Becoming a stay-at-home parent is a big step and it is easy to underestimate the effect it will have on your life and your self esteem. Careful planning can help you make it an easier transition.
To begin, take some time off. It’s only natural to want to revel in the freedom of not having to trudge into the office every morning, so allow yourself to enjoy it, but keep to a schedule. One week is an ideal length – two is the maximum before you’ll lose momentum.
Once you’ve settled in, hit the ground running with a schedule. This will help both you and your children adjust to the change and keep things running smoothly – you might find your schedule is what helps you most when things seem difficult. Have set times for meals, for work and for play.
Next, investigate playgroups in your area or, if there isn’t one, organise one. A playgroup visit once or twice a week gives you time to interact with other parents in your situation and gives your child valuable socialising time.
For the times when you are at home, set out some play activities. These can be more intensive (eg. story time, jigsaw puzzles, painting) or an activity that allows you to slip in some housework or ‘me’ time while your child is occupied. The toy pile can provide for the latter – separate out older toys and ration them: limiting access to these old, tired toys will create a new interest you wouldn’t have thought possible.
Finally, every day, plan to do something just for you, even if it’s as simple as sitting on your porch with a cup of tea and a book for 15 minutes.
When drawing up your schedule, avoid the trap of adding housework to your day. It is easy to devalue what you’re doing and add extra household duties to your load, but don’t assume, or let anyone else assume, that your ‘new job’ includes doing all of the housework. You are at home to care for your children, which is a job just as real as when you pay a childcare centre to do it.
Similarly, don’t feel that suddenly you have to be Supermom (or Superdad). Resist the pressure to keep your home super-clean – this is an impossible task with happy children in the house. Remember that you aren’t the child carer for the neighbourhood: you are there for your child, and babysitting for others is worthwhile only if they return the favour. Don’t let people interrupt your work, be they repair men, door-to-door sales people or survey phone calls.
To keep track of your purpose being at home, it can help to keep a journal, taking pictures to maintain a history of your child’s childhood. The routine things, such as bath time or your child asks you one of those meaningful question that stun the breath out of you, will make the best memories to look back on, and will help to keep your partner in the loop.
It’s always a good idea to do your research, and many stay-at-home parents recommend Melissa Stanton’s book, The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide. The author has personal experience of her topic.
It’s okay to sometimes not love being a stay-at-home parent. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your children or you’d necessarily change things if you could go back. Remember that no-one likes their job every minute of the day. Keep in contact with the rest of the world, and remember that you are doing one of the most vital jobs possible.