S.A.H.M.

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I’m so excited for this week’s focus on childcare.  The options can be mind-boggling and are accompanied by lots of hard choices, so I am really glad we’re showcasing the many different kinds of arrangements even just amongst our contributors.

I pretty much always knew I’d be a stay-at-home-mom.  My husband, M, and I discussed it long before we got pregnant.  It was something we both wanted, and something we prepared for pretty much as soon as we got married.  For background, it’s important to know that there is/was a major wage discrepancy between the two of us.  I worked in secondary and post-secondary education, so not a big paycheck there.  M works in technology, so he fares significantly better.

Anyways, we started prepping for our one-income family right away.  When we got married and got our joint bank accounts settled, we switched my salary to direct-deposit straight into savings (and maxed out my retirement contributions).  This made for a gentle adjustment, since “my” money was always readily transferable in the savings account, but we got used to seeing a particular amount of money in checking.  While neither of us is an avid budgeter, we have always seemed to manage to live within our means, so this worked out great.  And had the added benefit of padding our savings account pretty painlessly. By the time I left my job, we were already used to paying all of our bills from one paycheck.

Gymnastics

I’ve been home full-time with my kids since they were born, so 20 months and counting.  The major up-sides to being their sole childcare provider are, of course, that I get to be there for all of the firsts and all of the fun stuff.  I also have complete control (or, well, as much control as one can have…) over their environment, schedule, activities, and the like.  I decide what’s happening, I make it happen.  No worrying about communicating my wishes to a third party, no worrying about conflicting philosophies, etc.  And you know what? Maybe I’m setting myself up for a visit from What Not to Wear, but I rather like the casual life.  I only own one pair of pants that aren’t denim.  There are no uncomfortable shoes in my world.  I can spend rainy days in my pajamas.

There are negatives, to be sure.  The very hardest part is this:  THERE IS NO VACATION OR SICK TIME.  It’s a 24/7/365 job. There are no holidays, no days off.  It can be incredibly hard to carve out time for yourself, because your whole day revolves around the kids and their needs. You don’t really get to leave and forget about it until the next morning.  Weekends don’t have nearly the same appeal as they did in my child-free working days, as my kids are entirely too young to understand the joys of sleeping in.  In their world, one day is pretty much the same as the next.

Klubhouse

The key to survival as a SAHM, I have found, is to NOT stay at home.  Get out, get out!  Playdates, classes, storytimes and the like are key to our sanity.  Spending all day cooped up in our living room, or especially more than two days in a row, is a recipe for disaster.  Social isolation was my biggest fear when I left the world of paid employment, and, it has thankfully not really come to pass. But that’s because I made a very concerted effort to combat it by taking lots of classes with the kids and spending time with other moms.

And if there’s one thing I really need to improve upon?  I need to convince myself that a babysitter is a necessity, not an undeserved luxury.  We moms can be martyrs for the cause.  If I’m a full-time mom, then I should be a full-time mom! But when it comes right down to it, we still need breaks.  Whether a childcare swap with some friends, finding a neighborhood high school student, or paying through the nose for a professional nanny who has mornings free…  Got to find a few hours to myself.  I haven’t had that for the last year, and with two draining toddlers, I’m really starting to feel the effects of never being off-duty.

Playground

As draining as this gig can be, I have no intention of changing our arrangement anytime soon (except for the aforementioned babysitter).  I want to be the one participating full-time in this part of my kids’ life.  I want to spend this time with them, I want to watch it happen and teach them the things I want to teach them.  Do I miss my old job? You bet. Do I miss it enough to spend an hour commuting each way, having to rush to get the kids ready in the morning, and only barely catching them before bedtime each night, only to give my entire salary to someone else? All that, so that I can spend my afternoon with college students instead of taking my kids to the playground? No.  No, I do not.

Anyways, that’s what has worked out in my house.  Other SAHMs out there, what are your tricks to maintaining sanity?  What has been your single biggest challenge?

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16 thoughts on “S.A.H.M.”

  1. Ditto Ditto Ditto. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    My only other sanity maintenance is preschool. My girls are four and they go four days per week for three hours. It doesn’t sound like much but it makes our entire family atmosphere much more peaceful. Why? Because I’m not nearly as stressed out as before. I didn’t use babysitters enough and I should have.

    My biggest challenge when they were home all day was trying to get my stuff done (cleaning, laundry – I am a clean freak) and not neglect them. But I think I beat myself up to much about that.

    So maybe another suggestion is just to do your best regardless of your work situation.

