You hear all of the positives of staying home all the time: you never miss a minute in your child's blink-and-its-over childhood, a better bond between mom and child, no daycare germs coming home, etc., but very rarely are the negatives thrown out there.
Really though... does anyone ever mention the downside before you throw yourself into it? Hell no! Thanks to the lovely way society portrays stay-at-home moms, we think we're going to get to sit at home every day, sleep until lunchtime every day, catch up on reality tv, soap operas, and talk shows, and maybe run to the store a couple of times, a doctor's visit here and there, oh and 20 playdates a week.
I'm pretty sure most of us envisioned something like this:
Sadly, even when you Google "stay at home moms" all you find is pictures like this or...adult themed hahaha. Try "stressed out stay at home mom", or "overwhelmed SAHM", maybe even "sad SAHM"... not much comes up. So of course if we are looking for an image to represent our life and all we can find is images like the one above, we feel ashamed to say that's just not quite how it goes down. In my household, the only time we pile up and cuddle on the couch is when someone isn't feeling well. And then of course its just me and the one child who is sick, while the other two lay in the floor kicking and screaming or breaking something. Then of course the house work piles up because I can't walk behind every one cleaning and then I'm stressed and pissed off by the time hubby gets home because I know in his mind he's thinking, "I've been at work all day and she can't even clean the table off?"
Search long enough and you'll find a more appropriate image of what stay-at-home life is like. Here's a couple that are at least somewhat appropriate:
Now, if that's more like your life, keep on reading. If not, I advise you to move your cursor up to the "X" on the top right hand corner and kindly see yourself out because its about to get real and I'm not sure you can handle it!
I'll be the first to admit I go back and forth with my career choice. I keep getting jobs that I throw myself into when my husband's work schedule allows me to. There's never an option to pay for childcare for three kids just for me to have a part time job so it has to be during his off time so he can watch them and let me get out of the house. I start living in this fantasy world where I'm like "Yes! Yes! I can do this! I can totally be a career mom! I can get up, get dressed, do awesome at my job, AND stay on top of the housework too, and I'll be less stressed out and I'll be happy so it will be best for the kids in the long run!"
But then it happens. Reality comes into play. Because mommy isn't home all the time, the structure and schedule I've worked so hard to achieve in these four years just falls apart. They start refusing to take naps when they're supposed to, they stop eating foods that they enjoy, they start hitting and talking back. THEY do not react well to Mommy being out of the house. No, they don't beg me not to leave. Heck, they don't even tell me they missed me while I was gone. But their little minds start telling their little emotions that something is going on and all hell breaks loose.
So then I'm back. Full-time mom. Of course, I work from home so I don't "give up" on myself completely but that free time is gone. So is a major bit of my sanity. But rather than simply throwing my hands up and admitting defeat, I fight back. I've spoken before about my past as a hoarder, and when I say that I'm not exaggerating. Full blown piles-on-top-of-piles-all-stacked-to-the-celing-in-every-room hoarder. Because of those tendancies, I try my hardest to be sure I never "relapse" and have it happen again and I also try to control any chances of my children being exposed to anything like that. Now, its not easy, mind you, to keep a house even "tidy" with three kids 4 and under, muchless orderly. But, and I'm about to say something that's going to piss a lot of people off, I absolutely despise women who say its pointless to clean with a child in the home, because no, its not! All you're doing by saying that and by sticking to it is telling your children that they aren't responsible for cleaning up messes and that you'll handle every mess they make, once THEY have decided they want to give it up for the day and go to sleep. Why in the hell would any mother allow her children to think like that? Doing that is why there are so many men who end up not knowing how to wash a load of clothes or how to load a dishwasher. They've lived their whole life knowing that if they just leave that pile of dirty clothes there in the floor, mom will have it picked up, washed, folded, and put up by the time they get up in the morning, and that when they're done eating the food that mom prepared for them, if they just leave the plate on the table, a magical little fairy will come by and swoop it up, carefully place it in a miracle cleaning machine, and it will end up back in the cabinets where it belongs, waiting to be filled back up with a freshly prepared meal the next day! Now... see where this is a problem?
If you let your kids see you slaving over the housework every evening while they watch TV with dad, that is how they learn things will be cleaned. So, while their little brains are mushy sponges that absorb every single thing they see or hear, why not teach them some independence? Some responsibility? Some work ethic maybe?
