There is no typical day for stay at home moms. Most of us are just trying to survive one day at a time figuring out how to keep our little ones entertained, keep up with the house, save and/or earn extra money and keep some semblance of our pre-mom selves. I hope this Stay at Home Mom Survival Guide can help you stay happy and thrive as a stay at home mom!
Do your mornings sound anything like mine?
It’s 7:06 a.m. My husband has already left for work, the dogs have been fed and let outside, and my daughter is happily playing on her activity mat. She’s 4 months old. Only an hour and a half to go until her next nap.
8:00 a.m. My now 18-month-old daughter is running around the house, wearing only a diaper, pretending to talk to her Dada on the phone. She threw most of her breakfast on the floor but despite not eating much, her energy is through the roof and she can’t stop giggling. She’s started to cut out her morning nap, so we may have until 1 or 1:30 until she goes to sleep.
It’s 7:30 a.m. on a day that my 3.5 year old doesn’t have school. She’s refusing to take off her pajamas and brush her teeth. Eventually, we make it to the kitchen for breakfast. Thanks to Daniel Tiger, I get a few free minutes to figure out our plans for the day. With no guarantee of an afternoon nap, I have a full 12 hours to fill.
No matter the age of your little one, I want you to know that you are not alone in this. Something that i consistently have to remind myself of is that feeling like you’re going to lose your mind doesn’t mean that you’re a bad mom. Feeling like you just need a break– 5 minutes, an hour, a day (anything!!)– doesn’t mean that you don’t love and appreciate being home. It just means that you’re human.
As my daughter has gotten older, especially because it takes more effort to keep her entertained these days, I’ve realized that there’s a few things that I do consistently to help me stay (mostly) sane as a stay-at-home mom. These are a few of my BEST tips to survive being a stay at home mom.
This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosures.
Get Dressed in the Morning
To address your first thought, yes, yoga pants DO count as getting dressed. Just getting out of your pajamas and into whatever you feel good wearing can make such a big difference in setting the tone for your day. I’m not saying that having pajama days isn’t magical, but on the days when I would get myself dressed, I always found that I was more productive and that I felt better about myself.
So put your baby in the bouncer or bring some toys for your toddler into your bathroom, but give yourself just a few minutes to get ready. Another option is to get up a few minutes earlier, unless you’re anything like me and want every minute of sleep you can get! No judgment here!
Get Out of the House
Cabin fever is a very real thing and it’s amazing what a change of scenery can do for your mental health. So once you get those yoga pants on, get out of your house! Stay at home mom doesn’t mean that you have to actually stay at home.
Take a 30 minute walk in your neighborhood or make a quick trip to the grocery store to get your favorite treat. On days where it’s raining and I don’t want to deal with getting in/out of the car with an umbrella, I’ve even just gone through a drive-thru to get a coffee or some lunch to bring back to the house.
*Quick Tip* Check out local parent guides for free things to do in your area! Here are a few I found with a quick google search of “Free things to do with kids in ‘City Name'”:
Some of my daughter’s favorite FREE things to do are:
- Play at the park– visit a new one each week to change it up!
- Story time at the library
- Walking around the mall or Target– although we all know how hard it is to escape Target without spending $$
- Visit different museums– sometimes a local company will sponsor a free day each month OR check your local library for access to free passes
Even though you’re never alone, being a stay at home mom can be extremely lonely. This was definitely a part of motherhood that I was not prepared for AT ALL. A few months in and it was like I had forgotten how to have a normal adult conversation– I found myself stumbling over my words and not being able to form sentences. I had to remind myself that I had a college degree!
It wasn’t until I found another mom friend that was going through the same thing as me that I started to feel like myself again. Our daughters were less than 2 months apart and we were constantly in touch. We still say to this day that we don’t know how we would’ve made it that first year without each other. Just to have someone to text about everything and anything– poop colors, something you actually got your kid to eat, or the dreaded 4 month sleep regression–knowing that someone else is going through what you are is immensely helpful.
And it doesn’t stop once your kids become toddlers. After my family moved to Atlanta, I felt like we had to start all over. I signed up for any activity my daughter and I could do together…and talked to anyone that I could.
When It clicked
But the biggest piece of advice everyone kept giving me was “Wait until she starts school.” I was optimistic, but realistic. I mean, I had to hope that the parents of the other kids in her class were going to be a good match. It’s kind of like dating, right? Initially it’s the “so what do you do,” “how many kids do you have,” “what do you like to do for fun” questions. And slowly the relationship starts to build. It took awhile for us all to get in the groove, but let me tell you, we hit the lottery with my daughter’s class. The moms hang out, the husbands hang out and the kids LOVE each other. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my daughter give her best friend the biggest hug when they see each other.
