Before becoming one myself, my experience with stay-at-home moms was limited to watching TV matriarchs like Marge Simpson and Lucy Ricardo. My own mother worked, and I’d always assumed that I would as well. But when I got pregnant with my daughter, everything fell in line in such a way that it didn’t make sense for me to do anything other than stay at home and care for her. I expected that the transition from cubicle world to baby-land wouldn’t just be easy, but that it would feel like a restful sabbatical. Spoiler alert: not so much.
Being home with a baby full time challenged me both mentally and physically beyond anything I had ever done. Imagine a job where you’re on-call 24/7, don’t get lunch breaks, have zero paid sick days (ditto vacation days) and, oh yeah, you don’t get a paycheck every two weeks, either. Sure, there are perks—your client is pretty cute—but it’s exhausting in ways you’ve never experienced.
“The biggest complaint that mothers have when they have a baby is that they thought it was all going to be glory and love, and they had no preparation for how grueling it is,” says Alyson Schafer, parenting expert and author of Breaking the Good Mom Myth. If you’re thinking of trading in conference calls for tummy time, follow these tips to make the transition as painless as possible.
Take time for yourself.
This is quite possibly the hardest thing to do after having a new baby, but it’s also the most important. No matter if it’s yoga, shopping, painting or counting spit-up stains on your favorite shirt, you need something that you do entirely by yourself. Former teacher Treena McCurdy started booking gigs singing and playing guitar at local coffee shops and restaurants after her daughter was born. “It works out really well,” she says. “My husband can take the baby at night, and I get time to myself to do something I love that isn’t baby-related.” Nurturing who you are outside of being a mom does wonders for your mental health and keeps you interesting at dinner parties. (Remember those?)
Prep your partner.
Thoroughly lay out expectations with your partner before the baby is born. If you think he’ll be cooking when he gets home to relieve you after a long day of colic and blowouts, but he expects dinner on the table, you’ll have a landmine of problems. Address your expectations of each other and your roles beforehand, but don’t be afraid to readjust once you experience being a SAHM firsthand. We all need some flex in our schedules. “It’s important to talk before the baby is born, but you’ll be amazed at how having a baby changes you,” Schafer says. “What is important is that you continue to discuss the division of labor issues and continue to appreciate one another.”
Remember those things you said you’d never do?
Do them. Even the best, most energetic moms need baby cheats once in a while. Your child won’t grow a tail if she eats store-bought baby food instead of homemade, organic applesauce, and she won’t be develop-mentally stunted if you need to park her in front of the TV for 30 minutes to maintain your sanity. “I take my son to the library or gym classes almost every day, but when we get home, I’m not opposed to sitting him in front of the TV to watch ‘Paw Patrol’ so I can knock out my to-do list or just get a few minutes to myself,” says Erica Boniface, a PR director turned SAHM. Do what it takes to get you and baby through these early days.
Know that you don’t have to enjoy every minute of it.
The thing that made me feel the worst about my ability to be a good mom was whenever someone gave me the good-intentioned advice: “Enjoy every minute of it!” The thing is, I didn’t enjoy every minute of being home with my baby. Some minutes sucked, especially when I was sleep-deprived and trying to calm down my howling daughter. Hearing that advice made me feel guilty for not appreciating every moment, but in retrospect, I see that it’s OK to not love those times. It’s completely normal even to wish you were anywhere else but with your inconsolable, screaming tot during those minutes. Just know that you’ll survive and be back to loving the minutes of first smiles and snuggles soon enough.
Get friendly support.
“Stay-at-home moms can feel isolated and lonely if they don’t find a good group of stay-at-home moms in the neighborhood or a local mom group,” Schafer says. Whether it’s existing friends who’ve been through it, new pals you meet at music classes or a community of moms online you click with, a group of women who are going through the same things you are can help you feel more supported and less alone.