  2. Yes, yes and yes. I too always wanted to be a stay at home mom. But truth be told, in the begining, there were a couple of times in which I told my husband, ‘Um, honey, I think maybe I should go back to work.’ It was so HARD, and I dreamed of getting out of the house by myself – even if to go to work! Now, things are a lot better. And I really do try to appreciate each day with them.
    To second your thoughts – GET OUT! I am embarassed to say, but it was a good two months before I went out alone with them, not counting doc appts. And it made a world of difference!
    Also, the help or childcare thing. We ourselves (and others!) often think that b/c we are SAHMs we don’t need a break!! My 14 month old boys go to a daycare three mornings a week for three hours at a time. They friggin’ LOVE it! They literally squeal with happiness the moment we walk in the door. And I have my DH to thank for pushing for this.
    Can’t wait to see the other posts regarding working moms for when I’m due to go back in two years!

  3. I’d appreciate any suggestions about how to make it happen–how to watch the roaming toddlers and keep them safe–on your own. My husband is a SAHD, and he and the girls (now nearly 18 months) almost never go out, except to the neighbors to visit. I know his big fear is getting them out of the stroller, having them run in opposite directions, and not being able to catch them. Second fear is that they fuss endlessly in the stroller. Any suggestions?

  4. One key to making this work is to have a great spouse/partner. Hubby knows when he comes home that he’s starting his “next job.” He can’t flop on the couch the minute he walks in. There are still kids to be put to bed, dinner to be made, toys to be cleaned up. The fact that he participates when he gets home works wonders. I have a part-time (three days a week) job but still consider myself a SAHM. My MIL watches my girls two days that I work and Hubby has the duties one of those days.

    Clementine: The first few times I took my daughters out by myself I went to relatively “easy” places. The pet store, Target, etc. I could put my daughters in the basket of the shopping cart and they all were really good about sitting there. As my girls get older I get braver. A trip to the Children’s Museum, the zoo, etc. I don’t know if you live near a children’s museum, but typically they have a space just for the younger kids where they’re “confined” but can still roam around. It takes time to feel at ease taking multiples out on your own.

  5. I am also a SAHM (at least 90% of the time) and I would go NUTS if we didn’t get out!! Every day. Often twice a day. I agree with Goddess—building a social network is so key, so that you don’t get isolated.

    As for HOW to get out with toddlers—things like music classes and gymnastics are contained and relatively safe. Fenced in playgrounds. The zoo. Friends’ houses. I often take my husband to a playground or other place the first time, to see how it goes. Then I have a better sense if we can do it alone or not.

  6. I agreed with everything you said for the SAHM situation. I think it’s important to build up a network of ‘colleagues’ to get out and do things with, or go to each others’ houses (since I think that’s one of the easiest places to go with multiples).

    I really wish we had been smart enough to practice living on one paycheck. We wasted so much money when we were DINKs! I think that is a great piece of advice for any new couple.

    Clementine: I think that 18 months is a really tough age, but it’s also just before it starts to get easier. Hubs and anyone else with twins that age just needs to be brave and get out there. Think of the first couple outings as practice, observing how everything goes and figuring out what you can do differently next time to make it easier (did we get enough snacks? would one of those monkey backpack/leashes help? do we need to find a park that’s enclosed? etc.) The ideas about starting out with ‘easy’ errands is good and then working your way up.

  7. This is interesting…we essentially planned ahead, too, for me to be a SAHM. Well, in our case, it wasn’t on purpose, but while we’ve been married over 10 years, we’ve never had 2 incomes. For the first 5 years, my husband was in grad school and I was the sole earner. Then I got my grad degree, then when we found out we were having twins (and my salary wouldn’t cover daycare x’s 2), we decided I would stay home. I think the lack of change in financial status is a huge burden off the stress of changing to a SAHM of SAHD. We didn’t have to adjust our lifestyle (well, you know beyond the HUGE lifestyle adjustments that come with having kids :) I guess I’m just saying that it was nice not to have to worry about going to 1 income…we’d been living that lifestyle for many years. To anyone considering becoming a stay at home parent, I’d highly recommend doing what you did, and living on the single income ahead of time.

    And I agree that the best thing to do is to get out of the house. I realize I’m pretty bold about what I’ll do. I’ll try just about anything once! I’ve taken my kids to playspaces, art museums, malls, libraries, restaurants, parks, farms, where ever! Sometimes it goes great, sometimes we leave early or just don’t plan it again. Only rarely have I been in situations where I felt like it wasn’t safe (i.e., an unfenced park near a road, a playspace where I couldn’t keep both in sight), and in those cases, I just bundled ’em up and left immediately. I figure, better to try and fail than to just sit home.

    (PS~~I found the mid-two year olds to be the most difficult time at home. Yikes, I about lost my mind! Three years old is so much easier and more fun!)

  8. I definitely agree with the income thing. Whne we got our new house, we made sure we could afford it with just one income even though we didn’t yet have kids and still had two incomes. But now we can pretty much live the same life (financially speaking) while I’m a SAHM.

    Also, the going out thing is definitely important because otehrwise, you just feel so isolated. I don’t think my husband always realizes how draining that aspect of being a SAHM is. He thinks when my mom or sister come over to help, its to really help. And of course they do but I don’t want them to go do chores while I’m feeding babies – I need to spend time with them because they might be the only adult I talk to all day!

