his parents with, share secrets with, play hide-and-seek with, go on vacations with, and run through the sprinkler with. I was scouring my old Marriage & Family Therapy books from school and found one little section about how of all the people in our lives, our siblings are the ones we have the entire time. Parents pass away when we grow up. We don't meet our spouses or children until we're adults. But siblings are special and unique, and good. And that's what I finally settled was what I was giving my son.
On that first day home when both kids wanted me at the same time, I knew in the back of my mind that someday it would get easier (the two kids would play together and be able to wait their turn), but in that moment it didn't matter. Because you can’t ignore an infant and a one-year old can be very demanding of his mama's attention.
I’m writing this blog post is in memory of that overwhelming feeling (and I still have them from time to time with four kids), and for any SAHM out there preparing to transition from one child to two in the near future. So, how is a Stay at Home Mom to cope, when she needs to show love, care, and availability to two children from this day forward?
Here's my three essential skills needed for having more than two kids.
I am a creative person. But when I first began this lifestyle of a stay at home mom, I put that very fun side of myself on the back burner. After a while, I felt like I couldn’t sustain the passion and upbeat attitude that I was known for before kids. Why? It could have been the sleep deprivation, it could have been the on-call 24/7 thing. Or, it could have been that I didn’t intentionally include my natural talents into my new life.
Once I figured out that I was hindering some really great aspects of myself in the name of being a great mom, I woke up. Because holding back the best parts of me was making me bitter and resentful - the opposite of a great mom. So, I put on my thinking cap to figure out ways I could be creative and be home. Before I share those tidbits with you, let's make sure you're going to get something useful from reading this blog post.
How you’ll know you got something out of this post:
Day after day, I fought the same battles as a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). I felt like I was making no progress. And honestly, I was seriously questioning how well of a job I was doing when most of my day I felt stressed-out and rushed.
One day, though, I stopped and noticed that I since these "rough days" were happening over and over again, maybe I was (unintentionally) setting myself up for stress and failure.
I was feeling like the household and I were unpredictable. I really didn’t like how I was doing my job as a SAHM. I was setting myself up to fail. Can you relate? (Please, someone say yes!)
If you can relate, I've got a treat for you. Because I'm going to explain my most effective strategy for Setting My(Your)self Up For Success. I am going to lessen the learning curve for you so that you can jump right from wherever you are now to consistently successful days. The added benefit of Setting Yourself Up for Success is that you are taking care of yourself in the process.
Here's how you'll know you've gained something worthwhile from this blog post:
Unproductive Stay at Home Mom
"Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant. Being selective - doing less - is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest." -Tim Ferriss
There have been days when I feel very unproductive. Days when I couldn't seem to get anything done in any area of my life as a SAHM. Housework wasn't getting done as it should. The kids seemed to be a little off because they were bored and arguing with each other more than usual. I wasn't sleeping well. I wasn't working out or eating well. And of course, there wasn't time to write to you! Everything was backed-up and on hold. (And I mean everything.)
Then I started thinking, where am I going wrong? Since I'm sort of the Cruise Director around here, there might be something I'm doing to keep me in a rut. Here's my list. (Seriously, this was written at 4:17 am on the tail end of a very unproductive streak in my life. I'm talking bad day.)
Yuck. I know. So it's during rough spots like this that I tended to fall back into the old habit of not doing what's needed. (I'm very good at spinning my wheels.) If I were to do a little time diary, I'd quickly figure out that I'm wasting a lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing that matters. So, what's a SAHM to do?
1. Get real about what you're struggling with. Like my little confession list up there, I just got down on paper what I was and what I wasn't doing with my time, and realized that putting off the basic stuff like playing with the kids, getting enough sleep, and eating well affected my entire day (and week).
