Tips on Staying Home and Staying Sane

tiger-family“I don’t want to put my baby in daycare, but I’m worried that I will go crazy if I stay home all day. ” How is it possible to stay home with your baby and not end up in the loony bin? Below I list the strategies that helped me the most. I believe they can be helpful for employed mothers, and fathers too. They are ways of coping with the intense demands of parenting,and balancing your needs with the needs of your family.

When my oldest was born I decided to stay home with him, because I believed it to be the best thing for my him. And I set out to make it the best thing for me too. Here are some things that I did:

  1. Find a community. I looked for friends with babies as soon as mine was born. You won’t always find friends with children close to yours in age, but the community is more for you than your baby. Keep looking. If you can’t find a mother-baby group, start your own. And you don’t have to limit your circle to stay-at-home mothers, or even to mothers. Having been in school for so long we are used to having a large group of friends at our own age and stage. This is a good time to expand your horizons. You can learn a lot from the perspective of an experienced grandmother.
  2. Avoid activities requiring you to be somewhere at a particular time. I chose to stay home with my kids to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle for me and my children. (We’ll leave aside the temper tantrums, breakage, and harrowing escapes.) For me this meant delaying preschool, choosing volunteer and social commitments wisely, and avoiding carpools.
  3. Have a routine, but be flexible. Getting up and going to sleep at the same time is important. So is scheduling time for household chores.
  4. Vary activities. Have time for quiet, play, art, music, stories, outdoor activities, etc. It’s not necessary to do every activity every day, but over time kids should have opportunity for all of these. Too many days in a row either staying home, meeting the same friends, or going on long excursions can get frazzling, too.
  5. Plan the best time of day for the activities that you enjoy. It might be when the toddler naps, when two children are playing happily together, or even early in the morning while everyone is asleep. When things finally settle down after a crazy day, choose a calming activity instead of rushing to do a project. Expect to be interrupted. You will have more time at some stages than at others. The newborn and toddler stages are especially intense, but they pass and you can look forward to smoother times ahead.
  6. Keep a gauge on your moods. When you feel overwhelmed get out of the house or call a friend. If you are in the middle of something important and your kids start getting out of control, stop what you are doing and focus on them for a few minutes or as long as necessary. This is not spoiling–this is attending to their genuine needs. If they feel you are available when they need you they won’t be bothering you “all the time.” If you are never available they will just work harder to get your attention, and ultimately become resistant to cooperating with you. This doesn’t mean you need to jump up to do their bidding every minute. Sometimes if you tell them that you will help them in a minute they figure out how to do things themselves.
  7. Sometimes you need to invest money to stay sane. Just because you are not working doesn’t mean that you should never hire a babysitter, get cleaning help, join a parenting group, or see a private therapist, depending on your budget. If you or your kids aren’t ready for separation, inviting a young teenager to play with the kids while you are right there or in another room might be enough to give you the break you need. Sometimes what you need most is someone coherent to talk with.
  8. Volunteering. Volunteering is great because you can choose what skills you want to donate and have human interaction that is not all about your kids, with a lower level of commitment than with a paying job. And you can cite your volunteer experience on your resume later on. It is still a commitment, though, and it’s important to pick the right organization and position for your temperament and situation. I chose breastfeeding counseling because my kids are always welcome at functions, I get to connect with lots of mothers, and I can develop my knowledge base and my writing, counseling, and group-leading skills.
  9. Choose activities with your child that you both love. I enjoy reading out loud to my kids, but I regularly purge our home library of books I find irritating. It doesn’t matter that your neighbor is teaching her kids fractions or to play the piano�your kids can learn baking or folk-dancing. Share your interests with your children on their level. And as you learn what they like, you will develop new interests too. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy a wide range of activities.
  10. Involve your partner as an equal. Even though you do more of the day-to-day care, your husband is also a parent should be involved in long-term decisions. He also needs the opportunity to develop a relationship with each child and with the family as a whole. Nurture your own relationship as well. Contrary to conventional wisdom this doesn’t have to mean vacationing without the kids. Take the opportunities as they come and schedule them if you need to. Strive for full and open communication.
  11. The identity question. One of the hardest things for me when I became a “stay-at-home mother” was the label itself, and the stereotypes that went along with it. Yet some mothers are empowered by belonging a group. Everything depends on your attitude. Do you see staying home as something negative–not earning, not developing your career? Or is it a chance to focus on nurturing and educating your children, growing both as a mother and as a person, without the pressures of pleasing a boss? Whatever you choose, it does not have to be for a lifetime.

