This is an article that I have started to write so many times over the last year since becoming a “Stay at Home Mom.” The titles have varied, but the concept has remained the same–basically, how to enjoy your job as a stay at home mom and lead a consistently fulfilling life in the trenches of babies and domesticity. Just when I’d think I had it figured out, my daughter’s nap schedule would change, or she’d enter a new phase of development (or regression), or I’d get pregnant again (yay hormones!), or the YMCA pool would be closed after I had just spent my entire morning wrestling a bathing suit and sunscreen on my screaming toddler, and suddenly my whole system would crash and burn leaving me in the fetal position crying to my husband on the couch about how this was not the life for me and resenting him for “getting” to go to work every day. It felt like such a lose-lose situation too. I knew that even if I did find my dream job out in the world, I’d call in to quit the first day I pulled up to day care and had to leave my baby with someone else. Then I’d think of other moms who have it so much harder and have no choice BUT to leave their babies in daycare all day, everyday. And my resolve would be: “Ok, suck it up Amber. Your life may seem hard compared to some but you also have it so good compared to so many others.” But there in was my problem. Relativity.
Roosevelt said it best: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s pretty obvious that comparing your life to those who seem to have it better than you (your husband who “gets” to go to work, the mom who can afford a house cleaner, etc.) is a trap to steal your joy. But while it may seem humble–righteous even–to compare your life to those who have it worse than you in order to gain perspective and be more grateful, that too can be a trap. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to maintain a healthy perspective on & gratitude for your many blessings, but that comparison can send a subconscious message of shame: “You don’t need to fix or change or improve your situation. Stop being so selfish. You have it good enough!” But the truth is, as “stay at home moms” learning the ropes of our new roles and responsibilities, there is a HUGE learning curve. Each woman must take the time to learn which practices to adapt so that she may actually begin to ENJOY her job! And that’s the hard part friends–it’s on you! There is no handbook, no boss, no set schedule. And while there’s lots of job security (though it’s not uncommon for a cranky child to “fire” their mommy on occasion–tough luck kid!), there are also no weekly meetings in place for affirmations and constructive advice, no co-workers in place for camaraderie, no annual parties or vacation time in place–ding! ding! ding!–UNLESS YOU PLACE THEM THERE!
Hang with me here. Imagine you are CEO of a company called “[INSERT YOUR NAME]’s Motherhood, Inc.” I have no business degree mind you, but in general, as boss of “Amber’s Motherhood, Inc.” I know that it is my responsibility to create a work environment that will allow me and those affected by my work (my husband, my kids, my community) to thrive. As CEO I know that discipline and consistency are crucial to the day in and day out success of my company. I also know that flexibility will be needed, because nothing ever goes exactly as planned, not even for the most successful businesses. I need goals. I need rewards. And I need a practical plan in place. This plan is not one size fits all, because we are all unique, but in general the “Law of Best Practices” is a good place to start.
“The Law of Best Practices” boils down to this: Find those who do what you do and do it well. Learn from them.
After my last ugly stay at home mom break down, I felt so hopeless and couldn’t seem to muster the emotional energy to take charge of my life. In that moment my husband believed in me. He looked me in my lifeless, mascara stained eyes and said simply: “Babe, you’re made of tougher stuff than this.” If you don’t have someone saying those words to you, let me be the one. Momma, YOU are going to figure this out. Everything you need is already in you. How you feel now is not how you’ll always feel. You will do the work. You will trial and error. And you will succeed! You may not see how, but I do. I see that you are powerful, simply because you are woman–the crescendo of God’s creation–giver and nurturer of life itself, and you are made of tougher stuff than this!
I hope those words help kindle a fire in you like they did in me. It’s the moment in the movies when the female lead finds her mojo and the energetic montage of self-care and self-belief ensues. It’s the fire to know that you have the power to change your situation. A fire to find other women in your walk of life–whatever that may be–who are happy and thriving, and to learn from them. Google is actually a good place to start. There are so many amazing women sharing their experience in blogs these days. My google searches were (and this is pulled directly from my browser history): “How to be a happy stay at home mom,” “Happy stay at home moms,” “How to make stay at home motherhood more enjoyable,” “Why am I a bitter stay at home mom?,” “How to thrive in motherhood,” and “What do happy moms do that I don’t?” I read and read and read, gobbling up advice and tips from happy stay at home moms online. Then I talked to a few happy stay at home moms that I’m privileged to know in real life and questioned the heck out of them, taking note of every practice they couldn’t do without. Then I condensed.
