In Kids & Family Commentary

Put aside whatever sense of shame or responsibility stands in your way and ask for help.

Tips from a failed SAHM

When my daughter was born, I stayed home with her for nearly a year. I'm so lucky that we were able to make that work, and it saved so many child care dollars. She was, by all accounts, a super easy baby.

And I absolutely hated it.

I was bored and anxious. I felt responsible to do it all. I was lonely and frustrated and had no idea how to cope. I'm also pretty sure I wasn't great at it.

I've learned so much since then that would have been useful to New Mom Me. Since I don't have the benefit of giving myself these tips, I hope maybe some of that wisdom can give a boost to a parent struggling with being home right now.

Make friends

When my daughter came along, we'd recently moved back to Milwaukee and I knew no other moms, babies or kids. I struggle to make friends, and I didn't know where to start. But, looking back, I needed parent friends with sticky hands all over their house, piles of laundry and no peace: a group of allies to share the trenches.

Go make some. Even if it feels impossible and you're the most introverted introvert to ever live. Ask your pediatrician or lactation consultant if there are mommy groups in your area. Sign up for tot classes through your local rec department. Go to little kid story time at your library. You can wait for someone to introduce themselves, but you might have to bite the bullet and say hi. Shake sticky milk hands and form a bond. Get someone to talk to who is rowing the same boat.

These parents are vital as kids get older, too. It does take a village to manage carpools, to volunteer with and pass the time at sports and events. Find a club (or make one) early on.

Leave the house – a lot

This is easy to say through the rosy lens of hindsight, when all it takes to leave the house with a teenager is a cell phone and a lot of patience. But I remember the preparing and the packing and the inevitable forgotten thing. I definitely forgot my fully loaded diaper bag at Target during a rainstorm because my brain was mush. I get it. It's an ordeal.

Get out of the house anyway. Keep emergency backup supplies in your car, just in case, pack your baby gear and LEAVE THE HOUSE. Take a walk. Go through the drive thru somewhere. Stroll around the mall. Meet up with some of those friends you made. Exit the environment where it's you and baby and things that need to get done. Change your scenery. I found that I felt overwhelmed and isolated being home all the time. So escape. Load up a stroller or the car and bug out.

Have a hustle

I'm not saying you needed a monetized gambit to add to your list. But do set aside at least 15 minutes every day to do something that speaks to you in a place where no one knows your name is Momma. I understand there are lots of demands on your time, but I'm confident you idly squander at least 15 minutes each day on social media. Instead, do something for you. Even when you're exhausted or if you have to squeeze it in while your family thinks you're pooping. I know I circled the drain when house care and pump boiling and baby care were the only things I thought about.

It doesn't matter what it is. Maybe it's your skin care routine, or doing crossword puzzles; maybe you're hooked on crime novels, need a sweaty workout or love to dig into the Wall Street Journal. I guarantee there's a pastime, craft, skill, hobby, passion or project that feeds you. You won't have time for all of them, but pick one that you can do a little bit every day to keep your battery juiced with non-parent thoughts.

Ask for help. Accept help.

You're going to choose whatever division of tasks works for your family. But sometimes, you're going to feel overtaxed and suffer from decision fatigue and be totally touched out from being on duty all the time. And that's okay. Ask for help. Put aside whatever sense of shame or responsibility stands in your way and ask for help. Whether it's with something big or a minor task, give yourself the freedom to say you can't do it alone. The help might come from your partner or parents or a hired sitter or cleaning service. Maybe it'll be a stranger in the grocery store. Help might come from your doctor or a counselor. Sometimes it might feel "easier" to suffer through it yourself than ask for help. Ask for help anyway. Share the load.

People will offer to help sometimes, too. Get in the habit of saying yes more than no. If you've got a new baby and home and a friend who offers to add your groceries to her list, say yes. This is what Venmo was made for. If you have a relative who offers to help with some house cleaning, say yes. Let someone else scrub your bathroom. Give yourself a break. You're not a failure or a bad parent if you aren't juggling all the flaming knives yourself.

Choosing to be a stay at home parent is a fantastic opportunity. It might not be for everyone. At the time, when I was doing it, I really did not feel it was for me. As with so many things, I didn't know what I didn't know. Taking on running a household and raising children is a huge job; it's not easy and it is not something that you can train for. When you're so close to it, and deep in it, you often can't see the flaws in the method. I hope all my years of perspective, after throwing in the SAHM towel, can help make your parenting journey healthier and happier.

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