    My favorite out-of-the-house things (with my 4.5 month olds) are walks downtown to drink coffee and people watch, Target, BJs, and play group at a friends house. They are all easy and have clear escape routes – just in case. As they get older and can stay awake longer, we will do more eventful outings.

  9. Lovely lovely writeup. I love to hear other perspectives and even more, to hear about lives unlike mine! I would also say there are no sick days when you’re any kind of mom… my work sick days are reserved for the days my boys are sick! I dream of the day I am so sick I can send the boys to day care and do nothing at home, but nope, so far I have to keep on working.

  10. I am a SAHM with 13 month old twins, and I must say, it is harder than I thought it would be. Getting out is hard, staying in is hard. I try to get out at least once each day. We go to a shopping plaza near our house, the grocery store, the library, etc., but we’ve yet to do any play groups or classes. They all seem to run during a nap time (mostly the morning 9:00-10:30 one). And then there’s the money. We’re fine on one salary, but don’t have a lot of wiggle room. If it isn’t free or cheap, it’s unfortunately not possible. So, most of the time, it’s just me and the kids, who I love dearly, of course. But, I do miss adult interaction. I just can’t seem to find a way to connect with other moms nearby.

    Honestly, I’m amazed by what I read on this site (the posts and the comments). I’m jealous of all the MoMs who can do it all, and have time to document it with blogs and photos. Some days the role just seems too big, and I’m not quite fit for the part. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out there and try new things now that the weather is getting warmer.

  11. Sarah—My biggest help in meeting other moms to hang out with? Our local twin club. If you haven’t joined, I highly recommend it! We do lots of playdates at other twins’ houses, either just with our two sets, or with a pile of twins! (I think 12 might have been our max of kids under 3). It really helps to meet some other SAHM’s to hang out with. At this age, the playdates aren’t for the kids really, more for moms.

  12. Clementine – my boys went through a phase recently where they totally protested the stroller and I was at my wit’s end. Funnily enough the thing that worked for us was having them pick our their favorite toy (or me picking it out for them at this age), and bringing it along witht them. For some reason they seem to like the security of clutching onto something from home. They do get thrown from the stroller occasionally, but it has made a world of difference. I also bring crackers or cookies for when things get really ugly.
    And yes, little walks at first – a half hour at a time is what we did for a week straight when they were getting over this phase.

  13. What a neat week. It’s nice to get a sense of how others do it.

    My hat goes off to all SAHMs…I couldn’t do it. I think I’d go insane – even if we got out every day! :)

    …but, I know this about me, so our situation works well for our family.

    Goddess – our nanny has Mondays free. I’m just sayin’ …

  14. I’m a SAHM to two 9-month-old boys. I don’t get out with them on my own very often but I am hoping now that the weather is improving I will do it more. I have a babysitter 3 days a week for 6 hours at a time. She watches the boys while I run errands, workout and work from home (I work approx 8-10 hours a week).
    For the first 4 or 5 months I had daily help because I had a very difficult delivery and a long recovery. I simply didn’t have the strength to care for them myself. Because of the extra help I had in the beginning, its been hard for me to be totally alone with the boys. On the days that I am alone with them, we rarely go out. When we do, it’s to a twin playgroup or a walk in the neighborhood. But even getting them into the stroller by myself sometimes feels like too much work!
    I struggle every day with the fact that I have “too much help.” I need my alone time, but I don’t always enjoy it. Sure it’s easier to grocery shop alone, but sometimes I want to have my kids with me!
    This is an ever-evolving process and it changes constantly. Our current sitter is a college student and she graduates soon. We need to talk about what she’s going to do once she graduates. I might be on my own again very soon! Yikes.

  15. I am just recovering from losing my nanny. She was with me 4 days a week since the babies were 2 months old. They just turned 1. I think I cried almost everyday for 2 weeks. Although, really, thats not much different than any other day in my house. 😉 It was a huge adjustment for me. The reason we let her go is because the babies were at a more manageable age. HA! What was I thinking?! Sarah, I am right there with you. I am lucky if I achieve maybe one project a day, and that can be as simple as taking a shower AND actually drying my hair. LOL. There are days when I think, “This is not what I signed up for!” Like when they are both teething or both have a cold, or OMG, both teething and have a cold at the same time.

    But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so fortunate to be a SAHM. It was my dream to be able to stay at home and raise my children. Of course I thought it would be a little more staggered. Maybe have one and then another a couple of years later. Be careful what you wish for right?

    I agree, getting out of the house is a must. For their sanity and mine.

    Great post!

  16. The fact that you planned ahead like that blows my mind and makes me wish I could rewind 5 years and do the same. What excellent planning! Great reminder about needing breaks. It is so important to the sanity of EVERYONE in the house that the stay-at-home parent is able to blow off steam and just be themselves for a while.

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