Its not as hard as it sounds, trust me. If I can keep my house at least somewhat presentable at all times of the day, so can you. I live in a tiny little 1900's mill-village house with microscopic closets (and only 4 of them at that!), one bathroom, and NO laundry/utility room! Oh, and of course, no playroom! Imagine cleaning THAT with three kids, all who are mobile (Mac is now crawling and holding on to things and walking!)
So now to the "how-to" list. Its not complicated, its not mean spirited. Its what I do and its what I get asked about more than anything.
Staying Sane while Staying Home:
1. Make the kids wake up! Make them take naps!
I have stressed this time after time after time. It has been proven, by actual licensed doctors, that not taking naps can have negative effects on growing children. That alone should be enough to make you say okay, lets do this. But since I know some silly people out there who insist that it is impossible to make their child take a nap, I will say this again. Drag your kid out of the bed when you get up. A good time is 8:00 am, maybe 9:00 if you prefer. It doesn't matter if they went to bed at 4:00 am the night before, make them get up. Yes, they're going to be a pain in the ass all day but thats the point. Don't let them fall asleep until you say so. See them sitting on the couch rubbing their eyes at 10:30, head leaning to the side? Then scoop them up and take them outside to play. Get them up and tell 'em you want to dance. Do something to get them moving. Maybe throw in "see, you should have went to bed at bedtime last night and you wouldn't be sleepy!". Whatever works. Wait until a reasonable time and tell them that its time to lay down and take a nap. In their bed. Not on the couch watching tv, not in your arms, yada yada. Mine lay down around 1 or 1:30 and usually all fall asleep by 2. Yes, all three. Same time. Its amazing. You'll thank me later. Don't let them sleep too long. An hour, two hours at the most. They'll wake up sweet as can be and ready to go.
2. Ask for help!
Kids get on your nerves following you around? Do you swear you can't wash dishes or do laundry because the kids are right behind you, stepping on your ankles, knocking you down, tripping you or each other? Well, give them something to do. When I have something to do mid-day, I enlist the help of my little ones. What's better than 2 efficient hands to get a job down? More than 2, duh. So I put little guy in his room to play, or sometimes in his high chair to eat some snacks, and I ask the two oldest to help me. If I'm washing dishes (which I rarely am in the afternoons, I'll get to that later), then I ask them to walk around the house and see if they can find any dishes. If they come back empty handed, I ask them to go back and double check and make sure no one left any sippy cups under the bed. This just makes it take longer, of course, which is the point. When they come back I praise them for what they did (rewards are key with kids, even if its just a verbal reward) and we move on to the next thing. I might ask them to help me dry the dishes (yep, we're dishwasher free), or maybe to grab their stool and help me put the silverware up or the pots and pans up. If I'm doing laundry, I give them a pile of wash cloths and ask them to fold them, or I hand them a stack of their t-shirts and ask them to go put them away in their rooms (yes, they will unfold the stuff. That's why you do one thing at a time and you just let it go). I also give them a laundry basket and tell them to go find dirty clothes and then put them in the laundry sorter. Easy as that. Kids love feeling like you need their help instead of the other way around. Use this to your advantage!
3. Clean every 15 minutes!
You can reread that as many times as you like. Its not a typo. Yes, I said clean every 15 minutes. Sounds horrible right? Its not, trust me. It only takes kids 5 mins to make a mess. Well really it takes them about 30 seconds but they can do some pretty severe damage in 15, so thats a good number. Announce to them that its time to clean. Sing the Barney song if you need to. My kids think its more fun that way. Sometimes we turn it into a race. I keep an empty bucket, basket, or container of some sort around in every room just for our clean up time. I get the container and tell them its time to clean and then if we're racing we put it in the middle of the room and we see who can fill it up with toys the fastest. If there's only a few things out then I tell them specifically what to do (for example: "Gracie, please pick up your baby doll and your purse and take them and put them where they go in your room." Take it a step further by being specific: "Gracie, please put your baby's bottle in the kitchen in your room".)