So here it is friends:
The Top 10 Practices of Happy Stay at Home Moms!
1-ONE: Live a mission centered life.
This is the foundation of it all. In fact, the consensus was that without this step everything else on the list–though practical–would ultimately be futile. We have all gone through periods in life when we’ve thought, ‘is this all there is’? Those periods come especially frequently to stay at home moms with young children. You feel trapped in a mundane seemingly meaningless routine when deep down everything you is crying out–most likely in the direction of your husband–that you were made for more than laundry and cooking! You were made for a mission!
As followers of Christ, our family gets our mission from Jesus. But even if you’re not a practicing “Christian” there is still a message and a mission to be gained here. In Luke 10 a man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit life?” Jesus in essence asked him, You’ve read God’s Word. What do you think? (Yes, Jesus wants us to think for ourselves.) The man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirmed this man’s answer: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” Jesus went on to explain who our neighbor is in The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews was long-standing and fierce. In fact, Jews were to have no dealings with Samaritans in that time. However, in His parable Jesus uses the example of a Samaritan to give us our mission. In the parable when a Jewish man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead by the side of the road, it was not the priest or the Levite (like an assistant to the priests in the Jewish temple) who stopped to help him. In fact they both passed by on the other side of the road as to avoid him altogether. It was ultimately a Samaritan man who saw the man and took pity on him. The parable says that “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii [*form of money] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus asked. The expert in the Law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” [the Samaritan] …Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
How beautiful! Jesus gives us a mission to live our lives like this Samaritan–to go above and beyond in investing our time and money and resources to care for the hurting around us (even if they are people you don’t agree or typically “have dealings” with).
So our family mission is two-fold:
- To love God with everything within us.
- To love people.
In this mission centered life, there is unity and JOY! It is always in the times when I forget the mission and start focusing solely on my own desires that discontentment and complacency begin to take hold in my mind. Priority one then becomes to get it into high gear by loving on the Lord with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind. I light candles, put on worship music, talk to Him out loud about how holy and faithful and beautiful He is. I read Psalms with my daughter. I look at my baby girl deeply, savoring her, and give Him thanks for such a precious gift. Of course it’s best to live this on the daily, and not just when you’re crashing and burning in the pits of depression. To love on God with all you are–consistently day in and day out, that is the key. There may not be candles and singing, but there is waking up and saying “Good morning Lord, I love you.” There is time with Him in his Word. There is thanks for His many blessings, and there is praise for who He is and all He’s done.
As for the practical day in and day out application of loving people in the context of stay at home motherhood, Lisa Chan lays it out beautifully in her book “You and Me Forever” co-written with her husband Francis. Lisa writes, “I want you to seriously ask yourself: Do I spend more time focusing on being a good spouse and parent, or more time focusing on being a godly person? I’m talking about the difference between, “I’m taking the kids to the park today because they will love that,” and “I’m inviting our new neighbor to the park with us because not only will my kids love it, I can reach out to her and make sure she knows I am here for her if she needs anything.” It’s also the very simple but profound difference between running each day of your own agenda, and actually taking the time to be with Jesus, to pray and ask Him to show you the people He wants you to love and the needs He wants you to meet.”
2-TWO: Get on a schedule that includes daily outings!
For me this means every day after breakfast, I get my toddler dressed for the day and we load up in the car for our daily morning “adventure.” I literally ask the Lord, “What today?” I’m in community with a group of moms who will send texts every now and then like “Hey we’re going to the Library today at 9am if anyone wants to join.” So where we actually end up going can depend several things like what other moms are doing that day, what the weather is like, and what kinds of kid friendly activities our city is offering. Whole Foods does a a lot of kid friendly activities where we live in Tennessee, as do churches. Also a great resource for activities is your county’s “parenting magazine” or local Facebook mom groups, as well as your local YMCA and public library. We always pack a snack and we’re pretty much always back around 12pm or 1 for lunch and nap time. I’m in that sweet spot of toddlerhood with my daughter now where I have trained her for one 2-hour afternoon nap, but being as I’m almost 39 weeks pregnant, I know that it is going to be vital for me to get back out as soon as my new baby and I heal postpartum, even if that means sleep training my infant to have her morning naps while we are out and about. In general our go-to weekly activities include a mom group book study, public library, play gyms (like Impact Sports or Monkey Joe’s), outdoor parks, the zoo, gatherings at mom friend’s houses, or the YMCA for a workout and shower for me. The smallest of conversations and eye contact with other people can do wonders in staving off that stay at home mom isolation and simply having somewhere to be (even if that somewhere is just “out”) can give your day a feeling of purpose and hopeful expectation as well as opportunity to love on others.
