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6 ways to thrive in the early years as a stay-at-home mom

5. Realize self-care is essential.

6 ways to thrive in the early years as a stay-at-home mom

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.

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

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