For a host of practical reasons, becoming a stay-at-home mom was the right choice for me and my family. And yet, despite loving my 16-month-old son and generally enjoying the time we spend together, there’s no denying some days drag.
While my husband’s off doing who knows what exciting grown-up stuff he gets to do after leaving for the office, I’m back at home, cooking, cleaning, shopping and doing the laundry day after day, all while chasing after our toddler and tripping over his toys. Sure, motherhood has its joys, but it can also be — dare I say — boring. Certainly, after an hour cycling through the same four picture books my son insists I read to him, life can begin to feel a bit dull.
Chicago mom Danielle Antosz commiserates: “I feel like a jerk for not being grateful (which I am), but also — early up, kids, work (from home where the kids are with the sitter), make dinner, walk dogs, kids to bed, couch for shows. Rinse repeat. Over and over and over.”
If you’ve ever fantasized about literally running away from it all, you’re not alone. According to moms everywhere, along with this study conducted by the Psychological Sciences Research Institute in Belgium, parental burnout — just like professional burnout — is real. Particularly if you lack enough support, parenting can leave you feeling exhausted, ineffective and emotionally distant from the very beneficiaries of all your unpaid work (i.e., your partner and kids).
Short of joining the circus, there’s no escaping my life, and so — for the sake of my sanity — I’ve figured out some things to do as a stay-at-home-mom to beat the boredom and burnout that inevitably comes with parenthood.
1. Create a routine
When my son Oscar was still an infant, my days flowed nebulously from one diaper change to the next. Then, I began to break the unstructured hours I spent alone with the baby into smaller, more manageable chunks. Between feedings and naps, I created a morning and afternoon playtime filled with activities I’d plan in advance. (Nothing fancy. Think: “Go to the playground,” “Help mommy clean” or “Play upstairs with the blocks.”) Thinking of the day as a series of relatively fun, reasonably paced activities helped time move more steadily.
Having a daily flow not only gives mom a sense of structure, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, routines are good for kids, too.
2. Talk to another adult
When I find myself feeling isolated, I might just need to talk about it or anything, really — to anyone who will listen. One of my favorite parts of the day is the stroll Oscar and I take up the street every day to the local cafe for a latte. Sure, I could make myself a coffee at home for free, but that $4.50 buys me more than a caffeine fix. It buys me 15 minutes of conversation with a grown-up, which — as anyone who spends all day with a babbling toddler knows — is priceless.
Anne Rudig, a mother from Staten Island, New York, confesses, “I used to wait for the mailman just to have a sentence or two of conversation when I was home with my first one.”
3. Work from home
According to that Belgian study, workers incurring burnout view family life as a safe haven. But for many parents incurring burnout, work can become our safe place.
To deal with the emotional exhaustion and lack of personal accomplishment that often accompanies parenting, I’ve kept working part time as a freelance writer and teacher. Instead of folding laundry when the baby naps, I’m writing articles and responding to my students. Yes, it’s more on my plate, but as someone who’s used to intellectual stimulation, the mental challenge is necessary.
4. Get out
Eight hours in an 800-square-foot apartment would drive anyone batty. For an excuse to get dressed in the morning, look for free or low cost events in your community. My family is lucky to live within walking distance from a library that hosts a daily story hour for tots. Playgrounds, bookstores and cafes often dedicate space that accommodates young children. You might also look into adults-only activities that offer free or low-cost child care, even if they take you outside your comfort zone.
Ashley Jonkman, a mom from Albuquerque, New Mexico, never considered herself an athlete. But after her third baby, she says she felt sluggish and wanted to lose weight.
“I also was drowning in the monotony of it all,” Jonkman says.
Now, Jonkman drops her children off at the gym’s babysitting service while she takes a CrossFit class.
“I forget about myself as ‘mommy’ and become someone else for an hour,” she says.
5. Be social (on social media)
When you can’t get out, there’s always the internet.
Yameena Malik, a mom in Galle, Sri Lanka, says exchanging random WhatsApp messages with her mom helps her make it through the day.
Kathleen Porter Kristiansen, of London, England, connects with others on Instagram.
“I know many people think social media is a dark hole of comparison,” says Kristiansen. “But it has connected me to so many wonderful people who I would not have met otherwise.”
6. Give yourself a break
London mom Anita Lehmann says boredom led her to get honest with herself about her child care needs.
“For me, it’s a few hours every day without the kids,” she says.
Me, too. When Oscar dropped down to one nap a day, I nearly snapped. To give myself the break I desperately needed, I hired a mother’s helper for a couple hours in the afternoon. While the cost of hiring help was a consideration, the mental benefits were worth it. While my baby is safe and entertained, I can run errands, get some work done or just enjoy a moment to myself.
7. Make sure it’s nothing more serious
Needing a break every now and again is totally normal. But if you remain constantly overwhelmed and/or disinterest is your principle feeling towards your child, experts say it might be more than just the typical “baby blues.”