3-THREE: Enforce a daily LIFE-GIVING break time!
“Nap time” is a deceiving term for this break when you have a toddler like me because my little girl isn’t always sleeping for that full 2-hour “nap” she gets every day. However, she is still required to spend that full time in her room. Whether she sleeps or plays is up to her. As for having a newborn daughter again soon, I know that I will need to work her naps as best I can around this break time, as well as enforce individual play-time for her as she gets older… Basically, whatever I have to do to keep this time sacred. In the past, I have struggled with my worst SAHM-burnouts when I have not done well to respect this time and let it be what it needs to be for me. I would usually scramble to clean or start dinner or just zonk on the couch to watch tv or lose those hours scrolling social media (none of which give me life–though they may for you). That’s why in order to maximize this break time, you must learn yourself as a woman. It’s trial and error for sure, but you must keep trying until you find something or things that make you come alive–something that breathes inspiration into your identity as a person and not just as a “mom” or “wife.” For me, I’ve learned I am filled with life-giving energy when I get my own nap time in bed (especially when combating pregnancy fatigue), or when I put on some good oldies music and sit down to write and blog, or if the weather is particularly beautiful I’ll go lounge in the sun with a good book, or I’ll play my guitar and sing. Whatever it is, ask yourself, “Did that just drain me or fill me with energy for the rest of the day? Am I more frustrated or more content after doing that? Do I look forward to telling my husband about what I did, or will I shrug it off as just another day?”
4-FOUR: Make the mundane magical!
That’s basically my alliterative way of saying find ways to make the boring domestic tasks more fun. For example, since becoming a stay at home mom I suddenly hated cooking and cleaning, which was especially depressing because I used to love doing both. Then it dawned on me, I don’t cook and clean like I used to before I had kids. Before when I would cook, I did so in a creative, almost romantic space. I would put on music, light a candle, pour a small glass of wine and dive into the creativity of making something delicious. Since having my daughter, I usually scrambled to throw together something quick, with all the lights on, some obnoxious kids show blaring in the back ground, and zero mood set other than the exasperation of my own. Now when I get my daughter up from her 2-hr break time, the tv stays off. I turn on some good music, light that candle, pour a glass of wine (or yummy tea when I’m pregnant), set my daughter up at the dining table with some creative tasks of her own (crayons, sticker books, play dough, etc), and get to nourishing my family while also nourishing my soul! The first day I put this in to practice, I put on an oldies playlist and set my daughter up with crayons and paper. My heart exploded when I looked over to see her coloring with a big smile on her face and literally dancing in her chair to the music. It was so cute I started dancing with her. She got really excited, climbed out of her seat, and we had an impromptu dance party in the living room. It was such a special reminder of how as mom, my approach to the mundane totally sets the stage for my children’s childhood. Same thing goes for cleaning. I used to love cleaning because that was when I would set the mood by putting on my favorite energizing playlist or listen to my favorite podcasts or have my favorite tv shows on in the background. I realized that once again I had stopped setting an energizing and rewarding atmosphere for myself to clean and instead started treating it like some miserable chore that I had to do since I didn’t “get” to go to work like my husband.
5-FIVE: A little cleaning a day keeps the crazy away!
Pretty much every happy stay at home mom I’ve talked to or read about online swears by a cleaning schedule. It doesn’t have to be super regimented if that’s not your thing, but the general rule is to cycle the chores throughout the week and do a little bit every day so that it doesn’t take too much thought or stress to keep your house tidy. For me and our home, I’ve found the following Monday-Friday schedule to work like a charm. When I stick to this schedule week in and week out, I can pretty much get my daily chores done in 30 minutes or so before my daughter wakes up (yay having time to clean the toilet without a 2 year old trying to climb in it!), AND it frees up our evenings and weekends when Daddy is home for fun and family because everything with the house is taken care. Don’t get me wrong, by Sunday afternoon, the bathroom desperately needs a good wipe down, but I never worry about it because I know that Mondays are my bathroom days and I’ll get to it then. That pretty much goes for all the chores. So here’s my schedule (As you’ll see, I give all the floors an extra day of love because they usually need them. In the case that the floors have stayed pretty clean that week, I just skip it.):
Monday- Bathrooms & Laundry
Tuesday- Kitchen & Dining room
Wednesday- Living Room & Office
Thursday- Bedrooms & Laundry
Friday- Touch up all the floors & clean front porch
6-SIX: Stay connected with your spouse!
