Today's mothers are entering this stage of life from a new perspective than generations past. Many of us are college educated, older, and have a lot more life experience prior to motherhood than our grandmothers' generation.
In many ways we are more prepared for the responsibility of motherhood—I mean we have run companies, taught students or run marathons prior to becoming mothers.
In other ways, however, waiting longer to become mothers may also make the transition to motherhood more challenging. Most of us are used to interacting with co-workers all day, intellectually challenging assignments, and controlling our own schedules.
Add a newborn to this lifestyle and your world can be turned upside down for a while. Your well-designed productive schedule is suddenly thrown out the window. For those of us who choose to stay at home with our kids, this transition can be equally shocking. Suddenly we have hours at home with no set schedule and a newborn who requires constant attention.
Having made this transition from working full-time to staying at home with kids, there are a few ideas that I wished I had known when I started—
1. Find your village.
It may take some time to find the moms that you click with, but once you do, you will know it. They are the ones that don't care if your kid throws a tantrum at a playdate, they understand what you feel like when you are really sleep-deprived. For me, as an introvert, it took years for me to find other moms that I could really feel comfortable around. Once I did, however, the world of stay-at-home motherhood just opened up into something more fun and life-enriching.
Although our culture treats motherhood like it's an exercise in sole proprietorship, historically it's always been a communal activity. As women, we crave that interaction with other moms. Finding your tribe of moms that “get" you will ease the challenges of motherhood and be a wonderful source of friendship for your kids.
2. Know that it's okay to mourn your former identity.
For all of us, becoming a mother inherently changes our identity. Becoming responsible for another little person somehow makes you see yourself differently. It opens up vulnerabilities you never knew you had. If you are moving from a professionally employed role to stay-at-home mom, I think this identity shift is even more dramatic. Even if we don't intend to, we all get develop some of our identity from our professional jobs. Now, as a stay-at-home mom, this identity is altered. Let's face it, even in today's world, being a stay-at-home mom (especially a college-educated one) isn't exactly highly valued by the outside world.
After dealing with this identity shift for a year or so, I finally gave myself permission to sort of “mourn" the passing of my professional identity. That didn't mean I gave up on ever returning to my work-related goals or endeavors, but it meant coming to terms with my season of life. By doing this, I felt that I could more fully embrace my stay-at-home mom identity instead of making excuses (that I didn't believe myself) for why I did not return to work.
3. Ditch comparison.
We all know the stereotype—a group of moms meet up for a playdate but the underlying dialogue is one of comparison. Whose kid is walking first? Which mom looks more “put together?" We know this happens on social media all the time. Someone posts a picture of their latest fabulous beach vacation and it makes you feel inadequate. In fact, at least one study has shown that social comparison via social media is related to lower life satisfaction and depressed feelings among mom
One simple phrase has changed my mindset on this: “comparison is the thief of joy." We all compare ourselves to one another, but if it starts to dominate your feelings or steal your joy, then a mind shift is essential.
Finding your true “mom tribe" helps enormously with this. Your true tribe doesn't compare, they support. They don't tear down, they empathize. Aim to treat yourself with that same type of compassion.
4. Include your child in activities you enjoy.
Once you emerge from the cave of the newborn phase (congratulations), your baby will start to become more interactive. Over time, she might enjoy going out in public more and seeing new sights. Take this opportunity to introduce her to things you enjoy. Baby story time is great, but let's face it—it's not exactly intellectually stimulating. Do you enjoy reading? Then take baby on a stroll around your favorite bookstore. Are you a fan of hiking? Grab a baby carrier and hit the trail.
Continuing to participate in activities that you enjoy is essential to sanity as a stay-at-home mom. This does get a little more challenging as your child enters toddlerhood and beyond when they suddenly have an opinion on the day's activities. I have found the best solution is to try to find a balance. If you would like to go on a hike, maybe you can end up at a nice playground. Or if you enjoy shopping, then maybe there is a kid's play area at the mall. Kid-focused activities can be fun, but your whole schedule does not have to revolve around the next story time or mommy-and-me class.
5. Realize self-care is essential.
Motherhood, especially the early years, is an exercise in selfless love. We give of ourselves in almost every way--sleep, body image, meal times, and emotions. Some scientists believe that it is actually this act of caregiving that bonds us to our babies, possibly even more than the genetic connection. It is a beautiful phase of development.
Over time, however, this intense caregiving can take a toll on moms. Caring for yourself is essential to long-term thriving. Parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint. I have found this through personal experience, but also through reading research. We know now that being overly sleep deprived is similar to depression in how you and your brain react to situations. Having a hard time being patient with your toddler? It might be all those years of sleep deprivation catching up with you.
In order to care for those little ones, taking some time to care for yourself needs to be on the to-do list. It does not have to be a big production. Maybe you need a nap a few times a week or a couple of hours one day to go shopping alone or get a pedicure. Whatever makes you feel refreshed and rejuvenated is the key component.
6. Embrace change.
Once you've gotten your “sea legs" in this phase of stay-at-home motherhood, it will undoubtedly change. Kids change quickly in the first few years of development. Just when you think you've gotten that two-nap-a-day schedule figured out, your baby will decide to drop a nap and you have to adapt. Just when you think you've gotten babyhood figured out, your child will start walking and now you have a very mobile and energetic toddler on your hands. For better or worse, your life as a stay-at-home mom is an odd combination of routine and constant change. At times it may seem like all the days run together, but then one day you realize your child is completely different than she was just a few months ago.
The beautiful thing about this incremental change is that you get to be witness to the lovely, unique developmental path that makes up your child's early years. You get rare insight into their little minds and what makes them tick. You understand that early toddler language like no one else. You know what each cry means and when a nap is way overdue.
Research has shown us that development is actually kind of stressful for kids, but in a good way. Each new stage of development requires a bit of stretching—both emotional and physical—and this builds coping skills and resilience. So too I believe is the journey of stay-at-home mom. Each stage your child goes through requires a bit of growth and stretching on your part too. So grab your diaper bag and hang on for roller coaster developmental ride.
As with any major life transition, the move from professional work to stay-at-home mom can have its challenges. Allowing yourself the same patience and compassion that you give your baby will help ease into this new role.