2. Talk to other SAHMs. On one particularly rough day, I called my friend Brooke and asked her what to do. She was so cool about it, and she said, "Realize that today isn't going to be a perfect day. You've got to change things up and throw the schedule out the window. Get all the kids ready and take them to the park. They've got to blow off some steam." And I did. I didn't think about it; I just got everyone diaper changes/potty breaks and left. (It ended up being a LOT of fun for all of us and totally saved the day.) Thanks again, Brooke!
3. Do something needed, beginning with the kids. So the next day, I began the day with snuggle time on the couch with a good book with the kids. (Remember The Softer Side of SAHMing?) They are why I am home, and I know when I get in a rut (and they're crazier than usual) it's because I'm not just sitting down and playing with them. So, I just started with one simple thing that I hadn't been doing before that would make a big difference now. In my case, it's spending time with the kids first, before dishes and errands and getting people ready to go on a Cub Scout Camping Trip.
4. Get into being home. I found ways to bring fun and passion into being a SAHM. I sang along with Adele while I loaded the dishwasher with the kids. I spent the 2:00 lull in the day chasing kids and tickling them instead of downing a cup of coffee. I made up a treasure hunt for the kids during nap time instead of yelling at Hulu. These little things helped make life at home easier and a little more productive.
Well, there you have it. What do you do to correct-course when you begin to get in an unproductive rut? (I know other SAHMs have been through it, too!) Share your wisdom in the comments below! And if you know of another SAHM that is going through the same thing right now, pass this along to her!
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Being a SAHM can be terribly difficult at times. There is the laundry, the dishes, the yardwork, bills to pay, butts to wipe, meals to prepare, and on and on. If a smart woman isn't careful, she can easily lose focus of why she decided to stay home in the first place. None of us become SAHMs so that we can focus more on housework, though. No, we leave our careers and degrees behind for the softer side of being a SAHM. What is the soft side, you may ask?
It's moments like this. When we take our kids to a pond to see the tadpoles. It's when we snuggle up under a blanket with them on a cool spring morning and squeeze in a reading of Frog and Toad before breakfast because we're not in a hurry to leave the house. It's a baby asleep on our lap while we type a blog post with one hand. These sweet moments are why we stayed home in the first place.
I'll admit, though, that there are times when I have difficulty remembering this fact. I'm a hard-wired first born, type-A, and it's just not in my nature to go play in the sand box when I have housework to do. I struggle with this! But does being like this make me the kind of SAHM that I really want to be?
I was reminded of the softer side of being a SAHM when I re-read Dr. Laura Schlessinger's book In Praise of Stay at Home Moms (affiliate link). The passage that gave me a much-needed kick in the pants was, "Perfect, neat-freak SAHMs miss sweet time enjoying kids." I think she's right. On days when I am preoccupied with being perfect, I am logically not putting the kids first. I'm missing out on the big picture. Ouch!
I wish I didn't have to work at being more flexible and playful, but I do. My best days at home begin with reading to and playing with the kids on the play room floor. Seriously. They seem to be calmer (which in turn helps me be calmer). On days when I focus too much on the housework, the kids are more antsy and harder to keep happy. They want their mama's attention. And who can blame them?
Do any of you sometimes forget to put the softer side of being a SAHM first? For those of you who naturally put relationships before housework, what tips do you have for us Type As? Please comment below!
Yesterday I was at McDonald's talking with an old man in his 80s named Charlie. Every Sunday morning I see him there. I go to write. He goes to socialize.
So, as usual, he wants to know what I'm writing about. I tell him I'm writing about Stay at Home Moms being jealous of their husbands. "Why would they be jealous?" he wants to know. And my words flowed so eloquently and clearly. It surprised me.
I explained to Charlie that women in my generation are raised to get good grades, go to college, start a good career, and later meet another professional man who has his crap together, and get married after first planning the entire thing on Pinterest. Then, after a few years, have one or two children and go back to work. Continue to be fabulous and rich. Sounds pretty good.
But when women raised with this mindset then decide to stay home and raise their children, foregoing the career, something bad happens. Even though it's their choice to be home, these intelligent, driven women become jealous of their husbands! It can get ugly.