What has helped you survive parenthood with your sanity intact? Related posts:

Tips for Planning a Cooperative Playgroup or Camp

Frugal Strategies for Young Families

Top Parenting Posts

A Parenting Dilemma

Top Breastfeeding Posts

For Those with Low Housekeeping Standards

Is Homemade Food Worth the Effort?

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Comments

  1. Thank you for publicly acknowledging that staying at home with a baby can make you insane. Too often, women are made to feel that they are bad mothers if they don’t love every aspect of parenting their babies.

    • mominisrael says:

      Raizy: There’s a long way between not loving every aspect of parenthood and going insane. But you’re right, staying home is often idealized.

  2. THis woman should have read this
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090513.wfacts13/BNStory/lifeMain/home?cid=al_gam_mostemail

    I totally get that staying at home can be draining. What i guess i don’t get is someone who can’t stay home with them at all. Why have kids then? I’m trying to offend, tHis is an honest question. I can understand needing “me time” and grown up time but when that time is ten hours of a day (ie job) and one can only tolerate an hour or two at best with their kids, isn’t that a bit of a problem?

    • mominisrael says:

      Shorty: I think it is a problem. It takes time and practice to get to know your kids and enjoy them. My point is that there are a lot of mothers (by no means all) who would prefer to stay home if they had the social support and more realistic expectations.
      I feel like I had to stay home with mine *because* I was so clueless about babies. Had I spent so much time out of the house it would have been ten times harder for me to become close with my kids.

  3. shorty, there is a lot more to having kids than just the infant and toddler years. Someone who’s not good with little kids may be great with teenagers. I stayed home for a long time and I also worked full time for many years (on and off, and I’m currently working), and I will say that I enjoy older children more. The discussions I have with my older children Friday nights (after the draining little ones are asleep) are fantastic!

    • mominisrael says:

      Tesyaa–The infant and toddler years are the basis for the rest, and deserve the most effort. It’s one thing to enjoy certain stages more, and I’m sure that’s true of all of us. I found the 1-2 year-old stage particularly challenging–at least with some of my kids (but they are also delicious much of the time, when they’re not tearing the house apart). Are you implying that it’s okay for parents to do the minimum at the early stage and wait for the stuff they really like?

  4. That was a great post, Mom. Now I expect (and you have 22 days, according to my 13-year-old who doesn’t count shishi chofshis or Shabbats or….) an article on how to stay sane and entertain teens and tweens during the summer months. I’ll be waiting with bated breath.

  5. Tesyaa

    I understand and see your point. Thanks 🙂

  6. Tesyaa, excellent point.

    MII, this is a great list of strategies for new mothers. An addendum or another post about staying home with very social/active children might be helpful too.

    • mominisrael says:

      Abbi: Thank you. I was definitely looking at things from the mother’s point of view here. I will think about your suggestion. It is definitely much harder to stay home with the first, especially if s/he is very active or “needy.”

  7. This is a great list of statagies. I am first time mom with a toddler, but with more babies and children planned for the future, I appreciated your descriptions of stay-at-home coping behaviors. So far I have found that for us as a family, the flexible routine philosophy seems to work well in keeping harmony.

  8. MII, chas v’shalom! Of course I am not implying that parents of young children should do the minimum! I put SO MUCH effort into my kids when they were little, since for most of them I was home when they were infants and toddlers. It was even more effort because toddler care is not my thing. No, I was just responding to shorty’s questions, “Why have kids at all?” Just because I didn’t enjoy sitting on the rug playing and coloring (I was always surreptitiously trying to read a book or a newspaper) doesn’t mean I or someone like me shouldn’t have had children at all!