A year ago, I was crying to my husband about how hard it was to make friends as an adult; how even though I loved talking to him, or my long distance best friends, it’s not always the same as having girlfriends close by. I never would have imagined that one year later, I’d have this solid group of friends here.
So keep going. Keep putting yourself out there. It may take a while, and you may not bond with everyone you meet. But you will find your person; you will find your people. It WILL happen. Try meeting people at:
- Gymboree, Music class, Swim lessons, etc.
- The grocery store– seriously! I’ve talked to so many other moms while we’re shopping.
- A mom/child exercise class- see if there’s a Stroller Strides in your area
- Your child’s school- get involved! Be a room parent or offer to help the room parent with a class party. Send an email about doing a mom’s night and make it happen!
- The park– okay, hear me out. I know that seeing a group of mom’s talking at the park can be so intimidating. But chances are, they were once in your shoes. And what’s the worst that can happen? You say hello and they continue their conversation without you– well you probably don’t want those kinds of friends anyway. Or find another mom who’s hanging solo– does she have on a shirt from your alma mater? Instant talking point!
- Anywhere that you go! And whether that’s an art studio or a nature center, or even your favorite store in the mall, you and the other mom there probably have something in common for you to both end up there.
This is a big one. For me, it meant that nap time was non-negotiable. Early on, you can’t always help when your baby only wants to take a 45 minute nap. I get that. But the best thing I can say is do your best to stick to your schedule. Whether you follow Moms on Call, Babywise or another schedule entirely, just be consistent.
When I was nursing early on, the three hour schedule with feeding and naps was really tough. It felt like I was tied down around the clock and that my only purpose was to provide milk. I know that’s being dramatic, but I honestly did feel like a cow. BUT as exhausted as I was and as much as I was running on autopilot, I always had a “guaranteed” break to look forward to. Once my daughter’s sleep schedule was pretty set, I knew that she would always nap at 8:30 am, for example. So even if it was only for 45 minutes (although I hoped for an hour+), it was time that I had to myself.
We all know the “nap when the baby naps” advice is laughable, but during some naps, I would just sit on the couch and watch the Today show. Others I would do laundry or dishes or even get in a quick shower. You get the point. It’s “guaranteed” time that you have to do whatever you need to do. And yes, “guaranteed” is in quotes because we all know that babies, and toddlers, like to keep us on our toes. Some days, she would only sleep if I wore her in the sling; other days, she refused to sleep at all.
Just be as consistent as you can in your routine and know that there will likely be some bumps in the road. It’s hard to go with the flow, especially for being
a control freak someone who likes control (like me), but just do your best. Your mental health will thank you.
Ask for Help
Easier said than done, I know.
My struggle has always been with knowing what to ask for help with. I know that I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my daughter, and the house, and the dogs, and myself…. So it seems silly to ask for help with the dishes or for someone to play with my daughter– I can, and want to, do all of those things!
But the truth is that even though I’m able to do them, doesn’t mean I always need to.
Letting go of doing ALL of the things is definitely a process. For example, my husband has no trouble making my daughter lunch, so why is it that at one point early on, I got on him about making a peanut butter and jelly wrong? Seriously. Not my finest moment, I know. Now I can laugh about it, but back then, I was so embarrassed. And for the record, his pb&j’s are great and our daughter loves them just the same. But at that time, my anxiety got the best of me and it made it nearly impossible for me to let go of anything or ask anyone for help. I thought I could handle it.
Real talk. I was wrong. Doing it all can only last for so long before you burnout. And when you burnout, you can’t be helpful to anyone, including yourself. So as you go through your day, think about where you can ask someone to help. Folding the towels? Emptying the dishwasher? Ordering a pizza instead of cooking? Using a grocery or meal delivery service? There are endless ways that you can lighten your load, and there is no shame in doing so.
It’s true that Moms are superheroes, but even superheroes need some help every now and then. Just look at the Avengers 🙂
Encourage Independent Play
Teaching our little ones to play by themselves can be quite the daunting task. If your kid is anything like mine, they constantly call out your name, say “let’s do it together” or run after you if you step out of the play area, even for just a minute.
But as much as I want her to play independently so I can have a few minutes on my own, I know that it’s also going to be good for her. Playing by herself will help her explore her imagination and learn to be more creative. Also, as someone who was with her daughter just about 24/7 until she started school at 20 months, I’ve found that the more I encourage independent play at home, the more comfortable she is without me in other situations like school or dance class.
If you search for “independent play for toddlers,” you’re going to see articles, blogs, different methods for the “best way to encourage independent play” and plenty of other results. But in the end, you know your child best. So trust yourself to go at your own pace and take things as they come. Eventually, your little one will go from 5 minutes to 30 minutes of independent play, and the next thing you know they tell you that they “want some privacy.” (yes, that’s a direct quote from my 3 year old)
- Giving them a play space. Before we moved into our home, we didn’t have a dedicated playroom but used foam floor tiles to delineate a play area for her.
- Finding the right toys! Some toys that have lasted us throughout toddlerhood so far are blocks like these or these, Magnatiles, play kitchen, dress up clothes, a doctor kit and an old school easel and crayons.
- Limiting the number of toys. Being the first grandchild on both sides of our family, my daughter has no shortage of toys available to her. But we *try* to rotate them out as much as we can, so that every few weeks, it’s like she has brand new toys again. But give yourself grace here because yes, life gets in the way, and yes, I absolutely use toys as
bribesmotivation when necessary.
- Being excited about what she’s doing. She loves to make us breakfast at her kitchen or give us a check-up, and we happily oblige! But we also encourage her to practice giving her “friends” (stuffed animals and dolls) breakfast and check-ups too 🙂
- Setting the example. You don’t realize how much of a sponge your toddler is until they start to mimic everything you do and say. My daughter LOVES to push her dolls around in their stroller. She talks to them, feeds them and puts them down for a nap, and it’s so sweet to see her care for them and have them call her Mommy.
Make Time for You
Okay, let’s all laugh together for a minute. Life with a little one (or two or three) really doesn’t leave much time for Mom. But believe me when I tell you that you HAVE to start making this a priority or you will burnout. And sometimes, burnout can really be a symptom of something more, which is why it’s crucial to take care of yourself.
Whether it’s 10 minutes to drink a cup of coffee, an hour to go to a yoga class, or time to sit down and watch your favorite guilty pleasure TV show (Bachelor, anyone?), finding something that re-energizes you is so important for your mental health. Anything that can serve as an outlet to give you a break from being Mom. I know you’ve heard it before, but I’m going to say it again anyway, when you take care of yourself, both you and your family will reap the benefits.
How I Pulled Off (What Seemed Like) the Impossible
After realizing that my anxiety was at an all time high and that I could no longer just deal with the panic attacks, I knew that something would have to change. I had to start working on myself again. I had to get back to a place where I was more than just mom– where I was a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister….you see where I’m going. I needed to find me again. I forgot how to have fun. I forgot what I enjoyed doing. I forgot that I had my own identity.
So I started small. I said yes to being a room parent in my daughter’s classroom. That meant making time to go to a few PTO meetings during the year. I set up a Moms night with other moms from the preschool.
My husband had always encouraged me to go out, to do more, to take breaks; but it was me that wasn’t ready. I started relying on him more and asking him for what I needed. And honestly, it was great for us all! I get a night out every now and then with my friends and he gets some dedicated Daddy-Daughter time, which they both love so much.
Then I joined a yoga studio. I started by going to one class a week, then two, then three. It’s amazing how just a little bit of exercise and time to disconnect can make you feel so refreshed.
And slowly but surely, I felt more comfortable, and less guilty, having some time to myself. I realized how much better I was feeling and how it had even been impacting my relationship with my husband. My daughter also noticed the difference and I love that she knows that mommy and daddy go on date nights and that mommy goes to yoga class. She even tries to do yoga with me at home– so cute!
This is not to say the guilt doesn’t creep back in from time to time. But I just remind myself of the example that I am setting. Is this what I would tell my daughter to do if she were in the same position? I think I would.
All I can say about this one is to make sure that you are giving your body the fuel it needs to survive. Don’t think “I’ll be fine if I just skip lunch” if you plan to chase your toddler around all afternoon. I get that it’s hard to sit down and have a proper meal, but even if you’re grabbing something to go, or squeezing in a snack every 2 hours instead of a full lunch, you can’t forget to eat!
