Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Becoming A Stay-At-Home Mom

Lauren reached out to Twin Talk last month and said she'd like to write a blog post on becoming a stay-at-home mom.  We'd just published a post on choosing child care for your twins so it seemed quite fitting to follow it up with a post on preparing to be a SAHM.  She did an amazing job compiling tips on how to make the initial transition (as well as subsequent age/stage transitions) as simple and enjoyable as possible. 


Some women count the days until they become a mom, feeling impatient to start their 'real job' of caring for children full-time. Others can't fathom spending all day, every day with their kids without the fulfillment of working outside of the home. I'd say I fell somewhere in between the two camps, assuming I'd work part-time, until I found out I was having twins.

Many women don't have much of a choice; the mom is the breadwinner, her income is key to maintaining their lifestyle, or in many cases, childcare costs are equal to or greater than her income and it doesn't make financial sense to continue working. I feel really lucky that I had a choice, though it still wasn't an easy one.

After finding out it was not just one baby, but two, my husband and I quickly decided that it would be best for me to stay home. Because we were having twins, we did not plan to have more children, so I think the decision to stay home was easier for me since I had a specific time horizon. But even as I went on maternity leave, we both knew the decision was not 100% and that I needed to see how I felt about everything once the boys were actually here.

The first four months were tough. Really tough. I feel like everyone gets a different challenge, and I got one baby who was cranky and had eating issues, which we never figured out, but he eventually outgrew. There were definitely days during those first few months that I wanted to go back to work. Immediately. Work was a breeze by comparison. I thought long and hard before finally speaking to my boss and telling her I would not be returning. Things got so much better at four months and I have no regrets about my decision.

Beyond adjusting to being a new mom, especially of twins, becoming a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) has its own challenges. It can be terribly isolating, especially in those early weeks and months when everything is new and unpredictable and your hormones are all over the place. I always promised myself that I wouldn't be that friend who would only talk about her kids, but what else did I have to contribute to the conversation? For someone who is used to being very productive, it was frustrating when I couldn't even get the laundry folded before my husband got home.

But, everything takes time. I've been home with my twins since they were born and they are now 16 months old. I consider myself really active. We're out for the majority of the time they're awake and I've tried to take advantage of all that my neighborhood and the rest of the city has to offer. I'm lucky that I have some help in the afternoons/early evenings, which was a priority for my husband and I so that I have a life outside of the kids.  Though it took some time to find the right balance for our family, here are my tips for becoming a SAHM:

In the very beginning...
  • Have people come to you. Well, close friends and family that are accommodating to you and not looking to be entertained. Chunks of time between feedings can be short in the beginning, especially in the evenings, but catching up with patient friends during 'The Bachelor' premiere helped me feel connected to my old life and the outside world even if it meant pausing a million times. Even better when they brought food.
  • Join the mothers group in your city. I'm a member of San Francisco Parents of Multiples and Golden Gate Mothers Group and both have been lifesavers, offering new-mom groups, playgroups, online forums to ask advice on just about anything, and much more. I've made some great connections through these groups, starting as early as several weeks postpartum. I started attending the new and expectant parents group, which was a twice-monthly meet up with other new twin parents, sponsored by the San Francisco Parents of Multiples. It was amazing to get in-person advice from moms who were going through, or had just gone through, what I was experiencing. You could breastfeed at the meetings (and expecting moms could see what tandem feeding was all about!) and it never mattered how late you showed up or if your babies were fussy.
  • Get out! This may seem counter-intuitive and I know everyone is different, but after 17 weeks of (modified) bedrest, I was ready to be out and about. I took the time my husband was home with me in the beginning as a chance to do mini-outings. We'd get everything ready so we could leave the minute they finished eating and know they would sleep for a solid 2+ hours. We went on stroller-friendly hikes, walked around the farmer's market and went out to eat. It may give you a boost of confidence that you can do it on your own if you get some practice doing it with your partner early on.
  • Eat Out. This probably isn't for everyone (nor is it cheap!), but I met a twin mom who told me she and her husband did a food tour of SF while their girls were in the sleepy-newborn stage. They would each wear one in a carrier and as the girls slept, they ate at some of San Francisco's nicer establishments. Her tips: go early, order fast and ask for the check when you place your order so that if baby one woke up fussing, a parent can immediately go outside while the other flags down the waiter to have the food packaged up. In the first six weeks, she said there was only one time they had to leave early. No cooking, food prep or clean-up for you? Check. Storing up dates nights for all the upcoming months when going out will be that much harder? Double check.
    Once you're a little more settled in...
    • Get out every day. Despite my success in the first few weeks, there were days that getting out of the house seemed like a monumental task. Whatever it takes, do it. Some days  I wouldn't get out for a walk until 5pm, but fresh air does something magical to babies (and adults too!) In fact, during times when nothing seemed to be working and the babies (and I) were done, I'd put them in the stroller and the second we got outside, I could instantly feel a calm come over everyone.
    • Follow a schedule or at least get into a routine. My boys thrive on routine. By 8:45, they're climbing the walls (well, literally they're climbing into the stroller to get out of the house.) Having structure to our day lets me plan fun activities, ideally with other people, but also keeps them happy as they know what to expect next. The roughest months were those in the beginning when each day was different even though we had a basic routine. Once they started napping at consistent times, things got SO much better for all of us.
    • Go to parks in your neighborhood (and be social.) No better place to meet other local moms and kids than right near your home. They'll have the scoop on what's going on for kids, if there are any local playgroups, etc. Even if they have older kids, file their advice away for down the road. It's a great way to set up casual playdates too by saying, "Let's meet here again next Monday at 11am."