    I was intrigued by Abbi’s question about very active children. Maybe I would have enjoyed my toddlers more if they weren’t way, way more active than average (even the ones without diagnosed ADHD).

  9. mominisrael says:

    Thanks, Tesyaa, for clarifying. I’m too tired to sort it all out now–we may have had different understandings of what Shorty was asking.

  10. Great post! Thank you!!! Last week was hard because we had too many days in a row at home!! Thank you so much for the tips!
    mindy

  11. mominisrael says:

    Baila: As for teens, keep your wallet and fridge open, and their bedroom doors shut? I’m open to other suggestions.
    Tesyaa: I still don’t understand your comment about preferring teens. If a mother doesn’t enjoy being around her small children more than a couple of hours a day isn’t that a problem?

  12. I think the decision to stay home has to work for both parents and children. Just like it doesn’t work for some moms and dads, it also doesn’t work for some children. I’ve recounted this numerous times in my comments here, but I had planned to stay home with my oldest until age two, but my it was she who wasn’t interested in sitting on the floor and coloring at home. We had to be out all day every day, preferably playing with kids her age. I gave up at 16 months and she loved gan from the first day. Maybe if I approached it differently, it would have worked out differently. But I had tried numerous types of activities, we had weekly playgroups, but it simply wasn’t enough for her.

    My second daughter, on the other hand, was definitely more of a homebody and enjoyed (and still enjoys) playing on her own at home. My third already has a little playgroup of his own with his sisters who play with him and entertain him, so it’s less of an issue.

    Staying home also has to work for your spousal relationship. My husband really appreciates the income I bring in, both for the actual money it brings in and for what it represents in our relationship. Though I work from home, it requires that all of my kids be in some form of daily care throughout the week.

    I think every family has to find the balance of work and home that works for them.

    • mominisrael says:

      Re: comment at 7:19. I feel about staying at home the way I do about breastfeeding. I think it’s almost always ideal for the baby, but not necessarily for the mother. I’m not trying to talk anyone into doing something they don’t want to do. I do want to help and support the mothers who do want to stay home but find it hard. I agree with your last statement.

  13. MII: Some parents aren’t cut out for focusing 24 hours a day on their small children. It’s overwhelming and for many it’s simply boring. They resent being trapped at home, they resent not being able to develop their careers and blocks, paints and park time, day in and day out, is simply not for them. That doesn’t mean they don’t love their children or would not be much better at helping their children navigate the teenage or college years.

    These type of parents do much better with coming home from day of work and spending 3-4 hours together, where those hours are appreciated more than 24 hours filled with resentment.

    • mominisrael says:

      Re: 7:27: There’s a difference between not being cut out to stay home full time, and going out to work because you don’t enjoy being around your small children and want to wait until they become teens.

  14. Delurking to say thank you, this is a very timely post. I had one of “those days” yesterday that ended with me in tears wondering what I did wrong. I have also chosen to stay home–have 4 children, 1 in school, 1 in Gan, and a 3yo and 1yo. I have people ask me all the time why my 3yo isn’t in gan. For one thing, he was very reluctant to even talk to anyone except family until recently. I have no fears about language, his 2 older sisters talk to him in Hebrew all the time. I do have a question for you–I have been told it is required to send him at age 3. Is that so, or do I have another year? Any idea where I could find some info?

    • mominisrael says:

      Thank you Sarah, I’m glad you delurked. As far as I know gan at age 3 is not required anywhere. It is certainly not required in the major cities. I know the development towns have tuition-free gan from age 3 instead of 5, but I still don’t think it’s required. I’m sure one of my readers can correct me.

  15. Since we’re talking in such broad hypothetical generalizations, it’s hard for me to understand what the difference is. Obviously if parents actively dislike their small children, clearly there is something wrong. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with parents who feel more comfortable and find more enjoyment in teaching a child to ride a bike or taking them fishing rather than finger painting or wearing them in a sling. Conversely, I don’t think staying at home will guarantee that a mom will be great at the teenage years. Some moms have too much difficulty letting go and recognizing that their babies have grown up.

