Congratulations! You’re becoming a stay-at-home parent. Whether the transition is one rooted in choice, sheer necessity, or is simply due to life circumstances, welcome to the club! Beyond the obvious need to switch from dry-clean-only to washable attire, here are six of my personal tips for those entering upon the task of stay-at-home parenting.
1) Identify. Find out whether your kid(s) and you do best when at home or when out and about. Figure out the right ratio for your brood: home in the morning then out in the afternoon, out all day until dinnertime, out then in for naps then back out until dinner prep, or out just one or two days each week. Like adults, some kids are homebodies whereas others flourish when out of the house. Similarly, some parents do better out of the house rather than in. It takes some trial and error to determine the appropriate balance, but it’s there. Once you’ve found it, set your plans and schedule accordingly.
2) Prepare. Being prepared is key to the stay-at-home parent’s survival. Set out clothes at least the night before, set out coats and shoes the night before, pack lunches and snacks the day before, prepare breakfast for quick serving the night before. If “hell hour” is real and daily, aim for dinners you can prep earlier in the day so that you’re not trying to cook and comfort at the same time. Meal plan (not only does this save money and impromptu grocery trips, but it makes evenings easier), schedule activities at a minimum one day ahead, consider yourself an administrative assistant… with a warlord of a boss. The better you plan, the smoother things will go.
3) Relax. Just because you don’t get paid doesn’t mean you don’t work, and it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t need a break. Whether it’s an exercise class, coffee with a friend, a regular mind-clearing walk, a valued hobby, drinks with friends, or quiet alone time, make sure you replenish yourself. Being a stay-at-home parent is demanding and can easily lead to burnout. We cannot pour from an empty cup, so stay vigilant. Stay full.
4) Regiment. Most kids thrive on a routine. I have yet to encounter a routine-utilizing parent who finds the practice unfruitful. However, I know many routine-avoiding parents who often say they wish they had one. Find what works for you and stick to it. If naptime or quiet time is crucial (for your offspring or you), keep it sacred. If late morning starts are golden, don’t leave the house until close to lunchtime. If meltdowns are inevitable come 3:00, plan to be at home base no later than 2:59. Know your pitfalls as well as your needs and navigate accordingly.
5) Network Talk to local stay-at-home parents. Hit up story times, chat up fellow school parents, get to know neighbors, let fellow stay-at-home parents know you’re looking to expand your circle. Stay-at-home moms, in particular, more often than not love to help. From pediatricians to playdates, babysitters to preschools, swim lessons to date night spots, your network will prove invaluable. Want to know what heavy-hitter viruses are going around? Ask your network. Potty-training conundrum or seemingly unsurvivable kid phase? Hit up your network. Need a handyman or a new gynecologist? Call up your network. A network is a necessity.
6) Research Google, fellow moms, local parenting bloggers, local activity listing sites, your county’s library webpage, your local mall and indoor playgrounds, nearby museums, community centers and nature centers… check them out for outing ideas. Hunt for free or cheap options. Do watch coupon sites as fine print and usage limitations can get tricky. Get out there and you’ll likely find your community has a slew of hidden gems.
Stay-at-home parenting is hard, under-appreciated, and unfunded. It’s 24/7. It’s unyielding. It’s gross and heavy and taxing. It’s the most rewarding, love-filled, unregrettable endeavor you can undertake. Your children have but one childhood, being there to experience it is priceless. Welcome!