Ooh this is SO vital! Becoming a stay at home mom was a huge shock to my relationship with my husband, mainly because our lives and our worlds suddenly became less and less relatable. It began a toxic cycle of one-upmanship to see who’s day was harder. Of course being stuck home with a baby, I always won… which just made me resent him even more. I was so lonely all day and yet when he walked in the door all energized and independent, I felt like I couldn’t get away from him fast enough. Obviously the problem wasn’t him. It was me. I needed to get serious about enjoying my job so I could stop resenting his. On top of that there were a few other practical tips I learned from other happy SAHM’s to stay connected with my man:
1-Start your days together. My husband leaves for work about 30 minutes before I usually get up myself. I used to take that time for the extra sleep, but then I realized that part of the distance I felt from him was not seeing him until he came home from work at the end of the day. So I sacrificed those 30 minutes to share a simple cup of coffee and maybe even a sleepy conversation with my partner. It isn’t much but it reminds me first thing every day that I have a team mate in this life.
2-Meet him at work for his lunch break. We try to do this at least once a month. Besides the benefit of just getting to see our guy when we usually wouldn’t, it also allows me as his partner to get a pulse on and an appreciation for what he does when he’s away from us every day. I get to see his work space and any projects he’s in the middle of. I get to catch up with and meet new coworkers. I get to feel just a little bit more connected to his work world and thus just a little bit more connected to him.
3-Reconnect every day with “couch time.” Every day when my husband walks in the door, everything stops. We literally greet with a kiss and head straight to the couch. We get all cozy in each other’s snuggles and share about each other’s day–and guess what?!…since putting these practices into effect, I actually have things I’m excited about sharing with him instead of him being the only one with anything of note to talk about. Our daughter knows that Daddy will play with her when couch time is over, but our initial connection is about us as a couple. Even when we meet at the disc golf course after work, we still try to put the principle of “couch time” into effect by holding hands and putting our full attention on each other first. This is important not just to stay connected with your spouse but also because it is fostering your kid’s ideas of what makes a good marriage. It gives children a great sense of security to see that the foundation of their family–their parent’s love for each other–is solid.
4-Make your shared interests a priority in your free time. For us that mainly includes ministry efforts (like helping people in need or leading Financial Peace University Classes at our church), disc golfing, working on side photography & videography projects together (we started a media business together called Keeler Creations when we got married and have always loved running that together), and playing board games (we’re competitive to the max, but we always have so much fun regardless). Investing regularly into your shared interests does wonders to reinforce your friendship and camaraderie outside the context of parenthood. Keeping up with those shared interests also goes a long way to prepare your marriage for that empty nesting period when your kids go off to start their own lives.
5-Dates & Getaways! Our monthly date night budget is meager to say the least and our travel budget is nonexistent, but we’ve gotten pretty good at coming up with cheap and creative ways of connecting outside the norm of our lives. The best date nights for me are when we dress up for each other like when we were dating. I get ready apart from him and then I text him so he can go outside, knock on the front door and come pick me up. It gives me as a woman the chance to present my beauty (cheesy but true) to him like I did when we were first falling in love. For him as a man, it sends the message that I still desire him and desire to be desired by him. Sometimes we don’t even go anywhere. We stay in for dinner and a movie. Or we’ll just go out for a frozen yogurt or coffee or to walk the mall. The point isn’t what we do, but doing it together. The best is when our daughter spends the night with family and we get a night & morning all to ourselves. It’s basically our version of a getaway. We always do our best to stay up crazy late and act like a couple of kids ourselves! Then we sleep in until we can’t sleep in any more and spend all morning relaxing in bed with coffee until the very last minute before we have to leave up pick up our girl. The key here is breaking the norm–forcing yourselves out of the rut of your usual routine to forge fresh paths as lovers and friends.
7-SEVEN: A little exercise a day keeps depression away!
The research is astounding: regular exercise can treat the symptoms of and occasionally even cure depression. Both my husband and I are blessed to come from very active families passionate about health and fitness. I personally live by the teachings of my Dad’s professional life’s work: The Biologic Revelation. It boils down to quality over quantity, which is especially fitting for a busy mom with littles who doesn’t have hours to dedicate to any long-winded training. I easily squeeze in 3 20-minute weight-training workouts/week at our YMCA (also a very convenient time to take a kids-free shower while my daughter plays in the kid center). And on the days I don’t make it to the gym, I make sure to practice some yoga or meet my husband for a round of disc golf after work. Again the key is consistency. A little every day. Gotta get that daily dose of endorphines!