    I think the parent/child relationship is a delicate yet resilient balancing act. I think honesty is the best policy, both with ourselves and with our kids.

  16. Thanks Abbi, I think you basically covered my thoughts.

  17. mominisrael says:

    I’m not talking about preferring one age, or activity set, over another. I’m talking about parents who don’t enjoy the company of their children. You don’t have to enjoy carrying baby in a sling, but surely you should enjoy holding her (I don’t mean for hours on end while she is screaming)? You might not like finger paint but you might like finger games. If all you enjoy with your kids is teaching them how to ride a bike or giving dating advice, there is a bigger issue than whether to go out to work. That is the impression I was getting from this discussion and why I responded as I did.
    A while ago I blogged on an article by a woman who claimed that she found her kids boring until they were ten. That is what I am talking about.

  18. A lot time ago I wrote a post Call Me a Homemaker please. I don’t like the title “Stay-At-Home.” To me it denotes doing very little. A homemaker on the other hand is doing something active. Taking care of a household, even without children, is work. Taking care of a household with children is even more work. Adding on volunteer work or a small business is serious work.

    I like you tips. For those without the budget for help, a kid exchange or co-op can be just the thing.

    What I don’t get is the idea people have about homemakers/stay-at-home mom’s that they must play with their children all the time. I find that I am able to work quite independently on all sort of things so long as I a) give attention as needed and b) facilitate activities where my kids seem to drop the ball. This morning, I followed my own advice and have manage to really get some work done for clients. If I didn’t have so much work, I probably would have cleaned the bathroom.

  19. MII, where do you draw the “difference between not being cut out to stay home full time, and going out to work because you don’t enjoy being around your small children and want to wait until they become teens”? I think outside of a few extreme cases like Hollywood narcissists, all parents are captivated by their own kids’ growth and development and want to be a part of it.

  20. I’m sorry, I just don’t see why it’s problematic if there are parents who just aren’t that into little kid activities and are more comfortable with the older ages. Yes, there are parents who just aren’t into finger paints, finger games or anything like that. They find these activities boring- and I think that’s what that mother meant when she said she found her kids boring. I don’t think it was really the kids, I think it was the activities. I think they still love and cherish there children, they’re just not the get down on the floor type of people.

    I don’t have any strong memories of my mom actively playing with me as a young child or even an older child. My strongest memory is of coming in from playing outside with my friends and her lying on the couch reading. I definitely had one of those “Come home before dark” childhoods. I don’t have any memories of her playing on the floor with me or even reading to me. But I never doubted her love for me and we’ve always had a strong close relationship (uh, except when she drives me crazy. 😉 ). And actually, I have many more memories of going to museums with her as a young teenager, watching movies together and talking a lot on Friday nights on her bed. So clearly, my mother was one of
    those who just wasn’t that into the early childhood years.

    Ironically, she’s very into it now with her grandchildren, especially the arts and crafts part. She loves buying new crafts stuff for the kids and it’s like she’s just discovered the whole concept (I think I had one box of crayons as a kid, maybe). I don’t think finding childhood activities boring signals a larger issue. I agree with Tesyaa, I’m sure there are plenty of extreme cases around, rachmana l’tzlan. But I think it’s still within the bounds of normal to not be particularly into kiddie activities.

    • I now have, BH, 5 kids, ages 4-13. While I miss having a baby terribly, I can’t express how wonderful it is to be out of the “baby phase”, with all of its’ challenges. The diapers and diaper bags, the interrupted sleep, the strollers and car seats, the mashed food, the particularly destructive 1-2year old clashing and banging and mess… I love my children very much and am generally a great mother, and have enjoyed these last 13 years. But I can honestly say that I am enjoying my 11 year old and my 13 year old very much, with all our grappling with issues and clever conversations, and that it’s really ok to prefer different phases of child development. I was not the stay-home-all-day type, and was happy to send them to school at least part time, by age 2 1/2. I could enjoy them more fully when I wasn’t frustrated that I wasn’t getting other important things done for the family or for myself. No guilt over this… we have to know ourselves well, and remember that a happy Ema generally makes for a happy household.

