You've decided to stay home with your kids. Congratulations on making a very important, yet often difficult decision. And welcome to your new role as CEO of a cottage industry called: Your Kids, Inc.
No matter how thrilled you are to be with your kids, going from the boardroom to the playroom can be a drastic change. "Much of stay-at-home mothering is harder than any other job," says Shannon Hyland-Tassava, Ph.D., author of The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How To Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos."Can you think of any other profession that has 24/7 shifts, no coffee or lunch breaks, and no vacation or sick days?"
We asked Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., a Care.com parenting expert and Dr. Tassava to offer advice for women making the transition from full-time professional to stay-at-home-mom. Here are their 6 tips - and why they work. (Tip: They may work for all you full-time nannies too.)
1. Set a schedule
Suddenly the day is over and you haven't showered, left the house or had an adult conversation. It's easy to get depressed. "Time can go quickly when there is no external pressure to get things done and you don't have a deadline," says Dr. Ludwig. You need to structure your time so that you can use it productively while still allowing for flexibility.
Why it works: A general schedule will make getting from 6 a.m. to bedtime a lot less stressful. "It gives some shape to the day and tells kids what to expect -- kids love consistency," says Dr. Tassava. You might like to leave morning activities open but have set times for meals, naps, art projects, a trip to the library, a visit to the playground and watching a special TV show. Whatever the timeframe, consistent blocks of time each day and week will work in everyone's favor.
2. Network in your industry
It's essential that you talk to others in your line of work to vent, swap strategies, have a good laugh and realize that you're all in the same boat on good days -- and bad.
Why it works: Both Drs. Ludwig and Tassava agree: Getting out of the house for any form of adult interaction will stave off loneliness and give you a support network. "Stay-at-home motherhood can be extremely isolating, especially when your children are babies, or when you're brand-new to SAHM-hood," says Dr. Tassava. She suggests: library story time, the playground, mom-and-toddler groups and classes, preschool drop-off and pick-up and school volunteering. Think about it like dating -- and start "picking up" moms with the best thing you have in common - cute kids! (Read "How I Do It" stories from other moms »)
3. Strive for good enough
Every professional has room to do better at their job, even moms, but you need to be realistic. Kids want TV, chicken nuggets and fries? Dr. Ludwig says go ahead -- if it will make the next hour easier for you. If your kids are healthy, loved and taken care of, don't doubt your ability. Work on being a great mom, not the perfect mom.
Why it works: "You'll never be a perfect mom, because there's no such thing; but chances are your 'job performance' is plenty good enough." The more you obsess over the right and wrong ways to parent, the more time you waste that you could be enjoying your children or coming up with a new way to spend rainy afternoons inside (shaving cream wall art anybody?). If on most days you can say you truly love your job and your kids, then you really can't do any better than that.
4. Hire a co-worker, aka, a nanny
It used to be that extended families all lived in the same house or on the same block. Childcare was just a holler away. Having MIL move in is probably not an option (or safe for your marriage). But neither is being a totally solo SAHM all week, and not giving yourself a break.
Why it works: At the office, you worked with a team of people to get a job done. The same goes for your home. With an extra set of hands, there is someone else to wash the bottles, make meals and go down the slide for the 100th time. And you finally have a chance to take a nap, go to the gym or run some errands, peacefully. Sweet joy! Whether you hire a part-time nanny, housekeeper, Au Pair or find a great babysitter, you'll find that the break and extra assistance helps you be a happier mom. (Get steps for hiring a nanny, faster » )
5. Socialize after hours
Step out of the role of mom: join a reading group, work with a charity, attend an art opening at the local library, or get a manicure with a friend. "Do anything where people expect you to show up and it will serve as part of your motivation for getting out," Dr. Ludwig says. Sprinkle these after-hours activities across the week -- like Monday and Thursday - to break up the week.
Why it works: Maintaining your adult identity outside of being a parent will stimulate your mind, body and give a boost to your self-esteem -- all of which will make you a better mom and partner. You'll connect with fulfilling people, create a role outside of your home (Zumba superstar, book club regular), and energize yourself.
6. Pay yourself
No, your kids won't set up your direct deposit. And they won't be praising you for your most recent project (finding that lost fire truck under the couch). So without a steady paycheck and an occasional sense of feeling undervalued, what's to keep you from quitting? You need a "salary" -- as well as positive reinforcement. "Remind yourself that you're doing some of the most valuable work there is, even if you're not getting paid for it," says Dr. Tassava. She also states that "Feeling undervalued comes from inner ambivalence, or a lack of validation from a spouse or partner."
Why it works: Any self-doubt is just making your job of SAHM more difficult. "You need to change the way you speak to yourself and start appreciating your own worth and hard work as a mom," says Dr. Tassava. It will actually make your job more fun. Don't feel shy in asking your partner as well as your kids for more appreciation -- a hug, a thank you, breakfast in bed. Getting paid can help you feel better about spending money without "making" it. Remember, you are doing a job. Payment can also come as an occasional treat like a weekend morning to yourself, a new pair of jeans, an extra day with a babysitter -- there are plenty of little ways you can feel rewarded.