You have a role here too though, not just them. Take a look around and see if any trash has piled up anywhere. If it has, throw it away now. Don't wait until the next time you get up to go in the kitchen: that's exactly what creates clutter. Same goes for dishes, shoes, dirty clothes. All your doing is a quick "tidy up" every 15 minutes to keep things from becoming too much to handle. This is also teaching your kids to clean up with things when they're done with them.
4. Have a routine & schedule for yourself
To me, this is more important than the other things that I do because its something that has become like therapy for me. I hate washing dishes with a passion, and like I mentioned before, we don't have a dishwasher in the house we're renting, so there's no way out of it. To make it something I could stand, I started doing this little trick: I put Pandora on my Kindle Fire, set up my favorite stations, and I use my dishwashing time as my private time. I like to do it twice a day: once right after I wake up, and before I get the kids up and start breakfast, and once before bed when they've been tucked in already. It gives me time to be by myself and it also gives me something to take my frustrations out on! I have a "routine" for days and nights, and they both help me stay on top of cleaning and also help me unwind and have time to collect my thoughts and get in my parenting zone! They go as follows:
1. Get up, brush teeth, get dressed (even if I'm not going anywhere I usually do this, just to make myself feel better. Often times I even put make up on.)
2. Make up the bed (hey, statistics have shown that people who make up their bed daily are happier in general! Plus it makes for a good night's rest later on)
3. Drink a big glass of water, take meds and vitamins, start a load of clothes.
4. Wash dishes, clean counter tops.
5. Make a small breakfast & check emails, do a few surveys, online shopping, whatever.
6. Wake kids up
For night time its a little more flexible but still mostly the same stuff:
1. Put kids in bed
2. Wash dishes, do a load of laundry, get clothes put in washer for next morning.
3. Clean counter tops, put away anything that was left out
4. Make an extra bottle for MacKinley to have in the morning as well as a sippy cup for each child to have in the morning (put all in the fridge)
5. Check email, read, do surveys, watch TV, workout
6. Bath, then husband time, bed time.
5. Make things easier for yourself!
This is something thats really important but its going to be different for everyone. Just try to simply things for yourself as much as possible. Don't worry about taking shortcuts in life-sometimes they're necessary! If your kids drive you insane first thing in the morning begging for a sippy cup before the sun even comes up, wait until they've been asleep a while and make them a cup and sneak it in their room. Leave it to where they'll see it when they get up to beg you for it. It saves so much aggravation. You might be teaching them that there will always be a cup there waiting for them magically haha, but hey, like I said, it says aggravation. You can handle the "where'd it come from" element at another point in time. Does the baby wake up at the same time every single night to have a bottle handed to him? Then buy a formula dispenser (I use Nuk's!), fill it up for the night, and have a bottle of room temperature water already waiting in his room so all you have to do is dump the formula in, shake, and hand it to him. So easy you can do it half asleep!
6. Make a chore list
We just did this a few days ago and its already been a hit in my house. I gave the kids super easy jobs that I knew they wouldn't mind doing. Then we made a colorful poster for each and drew a picture of them beside the list so that they would know it was their list. Then we put a sticker beside each chore that would remind them what their chore is since they can't read. The chores are really simple things like putting their clean clothes up every morning (they have a sticker of a shirt beside it so they say "oh yeah, I have to put my clothes up!"). We also have help mommy put up silverware, wipe off table (they have their own little Mickey Mouse table they eat at in the kitchen), and bring dirty clothes from the bathroom to the laundry sorter. Reward them for doing them if you want to, but for mine just having the very visual and exciting "to-do" list is enough. They love it. I hung them on the bottom of the refrigerator door so its the first thing they see in the morning.
7. Set a bed time and a strong bedtime routine
I thank God for this every day. No, really, I do. Its what I'm most proud of. 9:00 pm is bedtime in our house. No kids are up after 9 whatsoever. Not even the baby. Since the boys share a room, this is how our bedtime routine goes:
1. Eat dinner
2. "Free" play time (they all play together in the same room, not the living room). It gives them time to run off their last bit of energy and wear themselves out.
3. While they play I get bed stuff ready: Lay their pajamas out in the living room, all in their own stack so they know where they are. I lay out any ointment, cotton swabs, lotion, or medicine we need as well. I make a hot bottle for MacKinley so it will be warm when he gets tucked in. I lay out a diaper with his pajamas, and of course underwear with the older kid's pajamas. I go to Balin's room and if the kids are playing in there I tell them they have to help clean and I tell them where every thing goes and they put it away. If they aren't in his room I call them in and have them get started.