  21. As far as I know the only gan called Hova (compulsory) which is also supposed to be free, is that of age 5-6 (year before starting school)

    Fascintaing post.

  22. mominisrael says:

    Tesyaa and Abbi,
    Shorty asked about a mother who sounded like she didn’t enjoy being with her children. I have heard women talking like that about their small children. Fortunately it’s rare. I wouldn’t presume to judge anyone. I can’t see into their hearts and know how they really feel–everyone has bad days. But if someone doesn’t enjoy small children I also wonder why they have them.

    Abbi, you’re right, the issue isn’t about one activity or even any activity. But your mother must have had to spend a lot of time with you before you were old enough to go outside until dark. Did she feed and change you and ignore you in your playpen?

  23. She actually regularly recounts how grateful she was that I played alone in my playpen when she was very sick during my brother’s pregnancy (we’re 14 months apart). She certainly didn’t ignore my brother and I completely- she was definitely very affectionate and loving-but I’m not sure how she would be judged by today’s mothering standards.

    I only have one brother and many times she has said that she had considered having more but then she started working when we were in preschool and there was never a great time to take a break, since at certain points she was supporting the family. Through the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t the working that prevented future kids, rather, she just wasn’t that into little kids. She gets very anxious at times with my little ones and truthfully, doesn’t have all that much patience, so I’m glad she made the right decision for her.

    She’s still a wonderful mother and grandmother and truly adores her grandchildren. She’s just not that into little kids.

    I read the article shorty linked to. I didn’t see her say anywhere that she doesn’t like being with her children. She just said she didn’t want to stay home with them full time and I can’t understand the logic in the response of “Why bother having them at all?” As far as I know, mothers and fathers are still responsible for the other 14 hours a day, even if the kids are out of the house 10 hours a day- that includes afternoon/bath/dinner time/ night wakings/ night sickness/ wake up, getting dressed, breakfast and sick days in general. Unless you have a live in nanny, which I guess some families do, it’s the parents who are dealing with all of this. I find the suggestion that it’s 1-2 hours simply insulting.

    I fully agree with the woman in that article: my kids have only blossomed in child care and I’m much happier working and having a break from them.

    • mominisrael says:

      Abbi, I was responding to Shorty’s reaction, not to the article itself. That’s very interesting about your mother.

  24. Success-Marketing Work At Home says:

    I was never our primary care-giver, though I’ve worked from home since 1983. But one suggestion to those who ARE the primary care-giver who stays at home: start a blog on a topic you enjoy. Once you’ve posted to it for a while, you can make it start to pay for you… and you can work at all different hours (as long as you keep posting and keep attracting people to it). Share your story because so many others will want to read it as well… and have fun. Oh, and more more thing (since ONE of the things I do is I’m a pro photographer): take LOTS of photographs as your kids grow up. You can’t use it if you don’t create it… and they grow so quickly (mine are now 37 and 26). Bless you all.

    Best,

    Charles Seymour Jr
    http://twitter.com/UltimateWAHDads

  25. Chicken Coop says:

    great post(why i keep getting an error when i try to subscribe to your feed)?thanks

  26. Brilliant post. I am posting the link as a separate post on my blog. I hope you are glad. I wish I had this advice around when I started. I learned many of the same lessons — but all the hard way.

  27. Chicken Coop (just saw this comment) I hope you managed to subscribe!
    ima2seven. Thank you. Links are always welcome.

  28. i really love this post. i worked part time for my first few years of motherhood but my heart was at home with my kids, for sure. what i *have* learned is that staying at home isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. as long as people are following their hearts and are doing what works best for themselves, their kids and their families, then it truly *is* best. i’m fascinated by the “mommy wars.” doesn’t it seem that we moms have enough to focus on and juggle without beating each other up? thanks for another great post.

  29. Just found this post now and I am glad I did. I am now a “mostly” stay at home mom, or as Orthonomics stated it, “homemaker.” Ii truly love it but these tips are surely welcome around here!

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