This week’s Ask the Moms question/inspiration comes from a somewhat unlikely source: a dad of two singletons! Still, though, some things are near-universal when it comes to parenting, and we couldn’t not address his concerns. Dear readers, please feel free to chime in with your suggestions in the comments. Here’s Chris’s comment on an earlier post:
I think I’m the only guy to post here and I’m sure glad I found a site where other parents feel the same pain. I resigned from work due to stress; unable to put in all the hours and give adequate time to my 2 1/2 year old and 9-month old.
I’ve been home for 3 months now and am just going absolutely crazy. I don’t know what to do to make myself feel better. I feel guilty turning on the TV so I don’t do that often — I basically just try to stick it out until my wife gets home to provide a hand.
Since I never leave the home I feel like I work a double-home shift until the kids sleep with at that point I’m fully exhausted with no energy to read a book or go to the gym. I don’t know if there’s a solution; perhaps it must be this way until they’re older.
My family is my top priority and I love my wife and kids but I’m slowly going crazy and am probably a bit depressed. I sure am glad though that I was able to read other folks’ comments and stories.
So very many things we want to address, I’ll just jump right in. Being a stay-at-home parent can be great, fun, and rewarding. But it can also be incredibly frustrating, stressful, and isolating.
The thing that jumped out at all of us right away was “since I never leave the home.” We have two words for you: Get. Out. Get the hell out of your house. Every single day. I’ve said it many times, but staying inside with two babies/kids all day is the shortest road to crazy town. And it’s no good for your kids, either. All three of you need fresh air and different things to look at and explore. The easiest way to do that is to take a walk. Sometimes it can be a go-go-go walk where you need to exercise out some frustration. Give the kids some snacks and hit the pavement. Sometimes it’s pure entertainment, so let the toddler stop and check everything out. Other free-and-easy options include the library (let the toddler browse the books while the baby is along for the ride, or enjoy the library’s story time together), the park, the mall playground, Barnes & Noble (they often have a train table in the kids’ section). Sometimes I’ll just put the kids in the car and go for a drive, or hit the Starbucks drive-thru. Go out for a snack or a meal together, or even go to the grocery store. In my world, that totally counts as an outing. Heck, go to the gym and make use of the childcare room if they have one!
Whether you’re going out or spending a whole day at home, I find the key for lots of days is to have a plan. A real one. Before lunch we’re going to do x, and after the afternoon nap, we’re going to do y. Even if the activity is just sitting on a blanket in the front yard, I feel much more in control if I have a plan. Don’t set yourself up for disaster by insisting on doing to many things at precise times, but know what you hope to do that day. It won’t always go perfectly, but it’s a place to start.
To whatever extent you can, we also wholeheartedly recommend coordinating naps as much as possible. Very true with same-age kids, equally important with a baby and a toddler. In all likelihood, the toddler is doing one afternoon nap, and the 9-month-old is doing a morning and afternoon nap. Try to put them down at the same time in the afternoon so that you at least get some kind of a break. And you may want to push the 2-to-1 nap transition when the younger child is just over a year, in the hopes of true nap coordination. Of course, it may be that your toddler wants to drop the nap entirely. We’re all about still enforcing a quiet “siesta” time, even if he/she doesn’t want to sleep. 2.5 is old enough to understand and to spend an hour quietly in their room.
Social support is also a major component here. As I said, being a stay-at-home-parent can be really isolating, and I think that’s especially true of the less-common stay-at-home-dads. Reach out and find a network in your area. Even a virtual community is a good start (look at all of us bloggers!). Some links include the At-Home Dad Newsletter, Meetup.com, and one of my favorite full-time-dad blogs, Looky, Daddy! For our main MOT audience, we’re all about Moms of Twins clubs, mom/baby/toddler classes, and the like. The point being that you’re not the only one doing what you’re doing, and there’s nothing better than getting together with like-minded folks.
Finally, make some time for yourself as a person, not just a parent. Go for a run or a yoga class when the kids are in bed. Find a babysitter a few times a week so that you can get out of the house by yourself. Heck, even get a neighborhood middle-schooler to play with the kids in the yard while you sit quietly with a book and a cup of coffee (or, in my case, with the sewing machine… whatever it is you enjoy). Moms and dads are not endless wells of giving. You have to recharge yourself if you’re going to have anything left to give. Sometimes that means letting the kids hang out in a safe, childproofed space in your house while you take a hot shower. Sometimes it even means letting them watch a few minutes of Baby Einstein so you can gather your thoughts. If that’s what you need to regroup, do it.
Being a stay-at-home parent is hard work. We all have rough days when the world seems to conspire against us. Illness, crabbiness, never-ending bad weather. There are days when I practically throw both of my children at my husband the moment he walks in the door. But it can also be wonderful and fun and rewarding. It’s all about finding the strategies to make it that way. The really rough days can and should be the exception, not the rule.
One last thought: depression is a very real thing, and new stay-at-home-parents have any number of risk factors for it (major life changes, lack of social support, lack of sleep, financial strain, etc etc etc…). If you feel like things are getting overwhelming, get help for yourself. Call your local hospital for counseling referrals (imagine, an hour a week of one-on-one adult interaction!). Even if you don’t meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis, you can still get help when it feels like life is a little bit too much to handle. The better you feel, the better parent you’ll be, and the better your whole family will be for it. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength when you get the resources you need.