4. Bath time (all of my kids take a bath together, its just easier that way right now). When I get MacKinley clean I wrap him in a towel and call Daddy in to take him and then I get the other two out. While Daddy and Mac have their little bonding time (he just slips his diaper on and pajamas), Balin and Gracie brush their teeth and we dry their hair. I tuck MacKinley in his crib with his bottle and leave him to get to sleep (he still occassionally cries for a few but not often).
5. Tuck ins-While Mac is getting to sleep I get the other kids in their pajamas and then we head to Gracie's room and clean up. Even if they didn't both make the mess, they always help clean each other's room. At the moment this is just easier for us because it pushes the other one to do the same and clean better or just as well. We read a book and then we tuck Gracie in. I take Balin to his room, tuck him in, say prayers, and then I go back into Gracie's room and tell her good night without anyone else in there and I say prayers with her.
8. Insist rooms be cleaned before anything else is done, no matter what!
Your mom probably had a rule when you were younger that your room had to be cleaned before you went to stay with a friend, or that the house had to be cleaned before vacation. Well, good for her if so, because this is a great rule and its one to take one step further. Make it a "before you do anything" kind of rule. We clean rooms here every single night before bed. No matter how tired I am or how tired they are, we clean. I sit in the floor, or stand in front of the door, and I point and tell them where to put every thing. Its not as hard as it sounds because we've designated spots for every thing (dolls and stuffed animals all go in the corner of Gracie's room, dishes and play food all go in her kitchen, she has a bag for baby clothes, etc, and Balin has a bookshelf, a dresser where he puts all of his "big" toys, a toy box, and a box for MacKinley's toys, plus one of those three-drawer organizers for smaller things like his trucks and action figures and stuff). We put every thing in the right spot every time, and we keep it in the same place so no one gets confused. We sit Gracie's babydoll strollers and baby beds and stuff in the same spot every day, and Balin's toys get set in the same spot. This just makes it easier for them to remember where things go. They like routine! Cleaning before bed means they wake up to a clean room and a good start to the day. If they get up in the middle of the night and play with something and don't put it up, its all cleaned up before they come out of their rooms in the morning. If they're leavning for the weekend to stay with their grandmother, or if its the middle of the day and we have to leave, we clean. If you don't have time for that, MAKE time. Set aside 15 minutes before you start getting ready to go somewhere and have them clean. They'll get the hang of it, I promise!
To make a very long story short, if you have chaos in your life, get rid of it. You don't have to walk behind your kids and pick up every mess they make just to keep things clean, but you do have to be consistent with teaching them how to do that themselves. Yes, they're going to keep dragging the same toys out. Thats what kids do. But just like you get tired of picking up the same damn toy every few minutes, they're going to get tired of it. Eventually they'll start putting it up on their own. The quick 15 minutes it takes to straighten up the house will keep it from taking ALL DAY to clean your house. If you straighten up every few minutes, you can just set aside one day of the week that you do a thorough clean, and then one day a month to do a DEEP DEEP clean. Set up days for every thing. Make a calendar so you don't forget when to do it. Pick up all trash, toys, dirty clothes, and dishes every 15 minutes, or maybe 30, sweep the kitchen once or twice a day, keep your counters cleaned off as they get dirty, and there won't be anything much left to do at the end of the day and your house will always at least look presentable. Vacuum once a day in the spots you can see, a twice a week underneath everything (moving the coffee table, getting the cracks between the walls and in the corners). Dust lightly every day but do a good dusting once a week. Yes your little cleaning breaks are going to interrupt things in your day, but the quicker you get it done the quicker you can go back to what you were doing and the less likely it is that you'll be overwhelmed in a few days and have to devote HOURS to cleaning.
Keep in mind, you may not be able to "retrain" your husband and make him pick up his laundry or put his shoes in the closet, but you CAN teach your kids to do things on their own and to help lighten your load as well. Don't underestimate what kids are capable of doing and DON'T let them force you into being a slave! You are a caretaker, and part of that is taking care of their future which you are doing by teaching them how to be independent.