    • Find out if there is a listserv or Facebook group for your neighborhood. At least in San Francisco, it seems like each neighborhood has its own group for moms with Facebook pages being a great way to ask parenting questions, list neighborhood happenings for kids, share recipes your kids are actually eating, or just to say, "we're heading to the park in 30 minutes, join if you're around!"
    • Go outside your neighborhood if you have to. I found a lot of moms went back to work in my neighborhood so I started reaching out to other acquaintances and started connecting with a  group in another area of the city who meet up in different spots most days of the week. This often involves driving, which with twins in a city, can be a deterrent, but it was a sanity-saver for me to connect with moms on a regular basis.
    • Make a weekly schedule of activity options. I have friends who work several days a week, so there are only certain days they can meet up with their kids. There are drop-in classes other days, free storytime, free days at museums or the zoo. I put everything down in one place so if I don't have any plans, I can look at that list and try to come up with something quickly.
    • Invest in a museum or zoo membership. If you're home with your kids all year long, they, as well as you, are going to need some outside enrichment and a change of scenery. Though these memberships can be pricy, with two kids, they'll often pay for themselves within a few visits. Many times you can find membership deals on daily deal sites as well. 
    • Attend classes. Obviously there's an expense associated with this, but it's a great way to meet other moms with kids the same age as most of the classes are grouped by small age windows. We've enjoyed music, MyGym and swim classes.

    • Exercise. After my long stint on bedrest, I was ready to get moving again and as soon as I got the okay from my doctor, I looked into ways I could work out while having my babies with me. There are baby-and-me yoga or mat pilates classes, though I never had much success with those as one of my guys was rather demanding. But, I was able to manage Baby Bootcamp, which was better because it was outside. Even now, when my boys don't like to spend time the stroller, I still go to this class as much for the social aspect as the actual workout. Don't be intimidated, the instructors tailor the workout to where you're at and it's all moms, so everyone has been there. Plus, all the singleton moms will be in awe of you making it to class with TWO babies. If that sounds like too much for you in the beginning, start with walks around the neighborhood. Great for both you and your babies.
    • Shop online and outsource whatever you can. Get rid of unnecessary errands with the magic of services like Amazon Prime and Google Shopping Express. Running into the store for 'just a few things' can become far more trouble than it's worth. Especially if you're using Subscribe and Save on Amazon, I don't think you'll get a better price on staples like diapers and wipes, so why drive to the store, try to navigate a cart with two babies and have to lug all that stuff home? Have it delivered to your door. I love to cook and prefer to pick out my own food so I haven't done grocery delivery, but that's another option to potentially make your life easier. Hiring a cleaning service, even if just once a month, will be worth the extra time you'll get to yourself or to be with your family.
    • Set goals for yourself. Just like when I worked, I still have a never-ending to-do list, but some goals I consciously set because I know it will help me be a better mom. A simple weekly goal: meet up with other moms at least twice a week. Often these become weekly meet-ups, but sometimes they're random. Regardless, I count on those days. We attend several classes throughout the week where we interact with others, but I still count those separately from my '2 days' goal as it gives me something to look forward to.
    • ...but don't feel guilty when you don't cross anything off your list. I always have big plans for naptime, and the truth is, some days I force myself to spend 20 minutes cleaning up lunch, toys, the stroller, but after that, I'm done. I need to zone out for the next (hopefully!) 2+ hours. I read blogs, answer emails, watch TV; do nothing technically productive. But for me, in that moment, that's exactly what I need to recharge for the rest of the day. Don't feel guilty about needing that.
    • Prep your husband for Chatty Cathy. Those first few weeks, when you go into adult conversation-withdrawl, your husband needs to be ready to 'socialize' with you when he gets home. My husband talks to people all day and while there are rare days he tells me he's just not up for chatting, he knows that I probably haven't had as much adult interaction so he always makes an effort.
    • Just because you're now at home, doesn't mean you have to do everything on your own. Before the transition, talk to your partner about how will the household responsibilities will change. Will he expect you to do all the cleaning (even if he has helped with this before)? I know that without a second income, some luxuries may need to go, but caring for children is a full-time job and adding all the household responsibilities to your plate can be really overwhelming.
    • Talk to your husband about having a date night (weekly, monthly, whatever you can manage, but make it REGULAR) and/or a night that he stays home with the kids so you can see your friends, go to movie, do whatever you want. The key is that you're both committed to it. He should get some alone time too.
    • Contractor work/Networking. If you're considering going back to work and you want to keep up connections, check in with your former boss to see if he/she has any projects you could help out on. Ideally those that can be done on your own time and where the workload isn't too heavy. Or meet your old colleagues for happy hour every once in a while to stay in touch. Conferences or industry networking events could be a good outlet as well.
    • Get help. Though I know this is not an option for everyone, this is probably the single most important thing on this list that has contributed to me finding the right balance between staying at home with my boys and having a fulfilling life outside of my family. Before my twins arrived, I didn't really understand why a SAHM would have a nanny (even part-time). I quickly learned, even if you're now 'in charge' of everything at home, at least during the week, you'll need a break, especially in the beginning while you're adjusting. Perhaps it's a family member that can come over for a few hours, a babysitter several days a week, or even just a mother's helper to be your second set of hands (and to have a conversation with!) If you have a husband who travels a lot for work or isn't very hands on with the kids, I feel like this is a must. I know there are moms out there who do it all on their own, and I'm in awe of them, but if you can find a way to get a break, make it work.
    • Join a club or volunteer. This goes hand-in-hand with having help, or perhaps a really supportive partner. After the above, this has been most important to me finding my identity as a SAHM. Once I got settled into a routine at home with the kids, I slowly started volunteering again. I lead the New and Expectant Parent support group for the multiples club in SF, which requires just several hours a month for meetings. I also volunteer approving applications for another mothers group in SF, something that is super-flexible and can be done from home, yet allows me to be part of a small group of woman in the same committee, plus we get to hang out at the meeting once a month. Finally, consider Junior League. While I joined several years before I had kids, it was important for me to stay involved after kids as it gave me a good reason to get out of the house: it's a productive, good use of my time, allows me to use my brain outside of what I am doing with the kids each day, plus I've met some great women. The time commitment for Junior League is more significant, but if you have some help, it's totally doable and so fulfilling. Feeling like you're making a difference in the community becomes so much more important when it's the community your kids will be growing up in. There are so many volunteer options available depending on what you're interested in; your church could be a good place to start as well.
    • What was important to you before kids? Figure out how to fit it into your life now. I love to read and though I did do some reading while breastfeeding/pumping, it wasn't until I joined a book club with other moms to read parenting books that I really got back into reading on a regular basis. The fact that it's all moms means everyone understands if you didn't finish book, it usually turns into social hour anyway. I also love to cook, but I wasn't motivated to get back in the kitchen for at least a month after the babies arrived. Even then, it was simple meals only. Now I use my little free time to test out new recipes. It may take time to figure out the balance, but make the time.
    • Find a creative outlet. You may need to move beyond what you liked doing before kids. I started a blog when I was pregnant and find it to be such a nice release of all this energy focused on the boys, plus a great way to document these beginning years.
    • Find or reestablish a social outlet. Maybe all your friends have kids and now you feel like you can totally relate to them. Or maybe it's the opposite.  Most of my friends don't have kids so while I've maintained important friendships, I've also had to find new social outlets. It's important to build even a small network of people in a similar situation to yours and can understand what you're going through on a tough day at home with the kids.
    • Modify your wardrobe. Okay, maybe you can't justify a whole wardrobe revamp, but especially if you had a job where more formal dress was required, you're going to need to get some new, more casual stuff. Year one, everything gets spit up on. The good news about that is that it comes out easily in the wash. By year two, you'll need to add 'stain fighter' to your resume. Greasy hands are like magnets to my legs. I'm not saying you need to pack away all your stylish clothes and be a frumpy mess every day, but invest in some comfortable, quality tops and pants that will make you feel good, but that can also handle lots of washing. Don't forget what I call 'mom shoes,' especially if you live in a city and will be walking a lot most days. I was on the endless search for cute shoes that went well with jeans, but that were also really comfortable. I learned my lesson early on when my boys were crawling at the park, I was walking behind them on my knees and totally scuffed up my nice flats.
    • Wear sunscreen every day! You should be doing this anyway, but it's now more important than ever. I'm outside every day, usually for 3-4 hours straight. I have quite the mom tan...I have friends who ask me if I just got back from vacation, and I laugh, because only my arms and tops of my feet are showing, which is what's always showing when I'm outside all day with the boys. It seriously looks like I just got back from an exotic vacation and I'm not complaining :) Even if you're just in and out of your backyard, protect yourself. 
    • Follow blogs. Especially 'real mom' blogs. Nothing will turn around a bad day quite like reading a blog post by the cute mom you follow who seems to have it all together but then shares a straight-up real-life story that reminds you, we're all in this together! A few favorite posts from 3 Ladies and their GentLittle Baby GarvinScary MommyA Work in Progress.
    • Get up before your kids do. First of all, let me say that sleep is important, really important. Wait until your babies are sleeping long stretches and you're a bit more rested before attempting this. Secondly, I don't follow this step much myself. But, I have a husband who loves spending time before work with the boys, so most days if I wake up when they do, I have an hour or so to myself. I'm so much more ready to be present with the kids if I've checked my email and social media. Sometimes I'm even productive enough to write a blog post or do my menu planning for the week.
    I'm naturally introverted, yet highly motivated to get out and do stuff so this whole mom thing has been an interesting growth period for me. Maybe it's just the common connections of twins, or kids of similar ages, but I find myself much more outgoing because as a SAHM, I'm always on the search for 'mom friends.' I'll warn you, even if everything seems to make sense on paper (yes, just like Mr. Right!), you might not click. I think I expected to have a new best friend (not replacing my old ones though) by this point and while I've met lots of great moms, I still haven't found 'the one'. Some moms luck out and build a great friendship in a mommy group soon after their babies are born, but don't get discouraged if this doesn't happen to you. Go outside your comfort zone. Yes, it's a bit funny when you say, 'we should exchange numbers,' or 'let me get your number and maybe we can meet up.' It certainly parallels dating, but as a SAHM, the more moms you can connect with, the better chance you'll have at meeting those potential long-term friends, plus, hopefully you have fun (or at least some good stories) from all the playdates in the meantime.

    For me, becoming a SAHM was the right decision. Though there are plenty of challenging moments (and days), I feel so blessed that I can spend this time with my sons, but more importantly, that I've maintained my own identity and found a balance. This means that when I'm with them, I can give them everything, but that I can get 'filled back up' when I'm doing stuff for myself. It's so great to be home with your kids, but don't feel required to 'enjoy every moment.' You won't. You'll experience highs and lows, but if you take care of yourself and fulfill some of your needs, you'll have so much more to give to your little ones.

    If you have a question for Lauren, CLICK HERE to send her an email!


    Don't forget to send me your 28-week baby bump!  Email your name and the twins' birthday (or due date) to twintalkblog@gmail.com.  Please have your picture to me no later than noon today!

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