A SAHM & Her (Real) Man
_ Zach, my favorite taxi driver in Boston, is from Morocco. While driving me from Cambridge to my hotel in the business district, he asked me what my presentation at Harvard was about. I told him that it was about Stay at Home Mothers. Boy, did he get excited about that! He spent the next twenty minutes telling me that his mother stayed home and that she was always happy about it. He never remembers his parents fighting about her staying home. He never remembers his mother talking about feeling unfulfilled at home. In the USA, he noticed, women do not seem to want or like to stay home. That seemed strange to him.
The last thing Zach asked me was my opinion on the role of the father in the household with a SAHM. What a good question! I said that I think any SAHM that is really good at what she does most likely has a husband that is really happy that she’s home. I think the husband provides for his family’s financial needs, but he is so much more than that. He looks out for everyone in the family. He is strong, yet loving. He doesn’t need to strong-arm anyone to follow him. He’s respected, listened to, and fair. I think he sets the example of expected behavior in the family. Ultimately, it is his family. That was my take, anyway. Let’s look more into your husband’s role in your family.
Your Man's Role
Zach and I talked a lot about the husband's role in a family with a SAHM. Zach highlighted the man's financial support of the family, and no one can deny the importance of that. But what else is there to being a man in this day and age, with a wife and children at home? What kind of pressures, worries, and demands are there? What kinds of joys, dreams, and goals are there?
There are very few more responsible roles a man can have apart from being a husband and father. Sure, there’s a king, president, CEO, Emergency room doctor, or wild rapids tour guide. I think those are pretty responsible jobs. But a husband and father (especially one that is completely providing for his family) has more at stake than those other guys. It’s his most loved ones’ material well-being on his shoulders.
While many people see SAHMs as a dying breed, it’s worth mentioning that her husband is also a rare find as well. We see all kinds of TV shows and movies where men are trying to get out of commitment and responsibility. Boy, do I hate seeing that - especially since I have three boys. Do you want your sons growing up thinking that nothing is expected (or wanted) from them?
Personally, I think it takes a real man to commit to a wife and children on this level. Congratulations, you’ve got yourself a real man. (Note: I don’t think that men whose wives work are not real men. Sometimes circumstances trump desire and wives have to work. Or maybe the wife doesn't want to stay home. But if given the choice, and the man says, “Yah, I want you to stay home and take care of all of us. I will take care of you financially.” I think that says a lot about that man’s character.)
If you're a SAHM, let your husband know what a real man he is! Appreciate what he does for you - and how you think his rogue social status is MANLY!
If I could go back in time and give myself advice as a new SAHM, what would I say?
Relax, the kids will be okay. I have been known to be pretty tight-lipped when it comes to mothering. I've also been known to get stressed-out over small matters. I worry too much. I think my kids are pretty well-adjusted, but I can see a bit of over-cautiousness in my oldest - and I know it's from me.
I'd for sure tell myself to enjoy this time, because it goes by so fast. My oldest just lost his fourth baby tooth today (he's 6), while my youngest (6 months) is getting his first two teeth in. It's strange how quickly time flies. My oldest, it seems, was a baby just yesterday!
Laugh. My husband and children really light up when I laugh. In fact, they seem quite delighted with themselves when they can get me to crack up. My laugh is music to their ears.
My attitude is key. I've noticed that if I'm in a foul mood, it's likely that everyone else will be, too. I get short-tempered and suddenly all of the kids get into trouble. My husband is annoyed. The kitchen is a wreck. If I could find ways to improve my attitude, many of my days would go better. I've heard Dr. Laura suggesting that SAHMs put a playlist of upbeat music on the iPod and play that when feeling frazzled. I think it's a good suggestion.