8-EIGHT: Respect your body’s nutritional needs!
As stay at home moms, it’s so easy lose sight of ourselves in light of our children’s needs. I can’t count how many times my lunch has consisted of my daughter’s sticky half-nibbled apples and bread crusts… Or how many times I got so busy packing her snacks and sippy cup, I forgot to eat breakfast altogether or pack a water for myself. In the end, I’m doing more harm than good to my daughter when I neglect my body’s nutritional needs. The whole family suffers when mom is sick or low energy or worse–hangry. The reverse is also true and the whole family thrives when mom is healthy and energized and properly satiated with nutrient dense foods! It’s simple, in order to perform and enjoy my job well, I must respect my body’s nutritional needs first! I’ll be sharing a blog soon that lists my favorite nutrient dense foods and products for quick on the go nutritional-boosts that are kid friendly too. That way even on the crazy days, I rest knowing our nutrition needs have been fully respected and satisfied.
9-NINE: Celebrate your beauty!
I had a dream when my oldest daughter was around 1 year old. In it I was sitting on the couch with crazy hair, dark bags under my eyes, frumpy clothes… you know, the classic over-worked and under-appreciated mom look. It was a look I had come to know well of late. Meanwhile, there was another girl in the room. She was radiant–glowing, smiling, full of life and absolutely captivating. You could tell she put care into celebrating her beauty and you couldn’t help but admire it. I looked at her from my grey space on the couch, invisible, and I began to cry as I mourned the death of my own radiance. I woke up with what felt like a brick on my chest and rolled over to tell my husband the dream. I asked him if he thought I was beautiful. He being the sweet heart that he is assured me that I was more beautiful in his eyes now than I had ever been. But I realized, it wasn’t his affirmation that I needed, it was my own. I told him later that day that I was determined to start investing more time into celebrating my beauty. In my discussions with other radiant mommas, they all agreed that just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean you should lose the self-care practices you enjoyed in your maidenhood. In fact, they went so far as to suggest that your family needs to see you celebrate your beauty–whatever that looks like for you. For me it means getting ready every day. I have always enjoyed that early morning light, listening to some Iron & Wine, pulling out a few of my favorite products and taking time to care for my skin, applying a little mascara, playing around with some lip color, adorning myself with fragrant oils and a simple necklace or earrings, putting together an outfit (usually the SAHM basic yoga pants, tank, zip up hoodie), and admiring my finished handiwork with a quick smile in the mirror. I hardly give another thought to my appearance for the rest of the day, but for that moment, when I meet my eyes with a smile, I feel radiant… and I carry that radiance with me wherever I go, even if I’m not going anywhere.
*BONUS TIP: Next time you’re looking for an inexpensive date idea, have a “Spa Night” at home with your husband. We did this just last week and it was so much fun! I scheduled our night to begin with a relaxing epsom salt bath with lavender essential oil. Then we did Bentonite clay face masks together, which are green and tingly and absolutely hilarious to watch your husband apply! Then we whitened our teeth and did mani/pedis. My nails were already done so I just got an extra long foot rub. (Side note: I did cut my man’s nails too short and he complained for days after at how tender they were lol whoops! But he still says he enjoyed the process.) Finally we ended the night by lighting candles and exchanging massages. It felt silly and fun and intimate and we both woke up feeling so refreshed!
10-TEN: Set a personal goal!
Setting a personal goal is so vital to keeping your identity alive sister! You’ll need that sense of identity more and more as your kids gain their independence, and even more during those empty nest years. Don’t wait until then to start asking yourself, “What goal(s) do I have apart from my kids?” Ask yourself that now. And be determined to protect those goals, because they really do matter. Scripture says that without vision the people perish. The same goes for a momma with no personal vision to set her gaze toward. I know, I’ve been there, and I’ve talked with many other mommas who have been there. Also, if your kids & your marriage are your only goal, you are setting your family up to disappoint you and possibly even resent you. But when you have a goal apart from your family, you not only show your children how to set personal goals, but you also give them the permission and space they need to follow your example and grow in their own identity too. So whether your goal is to take a class, learn a new skill, start a business, or write a blog (hi!), be sure that you are investing into that goal on a regular–at least weekly–basis.