Drink your water too! Get yourself a good water bottle (I LOVE this one) and set a challenge for yourself to drink a certain amount throughout the day. Not a fan of water? That’s okay– just flavor it with fruit or a powdered drink mix.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve googled things like “best snacks for busy moms” or “on the go snacks for moms.” I’m always open to new ideas too (please, send them my way!) but some of my go-to snacks as of now are:
- Larabars (my favorite flavors are this and this)
- Kind Bars
- Pita & Hummus
- Energy Bites
- Chobani Yogurt Flips
- Granola clusters
Utilize Screen Time
Judgment-free zone here. I know screen time can be a hot topic and parents can be very passionate about their specific perspective, so my goal here is to share my own philosophy and how we manage things in our home. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be for everyone, but hopefully at least gives you some food for thought.
For my daughter’s 3rd birthday, we gave her an Amazon Fire Kids Tablet. We knew that she would love it, but it was also a little bit for us as we knew it would be helpful when we traveled. We travel fairly often to Florida to visit my family, and being able to put on her favorite movie while delayed in the airport, is worth every penny we spent.
In reality, she really only uses her “baby tv” or our ipad when we travel on an airplane or have a long road trip (hello, Disney!). But tv and movies are another story. She watches both at home and sometimes it is to give me a little break. I know that she’ll focus on a show for 30 minutes and for those 30 minutes, I won’t be hearing “mom, mom, mom” over and over and I may actually be able to get dinner going.
We do make it a priority to balance out her screen time with other activities like playing with toys, listening to music and getting outside, and we know she’s stimulated at school and through her other activities. But we also know that she learns a lot from Daniel Tiger and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. And it’s so fun to be able to watch the Disney classic movies with her.
My belief is that screen time can be a positive thing in moderation. There is no shame if you need to let your little one watch Daniel Tiger for 30 minutes so that you can have a break. That is 100% okay and nothing to feel guilty about. But if you do prefer to really limit the screen time, then feel free to ignore all of the above. You are your child’s parent and as long as you are confident in whatever decision you are making for them, then I truly think that’s all that matters.
Embrace the Mess
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through the last few years, it’s that not everything is going to be in my control. I can plan as much as I want to, but life with a little one means that things won’t always go according to plan.
Maybe she wakes up an hour early or sleeps in an hour late (a mom can dream, can’t she?). Or, she decides to skip her nap, meaning I have no “down” time to finish a blog post or work on our monthly budget. Lately, anytime I try to sweep or vacuum, she wants to “help,” and runs to get her own cleaning set. It’s really the sweetest thing but it also means it takes me at least double the time to get things done. And sometimes, I just don’t want to do anything except spend time with her and cuddle on the couch.
So, yes, my laundry is forming a mountain. Yes, my dishes are overflowing. Yes, there are toys everywhere. But yesterday my daughter and I made banana chocolate chip bread and then played outside with her new soccer ball. Last night, we ordered in our favorite pizza and watched The Little Mermaid before she went to bed. Was my house a mess at the end of the night? Yes, it was a disaster. But was it worth it? Without a doubt.
I’ve learned I’m learning to accept things just the way they are and to be easier on myself. Life is not perfect, especially with a tiny dictator precious little one. Instead, it’s messy and unpredictable. We can either fight it and drive ourselves crazy, or we can learn to embrace it and enjoy even the messiest of days.
<excuse the mess but we live here>
Bonus Tip: Don’t Pay Attention to Social Media
Ah, social media. What did we ever do without it? For me, social media is one of those things that I love and enjoy being on- for many reasons- but when I have the chance to disconnect for a while, I’m so happy that I can. It’s a very weird phenomenon.
Whether your media of choice is Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, remember that you are only seeing the highlight reel of the people you follow. For the most part, nobody is going to post the 50 pictures they took trying to get just 1 of their toddler sitting and smiling. No one is going to post the photo of them with spit-up all over their shirt. And for sure you aren’t going to see a picture of the whole family arguing just before that beautiful family photo on the beach.
I know it’s easy to get caught up in the “wow, her kids are so well-behaved” and “I wish I had the money to take a vacation like that” thoughts. But what if those kids were having a full-blown tantrum just minutes before or that family has been saving for that trip for 5 years? It’s impossible to know someone else’s situation. So do your best to keep it in perspective and not compare yourself to the highlights that you’re seeing.
Instead, think about what a good life, a good year, month, week, day, etc. means to you. Did everyone stay healthy? Did all the kids nap when they were supposed to? Did you have time to shave your legs today? Good is relative so figure out what your scale is and stick to it– because you are in control of your own happiness. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”