Sit on the floor with the kids and play with them. They flock to me when I sit on the floor. Wrestling, stories, blocks, and dolls are always brought out. Kids sit on my lap. I'm at their level. If I stay on the floor with them, I remain focused on them and not distracted by chores, emails, or phone calls. I can tell that my children really enjoy when I get on the floor with them.
Sleep train your kids at an early age. I kept the hours of a baby each time one of our kids were born and then for the first year of their lives. This was because I would nurse on demand - and then nurse them to sleep. That included co-sleeping and restless nights (for baby, me, and my husband). I would also get pretty irritated during the day when I had to have a baby at the breast whenever it was naptime. It limited what I could do - 24/7. So, I strongly suggest The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West as the go-to book on gently sleep training children.
Play outside with the kids and teach them about the world. Hikes, drives, playtime at the park, gardening, or just playing in the backyard. I've really enjoyed telling the kids about the trees, the seasons, plants, animals, and clouds. I've noticed they aren't scared of chickens or picking up worms like I am. I see a strength in their curiosity about nature. I also let them go ahead and get dirty. (I just have clean clothes sitting by the back door for them to change into when they come in.) I feel like I'm passing on wisdom that I gained from my Grandpa Joe - especially when I quiz them later on what I had taught them.
Being inside so much isn't good for SAHMs! When I'm inside too long, I get a small view of the world. I get restless and irritated. When I go outside, I seem to be calmer, more happy, and don't care if the kids get all dirty (or if i do). When I garden or hike, it grounds me and helps me keep perspective - I'm just one part of this big world.
Learn (and do) a system to get my household chores done in the morning. Women long ago, like Ma on Little House on the Prairie, had specific days to do each of her big chores. She had those girls helping, too. There was no, "I don't feel like washing laundry today." Sometimes I feel like such a ninny. Ma would be ashamed of me.
So, those are some of my ideas on advice to myself as a new SAHM. Here are other mothers' advice to themselves. What would you tell yourself?h
(For more New SAHM tips, see here and here.)
This song is stuck in my head. Maybe it's because my 2-year-old says in a low voice, "Everyday I'm Shufflin." (It's so cute.) It could be because my husband tries to dance like the people in the video - and it simply delights me!! I even love the look on his face when he's bopping around and smiling at me to see how hard I'm going to laugh (or snort-laugh).But seriously, are you Shufflin' everyday? Sometimes I feel like I am - but with much less enthusiastic dance moves ... and certainly without the 90's fashion flashback. (I'm not cool enough to pull that off.) All SAHMs can feel like we're stuck in a monotonous, hypnotized pattern of the SAHMlifestyle. It goes something like this:
Clean them up
Entertain and/or referee playtime
Clean them up
Get them to sleep
Entertain and/or referee playtime
Clean them up
Get them to sleep
Call it a day!
The shuffle can seem mindless. It's completely up to us if we want to be stuck. So instead of breaking out our clothes from the 90's, let's mix things up. Add some New Kids on the Block, MC Hammer, or Wilson Phillips. (BTW, I totally loved the Wilson Phillips bit in the Bridesmaids movie! Hilarious!!) Take the kids to the park, sit them down on the floor and teach them how to do the Running Man, or invent a dessert. Let them go roll in mud puddles - and join them. I mean, we can have fun with this SAHM gig.
What are you going to do to keep from Shufflin' Everyday? Comment below!
I clearly remember my first day home with my son ... alone with my son (and I guess the dog was there, too). I was terrified. My husband was back to work. Now what?
I sat on my purple couch on that hot July morning, not knowing what to do until my husband got back. There was no real schedule. I nursed on demand. Changed a diaper when needed. Let the dog out when he looked at me in that "I-need-to-go-out" sort of way. I felt like I was lost at sea except for the cues to feed myself, the baby, and the dog.
So what do I suggest to brand-spankin'-new SAHMs on their first day home? What can you do to make your first day home a success? How can you avoid the overwhelm of feeling like there is a whole day and you have no idea where to begin? Here's my list: