I feel like there is this idea out there, particularly among the average non-parental Joe, that being a stay-at-home parent must be awesome! Some beautiful fantasy scattered with delusions of babies who take naps at regular times while you cozy up with a book or gladly play with their toes on a blanket while you finally teach yourself guitar. You know, because you just have SO MUCH free time. Well here’s the thing.
Kind of… but not really.
There are some pretty awesome days in which the above is my actual reality. Especially as Ivy has gotten a bit older (and in fact, discovered her toes), I definitely have more moments to myself these days than I did when she was a newborn. Still, each day is unpredictable and any moments of consistency are short lived.
Most of my days are filled with a slew of monotonous tasks. And for a long while, most of my “me” time was leaving baby with Derek, so I could go shop for groceries (barf!), take a shower (oh boy!), or put laundry away without attending to a crying baby intermittently. Super exciting stuff guys. [I should clarify that an uninterrupted shower for a new mom is actually very exciting. I just don’t think that activities involving basic hygiene are a fair substitute for personal time.]
Since we are living off of one income, my options for daily entertainment are a bit limited. Many a house projects are put on the back burner and impromptu store adventures for anything other than dish soap or baby wipes are few and far between.
I have never been much of a self-motivator. I have my moments (like posting blog posts on a semi-regular basis – yay me!), but overall, I struggle with sticking to things long term: meal planning, exercise plans, learning new skills, etc. I was always a pretty stellar student and a busy body at work. Give me a project, a challenge with a definite outcome or deadline, and I’ll deliver! Being a stay-at-home parent is “work”, but it’s no substitute for what a good job ought to deliver: opportunities for personal and professional growth and a steady sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Of course, being a parent on a macro-scale is chock-full of purpose and fulfillment, but there is a stark difference between the self-satisfaction of providing weight loss education to a grateful pupil (I’m an RD) vs changing Ivy’s nth diaper for the day.
My strategies for staying sane without a job (with the exception of #7, these tips are also applicable for staying sane while working a shitty job):
- Make plans with other people and put them on my calendar. Accountability works. I have signed up to volunteer with a group, attended a weekly kickboxing class, and periodically invite friends over for dinner. Making commitments means I’m locked in.
- Continue to carve out time whenever possible to squeeze in activities that make me happy (like making jigsaw puzzles or watching stand-up comedy specials!)
- Make an effort to discover new interests and pursue new experiences to discourage my brain from turning to mush and prevent my zest for life from fizzling out. When in doubt, seek out new music or methods of effortless learning, such as listening to educational podcasts.
- Treat free time as precious moments. I used to watch a TON of Netflix. It was sort of a problem. Luckily, replacing our living room TV with an aquarium and trying my damnedest to keep Ivy’s screen time to a minimum is helping me have a much healthier relationship with television. Lately, I am way more picky about what I spend my time watching. Most days, I don’t watch anything at all. Of course I still waste a lot of time on Facebook, but I have a cute baby to show off, okay?! Lay off!
- Get out of my head and branch out into the world. Go on regular outings, daily if possible. Now that the weather is getting nicer, we’ve been taking a lot of walks. The library is always good for free entertainment, and there are plenty of parks to explore.
- Try to live a healthy lifestyle overall, but eat junk food and stay up too late with friends from time to time without feeling guilty. Physical health sacrifices must occasionally be made for the sake of mental health gains.
- Remember how much I dreaded the obligation of going to work and be grateful to have these (semi-) carefree days with my daughter. I have my whole life to work, and I intend to go back to the grind by the time she starts kindergarten. Carpe diem.
“But trust me on the sunscreen.” – Baz Luhrmann